Mercy Center: There & Back Again

40 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’ 41 “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42 For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’ 44 “They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’ 45 “He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’

Matthew 25:40-45

Today is the day, I am finally on my way to the Mercy Center, and to be honest I am very nervous.  As I sit here in the taxi that is taking me through the many back roads of Bangkok, through the slums that I really don’t think any American ghetto could even come close to an equivalent, I am amazed at what I am seeing to where I almost can’t process it.  The butterflies in my stomach are starting to make me a little nauseous and I know that it’s just the fear of the unknown.  We are making our way through the slums; I am worried that I am not going to be strong enough to do the job that is being set before me.  I am scared that what I will see here, the poverty, the loneliness, the huge chasm that is my reality from the reality of these homeless children I am about to meet is going to be too much mentally that I won’t be able to handle it.  While I consider what my next four years will be like volunteering the doubt is starting to creep into my mind.  There is a good chance that I won’t be able to handle this emotionally, mentally, and I’m sure sometimes spiritually but I do know one thing and that is that I am doing none of this alone.  This is part of the plan, the plan that God has so graciously included me in and I alone can’t do this but I can do all things though Christ.  Philippians 4:13

I arrive at what I think is the Mercy Center but it isn’t.  The taxi driver drops me off and it is one of the many Mercy Center school for slum children.  It is completely closed off but I walk up to the gate and wave, say hello in Thai, and ask for some help.  A sweet grandmother of a lady walks up to me and starts speaking to me in Thai and all I can think is “o no I’m lost and now I don’t know enough Thai to have this conversation.”  I explain to her that I am here to see Nan.  She says “o! Nan!  Not here!  Not here!  At Mercy Center, this school!”  She points through the slum and says “Nan!”  I say “o no I need a taxi and mine just left!”  She says “no taxi you take motorci”.  (insert inner monologue) O sweet Lord please get me through this in one piece.  She says “pay no more than 10 baht! I will get you one.”  I thank her and as I hop onto the motorcycle taxi (with no helmet), I am actually pretty excited.  What a thrill, I figured there would be a point where I would take a motorci but today I am in the middle of the slum and probably the only white person for miles and I am riding on the back taking in sights and sounds of a world that I never knew existed.

I arrive at the Mercy Center and meet the Director of Volunteers and she offers to give me a tour.  I am in awe of what I am seeing.  Instead of seeing sad lonely children like you see on commercials (when asked to sponsor a child) I saw so much love and happiness.  Not to say they aren’t lonely and need a loving home but there was so much beauty in a place that I was scared to even walk into (my spirit is willing but the flesh is weak- Matthew 26:41).  God is everywhere in this place.  The donation room is full of toys, books and clothes that will be used for the 180 orphans that live on the premises and then whatever the Center does not need they go out and distribute to the community.  Nan explains to me that most of the street children that come to the Center are sexually abused by their family members (extended family) so most stay until they are 18 years old because they do not want to go back to the family that was supposed to be “taking care” of them.  Since this is the case for most of the children that come here the Center created an art room as a form of communication for the children that aren’t yet ready to open up verbally.  This art room is beautiful, full of amazing pieces these children have created, that are for sale and all proceeds go back into the Center.  We continue our tour and there is a nurse on the premises 24/7, they have a counseling service for the children that are ready for assistance, a computer lab that is half Mac (donated by coke) and half PC.  She explained the Macs are great but when they break, the Center can’t afford to fix them so that is why half the room is full of PCs.  Nan explains to me that they have many schools around Bangkok to help these children and they actually have 2 at the Center that I was able to observe.  Tuesday is the day that they encourage the children to wear traditional Thai clothing to keep them in touch with their heritage and I must say they were all beautiful!  We walked up to the lunchroom and since I am a new face, I was greeted with so many beautiful white smiles.  Some were more shy and waved from their seat while others came running up to me and gave me a big bear hug around the waist.  I was just taken back by the love and happy faces that I saw, I mean I guess the alternative is living on the street so I can imagine they are pretty happy that they are able to be in school, have shelter, food, and are able to escape the abuse.  Nan says that it only takes 10 baht a day to put these children in school, that is $0.30 USD.

We continue our walk and Nan explains that they used to house an HIV hospice at the Center but families would  just drop off their sick loved ones and never come back so the Center thought it better to bring the care to the patients in their home.  I believe she said they had around 300 patients with HIV and 80% of the staff that work with the HIV patients they themselves have HIV but are strong enough to pay it forward.  As we finish our tour I was able to meet Father Joe (which rarely happens since he is so busy out doing his mission so I consider myself very lucky), the man that is carrying out Gods great plan here.  He is an older man that reminded me of a grandpa.  I observed him talking with a family (that were from the slums) they were very malnourished and had a baby on their lap.  He came over and introduced himself and he explained that the lady has HIV but refuses to take her medicine but doesn’t understand why she is sick again.  They were all trying to explain to her that she must take her medicine to get well.  He walked away for a second and as I watch he pulls out 200-300 baht and hands it to the woman and then comes back over to me.  We talk for a minute about where I am from, he sees my Mary medal around my neck and tells me a story of a priest that founded the first church for our lady of the miraculous medal here in Thailand and that is how this all was started, he asks what languages I speak and then asks me what I am doing here?  I say to volunteer and do whatever God is calling me to do.  He says “yes but other than being beautiful what is it you can do?”  I explain that I worked in local government back home and explained about my MPA and I said I am not sure if that is helpful here.  He says, “no we are very interested!  Don’t be so surprised but we can use that here.  Here is my phone number and if we do not call you in a few days you call me.”  Before he walks away, he says “you must ask yourself-what can you do for the poor?”  I thank him for giving me some time and I look to Nan and ask what they need help with.  I explain that I have Killian and obviously as his mother he is my priority but I do have a 3 hours window everyday during nap time to help.  She explains they need people to help teach English in the schools but that is during the morning.  I said well maybe I could do it once or twice a week but then she stops me and says no I have something you can do.  This is when God shows me His power and allows my talents (my MPA is useful!) and time constraints to mesh with His perfect plan.  She says that the HIV Center needs someone to write plans and proposals and to do research to help them receive more funding from the government to continue their work for the community.  AWESOME!  I CAN DO THIS!!  I tell her “I’m your girl!”  She says she will talk with the Director of the HIV program for more information and she asked if I could do two days a week, I agreed.  I will be receiving an email this week with the details on when to start and how I can help with the HIV outreach program.

I ask her how to go about getting a cab back home and she says to walk a ways and there will eventually be one that comes by.  I walk to the corner and as I stand in my jeans in the 100 degrees I look around and watch the community that is abuzz with life.  As I drip in sweat I can’t help but (pray for a cab because it is hot) and think how wonderful it is that I will be able to help this community in some small way.  God is good and I can’t wait to see how this will work out.

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