There is a song by artist Laura Story called ‘Blessings’ that talks about the challenges we face in life and while often we view them as hurdles and hinderances to our spiritual growth, in reality they are often the medium God uses to facilitate growth. Well, last month we shared a few testimonies of what God has been doing here. It was a real encouragement as we struggled with the idea that we had been here 5 years already and hadn’t had any ‘real’ results. Well, this month we had a few more powerful blessings that came in the package of trial.
We will start on a personal note. Jessica spent the last month driving herself and the boys from Phoenix, through California and up to Spokane, WA. It was a hard trip at times and they stayed in 10 different places. While visiting my parents she told me Asher all of a sudden threw up one night as they arrived at a restaurant to eat. She thought it was weird as he had not had any symptoms of sickness and then went in and ate his food no problem. Well, a few weeks later she told me he was having severe stomach pain and was unable to sleep. After a week she took him to the hospital for a check up where they found nothing. She made an appointment at a Dr. and he also found nothing but gave a referral to a GI specialist; they were booked a month out. In between the hospital and the Dr. she had spoken with a Naturopathic Doctor friend who recommended parasite cleanse. Jessica began and he started improving rapidly. He was doing well for a few days and then had another episode. She was waiting for the results from some cultures the Dr. was doing and he was supposed to call at noon; he never did. She finally called back in the afternoon and he apologized for forgetting and recommended the GI specialist. Jessica knew the appointment would be a month out so called and set it up. The receptionist said that they had just had someone call and cancel and they could get her in just 3 days from then. Unfortunately after all the tests he found nothing and said Asher is healthy as ever but is digesting very slowly. He told Jessica to just continue what she was doing for him. Now you might say, “That wasn’t a very good end to the story, I don’t see a blessing there.” Well, that’s the next story.
I mentioned also last month that the plan had ben for me to stay behind and open the Cafe. Many people counseled against it and as I considered it more it did seem like a poor idea. We decided to surrender that until we returned. At that point I realized there wasn’t really any reason for me to stay the extra month after all. Only problem is I had already purchased a ticket. I went down to the airline and requested a change in the date of my ticket. They were very kind and said it would be no problem. I just needed to pay an additional 17,500 Baht (roughly $550). The only problem, besides the fact I didn’t have the money, was that my original ticket was only $498. I then asked if I could cancel and they said I could. It would require a fee of $300. Again in the context of my ticket cost I decided God wanted me to stay, thanked the ladies and left. Well, unknown to me, 2 days later I received an email from the airline. I was busy with a few things and the email was entirely in Chinese and so I just put it aside. A week later I emailed them and asked what it meant and they informed me that my return flight had been cancelled. I asked if that meant I could get a full refund. They told me my outbound flight wasn’t cancelled but I requested again and they approved a full refund; no fee. I prayed about this for 3 days before asking and then God made it clear. I was talking to Jessica one evening and she was sharing the frustration of having a severely sick child and not knowing what is wrong. She was overwhelmed with everything. Then she told me that now Joseph just told her his tummy hurt. She said I am overwhelmed and could cry. That was when it was completely clear that God wanted me to go. I told her that I was going to be buying a ticket and coming at the end of the month. She responded “Now I am crying.” She has been doing such an amazing job as a ‘single’ mother especially in an international travel setting and then watching sick kids in other peoples homes. Definitely a strong lady. Plus doing all this while carrying around a basketball in her shirt. Needless to say she is relieved to have help on the way and I am so glad toto be going to see my family again. 3 months has been so long and I don’t know how another month would have gone. I am not entirely convinced that Asher’s health issues are not a product of stress and worry having our family apart and traveling so much. We will see as I arrive in Seattle in 3 days to surprise the boys!
Another situation happened as I went north to help Josh and Chitlada from Jesus for Slum Kids. They were getting 2 more kids for this new school year and their 2 bedroom house was now seriously too small for the 11 people living in it and they were converting their car port into a large bedroom for the 6 girls to sleep in. The person helping them was going out of town and not returning until after the kids returned. It was a challenge, and a big one for them. I just so happened to have an opportunity to run up so I did. That was such a refreshing time. It had been 3 months since I had full-time interaction with someone of my own culture. More so, someone that understands the challenges of cross-cultural ministry. We had a great time fellowshipping while working. Something I have missed over the last year since the business opened was the physical work. I have always loved working with my hands and that was a nice opportunity too. In case you haven’t noticed their ministry in our prayer request section each month they were working in the slum near our house trying to help with the kids. The area is full of kids and also full of drugs and alcohol, prostitution, etc. They started helping teach english and just build relationships with the kids. The church went from being a handful of old ladies to having upwards of 30 kids attending each sabbath and coming also on Sunday for english lessons and other activities. They soon realized the need to get the kids out of the toxic environment and decided to start a scholarship program to send kids up to the Adventist Academy in Chiang Mai area. With some complications of the first kids that were sent up they realized that just sending the kids away wasn’t going to work. These kids needed a family, for many of them it was something that had been lacking most of their lives. So Chitlada made the tough decision to quit her Managerial position at a 4 star hotel, they left their work at the slum and moved north near the school. Now 2 years later they have 8 kids living in their home and they are providing a christian atmosphere for these young people while teaching them practical skills in labor, but most importantly showing them a working family model that they are each a part of. Some of the kids even call them mom and dad. Healing physical wounds is something Josh and Chitty did at times in their work in Bangkok. But their work in these kids lives is healing deep emotional wounds that will have a far outlasting effect upon the future of these children. You can read more about their work on their website at http://jesus4slumkids.org That storm for them turned out to be a blessed time for us all. Unfortunately we didn’t finish the room but we were able to put a good dent in the work. Pray for them to be able to finish on their own now as all the kids are back and the house is FULL.
While I was in Chiang Mai my manager called and said her mother was in the ICU and she and her husband, also a member of our team, needed to go back to their home village and be with her. It was a slight challenge as we are working with the bare minimum number of staff to operate but the other members said they would be fine. We had a staff retreat planned that had been scheduled for a few months already and was coming up the following week. They were pretty sure they would be back in time. Well, as the day approached and her mother’s conditioned worsened they realized they would not be able to make it. I then began to stress a little. I planned this trip as a thank you for our staff for a year of service with us and also for a bonding, spiritual time. With half the staff not attending and one of the ones coming along being fairly distant from me I thought it was going to be a waste of money and a disaster. I called Jessica and talked to her and she said “you have to go.” And so I went. Breecha, in his late 50s, had never been on an airplane before. He was so excited. Jun had only been on a plane twice and both of those were since coming to work with us. Seeing them excited about things I take for granted was really eye opening. Then we arrived at the beach. They were so excited to see the water, watch the waves, see the boats. I didn’t know it but the first time Jun went to the beach was with us almost a year ago. Now being at an exotic beach with clear water, white sand and islands dotting the horizon in every direction was a wonderful experience for both of them. We boarded a boat and head to the ‘island-like’ area we were staying at, Its still on the mainland but only accessible by boat so feels like an island. This is the most famous rock climbing area in Thailand so the plan was to do some climbing, swimming, etc. Friday we got up to watch the sunrise and then went scouting out the climbing areas. We stopped in a cave as the rain came but within 15 min it was passed and we continued on to the beach where Jun and I swam and played in the waves and Breecha people watched. We went back to the room in the evening and as we had our sabbath opening worship I realized I had been so worried about Tong and Wiang not coming I hadn’t prepared anything to share. As we finished singing I started to share and I don’t even know what the text I was sharing from was but all of a sudden I just started expressing the gratitude I had for the team and all the work they had done. I also opened up about how I have so often felt like I am failing, that every time I make a cultural error and offend someone or I get a bad attitude about small things like my parking spot, that I feel like I should just leave and let someone else come and take over this work that would do a better job. Then they started sharing. Jun said that he has had such a hard time coming to Bangkok to work. He is so far from his family and only gets to see them twice a year. He said every time he starts to feel down and discouraged about his situation he thinks about me. He says to himself, “Yes I miss my family and am so far from them, but I am still in Thailand with my own people. Brian and his family gave up not just their house and their family, but even their country so they could come and share the message of Jesus with us. You inspire me to keep going when things are hard.” I was already crying when Breecha began. Cultural point; emotions are not supposed to be expressed and sharing your heart is not a common thing here as it would cause you to lose face, especially as an elder to younger people. Breecha said that before he came to work with us he had nothing. He had lost everything and was living in the church not by choice, but by necessity. He had so manny days where he thought about committing suicide. His family was divided with wife here, son here and himself somewhere else. He didn’t know what to do. Then we offered him a position to come serve with us. He felt like maybe there was hope. He decided that he would try it out to see what it was like and he said that he was happy. He apologized for being distant, which I also apologized for, saying he didn’t want to make any connections, but that he was so grateful for the opportunity he has been given. He even shared Bible verses to encourage me. Since that time the relationship between myself and these 2 has been completely changed. At the end of the trip Jun said that the trip was so great. I asked him why expecting to hear about the snorkeling, neither of them had gone before, or the climbing or the ocean, but he said it as because he felt like he came near to God during our time there. That was one of the main goals of the trip and even in spite of me, God made it happen. Sunday we went down to the beach and I watched Jun run around and jump over tiny waves and just play like a child, running and giggling. It made me realize just how much I was learning and growing from them. I would never do something like that for fear of what the beach full of people would think. But in that moment I went out and joined him playing like a happy kid at the beach.
Unfortunately for Wiang and her family the trial did not pass in the way they would have liked to see. Her mother passed away on Thursday morning. While their trial worked as a blessing for our trip it is a different challenge for them now. But I have had enough experience that I know He can work even this tragedy into something great for His glory. Please pray for Wiang as she interacts with her family as she is the only Christian among them. May God’s strength be seen in her and the peace of God that passes all understanding may keep her heart and mind through Christ Jesus.
One of the closing lines of the song I mentioned above goes like this:
“What if my greatest disappointments, or the aching of this life, is the revealing of a greater thirst this world can’t satisfy?”
You know, so often difficulties come and we focus on how to get out of it or pass through it. But we would be better served in trying to figure out what we could learn from it and how we can help others. In the book of Hebrews chapter 5 there is a passage that I imagine most of you are familiar with. I have read it dozens of times but for some reason a few weeks ago something in it really jumped out at me. Verse 7, speaking of christ, says: “Who in the days of his flesh, when he had offered up prayers and supplications with strong crying and tears unto him that was able to save him from death, and was heard in that he feared.” That last part “and was heard” is what really hit me. Not that I thought God would have ignored His prayer, but that really gave me a new perspective. He was in need. He was facing an insurmountable challenge. He asked God to take it away. But ended with, “Not my will, but thine be done.” He was more focused on serving and following God as He knew God was going to lead Him in the path that was best for everyone. He went through the trial and this is what the next verses say, 8-10: “Though he were a Son, yet learned he obedience by the things which he suffered; And being made perfect, he became the author of eternal salvation unto all them that obey him; Called of God anI high priest after the order of Melchisedec.” So Jesus endured that shame, pain and separation to become the “author of eternal salvation unto ALL that obey Him.” He was not desiring that trial. He wasn’t happy it was coming. But He also wasn’t looking at Himself and the difficulty. He was thinking about all the people throughout history that would be eternally dead if He didn’t pay their penalty. Now I am not trying to compare the trials we face with that of Christ, but the principal of His attitude. If we keep our eyes and heart focused on other people, trusting in God to guide and show the way, then we can be sure that His will, not mine will be done.
In His service, by His grace,
Brian, Jessica, Asher, Joseph & Baby Atwell
- That we can find the right workers with a heart to serve the Lord (We need to add at least 1 more for the gym and 2-4 additional once the cafe opens)
- That God can help us with the business side of things. There are a few business people giving counsel and advice and helping in connecting with schools but we could always use prayer in this.
- For the resources we need, preferably through income sources, to cover our expenses. You can learn more at the end of this post
- For extra protection over our marriage and family as the enemy seeks to discourage and destroy Christ’s work especially in our time of separation
- For us to be more intentional in our witness for God’s glory
- For Jessica to have strength and patience taking care of the 2 boys, while pregnant and traveling alone up the West Coast. (Well she made it but the stress took its toll and the midwife says she is surprised Jessica can even function after looking at her bloodwork. She is severly anemic. Please keep her in prayer)
- God has impressed us that we need to open an official call for someone (or a family) to come and join our team to help with the business side of things. While I have managed a few businesses I have never started one and while I feel we have done a lot, by God’s grace, I think someone with a better mind for business could greatly improve upon what we have started and I could focus on managing and the ministry side of things. If you know someone with business experience please send them our way for an interview.
- For guidance for Josh and Chitlada (Directors of Jesus for Slum Kids project). They have many aspects of their project developing and also a new baby in the house so they could use an extra special outpouring of prayer. If you would like to find out more check out their website here http://jesus4slumkids.org/ or email the Project Director Joshua Bauder at Joshuabauder@hotmail.com. You can also view their project featured on the program MissionTREK here