2016: A Look Back

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Ron and Miriam’s children

Last spring, Ron and Miriam heard exciting news: The UN Refugee Agency was accelerating their appeal for refugee status.

After fleeing persecution in Pakistan with their three children nearly five years ago, Ron and Miriam eagerly awaited the UN’s decision. They desperately hoped the UN would accept them, and help them find freedom in a new country.

Three months ago, Ron and Miriam learned that the UN had rejected their case. This decision devastated their hopes of moving to a new country, but it could not keep Ron and Miriam from experiencing freedom.

A Life Raft church in Bangkok has embraced Ron and Miriam, empowering them to live purpose-filled lives. Ron and Miriam are now serving at their church, gaining vocational skills, and enabling their children to get a high quality education.

Thanks to your support, and their church community, Ron and Miriam have discovered that when they focus on the opportunities God has for them in Bangkok, they are able to experience freedom.

We believe that no matter how difficult our circumstances are, God has a purpose for us. Even as Pakistani Christians face increasing despair in Bangkok, you enable them to live with hope in a loving community.

Ron and Miriam are just one example of how you helped refugees find freedom in 2016. Here are some numbers that reflect the scope of your impact:

 

 

8 Things That Surprised the Canadian Team About Bangkok

1. Leading a camp is a blast

While we were in Thailand, we led two 3-day English camps at refugee schools. All the preparation we put into this was so worth it. It was a blessing to get to know the students and staff, and an honor to have the opportunity to teach them. Our highlight was seeing their faces light up when we encouraged them in who God says they are – royal sons and daughters. We’ve never been attacked with so many hugs before. We already miss all their joyful faces!

 

2. God loves refugees, a lot

This wasn’t a surprise, so much as a deeper understanding of God’s heart for refugees. We were so honored to be invited into refugee’s homes for a meal. They welcomed us, and shared their traditional foods with us. We heard so many testimonies of how God has protected, provided for and comforted them in their distress. Some of our favorite moments were the times of worship we shared with them. We cherish the time that we got to spend with them, and pray we will see them again.

 

3. It was not too hot, even in the really, really hot season

Our leaders, Allie and Aaron prepared us for a fiery furnace. So when it turned out to be a humid 100 F, which felt like 120 it wasn’t that bad. It was honestly a nice break from the Canadian cold.

 

 

4. God is doing miraculous things in refugee schools

King David was once a lowly shepherd boy, forgotten by his father – but God chose him to rule the nation of Israel. We saw how God’s plan for these refugee children is not limited by their circumstance, and that he is choosing them to do great things. In the refugee schools, we learned how God is miraculously providing what they need and instilling purpose and hope in the students’ lives as they learn to dream big and believe that God can do anything. They are not only doing their regular academic subjects with excellence, but they are also learning to have genuine faith in Christ. These refugee schools are training ground for world-changers.

5. The food in Thailand is simply incredible

Bangkok is so diverse, and so we ate many different kinds of delicious foods: Thai, Pakistani, Indian, Lebanese, Japanese, and Sri Lankan. Our favorites were the Pakistani meals we shared with new friends; especially the chapatti, dal, and tea.

6. Motorbike taxis are pretty great

In a hot sprawling city, sometimes you have two choices: a sweaty 20-minute walk, or a breezy 3-minute motorbike ride that is more thrilling than a rollercoaster. We usually chose the motorbike.

7. Thais are amazing people

So many times we wished we could speak Thai so that we could get to know the people better. But despite the language barrier, we were amazed at their kindness, gentleness, and generosity. We felt very welcomed in this country, and still miss the friends we made.

8. We can make a difference

While we were in a truck headed to the IDC, Polly, the eldest daughter in a family of refugees detained there, prayed that she could see her whole family. It had been two months since her family was together, but God used us to answer that prayer. Seeing the joy of the family reunited was one of the most moving experiences of our trip.

We believe that to whom much is given, much more will be required. Visiting Thailand showed us how much we have been given. We know we made at least a small difference, but we also know that much more is now required of us.

The Extended Honeymoon

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A painting of Mariam’s

Just three days into their married life, Mariam and Yusuf were forced to flee their home . Mariam’s older brother had been prominent in helping victims of the Gojra attacks in 2009. This enraged local Islamic extremists, and they targeted his entire family, specifically threatening to kill Yusuf and rape and murder Mariam.

Mariam and Yusuf fled to Islamabad, Pakistan’s capital, hoping to start a new life together, but threats against their life continued. Feeling they had no other options, they fled to Thailand with little more than two suitcases.

When they arrived, they found out Mariam was pregnant. They were joyful, but also terrified. They weren’t sure how they were going to support themselves, let alone a new child.

As they faced these fears, Yusuf and Mariam met Jan at a local church. Jan, who is Thai, opened her heart to them and befriended them. Eventually, she was able to connect with Life Raft, who provided financial support to Yusuf and Mariam, and helped guide Jan in how to effectively help them.

Thanks to their friendship with Jan, Yusuf and Mariam were able to survive their time in Thailand, and even start homeschooling their daughter. Recently, Canada accepted them for resettlement.

As their time in Thailand draws to an end, Yusuf and Mariam jokingly refer to the past three and a half years in their adopted home as an “extended honeymoon”.

Mariam said they will miss Thai people and their hospitality.

“When you have nothing and somebody helps you, it means a lot,” said Mariam. “There is so much to be grateful for, we cannot even begin to say to thank you. We only know that God is showing his love through Jan.”

Written by Tim Lefevre

 

 

Tragic Accident in Bangkok

Around 8:00 o’clock this morning, Tara and Karissa eagerly flagged down a motorbike taxi, asking to go to a nearby park where they would meet their father.

As the girls and their motorbike driver were rounding the corner to turn onto Sukhumvit (the main road that runs through downtown Bangkok), a car suddenly crashed into them from behind, throwing both of the girls to the pavement. Tara’s leg and pelvis were crushed by the car of the offending driver, while Karissa was run over by another car, badly injuring her arm. Unable to move, Tara watched both drivers speed off as her sister Karissa lay next to her, unconscious.

A nearby shopkeeper saved both girls’ lives by pulling them out of the street and calling for help. They were rushed to different hospitals. We know that both girls will survive, but it appears that they will face a long, expensive recovery.

You can read more about the family here.

 

Update:

Both girls have had to undergo several major surgeries, but Karissa will need more if her arm is going to be saved. Their total medical expenses are expected to exceed $22,000. Without insurance, they are relying on the help of friends and family. If you would like to contribute to their medical expenses, please contact Chris@LifeRaftBKK.org.

 

Written by Tim Lefevre

 

A look back at 5 years: Numbers and Highlights

JC06About 5 years ago, my friend Mike and I had the idea of starting an organization that would enable ordinary people to transform refugees lives in Bangkok, Thailand. As I imagined the model in my head, I remember thinking that if people’s hearts opened to refugees, we could change the world.

For the past 5 years, it has been my joy to see so many people’s hearts open on a scale I never imagined. We now support approximately 300 refugees, provide about 40 educational scholarships, and partner with 5 different churches in Bangkok. We also currently have approximately 90 refugees on our waitlist. (Click here to see how We Want to End the List)

Check out the numbers and highlights below to see the difference people are making. (We use June to May, since that is our fiscal year, for accounting purposes)

June 2009- May 2010

Highlights:

  • Mike and Chris meet Dilan
  • Newsong community helps to provide food and shelter to Dilan and his family
  • Chris leaves Bangkok

Numbers:

  • Bangkok Church partners: 1
  • Refugees: 4
  • Educational scholarships: 0

June 2010- May 2011

Highlights:

Numbers

  • Bangkok church partners: 1
  • Refugees: 12
  • Educational scholarships: 0

 

June 2011- May 2012

Highlights

  • Life Raft is officially incorporated in Virginia
  • Life Raft obtains 501(c)3 status
  • Life Raft gets a website and a logo

 Numbers

  • Bangkok Church partners: 1
  • Refugees: 12
  • Educational scholarships: 0

June 2012-May 2013

Highlights

 

Numbers

  • Bangkok church partners: 1
  • Refugees: 60
  • Educational Scholarships: 2

 

June 2013-May 2014

Highlights

 

Numbers

  • Bangkok church partners: 2
  • Refugees: 100
  • Educational Scholarships: 7

 June 2014-May 2015

Highlights

 Numbers

  • Bangkok church partners 5
  • Refugees: 250
  • Educational Scholarships: 30

Since the end May 2015, we have supported around 50 new refugees, and provided 8 new educational scholarships. Thank you all for enabling us to make this difference! We would love to have you join us, as we take more steps to transform lives in Bangkok.

 

A Reunion 5 Years in the Making

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Dilan with his famous ring

This morning, Jade and I were standing in a train station in Europe, eagerly waiting for Dilan, who was traveling three hours, one-way, just to see us. I had met Dilan 6 years ago, at my church in Bangkok. When my friends and I found out that Dilan and his wife were going to sell their wedding rings to pay for one more month of rent, we came together and made sure the family would be provided for while they were in Bangkok. About a year after we started helping them, Dilan and his family were resettled in Europe. Our friendship with Dilan inspired us to found Life Raft, but I hadn’t seen him since he left Thailand. (You can read more about this story here)

As my eyes wandered around the station, I finally saw him, looking around the train station for us. I waved to him, and before I knew it, we were giving each other bear hugs. Seeing him, after more than 5 years was exhilarating. We left the station and walked around town, and he told me about his time in Europe. He was now fluent in his new  country’s language, and was an elder at his church. For his children, their new country now felt like home, and he loved that his kids could get a quality education, and walk the streets in safety.

But in the midst of this, he told me that he desperately wanted to return to his home country. As soon as it was feasible, he planned to move back with his family. The fact that his family’s lives had been threatened did not steal his love for his country, or his hope for its redemption.

Midway through our walk, We went into a coffee shop, and ordered some coffee. Over his objections, I tried to pay with my credit card, but the old-fashioned machine did not accept it. He jumped in and paid with cash. As I apologized, and thanked him, he held up his hand, pointed to his wedding ring and said, “No, I would not have this without you. It is my pleasure.”

(This post was written by Chris Woodruff, our founder and executive director)

My Bar Exam Results, and What They Mean for Life Raft

Note: This is written by Chris Woodruff, our Executive Director.

This Monday morning, I sat at the kitchen table, as I prepared to find out whether I had passed the bar exam or not. The night before, my heart had been under a lot of stress, but that was nothing compared to the toxic combination of adrenaline and cortisol that was now searing my heart.

A year ago, I was not even planning on taking the bar. Earning my J.D. from Georgetown would be enough to allow me to represent refugees so that they could get official status from the UN. Studying for, and taking the bar felt like a terrible, unnecessary experience that would only delay our long awaited move to Thailand.

But then I contemplated Life Raft’s legal work expanding. I imagined recruiting law students as interns, finding attorneys willing to do pro-bono work, and eventually hiring our own team of lawyers. If we were able to do that, Life Raft’s ability to help refugees would grow exponentially. Thousands more refugees could find freedom.

In order for these dreams to be realized, I would need to licensed as an attorney in the US. And in order for to happen, I would need to pass the bar exam.

So in late May, after officially graduating from Georgetown, I hunkered down, deep in my fortress of bar-prep books, and studied. And studied. And studied. It was terrible. I had to memorize the law of 13 different legal areas in 2 months. It was like 2 years of law school crammed into two months. I didn’t get out much.

So as I sat at my computer, it felt like 2 months of my life was at stake. Not only that, but friends and family knew how hard I had worked, and how important it was for me to pass the bar exam. Letting them down was the most terrifying, stressful thing.

I opened the letter that would determine my fate, and read painfully meaningless words and numbers. Finally I saw the fateful phrase: “this is a passing score.” A tidal wave of relief and excitement washed over me. It is done. It is finished. It is time to start working on the dream.

The End of the Safe House

_APY8532While we were in Bangkok, police raided the Safe House. Thanks to some quick thinking, the refugees who were there at the time were able to avoid arrest, and soon after, all the families fled.  It was a terrifying time for all of us.  Thankfully, all of our families are ok, and have since found safe homes. However, two breaches over two years makes it clear that God wants something more for our families.

Paradoxically, this crisis was an answer to prayer. For some time, we had been praying about whether to keep the Safe House open. When we started the Safe House, it had been because our volunteers on the ground believed in the Safe House, and were able to galvanize their community to get behind it and support it. Over the past two years, the volunteers who had founded the Safe House left Bangkok. And while new volunteers stepped up in their place, those new volunteers did not have the same passion for it. They were willing to put in the work to keep it going, but it wasn’t something they felt called to do.

As an organization, our ethos is to find where God is moving people’s hearts, and then to partner with that movement. Our volunteers in Bangkok guide our decision. Our heart is to enable people to love refugees.

So when our people on the ground no longer felt called to manage a Safe House, we were inclined to shift away from it. But it wasn’t that simple: The refugees still loved living in the House, and it had been an incredible tool that helped connect supporters with the refugee families. We sought God on what we should do. And when the families were forced to flee the Safe House, our answer was clear.

And we have found that no longer running a Safe House has been a huge, freeing step as an organization. Since then, we have started two new partnerships with churches in Bangkok, and have more than doubled the number of refugees we are reaching. Our leaders in Bangkok also have more time to focus on education for refugees.

More than anything, we are following where God is leading our volunteers to minister to refugees. It’s been incredibly exciting to see him continue to move in people’s hearts, and I can’t wait to see what more He has in store.

7 Things You Should Know About the Re-Persecuted

1. Who they are

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The re-persecuted are refugees who flee their home countries, usually because of their religious beliefs.  They escape the persecution in their home countries, only to be persecuted again when they arrive in Thailand.

 

2. Why they come to Thailand

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For many refugees, Thailand is the quickest, easiest country to escape to. Additionally, the United Nations Refugee office is there. After a long process, there’s the possibility that United Nations could give refugees official status. After the refugees receive this status, the United Nations will try to find a new country that they can move to permanently.

 

3. What happens when they get to Thailand

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Most refugees arrive in Thailand on a 60-day tourist visa. As soon as the visa expires, Thai immigration police hunt them down, and will throw entire families into a terrible, filthy, prison. So families live in the shadows, forced into begging, or worse, to survive.

 

4. Why Thai Police Hunt Them Down

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Unlike most countries in the world (including all Western countries),  Thailand does not offer any protection for refugees. Instead, they hunt down refugees and throw entire families in prison.

 

5. For the re-persecuted, life in Bangkok can feel like a nightmare 

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They don’t speak the native language, and are forbidden from working. It is almost impossible for their kids to enter school. They may go days without eating, and always teeter on the brink of homelessness. Any time they step outside their home, they risk arrest. Police will even raid apartments, so any knock on the door could mean that an entire family will be sent to prison.

 

6. It’s especially terrible for kids

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In the few years that they have been alive, refugee children face more hate than many of us will in a lifetime. In Bangkok, they are stuck in tiny apartments all day, unable to run and play outside. Moreover, it is almost impossible for them to go to school, so they may go years without formal education.

 

7. There is hope

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Light shines brightest in the darkness. In the absence of any government help, churches in Bangkok are rising up to help the re-persecuted. Life Raft partners with these churches to provide food, shelter and education to the re-persecuted. You can read more about these efforts here: http://liferaftinternational.org/blog/how-refugees-conquer-fear-through-education

Why I Want to Go to Prison

Prison hands 2(This post was written by Chris Woodruff, our executive director)

This summer, while I was visiting Bangkok, I found myself in a dimly lit prison, looking through the holes of a chain link fence.

I was there because my presence allowed for me to request that Vee come out of his cage for an hour, meet in a common area, and receive, food, water, and toiletries from me.

I watched as Vee walked out into the common area, head hung low. There, he met his wife, Mae, who my wife had been able to call out. They stood up against the fence together, politely trying to make conversation with me, though they could hardly speak English.

I stepped back, and signalled to them that this was their time. Their time to see each other, talk to each other, touch each other. As their hands met, she rested her head against his chest, and he whispered something in her ear.

Soon, their time would be up. Prison guards would escort them back to their separate cells, where they would be crammed in so tight with other prisoners that they would have to take turns sleeping. Cells with two holes for toilets, and where violence from prison guards reined. They could only pray they would have visitors again soon, so they could have food and water after what we brought ran out.

Vee and Mae are Hmong refugees from Northern Vietnam who were persecuted for being Christians. Facing death, they fled to Thailand. But Thailand does not recognize the concept of a refugee. So as soon as their visas were expired, Thai police hunted them down and threw them in this prison.

Their only hope to get out is to get official refugee status with the UN, but the UN has rejected them.

But there is hope. Our volunteers are able to visit them on a regular basis, bringing them food, water and toiletries; items that make the prison a little less terrible. Additionally, with the help of a good lawyer, there is hope for them to receive refugee status, and start a new life in a new country.

And that’s where I come in. After I graduate in May, I plan to return to Bangkok, and lead our work full time. I have lots of big dreams: Innovative ideas for education, training, and helping new families. But being able to represent this beautiful couple, help them receive refugee status, and find a new, safe country where they can truly be together, might be the most exciting of them all.

It is in the darkest places that light shines brightest. The more terrible the tomb, the more wonderful the resurrection.