Archive for February, 2012

Thailand, part two

Saturday, February 25th, 2012

Young monks at the temple

You can see the incense they are burning to these gold statues of monks

One of the myriad of altars

This young man was just pleading for something

Women selling things on the steps to the temple

Watching one of our umbrellas being painted

Some of the boys having their dinner at the boys' home

The market where we shopped for cooking class

A taste of the gorgeous gardens all around us

Some of the girls I came to love

The gifts and supplies brought by the team

Riding an elephant

This girl taught me how to make flower chains

Remember Nhu’s land here has three children’s homes on it, although they are moving soon and plan to open more. While we were there, there had been over 90 applications for children, not including the ones who come in from referrals through pastors and social workers and just word of mouth. They only had room to take about 10. It’s a big problem, and one they hope the new land will help with. The biggest problem is finding indigenous house parents who are Christians since the country is 97% Buddhist.

We heard a few stories of some of the children. One had come to them because when a house parent was shopping at the market, a couple approached her and offered to sell her their two-year-old daughter. They both had HIV and needed money for medicine. She talked them into a visit from a social worker and they signed their daughter over to R-Nhu and got medical help themselves as well. Another girl’s parents had been running drugs and were caught. They were immediately incarcerated, and no one checked their home. This little eighteen-month-old girl had lived for a year literally going house to house in the village begging food. No one took her in, and finally someone told R-Nhu about her. When they brought her in, they described her as a “feral child”. She has been with them a year and is doing wonderfully now.

Many of the stories were so similar. Extreme poverty, parents who had died and left their children at the mercy of grandparents or aunts and uncles who could not afford to care for them anyway, abuse, remarriage and the refusal of the new husband to care for his wife’s children. All I saw when we were with these children was their potential – they were amazing, and they deserved more than life had dealt them. There were a few girls in particular with whom I spent a lot of time, and they really touched my heart. How could anyone want to hurt these children?

I have to say, in this whole issue, people keep asking me, “How can someone sell their own child? Who are these parents?? Who are these grandparents??” That is a good question. I have seen how they live, though, and sometimes when you are choosing between starvation for your child and selling that child, there isn’t a good choice. I would say a better question is, “Who is buying these children? Why is there a market for child prostitution? Who is there to protect these children??” Most of them are sold, at least at first, to a particular person for a week or two weeks or whatever. Who is that person? Who is that evil? I cannot imagine it. Jesus, come soon.

During the week days, all the children were in school. So during the school day, we would go and see cultural things in the area, and then come back after school and hang out with the kids, play with them, have dinner, until they had to go to work on homework and bedtime.

Our first day out, we were taken to a Buddhist temple. They wanted us to understand the culture here. It was packed and very busy, I would say with about half tourists, and half locals who had come to worship. The architecture and craftsmanship were breathtaking. We ascended a massive staircase to the top of a mountain with carvings along the entire length to the outer and inner temple and it was stunning. I was taken aback in the temple to see so many Hindu gods as well – apparently there is a connection in the past that I did not previously know about.

For me, though, it was also heartbreaking. Here we were, surrounded on all sides by people who were praying to, and in some cases, literally lying on the ground in front of wood carvings that someone had made. It took me back to Isaiah 44: “Half of the wood [a man] burns in the fire; over it he prepares his meal, he roasts his meat and eats his fill. From the rest he makes a god, his idol; he bows down to it and worships. He prays to it and says, ‘Save me; you are my god.'”

This is a nation that needs to hear about what Jesus has done for them. They don’t know. Romans 10:14 says, “How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them?”

That night the girls at the main house showed me a book of worship songs in Thai. Of course, I can’t read any of it, but the chord notations were the same, so I could play them (they thought I was brilliant, and when they realized I wasn’t actually reading the Thai, just the chords, they thought it was a great joke). I was listening to them singing praise to Jesus, and telling me that Jesus was the one who saved them, and it gave me such hope. He is our hope. And He is theirs.

The next day was lighter. We went to an umbrella factory, and then to a silk factory and a silver factory. At the umbrella factory, the process has been almost unchanged for 100’s of years. We got umbrellas painted for our kids and were so impressed with the artists. That night we spent the evening at the boys home, and Nathan wore himself out playing soccer (with quite a few very impressive martial arts moves thrown in by the boys!) and making lego towns with them.

The next day I went with a few others from our team and took a Thai cooking class. That was fun and interesting, and very, very spicy, even when I tried to make it less so because I am a wimp. Let’s just say that in one of her recipes, she called for 10 chiles a serving. At the class she said that because we were American, we should use 4 chiles. I used 2 chiles and I was dying. That night, we ate at the smaller girls home and I noticed that at every meal, the condiments set out were brown sugar (sweet), fish sauce (salty), and chile flakes (spicy). To watch a 6-year-old girl take a tablespoon of chile flakes and nonchalantly spread it over her meal is humbling. I would be crying.

The next day we went back to the home and took the littlest kids, who were not in school yet, out to lunch and for some playtime and the local mall. Then we went back to the home and distributed the things we’d all brought to the different homes. Nathan and I had brought a lot of school supplies and hygiene items and some toys, and the other couples had brought tons of clothing. We sorted it all with the house parents, and they keep a supply for new kids coming in as well. That night, we went to a different night market, this one a lot more crowded and touristy, and the people watching was pretty amazing.

Our last school day was Friday, and this turned out to be one of my personal favorite days just because I had never done anything like it. We went to an elephant camp and we all got to ride elephants. Then we watched them bathe in the river and I got generally mauled by one who was looking for bananas on my person which I did not have. Glad he didn’t eat my camera. Then we watched an amazing show where they played soccer and painted paintings and hula-hooped. They are so smart. That evening we went to a cultural dinner where we ate traditional food on the ground and watched dances from many different parts of the country, and they were beautiful. The English translations were pretty funny, though. One, in explaining the story of Hanuman said, “Meeting her, he intendance to make her died, but when he saw her, he decided not to.” Gripping.

Want to see lots more pictures? Check out the full album here!

Thailand, arrival, first days

Monday, February 20th, 2012

Trying to find our connector flight was harder when the signs were in Japanese

Such a contrast in Bangkok airport - ultra modern with a shrine right in the middle of check-in

In the notorious PatPong district - these are some of the signs we can show

In the village

Someone's kitchen

An interview - all of the children followed us to see what would happen

These boys are all waiting to hear what will happen next during an interview

One of the nicer homes in the village

Dinner at the main girls' home

The menu at the lunch place. Hmmm, I'll take...yellow.

Some of our team out for lunch with some of the the permanent workers

The night market

Nathan and I left on Wednesday morning and flew to Washington D.C. After a bit of a layover, we got on the 14 hour flight to Narita (Tokyo), Japan. I have done long flights before, but that is the longest one I have ever done, and it sure felt like it. One interesting thing was that we were following the sun, so it never set, and we just leaped into the next day. The airport in Narita is big, and we didn’t have a ton of time to change flights, so it was a little disconcerting when we raced out to find our connector and realized all the signs were in Japanese. Of course they would be, but I guess I hadn’t thought about that. When I’ve been in Europe or Africa or Central America, at least I recognize the city names, but I am lost with the characters. This became a theme for our whole trip. Fortunately we realized one sign was flipping through several languages, one of them English, and we were on our way.

We were delayed on our 6.5 hour flight to Bangkok, and got in at 1 in the morning. Waiting for our shuttle to the hotel, we met the rest of our team for the first time – 3 couples from Portland, Oregon who support Remember Nhu’s ministry – and they turned out to be lovely as we got to know them on the trip. We got to the hotel at about 2 in the morning, and slept hard because we hadn’t slept at all for the previous 30ish hours.

After breakfast, Carl, the founder of Remember Nhu, took us to the PatPong district in Bangkok which is notorious for sex tourism and trafficking. I can’t even share some of the pictures I took because the language on the signage is too graphic. We started to realize the scope of the issue. Some estimate that 15% of the GDP here is prostitution. Remember Nhu is trying to prevent children from ever being trafficked, and it was very difficult as a parent to know that there were children living behind those windows who were in slavery and being abused in ways I don’t even want to think of. All along, the children we met who were impacted by this were the ages of our children, and that just broke my heart even more.

That afternoon we left for another destination which would be our home base for much of our time. When we came out of the airport, the pollution, which had been terrible in Bangkok, seemed even thicker. We were told, though, that in Bangkok it is permanent pollution whereas here it was because they had just burned all the rice fields, something they do after every harvest, and that was making the smog. I can’t say it cleared much in the time we were there, and many of my pictures have a mysterious mistiness about them.

After trying very hard to sleep that night even though we were 12 hours off from our timezone, we spent our first full day at one of the homes run by Remember Nhu. The children who live there have come for many reasons. Some are orphans or effectively orphaned (for example, if the parents are incarcerated), some were in danger in their homes, some are so poor their parents cannot keep them, but all were at risk for trafficking.

These children are amazing. We played a lot of Uno, and “Ninja” and jump-rope. Then we realized a previous team had left the children a keyboard, but no one knew how to play it. Several of the kids were learning guitar, but when they realized I knew how to play the keyboard, I was swamped with kids who wanted me to teach them. It’s hard to teach when you don’t share language, but I’ve never seen such persistence in children, and was able to teach several songs.

One of the sweetest moments of the week was when I realized that we knew several of the same worship songs – I would sing in English, and they would sing in their language. All praising the same God. Many of the kids in the homes have become Christians even though this is an almost entirely Buddhist nation. Some of them spoke some English, and when I asked them why they had become Christians, they said that they had seen “love” from both sides, and that Christian love was a different love – it was real.

The next day we went to a small tribal village to interview some of the children who were candidates to come to R-Nhu. Carl has told us that he has been to villages where there are no children left. The main risk factors for a child are severe poverty, if a relative is in the trade, if there is sexual abuse occurring in the home, if the child is orphaned or effectively orphaned, or if the mother remarries and the new husband refuses to take her children. The families are not usually told what will really happen to their child if they are sold. Often they are told they will become maids or servants in a wealthy home where they will be well cared for, and even if they suspect that this might not be true, it’s compelling, especially when the alternative for many of them is starvation.

We saw a lot of poverty here, and really, a lot of disparity. When we were in Kenya, when we went to a poor village, everyone was poor. Here, everyone was poor by U.S. standards, but some were desperately poor, living in bamboo huts and cooking over open fires, while others had concrete walls and even some electricity or a truck. We interviewed several children, and the stories were heartbreaking. I was impressed with many of the mothers. They loved their children so much, and desperately wanted what was best for them – they just couldn’t provide it. R-Nhu helps in many ways, only one of which is taking the children in.

After interviewing all afternoon, we went back to the girls’ home before going to see the night market. It’s hard to get those kids out of my head and heart, and perhaps I won’t try too hard.

Want to see lots more pictures? Check out the full album here!

Radio interview and getting ready to go!

Monday, February 13th, 2012

This morning I did a radio interview for WMPC in Lapeer, MI on my new book. I always enjoy talking to them, and it was a good interview – I so appreciate their help in getting the word out about my book!

I can’t ignore, though, that I am leaving for Thailand in two days! It’s been a ridiculous amount of planning, not so much for our going, but for our kids while we are gone. There have been a few hiccups where plans had to change and then change again, but we think it’s all nailed down, and just leaving a list of everything that needs to happen at home is pretty daunting.

Early Wednesday morning, Nathan and I fly first to Washington D.C., then to Narita, Japan, and then to Bangkok, Thailand. We’ll be in several parts of Southeast Asia, and I’m looking forward to seeing it, and dreading it a bit at the same time. Don’t get me wrong – I love travel, and I know I will love the people we’ll be with, but I am not really looking forward to facing some of the realities of human trafficking. There are things I’m pretty sure I won’t want to know. But, I don’t think we can turn a blind eye to injustice just because it makes us uncomfortable.

We’ll try to keep things up to date while we’re there, but we don’t have any sense of our internet situation or even how much time we will have. If we can’t get too much out there, we’ll catch you up when we get home! Please be praying for us – we so appreciate that!

Watch the new video for “Life Not Typical”

Thursday, February 9th, 2012

Here it is! We’re finally up, and can’t wait to hear what you think. 🙂

This is why I love them…

Thursday, February 9th, 2012

My sentimental gift from the choir for my service as director

So, I have resigned at the church, and my last Sunday is this coming one, February 12th. I’ve cried quite a bit, really. It’s different to leave a job you don’t like anymore, but I really do love leading worship and I love this church. I just know, though, that this is the way God is leading and I’m trying to be obedient.

One of the things I love about my job at the church is the choir. I have the best choir ever, period. There are about 25 of us, and every person in there is wonderful. We are not a large church, and many of these people never sang before they joined the choir. Some of them have been with me for over 10 years. I’ve been trying to strike a balance between teaching and making sure it’s a lot of fun. And, frankly, they sound great. But, they have heard me say a million times to “lift your eyebrows” and “spin your sound” and “blend with your neighbor” and “no r colors please” etc., and etc., and etc.

There is a balcony in our church and at the back of it is a door. One classical technique I use with them is to pick a focal point at the back of the room and higher up and then “send” your sound spinning to it. So, for over 10 years I have told them to “just sing to the doorknob” in the balcony. Last night they gave me a plaque, and proved that their sense of humor is as warped as mine. And yes, that is the actual doorknob I have pointed to this whole time – they replaced it at the church because I had to have that actual doorknob. This is one of the reasons why I will miss them so much.

New Video Out!

Wednesday, February 8th, 2012

The new video came out today along with a feature on I’ll post a link in line tomorrow sometime, but I’m so excited to have it out there. Let us know what you think!

TV and Women’s Event in Pittsburgh

Sunday, February 5th, 2012

Getting a little makeup done before the show

Pre-show setup

Waiting for the cue for one of my songs

Doing the interview for the new book

With Steff Knabe, the organizer of the Heart Breakfast

Debuting the new video at the breakfast

Just had a great road trip with my friend Patti. I had a women’s event and a television show in Pittsburgh, and Patti is from there and a couple of her kids live there now, so she offered to go with me. I love Pittsburgh, actually – it has a great vibe, and my parents met at U. of Pittsburgh, so really, without Pittsburgh, I wouldn’t be here.

We drove straight to Cornerstone Television Network where I was live on their show, Focus 4. Patti had never been on a TV set before, so she had a great time seeing how it all went together. I had the whole hour, so I sang three songs and had 3 interview segments about my new book.

After the show we visited Patti’s daughter-in-law and grandsons, and also the pastor at her old church there. Then we went to her daughter and son-in-law’s house where we were staying which was really fun for me because they’re also friends of mine – I stayed with them when they lived in Nashville when I was making my last album. It was great to see them again! After dinner we watched the rebroadcast of the show together which is always uncomfortable for me. I don’t like to watch myself on TV, but it wasn’t too bad.

The next morning we headed out early for Hebron Church where I was doing the Heart Breakfast for the women’s ministry. What a wonderful morning! There were several people there who had known my parents back when they were doing Young Life in Pittsburgh which was so fun. It was also great to finally meet the coordinator, Steff, because we’d talked so much on the phone we felt like old friends! They did a wonderful job with the event, and it went beautifully. I know how much effort goes in to these things before I even show up, and I appreciate them so much! Hoping to be back to do a women’s retreat for them in the coming year.

After the breakfast we went out to lunch in the Strip District which is frankly dangerous because there are so many things I would like to buy, I should not even go in there. I don’t like to shop. You have to drag me into clothing stores. I would rather do almost anything else. BUT, these were food shops, and that, my friend, is totally different. After picking up pine nuts (guilty pleasure and the price was so good!) and dried figs (I’ve never seen that kind before!) and some Italian cookies I’ve never heard of just because I’d never heard of them (how can there be an Italian cookie I’ve never heard of?!?!) and heroically walking past about a million other things, Patti and I finally fled to the safety of the car and headed home.

We had such a great time, and I hope I get to go back for a bit longer next time! And, yes, the cookies which were sfogliatelli (say that five times fast), were amazing. I didn’t take a picture because by the time I thought of it, all that was left were the crumbs. 🙂