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.