Thursday, December 30, 2010

Sweet Moments.

I've realized many of my blog posts have documented many sad moments, but amidst all the heartbreak, chaos, and pain in Mae Sot, there are moments that make my heart beat quicker and bring tears of joy to my eyes. I'll share a few of them with you...

I have been going to Mae Tao Clinic lately. Mae Tao is a hospital that treats everyone, no matter if they're illegal, poor, whatever. They do what they can to help. There's a young girl there who I've become friends with. She is just completing her medical treatment after multiple surgeries in Chiang Mai and months of waiting at the clinic in between. She has become my younger sister. I often go to visit her. I'm welcomed into her house, which she shares with 20 other recovering patients. It is a long wooden room on stilts. Everyone has just enough space to sleep. We sit here, sharing food and talking. I've become friends with the people who sleep nearby her as well as some of the staff who work at the clinic. They are teaching me to read Burmese. When I leave Mae Tao after a full afternoon of talking and eating, I feel my heart overflowing with joy and I often thank God for giving me such awesome friendships in Mae Sot.

The other day I went to the safehouse to drop off some paychecks. There was a woman sitting on the front steps. As soon as she saw me her face broke into a huge smile and the tiny girl next to her grinned at me, squealing with joy.
"Tha min! Nay Kawn Lar?" (Hello My daughter! How are you?)
This is a woman who Compasio has been supporting, and I really love her. I'm sure she's not older than 50, but she's had many life experiences which have pushed her age. We often sit and talk, and she holds my hands as she cries and tells me about her life or how thankful she is that she can be with her tiny grand daughter.

On Christmas Eve we all gathered together, all our kids and staff, as well as the families of our kids who are living in the Burmese community. Someone had donated gifts for every child and I sat off to the side as they opened them. I was playing with one little boy who had come to the safehouse just the day before. I watched as the children eagerly ripped the paper off their packages and smiled at the treasure inside. This was beautiful, but what caught my eye was the picture of a young girl and her father slowly and carefully unwrapping a small gift together. Birdy's mother and father were recently released from prison and moved near the baby house to be near their daughter. I was surprised by their age the first time I saw them. They looked old enough to be her grandparents, and I later discovered that they could have been. He is a very quite, sad looking man. I had never seen him smile and I feel compassionate towards him. I wish I could be his friend. I was shocked to see that his usual somber, far away look was replaced with a smile and shining eyes. He sat with his daughter on the floor and they worked together to unwrap The Gift.

I imagined the kind of life this man had. He is Karen, one of the most despised minority groups in the eyes of the Burmese Government. What kind of childhood did he have? Was his father ever there to share something special as he was doing with his daughter now? Did he have a place to sleep at night, surrounded by people who loved him? I thought about these things and involuntarily my eyes filled with tears and I prayed that God would shower his life with joy and blessings. That his smile would come easier and soon replace the look of fear and sadness that his worn face had held for so long.

So Maybe that last one was kind of sad....

sweet Mae Sot life :)

Monday, December 27, 2010


This morning I was getting ready for work when I heard an unfamiliar voice coming from outside.

"Seyama. Tha Min Nay ma kawn boo. calle nay ma kawn boo. su tao me. ohhhh...."

I paused for a second. All of our neighbors are in close range, she could have easily been at someone else's door. I stuck my head into the front room and saw a woman kneeling at our front door. My younger sister stood in the corner, frozen.

"Ma Katie." She whispered at me. "Balle? Be tdu le?" (What is going on? Who is this?)

The woman had a young boy with her and they sat on the dirty ground, and while I had been talking with my sister about who she was the woman continued to moan in pain, begging for help. She called herself "tha min" (daughter) even though she was obviously older than me, she was lowering herself and calling me teacher. She was a woman at the lowest rung of the social ladder, and she knew it.

"I'm pregnant." She told us. "I'm so sick. I have no money to go to the clinic. I have no husband. My son is so hungry. Please give me some money so I can buy some tea." Between sentences she paused and inhaled sharply, clutching her stomach.

My sister shook her head. I pleaded with her,
"We won't give her money but we can help her."

There are many beggars in Mae Sot. Children beg to make money for their parents. Women beg to make money for the drunk husbands. I've learned to not give money, no matter what they say. Giving money instills the habit and doesn't solve any real problems. It has been an issue I've struggled with all year. It would be so easy to give them money, to give them a quick fix, but it really fixes nothing.

"Is your baby coming now?" I asked, concerned that she could be in labor.
She nodded.
"Do you want to go to Mae Tao Clinic?"
She nodded again and said, "but I have no money. I have no money to buy food for my son."
"It is free." I replied. "They give you one meal a day and you do not have to pay anything."
"I want to go." She said.

I called my friend, who is a nurse and she said she would come right away to help me take her.

"We're so hungry. Please." The woman was begging, pleading.
"Okay okay, we have rice we have curry."

My sister and I retreated to the back of our small house.
She spoke to me quietly,
"Ma Katie, they are no good. She just wants money."
"We can still help her." I said. "We can give her food and we can take her to the hospital if she needs to go."

We served fresh rice onto a plate and I was reaching add curry when the woman said,
"No. We don't want your food. Just please. Give me some money for tea. I'll go to the teashop. My throat hurts so much. I want to drink something."
I put the plate down and picked up a cup.
"We have water." I told her. "We are poor too. I will give you what we have."
"I want tea. I need something hot." She replied.

At that moment I realized she had been playing us. I had no doubt that she was a woman in need, but she was refusing the help I was offering her. I wasn't just offering her a meal, I was offering her friendship, and through friendship comes long term relief. I could have set her up with a safe place for single mothers, I could have set her up with a job or a way to provide for her children. She refused it. All she wanted was money.

I made one last attempt to help her. I called my sister over and told her to go buy some tea, which was what the woman wanted in the first place. I gave her 20 bot, but as she made her way out the door the woman refused it.

"Don't buy it." She said sharply. Her pain miraculously gone. She stood up, grabbed her son by the hand and walked away.

"If you need food, you can come here. If you need help, you can come here. When you want to go to the clinic come here and I will take you." I told her in a soft and kind voice, making sure to use all the polite Burmese words.

She did not look at me as I spoke. She continued down the street, stopping at various houses and begging.

"You have a good heart." My sister told me, as we sat down to eat our breakfast.
I smiled sadly at her as I looked down at the plate of rice the woman had refused.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Sunday, December 12, 2010

God Still Speaks

Ever feel really dry?
Ever just feel thirsty?

How about empty? You can feel the echoes resounding in your soul. You know how to fix it but life is "so busy". You don't have time to stop. I try to fake out of it by "praying silently" as I rush to and from work and various activities. I trick myself, "Oh yeah. I've been praying. I've been spending time with God." When really I was just goofing off and faking it. That's not going to last for long. You know what I mean?

Today was one of those days, where I had somehow thrown myself to the bottom of the pit and looked up towards to light, realizing just how far down I was.

Yeah, I've been kind of stressed out. It's already almost mid- December and I keep telling myself that I need to have some kind of plan, like I have to be ready to hit the ground running once my year is over. I keep making plans, then changing my mind, then getting frustrated because I have no idea what the heck I'm going to do in America or here in Thailand.

Faith is a tricky thing. Faith is something I don't think about that often, I mean, I don't really think about it.
I guess today I had faith that if I went somewhere by myself, in the middle of no where, God would speak to me. God would tell me what to do. I was so desperate to hear from Him. I wanted to feel Him close to me, because I've been feeling so alone and out of place.

I went somewhere I used to go a lot. It's kind of in the middle of nowhere, It's really quite and it has a really beautiful view of the mountains. Today the mountains in the distance were spotted with clouds, and the skies above me were overcast. I sat there and breathed in the clean, after rainy air.

In the secret
In the quite place
In the stillness You are there.

HE is in the quite place. You have to seek Him to hear His voice. He's in the place where it's just you and Him, like my field.

In the secret
In the quite hour I wait
Because I want to know You more.
I want to know You.
I want to hear Your voice.
I want to know You more.

I never really liked that song. It was so, cheesy upbeat, but as I slowly sang the words I felt the Holy Spirit cover me, I felt my heart open, and the lyrics were true.

I opened my Bible to Hebrews 11 and slowly read through it, tearing up at some parts, and smiling at others. God is so Awesome.

What is faith? It is the confident assurance that what we hope for is going to happen. It is the evidence of things we cannot yet see.

Wow. The chapter goes on to talk about all these people who lived their lives by faith. People who left their homes, people who gave up their safety, people who did insane stuff, because they knew that a faithful heart is a heart that pleases God.

The author goes on to say this,
"Well, how much more do I need to say? It would take too long to recount the stories of faith. By faith these people overthrew kingdoms, ruled with justice, and received what God had promised them. They shut mouths of lions, quenched the flames of fire, and escaped death by the edge of the sword.
Their weakness was turned to strength. (<--That's the part that made me cry the hardest)
They became strong in battle and put whole armies to flight."

Isn't that AMAZING???
I wonder what my story of faith is going to turn out to be.
"By faith Katie followed Jesus to Thailand then back to America where she lived a nominal life and died behind a white picket fence." God. I hope not.

But see, that's what I'm scared of. I'm scared that I will grow to be comfortable with a "normal life". That I will say, "oh yeah.. I lived overseas for 1 year. That was my duty. Now I can live my life."

Please never let me be that way. Never let me fall into that Li(f)e.

I don't know what's going to happen to me. I don't know where I will be come March. But neither did Noah, neither did Abraham, neither did Moses.

When I titled my blog "Running the Race Marked Out for Me" I was really struck by the first part of the verse,
"Since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, and let us run with endurance the race that God has set before us."

I'm not in this alone. There are many people who sat in the same place as I. Yet, God is faithful through the ages, and He does not change. He is the foundation I can rely on.

I can't tell you exactly what I'm going to do, but I can tell you what I'm hoping for and what, by faith, I will continue running towards…

I am hoping that God gives me the courage to return to America.
I am hoping that He surrounds me with a loving and committed community to strengthen me as I adjust.
I hope that I will continue to reach out to the poor and broken, as I become better equipped to help heal.
I hope that someday I'll get married to a man who shares my heart and passions, and I hope that together we can grow and be faithful together.
I hope that God will provide me with the money I need to study and grow in knowledge.

I hope that God will use the things He's done in my life to encourage others to have their own stories of faith.

Faith is often the hardest thing to have, because it's so unknown, and instead of trusting in in your ability, you must learn to trust in someone else.

"So, take a new grip with your tired hands and stand firm on your shaky legs. Mark out a straight path for your feet. Then those who follow you, though they are weak and lame, will not stumble and fall but will become strong."

You are so loved, and so precious. Have faith.

Friday, December 3, 2010


"Uncle… where are you going?"
He hobbled across the high way towards me, rushing to avoid the oncoming cars who, instead of slowing down, sped up, and added numerous honks to the quite afternoon.

I had been waiting my turn to cross only moments before, and was hesitant, carefully judging the speed of the oncoming cars and my ability to pedal my bicycle quickly enough from a dead stop. He caught my eye as I waited. He was dirty, dressed in rags and on his back was a heavy pack. He had one leg, and two crutches.

I was rushing to get back to the office. There was someone waiting on a phone call from me and a staff dinner to get to, but something told me to stop and talk to him.

"No my daughter. I won't follow with you." He said laughing. But I had pity for him and insisted.
"Where are you going?"
"Mae Sot." He answered.
"I'm going to Mae Sot too, sit here and follow with me." (this is Burmese language. If you want to go somewhere with someone you use the word "lai" which literally means follow.)

Don't take me for the kind of girl who offers rides to strangers. I've never done it in my life, but I could see this man was kind and in need, and he had one leg for goodness sakes. Mae Sot was a few kilometers away and he would have walked along the patchy highway, a tedious task with crutches.

He got onto the back of my bicycle and we wobbled at first as I attempted to pedal and pick up momentum. Cars swerved around us, and I slowly made my way into town. People gaped and stared at us; a young white girl, and an old Burmese man. I got us into town and he told me where to stop. His whole face smiled as he said, "Thank you so much my daughter. You are so kind. No one has ever stopped to give me a ride."

As I peddled towards the office tears began to fill my eyes. I felt an overwhelming love for that old man, and I wanted to go back to hug him, to tell him to be strong and have hope and courage.

I struggled to not sob, and as I pulled into the office driveway I closed the gate and laid my head on the seat of my bike.

I think too often I separate my head from my heart. I have plenty of love for the people that I work with, but I shut out the big picture, and focus on the little one. I try not think about everything that is going on across the border from me, because if I did, I don't know if I would be able to cope.

There is so much fear, so much death, so much injustice, and now I was letting it all go. I was acknowledging it.

The old man.
The people at Mae Tao Clinic.
My young friend Ma Think who I had just visited with.
The people in her dormitory who had welcomed me in and fed me just 10 minutes before.

They are different from anyone I have every encountered.

They are the result of selfishness. They are innocents who have had to suffer under the rule of evil. They have had everything taken from them, and live out of plastic bags. They have no place to call home, they are illegal, and unseen.

Tears are words from your soul, and I let my soul have it's say.

I look into the eyes of the children from Burma. I see their smiles, I see the pure love they are able to have. They are not yet bitter, they have not yet been scarred. They still carry hope.

I pray that they never lose it. I pray that it will become contagious and pour into the hearts of their parents and neighbors. I pray that justice will reign in the land, and I pray that I will never forget these people, and the things they are teaching me.

[the beautiful faces of the poorest of the poor in Mae Sot]

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Week Roundup

I have written a lot this week. Unfortunately, everything is either super personal or could get me into trouble with certain authorities. I'm all controversial and envelope pushing doncha know.

This has been an extremely interesting week though. I'll take you on a little trip if you like...

Thursday was Thanksgiving.

Since I've been a kid, my family hasn't been the most traditional with holidays. Thanksgiving or Christmas usually finds the Pham family on some picnic or bike ride. We have been known to eat raman noodles or a Domino's pizza for Christmas dinner. It's not that we're poor, or don't like cooking, it's just that my parents raised us with the view that holidays are truly about spending time with each other.

So this year I wasn't expecting much of a traditional Thanksgiving, but it turned out to be a mix of tradition and community.
Jimmy and Kelly Sustar had the staff of Compasio over to their house. Joanne Brown and Kelly cooked all day and when we came together to eat, we had everything that a traditional Thanksgiving should have! Chicken, fresh bread, green beans, mashed potatoes, gravy, and pies. It was so awesome!
(creepy Jimmy face)

(This is Doon, he's three weeks old
and staying with the Sustars for now.
I am in love with him.)

Friday was the last day of the Compasio internship program and we had a graduation/get together with the whole Compasio family!

(Compasio Training School 2010 graduates!)

(Again... creepy Jimmy.)

(Mix of Safehouse, Sustar, Babyhouse, and Brown kids
waiting patiently for food)


(Little Doon and Me.
I'm obviously quite thrilled to be holding him :D)

It's so crazy to think about how much Compasio has grown since I arrived in January. We had just a handful of staff back then, but come September we had tripled our number! We have close to 30 staff members now!

I continue to attend Burmese Church and it's gotten to the point where I can understand bits and pieces of the sermon, but even more exciting than that is the opportunity for me to interact with the people there.

(Mae Sot Evangelical Church family photo)

(Rebecca; One of my students and friends)

(Pattay; my younger sister and one of the three girls I live with)

Sunday night I went to a Burmese rock concert. It was AMAZING. There were three fairly well known Burmese singers who performed and it was an awesome time all around.
(Blessed, Siri, and Adam: "Stay close to us. We'll protect you.")

(Artistic shot of my friend Nyi Nyi)

(The guys)

(There were so many people there!)

(Four levels of viewing:
1. as close to the stage as possible 5% 2. mid section with seats 20%
3. standing room only 50% 4. climbing nearby fences and trees for a free view 25%)

(One of the best parts of the concert was the people sitting in front of us)

(We acted pretty civilized)

(But they were quite intoxicated and danced like crazy)

(We managed to contain ourselves.... until we got home)

(my sister was so excited she showed us
how she would act if she were on that stage)

(My other sister, Le, didn't go to the concert)

(So instead we took some extremely Burmese style photos,
down to the serious faces and Burmese style skirts)

I'm glad I had such an amazing weekend, because Monday and Tuesday were going to be as packed as pigs in a truck (wait..what? In America they don't transport loads of pigs stacked on top of each other, as a two story truck zooms through one way streets, pigs squealing and leaving behind the sweet scent of swine? Oh.. I guess that could just be a Thailand thing.)

My role in Compasio has taken an office-y turn. With the hiring and empowering of Burmese speakers, the English speaking staff have been focusing on other things, giving them full control to build relationship with the community around us. I have taken over a lot of human resources tasks as well as accounting. Let me say briefly that I kind of despise math. I think if I can get by in life with the bare minimum requirement of math, I will. In a heartbeat. But, I've found that I surprisingly enjoy accounting. It makes sense, and it's kind of beautiful. It fits together and you can trace everything, like a story.

However it got to the point where I wanted to DIE.

BUT I made it! I got through it, and everything turned out okay. Granted, it took 6 straight hours of work, but it is finished. Come December 30 I will be so prepared and knowledgable that Accounting Beast won't even know what hit it.

So it's December 1, 2010, and I feel like I'm in a really great place. I'm still unclear about the future, but I have peace. God has come through for me this week more times than I can count.

So thanks for sticking with me for these past 10 months, which is how long this blog post seems to be huh?


I want to end with something my friend Jimmy (see creepy photos above) said to me this week,

"When it comes down to it, it's not really about what you can do,
it's about the kind of person you are going to be."

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Family II

*After I write and posted this it was deleted. maybe too sensitive, but I got an email from my mom "hey what happened to the post?!?! I was famous for one moment." Here mom.

When I was preparing to leave last Fall, the thing that was heaviest on my heart was knowing that I had to leave my family.

When I moved away from home at the young age of 18 [:P] I suddenly became closer and grew to appreciate my family. A year later I returned home and got to spend 5 wonderful months with the Phams.

I grew to know my father in a whole new way. The job I had required me to wake up before dawn, and we would often meet in the kitchen, tiptoeing and preparing for our day while trying not to wake the rest. We bonded over cooking Vietnamese food and working on my car (which always had a problem)

My mother was (and is) my biggest supporter. She always encourages me to find the best that God had. I remember her always telling me, "I want all
the doors to be open to you." (this was usually when I refused to study a certain subject in high school, but I know she meant well.) She is still pushing me forward to explore as many opportunities as I can. I know that she is always on my side.

My siblings and I were able to grow close as well. We have always loved each other, but sometimes it takes that distance and a few years of maturity to have true appreciation. Now I value them more than words can describe. If I had 30 bot for every time I whipped out their photos to show off to my friends here I would be a rich woman. I'm so proud of who they are becoming.

To be a disciple means sacrifice, but it's because you want to give everything up because of His saving grace.

There is a man I know, who stood up to do what was right. He sacrificed everything:his job, his safety, his relationships, he even was willing to put his life on the line. All for justice, all for freedom. He sometimes talks to me about his family. He talks about the love he has for his mother, the respect he has for his father, and the tender care he has for his younger sisters. It has been years since he's seen them. He doesn't have much hope that he will see them again.

I feel... I feel petty... I feel petty when my heart aches over my family. I have no excuse. After all, can't I talk to them on skype? Don't I keep in contact with them through facebook and email? Don't I have a date set for when I will return home? He cannot hear their voices and he can never return home.

"If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters-yes, even his own life-he cannot be my disciple."

I'm not saying that I'm going to leave my family and wonder off into the wilderness, but I think the key is that I must be willing to give up everything to follow the Lord. If you cannot separate yourself from it, then it is something that comes between Jesus and you.

Just some of thoughts.
I've been in Thailand for almost ten months.

Saturday, November 13, 2010


The Quest.

Day 1
There's something to traveling alone. You learn independence, confidence, and how to live in silence.
I haven't been in Mae Sot yet this month. My friend Steph and I took off for Chiang Mai on October 31 for a CHE (Community health and evangelism) training.

our group from all over the world: America, Ireland, New Zealand, Australia, Indonesia...

It was really great, we learned techniques for raising up nationals to lead communities to productive and beneficial change. It was a five day course, and I knew that at the end I would need to cross a border for my visa run.

The bust about visas is that they need to be stamped. I need to get mine stamped every 90 days. It's as simple as paying 500 bot ($15) and crossing a border, however things have been more complicated since our Mae Sot border closed four months ago. This means taking a bus up to Mae Sai (12 hours north) or to the Laos or Cambodia border (straight to the other side of Thailand).

None of these options particularly thrilled me, but it had to be done, so I decided to make it fun and do some networking with folks I've been wanting to meet up with. (did I really just use the word folks?)

I left Chiang Mai on Sunday morning and bussed up to Chiang Rai. It took about 2 1/2 hours and I had always wanted to spend time in Chiang Rai. I had the number of a friend of a friend and was picked up by her at the bus station. Nat and I have a lot in common and I had a good time seeing Chiang Mai and sitting on her balcony chatting. The next morning she took me to the bus station and I hopped on a suspiciously rickety bus for Chiang Khong, a Thai/Laos border town.

Nat and I with some pomello (or pomelli? lol)

trekkin to the bus station

Day 2

I'm not going to lie, I felt really awesome sitting on that bus, the only foreigner for what felt like miles, heading to a place I've never been. I had just watched "Eat. Pray. Love" and I couldn't help but think, "Yeah! I'm going to find myself!".

The bus ride was uneventful. I sat for 2 1/2 hours admiring the Thai scenery and sitting in silence, leaving my mind open to random thoughts that flitted through.

nice view :)

But seriously.. it's gorgeous.
The bus door was kept open at all times in case anyone needed to jump in or out,
and all the open windows made for a breezy trip.

I was finally dropped off in front of an Isuzu dealership and called my friends, Peter and Ruthie Dutton, who are Covenant missionaries and friends of my family. My dad and brother were here just last summer, and spent their time working with Peter. It was really nice to be welcomed into their home and have a nice bed to sleep in. I went with Ruthie to babysit her friend's children while they had a meeting. It was great seeing whi… I mean Caucasian kids PLUS they had a trampoline and we watched Toy Story 3. We had a lot of fun, besides that it was great to spend time with people who've been in Thailand/ Laos for 20 plus years. They were really encouraging and gave me some good advice.

The River between Thailand and Laos

Me and The River between Thailand and Laos :)
Day 3
I woke up the next morning (it's been so hard to keep track of days), to a bright, sunny Tuesday. My plan was to take a bus from Chiang Khong to Mae Sai and be there by 12:00 to meet with a friend of Compasio. That plan didn't work out so well. I got to Mae Sai at 4:30. After a few bus transfers and sitting squished next to various Thai travelers.

A little spacey after a few too many hours on the bus

I went to my favorite guesthouse, which is right on the river between Thailand and Burma, and postponed all my Tuesday plans to Wednesday. I checked into a room and walked down the road to the town. I was drawn to a small noodle shop on the road and was met by a language I had never heard when the woman behind the corner mistook me as Chinese. I explained in my limited Thai that I'm American and I speak a little Thai but I can speak Burmese well. "You speak Burmese?" the girl next to her asked. "Yes!" I answered enthusiastically, I hadn't spoken in Burmese for almost two weeks. That girl is awesome. She asked me questions and was so kind to me as I adjusted from Thai back to Burmese.

Day 4
I slept in. I'd gone to bed early the night before, around 10ish, and I didn't get out of bed until 10 the next morning. I lazed around for an hour or so. Planning my day and organizing how much time it would take to get to Mae Sot. I read my Bible before getting out of bed and was drawn to the Sermon on the Mount. Matthew 6:25-34 jumped out at me,

"Do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own."

Guilty. Not only have I been worrying about tomorrow, I've been worrying about 4 months from now, and a year from now. I've been so worried about it that I become anxious. I turn my back on God and starting wringing my hands in fear, "Shoot! What am I going to do four months from now?" I ask myself, breaking a sweat and feeling overwhelmed.

This trip has taught me a good lesson about planning ahead, but being willing to change and be flexible. It's taught me to not feeling anxious and to trust that God has a good plan, and I'm part of it. Buses are late, plans change, and sometimes the changes are better than what you had planned. My "plan" for day 4 was as follows:

▪ eat breakfast
▪ pack
▪ check out of the guest house by 12 (and leave my heavy backpack behind the counter)
▪ walk to the border
▪ cross the border, meander around the market for an hour until I could go back to Thailand
▪ get my passport stamped
▪ call up Florence (who works with Frank, who is a friend of Compasio, who started a drop in center for street kids)
▪ hang out at the drop in center for an hour or two
▪ hop on a bus for Chiang Mai and either
▪ spend the night there
▪ continue on for 6 hours to Mae Sot (arriving around 12:30 am)

Yeah! It went really well until I got to the drop in center and totally fell in love with what was going on there. I sat on the floor playing with an unbelievably cute little boy who called me "big sister" and I was hooked. Frank wasn't in Mae Sai, but Florence is from Burma and speaks English well. The other staff was a guy named Achja who didn't speak any English at all, but who understood my Burmese.

Achja and one of the street boys

"Do you have a plan for tonight?" Florence asked me
"Not really…." I said. "I was going to go back to Mae Sot, but there's no hurry. I'm here praying about whether I want to work in Mae Sai."
"Well you can come with us! We are going to go shopping for food and to eat dinner."
"Okay." I agreed. Happy that I could stay longer in Mae Sai.

The hang out spot for the street kids in Mae Sai

Achja took me back to the guest house and I booked another night, changed my clothes and we went back to the border. Florence had crossed back over for a few minutes to move her motor bike. We sat at the bridge waiting. A bunch of beggar kids were there and when they saw Achja they broke into huge smiles and came over. Maybe the word kid is wrong… they were at least 18 years old and kind of intimidating.

"She speaks Burmese." Achja told them.
"Hey Sister." One of them said. "Where are you from?"

They laughed and joked around with me.
"We're leaving… got work to do. See you later Sister." They shouted behind their shoulders as they disappeared through an alley.

Another little boy beckoned me over. There was a fence separating us; the bridge to Burma from the Thailand.
"Hey Big Sister! Wow! You're so lovely. Your skin is so white… Isn't she cute?" He called a little girl over.
"Yeah!" She said. "What's your name sister?"
I told them and another boy sauntered over, he was probably 12.
"Where are you from?"
"America." I answered
"What? No way! I thought you were Thai."
They all laughed and practiced the few English phrases they knew.
"Let's go." Achja said, "Florence is coming back."
"Wait! Teacher! Five bot" The small boy said.
"No way." I said over my shoulder.
They laughed and said, "See you tomorrow!"

A little girl and her brother begging on the Border

My heart sank when I remembered I probably wouldn't see them tomorrow.

"I like it here." I said to Achja in Burmese as we got onto the motorbike.
"So move here." He said casually. Don't think I hadn't considered it my friend.

We took a trip to Tesco Lotus and stocked up on supplies for the drop in center the next day. Florence and Achja had such a positive outlook on life, even though I knew their lives were far from easy. They work seven days a week, trying to break a cycle of abuse and ignorance. They laughed and joked though, happy to be together and happy to share their lives with me.

We went back to the drop in center and sat talking for an hour. They told me stories of what is going on there, and told me their hopes and dreams for the kids.
"We want them to know the love of Jesus." Florence said. "We want them to go to school and have hope for their futures." They are the only staff at the center, and can have up to 40 kids on a weekday and 70 kids on a Saturday. On Sunday they go into Burma and visit with the families.

Dinner was awesome. We went to a Thai buffet where you can take all you want and cook it at your table. When it came time to pay, they wouldn't let me.
"We want to treat you." They explained.

We ate a lot.

The motorbike ride home was freezing. It's gotten so much colder in Thailand, and we huddled together against the wind. The thermometer at the border read 18.5 degrees celsius.
"If we're this cold on a motorbike, I can't imagine how cold the kids who sleep in front of 7-11 are." Florence chattered back to me, and I agreed. I wonder how people would react if there were children in America camped out in front of 7-11 with only a plastic bag to keep them warm.
A mom and her kids taking a rest on the street

They dropped me off at my place, and we wished each other well. I thanked them for sharing their day with me, and they promised to add me on Facebok.

I'm sitting here now. Processing everything I've been through over these past few days. How far I've come in my thinking, in my confidence in God knowing what He's doing in my life.

I don't know what's going to happen in January. I mean… I don't know yet. And, there is beauty in that. I have to trust in God to lead me, my job for now is to glorify Him, to Love Him, and to Love the people around me. I've been given passions and desires, and I have freedom to pursue them. Plans can seem concrete but then dissolve before your eyes, none of us can say with confidence what will happen tomorrow, but we can trust that today our heavenly Father knows what we need, and He won't leave us.

Day 5

It's 12:30 in the morning. What a day. You know those days that are so long.. that they feel like weeks? This morning I woke up and packed my stuff. I sat by the river and drank a cup of coffee and read my Bible.
My favorite breakfast place in Mae Sai, right on the river
Delicious coffee

I strapped my backpack on and headed out to the road. As I walked along (I'll admit I broke a sweat and was struggling to breathe), a Thai guy rode beside me on his motorbike. He asked me some questions which I couldn't understand, but which I assumed meant, "hey. do you want a ride? where are you going?"
"Mai bpen lai." I replied. No problem.

Heavy backpack, but everything I need for a few weeks on the road

I got to the main road and caught a motorbike taxi to the bus station. As we pulled up a bus was slowly pulling out, the attendant shouting the last call for anyone who wanted to go to Chiang Rai.
I ran behind the bus and caught up to it, slinging my heavy backpack on the floor and taking the back seat.
There were only a few people on the bus, and I was soon engaged in a conversation with the bus attendant, a Thai man who works for the Chanel 7 news, and a woman who was born in Mae Sot. I spoke a little Thai, and the news guy spoke a little English, so we could get along okay. We had a laugh when someone lugged two big plastic bags of frozen sausages next to our feet.
"What is that?" I asked, crinkling my nose at the potent smell.
"They're uh…. how do you say in Engilsh? Hotdogs? They have rice inside, you fire it. They're delicious."
Luckily the sausages stop came soon.
I arrived in Chiang Mai around 5:30 and rested at the Compasio office before catching a took tuk to meet some friends for dinner.
"If you want… I can pick you up when you're done." The driver said coyly, winking at me.
"Mmm…. no it's okay." I replied.
He looked disappointed.

Dinner with Nat

Day 6
My last day. I'm on the bus back to Mae Sot right now. I'm not exactly sure why, but I'm not extremely excited to go back. Usually when I'm away for even a few days I get so homesick and try to get back as soon as possible. This trip is different. Mae Sot is amazing, I have such great friends there and I love the work that I'm doing, but I wonder if I'm slowly detaching, preparing subconsciously to move on. A few months ago I hated the idea of ever leaving Mae Sot, but now I am anticipating my next place, the next thing. I want to be able to settle in a place, to know that I'll be there for a few years.
I haven't been able to get Mae Sai out of my mind. It is such a beautiful town, but I know there is unspeakable pain as well. Florence told me that at night, the side streets are lined with young girls and boys, selling themselves to anyone interested. It's not like it's the life that they desire, it's just that they need to be able to support their families. It's what's expected of them.

My new friend and sister, Florence, with the kids in Mae Sai

I wonder sometimes. I wonder why I was born in America, where I have more than enough, where I have parents who love me and want the best for me. I could have just as easily been one of those little girls begging on the bridge, bowing before passerby hoping for a 5 bot coin.

When I was sitting at the border, filling out my arrival card before being stamped into Thailand, I watched the kids working. One boy followed a man, tugging gently on his T-shirt, pleading for something, anything. When the man brushed him aside, the boy turned away, furious. In his anger he whacked a hanging branch, the frustration evident on his face.
I sat there in the land between for a long time. There was a lump in my throat and a pain in my heart. I had a lot going through my head. Compassion for that boy and desire to take him out of that situation. It dawned on me that this was my last visa run. I would be leaving Thailand in 90 days.

Lord use me. I thought to myself. Use me to bring hope and love to kids like this. To people who believe they're worthless because that's all they've ever been told.
There are hurting people all over the world. I think one purpose of being a Christian is to encourage people who have no hope. It's should be our joy to point them to the source of all hope.
It was a good thing to realize at that time. It was something that put a spring in my step and gave me a foundation for what I'm doing. Sometimes you just need attitude checks like that, you know?
It's 12:45 pm on Friday. I'll be back in Mae Sot around 5 or 5:30 and from there the countdown begins. I believe these next three months are going to be quite extraordinary. I keep praying that I won't loose focus of why I'm here, and I pray that God will grow my heart to love more each day.
So friends…

Here's to living life to the full.

The precious kids of Burma who have stolen my heart and changed my life.