Getting invited on a Thai outing doesn't get more direct than that. However, little did I know when I got into Wan's car with her husband and two children (ages 4 and 5) that it would be a whole family affair. Malee* is one of my weekly English students. She is the staff manager at the youth home I have been consistently writing about.
Twenty minutes later, we were on our way to the small backpacking town of Pai. I quickly discovered that Pai is famous for being 762 sharp curves away from Chiang Mai. As a result, I learned the Thai words for “nauseous” and “throw-up” one hour into the trip. I also pieced together that we were going to visit Malee's nephew who is 15 years old.
In between her children asking me what every object is in English, playing an interesting adaptation of rock, paper, scissors, and frequent half hour stops for endless food, Malee began to tell me the story of her nephew.
Her nephew, David*, is Malee's half-sister's son. David's mother doesn't want to take care of him anymore because she has already started a new family with a different man. As a result of feeling rejected, unloved, and completely alone, David fell into a heavy use of alcohol and drugs. We visited him in Pai at a ministry that houses and helps older people who are being rehabilitated from drug use. David is the youngest person living there by at least 30 years.
I quickly realized this trip was more about helping her nephew than sightseeing. We went to the night market to buy clothes for David and ate delicious food that he isn't normally able to afford. I have been teaching English to Malee for 10 months, and it was incredible to see her speaking English while being a mom and taking care of her nephew as if he were her own. And when David called Malee “mom,” I couldn't believe Malee had invited me onto this trip and into this sacred moment. She told me that she is unsure of how to move forward, because Pai is quite a distance from Chiang Mai. If David comes back to Chiang Mai, he is likely to fall back into drugs because he has many friends here who are involved with heavy drug use. She is hoping to send him to a Bible school but is concerned because he has dropped out of high school and doesn't know if he will be able to get in.
We attended church at the rehabilitation ministry on Sunday morning with David before leaving. I sat amongst many older people and about 30 younger children. The difference was stark, but it was beautiful. The children come from the surrounding village, and if they come to church four times in a row, they receive 10 eggs for their family. I watched the kids line up to receive their eggs with huge smiles on their faces. My heart rejoiced in knowing that along with receiving eggs, they have received a message of hope. While the eggs will be gone this week, there is a chance the message will last in their hearts.
As we returned home to Chiang Mai (with our heads hanging out the window to calm the nausea), I delighted in the opportunity I had this weekend. Malee kept repeatedly apologizing for not having done more sightseeing. But to me, being able to see into her daily responsibilities and now being able to ask about her nephew in the future is a gift I will forever cherish as I continue to build a relationship with her.
This weekend, I've never been more aware of the fact that I'm in Thailand, as my brain thought in Thai, I held hands with Malee's daughter at the market, and we laughed endlessly at her son always being hungry. In true Thai fashion, Malee took more photos than I can count of me posing solo in front of random things. I will look back on these photos and smile but what I will never forget is her nephew's face. Even without a photo, I can see the 15-year-old boy, who, coming out of such darkness and struggling to know just how loved he is, can catch a glimpse of God's faithfulness through Malee.
Malee is one of the Thai Christian workers I get to come alongside of every day.
And because of her and many more like her, there is hope for these youth.
*names changed for privacy