Saturday, September 10, 2011

Help to Help Them.

Since I've returned to America, I've been overwhelmed by the mass numbers of people who seem to not care for anyone but themselves. They care so much about how their coffee is made, but can pass by a needy person without a second glance. I'm tired of Apathy.

Compasio is doing something to help people be involved in what's going on in the lives of broken and needy people. This campaign is being launched today to help fix the brokenness of this world.

The concept is simple and easy:
$11 sends 2 street kids to school for a year. It supplements the money they would be making and provides them with school supplies and uniforms.

$111 contributes to other ministries Compasio has including the drop in center, emergency shelter for victims of trafficking, providing medical care and clean water for families at the garbage dump, and homes for children who have been rescued from dangerous situations

Monday, April 11, 2011

A Refugee and Me

I've become borderline obsessed with refugees. In a good way of course. Something about them just draws me in. If you read this newsletter, then you'll know that refugees are one of the ways I was able to cope with my return to America. I'm also half refugee, if I can say that. My dad arrived in America in 1985, one of the boat people fleeing Vietnam and the communist regime. I love refugees.

I left Washington D.C today and arrived in Dallas, Texas. Part two of my epic adventure, which was about to become even more awesome. Fast forward 1 hour after my landing and I was sitting in an emergency room as a translator. Yeah. I was listening to Burmese, translating it to English, and vice versa. How did this happen?

I walked out of the airport and into baggage claim. (Remember the good old days when your loved ones waited for you outside your gate? When it was fun and exciting to go through security instead of some bizarre game of airport stripper?) Anyway, waiting for me was a woman I had never met before, but I felt like I had known her all my life. She was in fact, the mother of one of my best friends I worked with in Thailand. Cindy and I walked to her car and she told me about the ministry she is involved in, a ministry where they reach out to and support the hundreds of Chin families living in the greater Dallas area. Now, if you've chatted with me in the past few months, you'll know that I've been desperately searching for a group of people from Burma that I can serve and learn from. Who would have guessed they'd be in Louisville, Texas.

We arrived at the house of her family, a man opened the door and I smiled when I saw he was wearing a longi, the traditional skirt worn by both men and women in Burma. He was carrying a tiny little girl and I small boy peaked out from behind the door. He ushered us inside, greeting us warmly and disappearing to the back of the small apartment. A moment later a woman hopped into the room.
"Esther! What happened?" Cindy cried out.
"I fell of stairs." The woman grimaced and I quickly scooted over to allow her room on the couch.
She had fallen down the stairs outside her apartment. Her ankle was swollen and bruised. She explained to me in Burmese that she was too shy to call anyone to take her to the doctor.

We took her to the emergency room, and that's how I found myself translating for doctors and nurses, asking everything from how she landed after she fell to what medicines she was allergic too. I fumbled for words that had left my mind in the past 2 months, slowly warming up to using the language with a native speaker.

Esther and her husband Tacido moved to America 3 years ago. They had been in a refugee camp in Malaysia before that, and had lived in Burma before that. He works 13 hour nights in uncomfortable conditions to provide for his family. She recently took on a job assembling cell phones. They both make minimum wage and trade shifts to take care of the children, neither of whom are old enough to go to school. She was anxious the whole time we were at the hospital, asking about how long it would take for her ankle to heal, she knew she would lose her job if she missed more work. Her husband had already used two of his vacation days because she couldn't take care of the children or the house.

There are many people like this here. Men and women who are willing to do any kind of work to feed their families. People who can barely speak English and are trying to assimilate to American culture. People who are trusting that their hard work will pay off, that their children will be able to live more comfortably in the future.

Esther's ankle is fractured. She has to wait to be able to see a special foot doctor who will tell her how long it will take to heal her leg. Until then, she is unable to go to work, and will probably lose her job. She has pain medication and crutches. We sat in the hospital with her for three hours to get that diagnosis. This town is full of refugees, most uninsured, and most unable to communicate with people.
"We need you here." One nurse told me when she found out I spoke Burmese.

We dropped Esther off at her house. She made the long climb up the stairs, hopping on one foot, using a crutch to support her. As she neared the top, her husband rushed out and used his strength to help her up the last step. Her son looked amazed at the bulky bandage on her foot and the metal crutches. Her daughter reached for her mother, eager to snuggle in her warm embrace.

"Thank you. Thank you so so much." Esther said to me in Burmese.
I smiled back. "It's okay." I said.

Cindy drove me to Denton, to my grandparents house. I was tired, after a 3 hour flight and the evening activity, the time change was catching up to me, but I felt joy in my heart and peace in my soul.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Travels Part I

Hello World!
Man oh Man. It seems like it's been a long time since I've written a blog. I got too used to churning out captivating stories every week... Wonder how many people are sticking with me now that my life is horribly boring? I promise exciting, noteworthy things are coming! I'm just not quite sure when, but that's pretty exciting in itself isn't it? Okay, maybe just for me...

I am currently in Arlington, Virginia.
I had gone back and forth about traveling a little bit after I had settled in Orange, my bank account is really upset with me right now, but I do believe that this trip is worth it. I am young, and I may never have an opportunity like this again... I tell myself that for all the crazy things I do though.

I have some family who live just a few minutes from D.C and coincidently the US Campaign for Burma was having a conference so it was like hitting two birds with one stone! Also, I think that I needed some time away from what I had become comfortable to (the CA life)... I needed some time of quite and solitude.

My Uncle and Aunt both work full time, so I was left with a lot of time on my hands to do whatever I wanted. I spent a lot of time walking, sightseeing, photographing, and thinking. It was exactly what I needed. I've had a lot of revelation and renewed purpose for where I'm going and how to get there. I am really excited to share with you about what my plans are, but I believe it would be wise for me to wait a while and solidify where I believe the Lord is leading me before spewing it to the world. Until then... enjoy these photos from the past week!

So Chilly at the Washington monument!

Just in time for the blooming cherry blossoms :)

Vietnam Memorial

One of the few sunny days in D.C

My Uncle B and me in downtown Alexandra
We biked 26 miles through Arlington, Alexandra, and into D.C.
Kid's play for him... leg numbing for me.

Thanks for Reading! Keep an eye out for part two from Dallas/Denton/Decatur, Texas!

Monday, March 21, 2011

Oh that Reverse Culture Shock!

I can use that as an excuse for my horribly depressing blog post I used last week right?

A lot can change in a week. I've been through a few levels varying from sadness to utter joy. It is kind of wacky and was beginning to take a toll on my soul by the time that little post below was churned out. Thank you to everyone who responded with encouragement. I appreciate it so much!

I'm really glad to report that this week has been completely healing and full of goodness. I'm sure this doesn't happen to you folks but sometimes I think that I have everything under control and I have no need to correspond with the God of the universe.
"Oh I'll be fine." I say to myself, "No need to read the Bible today. Saying a quick thank you prayer will do the trick."

Well it usually doesn't, and I think that's why I found myself in that horrible place of desperation.

I went to a worship night at my friend's church last week and it began to work on my soul. Realizing I was broken and hurt I quickly went to the only place I knew I would receive healing, the open arms of Jesus. Throughout the week I began to read my Bible again, I prayed earnestly and Hope began to rise.

I began dreaming again of plans for the future, and opportunities came up for me to be encouraged and to encourage others. This weekend I retreated to Pasadena for One Thing, a conference hosted by the International House of Prayer. It was on the US Center for World Mission campus, where I lived 2 years ago. I was able to reconnect with old friends and spend some really good quality time in community.

The worship at One Thing was fantastic, and exactly the push I needed to get me fully on the right track. There is something SO powerful about worshipping with thousands of people, the Holy Spirit was so thick in the room I felt Him healing and cleansing my brokenness and fears that had overtaken me since I've been back in America.

Every evening I went to sleep completely exhausted, but I was so full of the Spirit and so full of JOY. The weekend was rainy. It rained for over 24 hours, the streets were flooded and my drive from Pasadena to Orange was dangerous with the flooded freeways and heavy downpour, but now, I look out my window and I see blue skies.

I guess that's kind of like my life, like all of our lives. There are storms, there will always be storms, but the clouds will inevitably part, revealing the blue goodness of clarity and hope.

Monday, March 14, 2011

I don't know what to say.

Honestly. I don't know what to say.
I've been trying to put this feeling into words for days... weeks.
Oh, it's not always like this. Sometimes I feel bright, cheerful, hopeful... peaceful. But then, suddenly it just changes and I feel like I'm hanging at the edge of a cliff. By one finger.

Thailand was not perfect. I had so many ups and downs, but I always was able to conquer those difficult times. I feel like there is no light at the end of the tunnel this time.

I don't know what I'm longing for. I don't know what I want.
All I know, is that when I close my eyes at the end of the day and finally fall asleep, I'm either haunted or healed by my dreams. It's always of Border Towns. I always see faces of people I knew there, experiences I had, or troubles that I saw.

I long to feel the holy spirit in my life. I want that more than anything, my soul feels so dry. There's always short encounters, tiny glimpses of comfort that come and go, and in between I'm unable to focus and I just want to cry.

I guess this is a cry.

Monday, February 28, 2011

Finding My Place

I hesitantly walked towards the front of the church, not quite sure what to expect, not even knowing if I was in the right place, even though the sign at the front said, "Burmese Community Church; 2:00." Here I was. Sunday. It was 2:05. I walked through the door, my eyes adjusting to the darker lighting inside. Woman walked around in traditional Burmese skirts and as soon as I entered, I felt like every eye turned to gaze at me, just like in the movies.

I smiled and walked a few rows back to sit on the wooden pew.
"Hello." I said to the two women sitting in front of me.
They were just about to begin the service, the piano and violin doing a few more practice runs. A woman in a long Karen skirt walked towards me and smiled.
"How are you?" I asked in Burmese.
"I'm fine my sister, I've never seen you before..." she answered in Burmese and I seriously wanted to cry, because I've missed hearing the language.
"My name is Katie, I'm from Orange County but I lived in Thailand..." I quickly told her about what I had been doing in Mae Sot, all in Burmese.
I think she was impressed.

The service began and they sang a few English songs and some Burmese hymns. An old Karen man, the senior pastor walked to the pulpit and welcomed us to the church,
"If there are any visitors, would you introduce yourselves?" He asked in perfect English.
My new friend encouraged me to stand up, "Tell us about yourself in Burmese. Everyone would be so happy."

So I did.

Everyone was shocked, I forgot to mention that the entire congregation (there were about 40) were old enough to be my parents or grandparents. There was no one under the age of 45.
They clapped when I had finished and the pastor was so warm and welcoming to me.

I love how laid back their service was. People would come up onto the stage and share something or sing a song that had not been previously planned. The pastor was so encouraging and proud of his congregation for being bold in sharing their faith with one another.

Some things about the service were similar to my home Church in Mae Sot. They sang some of the same songs, had the same praying style, and loved and cared for each other like they were family, which I later found out many of them were.

When the service ended, I was immediately swarmed.
Men and women reached out to shake my hand and welcome me. Many of them told me about other churches in the area and restaurants that I could visit, all of them called me their younger sister or daughter, and invited me to come back often.

Most of the congregation moved to America in the 60's or 70's and they were eager to hear about what was going on with Burma and how I learned to speak so well.

I got many phone numbers and connections to more activities in Southern California. Many women laughingly told me that they have sons just my age, and they're single. We laughed and joked together, easily switching from Burmese to English.

Afterwards I sat in my car and just let the warmth fill my heart. I hadn't even realized that I had been feeling empty. I think that being there in that place, surrounded by people who spoke the language that I love, I suddenly realized that I have been missing a part of myself. It has been about 3 weeks since I left Thailand and my life there, and slowly, the realness of it has been fading. It seems like a place that I dreamed of, not as a reality. I was scared that I had lost it, but sitting there on that hard wooden pew, I realized that I will never lose my love for Burma, because it is engrained in my heart.

Later that night I called one of my best friends in Mae Sot and we spoke for a long time.
"Your Burmese is better." He said to me.
"What?! No way... I've barely been speaking and I feel like I was stumbling over the easiest words today."
"No your accent is amazing. You sound just like you are from Burma."

As I lay in bed that night, warm memories swam into my head and I rested easy, dreaming of my friends and of Mae Sot.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

California Week 1

Can I still blog even though I'm not living "overseas"?

Why not. (as my friends from Burma would say.. although it's kind of answering the question with a question)

Statement of fact:
I'm still overseas. I crossed over the sea.

I wrote one last newsletter that I've been sending out to an elite few (if you're not on it it's cause you didn't give me your email! Don't even pretend like I didn't ask for it.)

I feel like it was exactly the closure that I needed so I can continue on this journey of 2011. I was just surfing the web (does anyone use that term anymore? They should...) and I was drawn to the YWAM Modesto crew. They are partnered with New Hope Christian Fellowship. I have had deep and healing relationships with some of the staff and their heart is parallel with mine when it comes to walking with the poor, especially in America as they are often overlooked and purposefully forgotten. I am looking forward to heading up north and spending time with them!

In the meantime I've been spending time with my family and friends as I rebuild relationships and share my heart for Burma. I went to the library last night and was hit with this wave of wanting to learn! I quickly wrote out every subject I've ever had an interest in. It literally spanned from cooking... to the history of abortion in America... from gangs to starting your own non profit organization... from working with refugees to how to sew. With many random topics in between.

God has definitely placed counseling on my heart. I met many children, women, and men in Mae Sot in need of someone to help them heal from deep wounds inflicted by their own parents, sexual abuse, drugs and alcohol, and/or the Burma government. My heart ached for them, but it instilled a passion and desire for walking beside them and showing them that they are far from alone. I'm looking into a few different programs to better equip me to be a counselor who can introduce them to The Counselor.

I'm looking at this season as a time to learn and grow spiritually, mentally, and emotionally. (I don't think I'll be growing physically. I somehow shrank half an inch this past year)

That's it for now. Don't forget your call today, tomorrow, and forever as we set out as disciples of Christ and brothers and sisters to each other....

"Therefore as God's chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity."
Colossians 3:12-14


Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Just the Beginning.

I lay on the cold tile floor. The inevitable tears forming in my eyes for the third or fourth time that day.
I can't do this.
No, you can. It will be okay. Everything will be fine.
I stood up and looked at myself in the mirror
You can do this.
"I can do this." I said to myself outloud.

I've never been one for giving myself pep talks, but this is something I've never been through before, so I think it was a good exception.

It has been looming. My departure. I knew it was coming, so you'd think that I would have been prepared, but I don't think that goodbye's can ever be anticipated to their fullest degree. Even I had been telling myself and everyone around me that I would be returning soon, there is always the element of the unknown. I literally cannot tell you what will take place over these next few months. So, as much as I would like to believe I'm going to return to Mae Sot in June, I don't know if it will really happen.

The day started with breakfast at Lucky teashop, a place where I had been building relationship all year, and where a lot of my language learning occurred. My friend Steph summed up the day with this,
"This is a bitter sweet day. Wait. No. There's nothing sweet about it."

I went home and finished packing my things, shoving many items into the dresser that would stay in Mae Sot, a security blanket for my safe and speedy return. I ended up having two suitcases, which were extremely heavy. I still have to sort through through and lighten the load as much as a I can before I get onto the plane.

I went to the office for our weekly staff lunch and had a really good time seeing everyone and eating together. It still had not hit me fully.

I went back to Lucky and was taken upstairs to my friend's one room home where she lives with her husband and newborn son. She had made my mohinka, one of my favorite Burmese dishes. We sat on the floor and ate together as the Indian Bollywood movie played in the background. I went back downstairs and sat with Sii and Saa, my beautiful friends who have taken me under their wing. I was so hesitant to leave, and we all had tears in our eyes every time I attempted to stand. We sat and talked, eating sweets together, until I knew I had to leave.

"You'll be back soon." They told me. And I silently nodded, because I can't stand to think that's not true.

I continued the afternoon running errands and making sure I had everything ready. At 5:30 I went to Hin Pai's house to eat dinner with the high school kids I had taught English this year. They had cooked a delicious meal, with many different kinds of curry and we sat talking long after we had finished.

When I stood to leave Hin Pai pulled me in to hug her, and she held me close, her tears wetting my hair. I started to cry, because this woman has become my sister. She had been with my since the start, patiently teaching me the Burmese alphabet and sympathizing with my shock to the culture. I've seen her blossom into a young mother with a beautiful daughter. I've seen her and her husband overcome trials in their faith and in their community. She is my hero. So it was difficult to say goodbye, and as she walked me to my motorbike a million memories rushed back of my daily visits to her home and our laughter and conversation.

Quick trips to the Safehouse and Babyhouse were next on the agenda, and the kids and staff prayed for me and my journey. They laughed and shouted and we played for a while before I had to go.
At the babyhouse, P Chat (the house dad) read me scripture from Joshua 1 to encourage me.

"Katie, no one will be able to stand up against you all the days of your life. As I was with Moses, so I will be with you; I will never leave you nor forsake you. Be strong and courageous…"

As I left, he pressed 20 bot into my hand, "For canomb (cookie or cracker) buy a snack at the bus station."

I returned home. My sisters were waiting for me. We were laughing, joking. They prayed for me and we began to cry. My sisters. We had slept next to each other, eaten together, spent so much time together over the past six months. They were like an extension of myself. They were the most difficult to say goodbye to.

At the bus station my friends were waiting for me. We had gotten there early and sat talking, laughing, joking until the bus began to back out. We all leapt up shouting for it to wait. I quickly said goodbye, hugging each friend close. This was it.

I'm sitting here now at the airport. Life continues on. People are passing by me, everyone going somewhere, saying goodbye and preparing to say hello. I feel excited. I feel scared. I feel sad for what I'm leaving behind. God works and He is near me, of this I am sure. He brought me to this country and blessed me with these deep and rich friendships. I know that I will have an amazing experience in America, as difficult as it will be, but when I return to Mae Sot, I will be welcomed back, hugged and kissed, and I will know that with each hello and goodbye you can be assured that it's not the end, because deep and true love has no ending.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Thursday in the Muslim Community

I cycled slowly down the road,
"I know it's around here somewhere." I called back to my friend who was following me.
I was looking for a certain small entry from the main street that led down an alley to the packed neighborhood in the heart of the Muslim community. It took two drivebys before we finally found it.
We parked our bikes and made sure they were locked before walking down the alley.
The busy walkway went quite and suddenly every eye was on us, the two foreigners.
"Mingalaba!" I greeted everyone quickly.
"Nay kawn la?" Faces broke from the distrusting grimace into wide smiles, and life resumed.

I spotted an elderly woman that I had visited once or twice before. She has been our first example of a family changing for the better. Her four nephews and son have been enrolled in school, where they were thriving. Just six months ago they were on the street collecting garbage and getting into drugs with the older gangs of boys.
"My daughter, come inside." She welcomed me warmly, and I entered her home.
Each "house" in this slum is one room with a small bathroom and a standing room only area for cooking. The houses are dark and build with old dark wood. Cracks are patched with plastic bags and the walls are thin enough to have a conversation with your surrounding neighbors. The alleyway is scattered with mud puddles and blood colored stains from the beetlenut spit from every person on the lane.

I began conversing with the woman, asking about her health and the health of her husband, inquiring about the boys in school and telling her that she was doing a wonderful job. After a time, I told her we had come to visit Ko Ko's house, could she tell me where it is? She pointed in the direction of it, just a few houses down from hers. As we entered the house, I saw Nyi Nyi, one of our community mentors, talking with Ko Ko's mother. The problem was this:

KoKo, his sister, and a few other young girls are beggars around Mae Sot. They provide for their families by begging at the market, in front of 7-11 and in front of restaurants. They make the bare minimum when they're on their own but if they have an extra, for example a disability or a baby, they can make a lot more each day. So they had found a baby.

Across the river in Maywaddy, there was a mother desperate for money, and she happened to have a baby. She had literally been renting her 6 month old child out to a ten year old for days at a time. Can you imagine loaning your infant to a young boy who walks around a city illegally begging? We were appalled that this was happening and had gone to confront the parents to try to reason with them. So far nothing has worked.
"Can you give us the money the baby is making? If not then don't say anything to us." was their simple, yet bitter reply.

This work is difficult and change does not come easily. Looked down and despised by everyone, these neighborhoods of people are exploited and persecuted. Sometimes it seems like what we're doing is not making any difference. As I sat in those dark one room houses where up to 12 people sleep packed together like sardines, I wanted to cry and I asked God, "Why?". The woman in front of me had been crying, hopelessly in debt and owing an interest of 500% per loan. I felt a lump in my throat and knew that each family in this neighborhood was suffering from not having a salary to provide for their needs.

At that moment I looked outside into the alley. A mother was blowing bubbles, and her two young boys were squealing with joy and dancing through the curtain of rainbow colored soap. It was light out side. It was like a cave inside, but the sun was shining beyond the darkness and there was laughter. A father, dirty and tired after collecting garbage wheeled his cart to his front door and bent down to pick up his small daughter who had run to be held and cuddled. Two of our streets kids came home for lunch after a long morning of collecting recyclables. They washed their feet and hands and kissed their mom on the cheek.

Change is possible. Hope can be seen, even in the midst of a poor slum.

As I rode my bicycle home, my phone rang and I stopped to answer it.
"Hey, teacher Katie." A young voice greeted me in Burmese.
"Thank you for coming to our house. We've really missed you. See you Wednesday at the drop in center?"
"Yes." I replied, smiling, "I'll see you on Wednesday."

Unoh, one of our kids who is now in school

Friday, January 14, 2011

caring for our brothers and sisters

I want to introduce you to three girls who have changed my life.

Elli is 21 years old and working at Mae Tao Clinic as a nurse in the surgery department. She is Motabi Chin and the only one of her siblings living in Thailand. She loves singing worship songs and spending time with her friends from church. She has been one of the most faithful friends I've ever had. Every time I've been sick she's taken care of me, making sure I have all the right medicines and doing everything she can to bring down my fever. She is about to begin a 2 year training school so she can advance in her medical knowledge. During these two years she will live at the boarding house with many students. They have no running water and no place to cook.

Partay is 18 years old and Elli's cousin. She is about to graduate from the local migrant school. She is smart and has a sense of humor. Her family lives in Rangoon and she dreams of studying in India and teaching migrant and refugee children about Jesus and His love.

Yao Min So is 14 years old. Her family is quite poor. They live across the river in Burma. Her father is a pastor who struggles to make ends meet. Elli and Partay have been supporting her so she can go to school and have an education here in Thailand.

The reason I'm telling you about them is because they need help. Elli was the main support for this small family and now that she is studying, she will no longer be paid by Mae Tao. I am leaving for America so I cannot stay and look out for Partay and Yao Min So. Elli will be moving to the boarding house when I leave and the two younger girls will move in with an older Chin lady. With Elli unable to make money, the two younger girls will have no one to support their rent and food money. I told Elli that I would make a way for them to continue living and studying in Thailand.

It will only cost $99 a month to support these girls. Their rent money is $66 a month and $33 will cover the remaining expenses of food, household items, and emergency medicines they may need.

I want to know if you are interested in helping these girls. They have many things set against them, but I've lived with them and seen that they have the potential and dreams to be more than what's culturally expected.

I know it's a long shot but $99 a month isn't much. I will be supporting them either way, but I thought that it would be a blessing if other people wanted to be involved in the lives of these beautiful girls.

Send me an email if you are interested in helping.

thank you so much.


Katie, Elli, Partay, and Yao Min So