How Refugees Conquer Fear Through Education

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When Moon and his family first arrived in Thailand, they were immediately thrown into a desperate situation. Within a few months, all their resources had run out. They would go days without eating, never knew if they would have money for rent, and  lived in apartments where there was a constant threat of being discovered by police and thrown in prison. Fear dominated their lives.

We came alongside them, gave them shelter in our Safe House, and ensured that they had enough food to survive.

However, as we walked with them, we found that even with food in their stomachs and a roof over their heads, fear continued to dominate their lives. This time, their fear was stepping outside the Safe House, and being discovered by police.  So Moon’s family began to withdraw– from church, and from community in general. They stopped hoping for their future. They sought safety in isolation.

We are called to live with discretion, and make prudent choices. And it is true, refugees in Bangkok must live their lives in constant danger.

But their calling in life is not staying safe. No human should wake up in the morning, and believe that their purpose be to stay safe. God has called us to higher things.

We are called to learn, to work, to teach. This breathes purpose into our lives. And for our refugees we are helping, it is crucial that they have hope and believe they can find God’s purpose for their lives while they are still in Bangkok.

So we have chosen to take the next step as an organization and begun to prioritize education. Refugees might not be able to work, but for the four years or so that they are in Bangkok, we want to enable them to learn skills, trades, and languages, and when they have these tools, to teach others.

We are already seeing the fruits of serving refugees this way. Moon is dedicating himself even more to learning English, and is also learning to design websites.

Aaron, a refugee father, is now able to take his entire family to Danny’s school. For the first time in over a year, his four children are learning in an organized setting. He is able to help with maintenance at the school, and his wife is initiating a preschool program.

Looking forward, we will continue to provide scholarships for children to go to school. We will also prioritize providing laptops to refugees who demonstrate a commitment to learning. Looking even further into the future, we plan to develop curriculum tools for refugees, and eventually hire an Education Coordinator to oversee all our educational efforts.

We remain committed to providing the basic needs to refugees: food and shelter. But we don’t want to stop there. We want to make sure we are walking with them, and helping them to find God’s purpose in Bangkok. God wants to give them a future and a hope. We want to be a part of that.

The Person Who Made My Marriage Possible

2013-02-04 22.21.54This post is from Jade, our Community Development Coordinator. In August 2013 she married Chris, our Executive Director.

Last June, I had hit my limit. Every time I went to church I was surrounded by refugees begging for help, but I had nothing more to give. Not only that, I was practically teaching English full time, just so I could survive. I needed to be back in America, not just to raise support for our work with refugees, but to finally be together, in person, with my future (now current) husband.

But before I could leave, we needed someone to lead our work in Bangkok. For a while, that was the line in the sand. Finding someone willing and capable of taking on that leadership role seemed impossible. I would just have to wait another year…..or two.

Then it dawned on me: the perfect person for the job was right in front of me. Evette Rivera had been my roommate and closest friend in Bangkok before I had even heard the terms “urban refugee” or “Life Raft International.” She was already an advocate for 3 families and had walked with me through all the crazy ups and downs of my experience.

She graciously agreed to take over the leadership role on the ground work in Thailand, and we have been blown away by the incredible job she has done. Since she has taken over, we have encountered a variety of crises, and she has faced each them with incredible dignity and wisdom. Not only that, but she has overseen a rapid expansion of our work: Since she took over, we have added five new families, and sent 4 additional kids to school.

It is crazy how God answers prayers, and how his timing is the perfect timing. A year ago, Evette and I never would have imagined that we would be where we are, doing what we are doing. But here we are, and God is moving. Thank you, Evette, for being a great friend, leader, and servant.

I love you.

Choosing Pain

Before Life Raft officially began, our vice president, Michael Hoyt, befriended three refugee families from Sri Lanka. Over the next few years, Michael and his wife poured themselves into these families’ lives. They ensured that they always had enough food and a place to stay. These were the first families Life Raft ever helped, and we’ve continued to walk with them as we have expanded and added more and more families.

Recently, the mothers of two of these families, Martha and Diana, who are quite close, were visiting each other. Then the nightmare happened. Police raided the apartment, taking Martha and Diana, along with both of Diana’s daughters. Once in the detention center, Diana became very ill, and had two choices: Face her serious illness in an inhumane, filthy prison, or return to the country of nightmares, where she could receive medical treatment.

I don’t know how you would choose between those options, but Diana chose to safeguard her health, and returned to Sri Lanka with her children. Martha remains in the IDC, hoping on the faint dream of obtaining refugee status. Her children are still in Bangkok, cared for by friends and safe for the time-being.

It’s really tough to know how to respond in situations like these. We have been fighting for these families for years, and in many ways, it feels like we failed. But when I look at our work, I know we did the right thing. When we step into the lives of such a marginalized population, we have to be willing to face their pain with them. When we are willing to expose ourselves like that, we are doing the right thing, the courageous thing. And yes, when we know their pain, we hurt. But if we orient our lives around avoiding pain, we are not really living. And knowing others’ pain makes healing and redemption that much more amazing.

Blood, Sweat, and Teddy Bears

This post is from Amber, an Australian who has been in Thailand for the past few months as part of the Xealot program.  While she was in Bangkok, she met the families at the Safe House, and befriended them. She also happens to be a personal trainer, so she took the initiative to use this gift to help the families. Here is her story.

I first met the families in early February when they invited us to a  birthday dinner. I was welcomed as though I was a long-lost family member. The warm hugs, kind hearted hospitality and love won me over right away! Since that evening I have been blessed with the countless opportunities to share with them.

 Because of the dangers of the streets Bangkok, the refugees rarely have a chance to walk, let alone get significant exercise. So they tend to live quite sedentary lives, and their health suffers because of it.

 With my background in personal training, I decided to start doing weekly exercises with them to get them moving and active. Everyone wanted to join in, from the grandparents to the toddlers,  so we would cram 20 people into one room, the music cranked up and sweat dripping in every direction.  Taking advantage of the materials available, we used teddy bears as cones, pillows as exercise mats, and pots and pans as obstacles.  I had an absolute blast. Seeing the eclectic crew dancing to techno music and running in place was one of the funniest things I have ever seen! Every session was full of laughs and smiles. They reminded me why I became a personal trainer.

 I want to say thank you to the families and Jade for impacting my life and re-sparking my passion, and to Life Raft for allowing me to be a part of these beautiful people’s lives!

Making A $100 Wedding Amazing

This latest post is from Jade Dols, our Community Development Coordinator. She is doing incredible work in Bangkok, and has been the driving force behind our exciting recent developments. You should check out some of her incredible stories at: www.jadedols.com

I swore I’d never do it again. Sure, the last wedding I planned was beautiful, fun, and a massive blessing for Moon and Rish. But that all came at a cost: My sanity. After the couple finally said their “I do’s,” I felt like I needed an uninterrupted, week-long, nap, perhaps interspersed with a daily massage.

So when my pastor came to me, suggesting I help plan another wedding, I just wanted to run as far away as possible. I’m not sure why I didn’t. But my pastor realized that I couldn’t do it on my own, and more than anything this wedding has shown me how far we have come as a community, in terms of helping refugees.

Rish’s wedding sparked something in the Newsong community. Since then, more and more people have started getting involved in refugee’s lives. More refugees have come, and the community has welcomed them.  This community has been the driving force behind the Safe House, and is hoping to open up more.

Selah’s wedding is a testament to the power and growth of the Newsong community. Whereas last time, I felt like I was doing everything, this time I honestly did almost nothing. Left and right, it seemed like people were jumping at the opportunity to get involved and help.

Friends volunteered their photography and videography skills, prepared food (peanut butter and nutella sandwiches with banana!), altered clothes, lent dresses, makeup, and curling irons, made slideshows, arranged music, baked cakes and prepared all the hair and makeup.

One of my friends wasn’t able to make it to the wedding but really wanted to bless them, so the night before the wedding, we went shopping, and she bought nearly all of the food and drinks for the entire party! We returned at around midnight, and I found 3 more of my friends hard at work hanging cloth, making tissue balls, and arranging bouquets and candles.  They decorated until nearly 2am.  One of them even stayed overnight so that she could finish decorating in the morning!

Thanks to all their hard work, the wedding went beautifully. It might have been planned on a budget of about $100, but you wouldn’t know it from the beauty of the wedding. We had been able to provide so much of what Selah had hoped for, and she shed tears of joy after the ceremony. For me, the highlight was couple’s families being able to Skype in. It was so cool that the family who was 1,000’s of miles away could still be present for the wedding.

As I look back at it, I am blown away by the generosity of the Newsong, to be able to come together and make $100 wedding amazing. After seeing the growth that the previous wedding sparked, and can’t wait to see what flows from this wedding!




Connecting Kids Across the Globe

Some of the kids from the DC school with presents for our kids in Bangkok.

From our Executive Director, Chris Woodruff: 

Back in December, I had the privilege of visiting a local school in DC to share about the situation for urban refugees in Bangkok, and what Life Raft is trying to do to help them. The kids really engaged, and felt a sense of outrage about what is happening. Beyond that though, they were really interested of the lives of the kids we are working with, and were eager to find ways they could help.

A few weeks after my first visit, I told them about the little school we had started in Bangkok. The kids decided to come together to get school supplies and games for our kids. When Jade, our Community Development Coordinator, came to DC in January, she was able to share even more about our work in Bangkok, and collect the supplies to take back with her to Bangkok. We were even able to take a video of the kids introducing themselves to take back to Bangkok.

One of our kids–so excited about the gifts!

When Jade took the presents back to Bangkok, our kids were so excited and grateful! They really needed new school supplies and games, and everyone in the house was so happy. Our kids loved the video of the kids in DC, and they made their own video, thanking the introducing themselves, and thanking the kids in DC.

I see this as just the beginning of really incredible relationship. I love that we can not only give kids in the United States the opportunity to make a difference in the lives of kids across the globe, but also get to know the kids they are helping. This is what we are all about: Not just providing refugees with basic necessities, but making meeting their physical needs part of a broader relationship.

If you would like to be a part of our work, and connect with a refugee family, click here.

Our kids, watching a video of the kids from DC introducing themselves.

About My Family

Note: This is another post in a series of posts from the oldest daughter in one of the families we’re supporting. You can see her previous post here:  http://liferaftinternational.org/blog/my-first-night-in-my-new-home.

Her story is a testament to the tireless work of her family’s advocates, Dwight and Sam. Dwight and Sam, together with supporters in the States, have made things possible for this family that are unheard of for refugees in Thailand. 

We are 4 members in our family. My mum is 36 years old. She is really good at cooking. Recently she started to learn English with our advocate, Sam. She is really friendly with us and very funny.

My brother is 20 years old. In Sri Lanka he loved to play football. He is not really talkative and quite moody. He likes to watch funny videos. Now he is working in a restaurant he is happy with his work, because before he would go to work he would stay at home all day and feel very bored. When he gets a holiday from his work then he likes to go swimming with his friends.That is one thing that he enjoys most.

My sister is Fasmila and she is 12 years old. She is studying at an international school. Her favourite subject is Maths and she also loves to play game on computer. She is also a little bit like my brother and a little bit shy. Her interests are singing Christian songs and knowing stories from the Bible.

I’m 18 years old. I’m working in the same school as my sister, and help to take care of the young children. I would like to study and my favourite subjects are Maths and Art. I’m really talkative and in my spare time I like to clean and cook.

Nearing the End of the Journey!

I met Wallace this summer in Bangkok when I was visiting an English club. In our first conversation, he invited me to his home to meet his family. Wallace is just a good guy– kind and generous. While more shy, his wife’s witty sense of humor made me feel right at home. Their three  kids were the best, though; They are a curious, energetic bunch: so eager to play and learn! They even spoke better English than their parents!

Read more

Safe House

 

Life in Bangkok for urban refugees is marked by chaos. Whatever sense of community and friendship that refugees felt in their home country disappears. Read more

My First Night in My New Home…..

Check out  a work from one of the children of a family we’ve been supporting:

I have finished all my housework and I come into my new room. When I enter the room my heart starts to talk with me.

I have freedom to let out my feelings now. I can cry, I can laugh and no-one can see.

I sat on the bed near to the window. I see the sky. I am reminded of my old room because it’s very difficult to stay in 1 room with 4 people.

I feel like I have got everything back that I lost in these past 3 years in Thailand.

The light from the moon and the stars help me to realise my feelings. I keep quiet and watch the sky and the trees for a long time and look around me at how my life is changing….

I thought how lucky I am. I never thought I would have my own room, or this life, in Thailand.

My heart filled with happiness.

I had a wonderful night after 3 years. I fell fast asleep and full of happiness in my own room.