iven and kashmira

jesus. bangkok. neighbors. us.

Author: Kashmira Hauptman (page 2 of 4)

Neighbor Kids Pushing Pills

Anyone with half a brain living in an inner-city  neighborhood (or any neighborhood, for that matter) knows that at some point their kids will be faced with peer pressure to use drugs. We just didn’t think it would start so early. OK, so I am being a bit dramatic here, but speaking entirely tongue-in-cheek, try to appreciate this scene with me: Iven and I are in front of the largest hourly motel in our neighborhood, talking with some women. Our 9-month old son is being passed around and played with and our 2-year old Izayla is running around the sidewalk with a group of children (all a bit older than her), several of whom lived in our building until recently. The group of kids, including our own, gets to the end of the block and huddles just out of sight around a corner.

My mom radar switches to higher alert and my social-worker-missionary hat takes a backseat as I excuse myself from the conversation and follow after the kids. Thai culture would not require me to do so – the community is to keep an eye on the kids together. I love this in theory but I also know how incredibly rampant pedophilia is in this culture, how many drunk people wander our streets, and how many people tell me over and over that kids are regularly “stolen” (especially from our part of the city, supposedly). Anyhow, expecting all to be well but wanting to keep an eye on my toddler I come around the corner just in time to see Izayla popping something tiny into her mouth. “What do you have? What are you doing?” I ask her, and then turn to one of the older kids who I know well with the same questions. He holds up a pill box with dozens of little pills of several different shades all separated out, as if this should calm my nerves. “Can she have some?” He asks me. “Did she already have some?” I counter, and he nods. “Vitamin C,” is his response to my look of concern and raised eyebrows. Maybe. Probably. Who knows…  Regardless, I asked him to not let her have anymore. Out of my sight for 10 seconds and my toddler is getting pills slipped to her. Oie.

Efficiency

I can’t possibly express to you what amazing evangelists our children are. They are completely disarming to the roughest of characters. I can approach people I would naturally be afraid of and pull the cover off of our baby’s face as he peacefully sleeps in his front pack and invariably watch hardened faces warm and smile and want to talk. It’s truly amazing how God has spoken and ordained our kids for this work – to them it is just play, and our home. As a family it is true that our work time is less “efficient” than it was before we had little people – it’s hard to get anything administrative (like keeping our inbox from exploding, staying on top of our finances, and for that matter writing newsletters) ever done, and team meetings and prayer time are often quite a bit noisier than is ideal. That said, in our stated most important of ministry goals – loving God and loving neighbor – our children’s presence truly serves to make us so much more effective than we could ever be without them.

As we cross this five-year anniversary of being here in Thailand we think back to nearly three years ago when God first so clearly spoke to us about wanting to give us children. Our initial oh-so-wise response to God was, “No, you don’t understand – You called us here to start a ministry. We can’t do that with kids. It just wouldn’t work.” Now I can look back and see how the presence of our children has solidified our role in the community and though God has redirected our focus some since we initially came, this current vision of loving “the least of these” here in our neighborhood is such a perfect pairing with our strengths and gifts as a family. Our children are just as called to this ministry as we are and any sort of an “inheritance” we may receive in heaven will be theirs as well.

Our Favorite Role: Friends of Crazy People

Everyone knows us (especially our daughter Izayla Talae) and is watching us…and we have many roles, we are known as the foreigners who live on the third floor above the Isaan food shop, as the parents of “little sister” Talae, as people who pray and seek to do good deeds among our neighbors, and as friends of crazy people. That last one is probably our favorite role in the community. Very often we will be engaged in conversation with one of our neighbors – usually homeless and also often looking for customers, sometimes physically or mentally disabled, or both, and someone we don’t really know will approach us and try to get in between us and the woman or man we are talking with to whisper in broken English, “She’s crazy. You shouldn’t talk with her.” We invariably respond politely, “Yes, she is our friend. We have known her a long time”, at which point they look at us like we ourselves are crazy and walk away shaking their head.

Izayla with some deaf friends from the streets!

Just this morning I (Kashmira) was out with the kids chatting with a man who was not from the neighborhood who was asking about our children while Izayla was calling “mama! Mama!” and pulling on me to come join her to say hello to a homeless man with a head injury whom we have known for years. The “normal” man she was talking with tried to helpfully explain that that man was a beggar and I said, “yes, he’s our friend. She wants to go say hello to him.” He repeated that the man was a beggar and looked confused by my response, all while Izayla pulled me to the side of our homeless friend, proceeded to offer him a piece of treasured ice from her cup and sat down next to him on the street. Meanwhile another older homeless man who we don’t know asked permission to take a picture of Izayla and pulled out an old style (haven’t seen one of these in years) regular film camera, pulled her onto his lap and the two of them gave big broad smiles to my  “click” of the camera.

The Least of These

“…Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.” –Matthew 25:40 “Jesus said, ‘Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.’” –Matthew 19:14

I’ve been finding myself drawn towards and praying for the disabled people in our community more and more lately. We just returned from six weeks in America a few days ago and have been venturing out, as our jet lag allows, reconnecting with people we know and missed.

On our first full afternoon back the three of us went out to a particularly seedy little street in our neighborhood where we have several friends. I saw a woman we know, “Jack”, who is a few years younger than me and is disabled – unable to speak and with compromised motor functions. She lives on that corner with her mom in a makeshift “squat” (temporary tiny street home) on the sidewalk. I have seen her mother yelling at her abusively and am pretty certain she is being “rented out” by her mom as well. I walked through the small group of hustling women clustered nearby her to say hello and greet her by name, which brought forth one of her beautiful smiles. Immediately a woman I don’t know stepped in front of me very distressed and tried to explain in English that this girl can’t speak and doesn’t understand and essentially that I shouldn’t waste my time. I responded in Thai that we are friends and I have known her for a long time now. Before I could return my attention to Jack, a drunk Thai man standing there broke in, also in halting English, to proposition me, pointing towards the slum/brothel we were standing in front of. Keep in mind I was holding my toddler, have a very visibly pregnant belly and my husband was standing behind me. I politely declined and went back to trying to communicate with Jack, which was pretty impossible at this point. The man turned to Iven to ask him if he was interested in any of the ladies there.

As we walked away we both were feeling absolutely gross; Iven summed up the essence of our sadness, “We were trying to say hello to our friend Jack, and we were essentially told that she wasn’t even human and that hurts, as it should.” Yesterday afternoon Izayla and I were out together and bumped in to a man I would like to say we know well, given his limitations. It is true I don’t know his name and he doesn’t know ours, but we are friends. He is deaf and fairly severely physically disabled, rendering his limbs and face contorted enough that though he is able to walk with a severe limp, it is impossible to ignore his deformities and no one would ever describe him as a classically “attractive” person. He saw us walking up and rushed over with a giant smile on his grossly twisted face. I am unable to communicate to him why it has been so long since he saw us or where we went, but we do as best we can with smiles and rudimentary hand gestures. He is our friend, we are his, and he knows it. I pray for these friends often, and I woke up early this morning with Jack heavy on my heart. Neighbors like these have so little value or identity ascribed to them – so little hope of life becoming better. I know that many disabled people in the States experience similar stigmatization and prejudice, but I think it is all the much more so here on our streets, in this Buddhist context where people believe you very much deserve whatever difficulties you were dealt.

It has been a number of years since I have read anything by Henri Nouwen, but I was reflecting this morning on his depth of insight into the Kingdom of God, and intimacy with Jesus. He spent years of his life living in community with disabled adults. I expect there were probably critics who said he was wasting his brilliant theological mind and gifts of communication by spending so much of his time with disabled people who had such limited abilities in the traditional sense. I know God didn’t see it that way. What does hope look for for these neighbors of ours? For the dozens of homeless deaf people in our community, so many of whom were thrown out by their parents and never received an education or even learned sign language? Though theoretically disabled people in Thailand are entitled to truly free medical care and a meager-but-something $15 a month to live on, so many of them were never registered at birth (thus not being able to prove they are Thai citizens) or have their registrations in some other province and are unable to receive any benefits. It is pretty hopeless in the worldly sense.

We believe God can and may very well choose to heal our neighbors from physical and mental disabilities, and we continuously pray that He does so. Even withstanding that, though, I do think that Scripture tells us clearly that there are special gifts given to those who are thrown away by their communities. Jesus speaks boldly about his identifying personally with people who have no worldly value. Their physical lives are so much more painful and sorrowful than was God’s original desire and intention when He created them, but I think they are privy to an intimacy and sweetness with Jesus that you and I “normal” people will never know. I see the twisted but unquenchable smile of the man we greeted yesterday and I wonder what love letters Jesus has read to him in his dreams. I greet Jack on the street as she is surrounded by other women available for “sale”, am disgusted by the fact that she truly has no ability to get out of that situation, and I know that Jesus is so very near to her in that place of pain and deep injustice. I trust our good God to be faithful in their lives even more than in my own family, but I don’t know that any of us will ever be able to see that on this side of heaven.

Deaf Church Under the Bridge

One of the most beautiful things we have been able to be a part of in this last season is a small group that has sprung up from a local Thai church, under a bridge where we know many homeless people. A homeless church small group is special and uncommon in and of itself but this one is extra special – every single one of the dozen plus (always growing) participants is a brand new Christian (the first person made a commitment to Christ less than six months ago) and every single one of them is deaf. The first night our team was invited to attend this weekly small group we joined the circle of about 15 people and the woman who leads the group translated the sign-language into Thai for us. Iven shared a short parable that Jesus taught  (speaking in Thai, translated to simple sign language – many of the deaf people there don’t speak sign language and only one of them can read and write) and our teammate Sam shared about his love for his natural children and how much God’s fatherly love cares for us regardless of our family backgrounds. All but two of the participants had been thrown out by their families when they were children and this newfound Christian family under the bridge is of great significance to them. Izayla loves when we visit with our deaf friends. She is completely enamored by their expressive gestures and faces. That night she crawled around the circle and sat transfixed in front of several people who were speaking in sign language. They taught us some simple sign language for various animals and foods, and we “told” some of them about how we have been trying to teach Izayla “baby signs” (which she thinks is really funny but hasn’t really learned to do it herself yet).

Whose smile are you looking for?

During our last morning in Chiang Mai, Iven and I shared a  delicious breakfast of eggs benedict and a potato bowl at a little diner run by an ex-patriot man from the West Coast of America, who was also our waiter.  After taking our order he stayed to chat with us a bit and ask if we were tourists or working in Thailand.  Iven piped up with his standard “We are actually ‘scary Christian missionaries'” (sometimes a surprisingly disarming line to use among the ex-pat community here in Thailand) and I added, “But we are friendly ones!”  His demeanor immediately stiffened and not long after that he disengaged, leaving us with our breakfast.  The food was great, but we were tempted to feel a little sheepish in response to the clear disapproval shown towards our chosen careers and purpose for living here in Thailand. A little later a (presumably Thai) waiter came to take away our dishes.  We thanked him in Thai and got the common return of a big smile and a “you speak Thai!” exclamation, followed by asking what we do.  We explained in Thai that we are Christian volunteers and the smile grew even broader.  “Are you missionaries? Oh!”  The young man left our dishes and rushed into the kitchen, coming back with a Chinese Bible and a notebook, explaining excitedly that he has been a Christian for  a year and is copying the book of Matthew into his book in Chinese (Chinese is his mother tongue, though he lives here in Thailand).  Grinning broadly he explained, “I used to believe in the Chinese gods, but now I know that Jesus is the only true God.” It was so humbling to see the joy in this young man, and his excitement to connect with us as fellow Believers.  Leaving the restaurant we were really struck at God’s goodness to us – to witness the simplicity of this young man’s faith, and his eagerness to share about it was such a gift.

An Open Door

We met “Woo” in February through one of his employees, who introduced us as the people who came and sang Christmas carols a few months earlier._ He greeted us warmly and invited us to sit down at a table with him, outside of the bar that he owned, while one of his employees went and got us some complimentary cokes. Woo is from China._ He moved to Thailand 12 years ago in order to open the bar he still runs, currently with about 50 young men working in it. Woo is curious about Christianity – he has an aunt in China that is a Christian, but knows very little about it himself._ At the end of our first conversation when we offered to pray for any needs he may have or struggles he may be facing, he replied, “You know, last year I had a lot of problems, right now I’m doing pretty ok – but these guys who work for me, a lot of them have really hard things in their lives – you could pray for them, and maybe come and talk with them sometime!” As our relationship has grown, he has asked us many questions about our faith and the story of Jesus._ A short-term teach came and worked with us for a few weeks and one of the guys on the team was also from China._ He joined us for one of our visits with Woo, and shared with Woo in Mandarin (their shared mother tongue) how his life had been transformed by the love of God._ Out of that conversation Woo expressed an interest in getting a Chinese Bible that he could read (although he speaks Thai fluently, he can’t read Thai or English). We went through a bit of a goose chase trying to hunt down a Chinese Bible, and eventually found ourselves squeezed in a tiny little Christian bookstore about the size of a walk-in closet, but unable to read Chinese we were very grateful when only other customer in the store, who happened to be a missionary woman from Taiwan, graciously stepped in and was able to explain which Bible would be most readable for someone from mainland China._ We hope to give Woo his Bible this week._ Iven, Tuy and I are praying that this gift will be a significant step towards his understanding and receiving the true gift of Jesus into his life._ We are also praying for future opportunities to minister to the guys working inside of his bar. Please pray with us, as God leads!

Free Roses

After our Christmas cookie outreach on the boy bar streets, we realized we had about 200 extra handwritten tags left over that we didn’t want to see go to waste._ Together with a small group of Thai Baan Jai Diaow and San Francisco DTS girls, Kashmira bought, individually wrapped and attached the “You are valuable – God loves you” hand-written cards to about 200 roses and took to the streets of our neighborhood with the goal of blessing the woman who work on our streets. In an effort to honor the women, we decided to give a rose to every woman, whether it looked like they were “selling services” or not, but especially trying to bless the women who we were pretty sure were._ My group consisted of myself, a Thai student and a exceptionally friendly Swiss young woman._ It was really a treat to walk up with our overflowing bucket of roses and see the women’s faces stiffen, expecting us to solicit them for some sort of school fundraiser and then quickly soften into a surprised smile when we explained that the flowers were a free gift to celebrate Christmastime and to bless them._ One old man called us over to where he and his wife were eating lunch to ask us to please give his wife a flower._ Several women waiting for customers outside of our neighborhood’s largest short time motel asked us questions about Christmas and why we were giving them flowers._ For days afterwards we found roses and cards hung up on food carts and resting on cars all around our neighborhood.

Thai Tea

I have taken to spending my mornings across the street from our house at the outdoor teashop, copying flashcards and practicing Thai vocab words.  I do this in part because they have tables (which our room doesn’t currently have), in part because they have tea (it tastes pretty horrible – though it is cheap!), but mostly because this is a way to get to know and be seen by neighbors, and to start up conversations in Thai.  Perhaps the real, real reason I study there, though, is because the conversations always start this way:

I sit quietly, reading Thai words under my breath and copying them down onto flashcards.

Random people of all ages come through, shout out their order and whether they want it in a glass or in a plastic bag to go, then they notice me…

They spend a minute reading over my shoulder and then…

Smile broadly

Say “Ahhh…learning Thai…”

(And then, inevitably) “Smart, very smart”

This of course doesn’t actually mean that I am extra smart, but I figure constant praise from passerbys can only help to encourage me.  Yesterday 6 different people told me I was smart during the two hours I spent at the tea shop.  Lots of smiles too, and those are always good. 🙂

Polite Clothes

The back door of our building lets out into an alley, at the mouth of that alley sits a 52 year old woman who has probably been sitting there for decades.  She is one of the friendliest people in our neighborhoods, and certainly has the most recognizable laugh.  She sits on her stool and knits, wearing very bright clothes and much too much makeup to merely be knitting for her income.

Usually 2-3 times a day I walk past her and say hello.  She always asks where I am going or coming from and often I sit down and talk with her for a while.  She left school in the 4th grade to help her family in the rice fields, so her speech is hard to understand and she reminds me often that she can’t help me spell anything in Thai.

A delightful and unexpected part of this woman and our growing relationship is how she introduces me to her many friends (who are almost all also selling their bodies on our street)…

She grabs my arm, my wrist or my waist (whatever is in reach), looks at her friend and then looks me up and down and says, “This girl, she wears polite clothes – no little tanktops or short shorts like most foreigners – she wears clothes like Thai people…and also she can speak Thai”  There you go, that is the impression I make on our friend who works out of our alley – I wear polite clothes, like Thai people should.

As Iven says, “If our choosing to wear long pants and shirts with sleeves in this hot, hot country serves only to make the older women selling their bodies in our neighborhood proud of us, then I guess that is worth it.”

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