My dream began last night in the back of an old rusty pick-up truck full of people of all ages sitting silently as we jerked through coughing traffic. Recklessly the truck sped down a paved city road in an arid middle eastern city with tall thin trees zipping behind our heads. City busyness was everywhere around us, yet no one spoke to each other because we all understood our fate. We all had been abducted and were being transported somewhere–there was nothing else to it. As we drove a little boy squeezed closer and closer up under my arm, and despite our bleak situation all I concerned myself with was his well-being. I do not remember if I kissed the top of his head, but I remember wanting to.
The next thing I dreamt was the accident. In the aftermath, there was only me and the boy, and I furiously inspected his body for injury. I myself was not injured, but I quickly discovered that his ankle had been badly mangled. I lifted him out of the truck bed with one arm under his legs and the other arm around his back and as I did, I noticed that blood was on his hand and his leg. I carried him away from the truck and out of the road. He was very light.
Holding his warm bloody body on the side of the road, my stomach tightened as the two men who had been driving walked up to us. They were uninjured and began to inspect the boy as if he were cattle. They pushed up his bloody pant leg, located the boy’s injured ankle, and took hold of the flesh that hung from the bone. The boy merely winced when the man jerked the flesh from his ankle. Appalled, I quickly spun the boy around turning my back to the men, and as I did, the men instantly disappeared. Then I buried my face in the boys t-shirt and began to cry.
As he had the entire dream, even when the man tore his flesh, the boy never made a sound yet he was eternally present throughout the entire episode. He was grounded in something that gave him peace. And realizing this, I wept all the more. Protection and safety was not important to this little boy, but friendship in the midst of pain and suffering was. I then began sobbing and apologizing on behalf of a cruel adult humanity. Then I woke up.
A simple thought on personal development. If we do not know who we are ourselves, how can we then love and support those who do not?
Over the last seven years or so, I’ve made a succession of decisions in an attempted to know who I really am and who I am not. Many labeled these decisions as selfish, which I now understand to be a false understanding of what true faith in Jesus really means. To die to self does not mean to abnegate the beautiful and holy process of learning who God created you to be. However ugly or painful that process may be for others, you coming fully alive is the true glory of God.
Today, I recommend you begin the process of learning who you are. As you do, you will establish a foundation from which you will be able to love people better, richer, and deeper.
Hope. For us all.
For my job as the Director of Development for The SOLD Project I’ve spent an inordinate amount of time on developing a Case Statement. This is basically a document that smartly, articulately states why financially investing in The SOLD Project is necessary and, well, right.
Seeing how this is my first time producing such a document I’m not surprised at the monumental effort it’s requiring. But what is surprising is how I tear up every time I write and rewrite the case studies that prove education CAN prevent the commercial sexual exploitation of children. Pictured above on the right is Cat–our first scholarship recipient. She would not be in this picture had she not received a scholarship one year ago. Rather, she would almost certainly have been in the city, living alone, looking for work. Today her grades are top of the class.
If you’re looking for a practical way to invest your time and money, consider NGO’s that provide education to the underprivileged, exploited, and poor. Truly, it can represent the redemption of Christ. For them. And for you.
For us all.
I just returned from Thailand, and I don’t quite know how to communicate how I’m feeling. There is a melancholy that accompanies the great suffering of so many women here as well as a bright hope that lives with those who’ve survived or never endured at all.
I’ve made this video for all of you, which I hope captures both the hope and love as well as the pain that many girls in Thailand live with every day. This is a difficult story to tell. This is a difficult place to live.
The young girl in the video with me is Bebe. She represents the collision of the two worlds I’ve seen here. She is a girl who lives among those who have suffered, yet she herself has not because her parents can afford education. Bebe represents everything bright and promising about Thailand and why what The SOLD Project & Home of New Beginnings are doing is so important. (and she’s stolen my heart.)
I’m wide awake on the edge of my bed. Outside my window Bangkok shimmers with energy in the night. Lightning cuts across from one cloud to another illuminating the outline of a dark sky-scraper. Shadow giants with blinking red lights for hats. It’s remarkably quiet up here.
Have I made a mistake? Have I promised more than I can deliver?
We arrived in Chiang Mai yesterday. The SOLD team. We’re here because Rachel Sparks and I depart via train for Bangkok in the morning where she will fly home to the States, and I will spend the week with Home of New Beginnings. Comparatively, Chiang Mai is much larger than Chiang Rai–where I spent the last two weeks. Think Austin compared to Waco. I am enjoying it very much so far. We could vacation here, you and I.
This afternoon we visited the VCDF drop-in center–one of SOLD’s partner organizations. VCDF works with street children in Chiang Mai. Some as young as 4-years-old and some as old as 15 collect here en masse during the day to find a sense of structure as the volunteers and staff pour over them with love and education. Though many are alone in life, here they have family. Here they are normal.
In the States, half of the children I saw today are too young for Kindergarten. Too young to ride in a car without a car seat. Too young to play in the backyard without supervision. Yet, here they are live on the street amongst drugs, prostitution, and pedophiles.
Our arrival at VCDF today interrupted art therapy class for the 5- to 8-year-olds. In a semicircle around the teacher 20 children–mostly boys–sat holding a drawing of how they felt inside. Lemon yellow suns. Ocean blue houses. Turtle green people. Each child would show the group his creation, explain what it meant, then the entire group would applaud. Imagine Celebrate Recovery with 5-year-olds.
One boy, the smaller one was next. I stood at the edge of the semi-circle watching over his shoulder as he explained his drawing to the group in his tiny Thai voice. My eyes watered as he spoke to the group pointing to the large stick figure next to the small stick figure. They both held what looked like to me red cucumbers in their hand, and he only spoke a few sentences–a blur of tiny words really, that were delivered as matters of fact. “Yum yum” was the only word I understood. He was talking about oral sex. Then he finished speaking as the other children clapped. He clutched his drawing with a smile.
Tears now falling, I had to leave. On my way out, I noticed that many pictures make it up on the walls as a reminder that these children are not alone. Though the world outside is insidiously abusive, here they have a family. Here they are safe. Here they may know love.
“Falang,” the chubby 10-year-old boy yells at me out the passenger side window of a car that appears to be driven by his older brother. We’re in 5 o’clock rush hour traffic on the main street, he and I. Me, I’m on a motorbike–just inches from the vehicle in front of me. Him, he’s in the car behind me still wearing his school uniform and apparently wants my attention.
I was driving home and processing how I was feeling now that I’ve been in Thailand almost two weeks. As expected, I’m in somewhat of an emotional disarray–which is partly why I came. There is such wonderful and terrifying entropy when I remove the comfort of my own routines and let disorder begin to break me down. These last few days feelings of loneliness have found their way into the loose construction of my re-fabricated heart like curious insects. I’m thankful for God’s grace, but stunned silent by how debilitating these feelings of loneliness can be. But I can’t concentrate on that for long because he’s yelling again.
“Falang! Falang!” I turned my head to see him waving fervently at me from the passenger side through the windshield, and I laugh because falang means foreigner in the northern Thai dialect. He’s wearing no seatbelt and a smile that shows every poorly brushed tooth in his mouth. Traffic is chaotically dense, and though I can’t really afford the extra seconds to look, I stare because I’m intrigued both by his courage and curiosity. I decide to engage in the moment.
I swerve to the side of the lane–to his side of the car–and slow down. It’s a tight fit as parked cars whiz by on one side and he beams with excitement from his brother’s car on the other. He gives me time to manage the relationship between the vehicles and as soon as I have my bearings and look at him, he begins.
“What is your name,” he asks rather loudly.
“Maikhoen. Khun chêu a-rai” I respond. He doesn’t understand, or can’t hear me, so I try speaking louder and in English while looking back and forth between him and the traffic. “Michael. What is your name?”
He grows very excited at our new friendship, and repostures himself on his knees with this elbows on the door. And I too find that I am rather excited about this sporadic collision of fate.
“Jaidee,” he responds with remarkably clean English. “How are you?”
A smile as happy as his own comes across my face now, and I’m stunned silent once again. Only this time at how wonderfully healing this simple question is–a question from a brave child who wants to show off his English with an American. And all at once I realize that God is using the innocence and bravery of a Thai child to address the lurking woundedness in my heart. In this moment, driving through a foreign city sardined between cars while loneliness ruminates, I needed to know that someone cared about me. I needed to know that someone wanted to know how I was feeling.
Traffic sludges on and I must re-enter the lane, but before I motor ahead, we exchange smiles because we are both at the end of our language capacity, and I answer with as much sincerity as I can muster.
There walks a man
in the land of Thai
His hair is blonde
His skin is white
Don’t even think about
Exploiting children or women
Michael Manes kicks
Your ass for a living
Thailand is foreign
So there are probably scary things like dragons and weird food
But he steps in confidence
He’s not scared
He eats a decent breakfast
He’s mostly prepared
So look out evil doers
There’s no room in this town
Errr city? Province?
I may be politically challenged
but you’re still goin down.
And don’t think
That you can flee
He’s going there too
I mean, if he can
He might have previously committed to other engagements that prevent him from doing so.
But if not,
He’ll punch your face
*and probably also do some other constructive, nonviolent, altruistic things for the vulnerable and defenseless
As I settle into my new time zone, I am finding tremendous value in the rhythm of the early morning. It is the only time I have to be in solitude as I am staying in a house with four other people and surrounded by many others as we go about our day’s events. I’ve been awake every morning thus far at 5:30a. I shower as large Tokay Gecko’s watch with intent, and then I make coffee. As I sit on the back porch with a pen and paper, I watch hairy black & yellow caterpillars fall from the tree tops on lines of silk. Up the tall tree they climb, all night it seemed, only to fall in great numbers great distances on a spider-thin line of silk. Such a great effort for something that seems frivolous yet wonderful. Nature has her own rhythms.
I am still very much in transition but already feel my brokenness begin to surface in the freedom that being a foreigner provides. “I have changed so much over the last few years,” I wrote this morning. “I’m different in the way I trust people or take risks.” I was remembering a time when I used to trust people with my heart without fear. I’d share of my dreams–talk of my pain–but I realized those days are long gone. “I still feel tender inside. Very ripe.”
Learning to trust people after being wounded takes great effort. It is not a passive healing, but rather a very active healing. Up the tree we must climb, though we are still broken, only to hang from the branch and let go. As we did before our pain. And eventually, after much effort, we find our rhythm again.
Courage. For us all.