Well, it started with three arrests.
We came home last Thursday to hear that one man and two women–one of them being our primary translator, Mong Ey– from the community had been arrested for gambling. And for some reason that doesn’t fit into my logic, their children were with them in jail. Mong Ey had her three-year-old with her, and the other mom had her three-year-old and her five-month-old, both who had been sick for over a week. Her three-year-old had just been diagnosed with pneumonia two days before.
We know the conditions of the jail for illegals; we know they aren’t given food.
We really didn’t know what to do.
No one asked for help, and we didn’t know what we could do anyway. We were just thankful to see them all return later that night, and we assumed they paid whatever bribes were asked of them.
We didn’t pursue with questions, but they pursued us the next day.
Mong Ey came over with her husband, Mo Bya, and I had a pretty good idea from the beginning what it was about. I could read their facial expressions, the awkward body language.
I learned the details of who was arrested and why; I learned that the man & woman both had the bribes and paid them. Mong Ey didn’t have the money right now, but the police accepted the other woman’s earrings as collateral for two days. She had until the next morning to pay 1,000 baht ($30) or she’d be arrested again.
They asked to borrow the money from us and pay in back in twenty days, when Mo Bya would be paid. He showed me a booklet recording the days he had worked and described when he would be paid for all these days. This is a common practice here, and a common manipulation of migrant workers.
I understand what they were asking and told them I’d talk to Stephen, and we’d decide together. We’d let them know later that evening.
Stephen and I talked about it and prayed for quite some time. We had some concerns, such as if we let one family borrow from us, there might be countless more. Or if we let her borrow it, were we supporting the illegal gambling activities? We realized the chances of being paid back were 50/50: we are friends and talk nearly every day, so it would get awkward if she didn’t; but repayment of loans in this area isn’t common.
We tried to think about how we would treat a friend in the same scenario. We felt that if we truly want to be friends, then we need to trust them as friends, be honest with them as friends, and extend grace to them as friends.
We tried to consider the Scripture: how did Jesus respond? He definitely spent time with the tax collectors and prostitutes, but how did he deal with sticky situations? Our only conclusion was that he extended grace, particularly with individuals. We see him challenge the rulers, the church leaders, the authorities–all as a collective group. But in case after case of dealing with individuals, we saw grace: asking those without sin to cast the first stone; accepting a perfume anointing from questionable income.
We decided to loan it to them.
Many of you might think this was the wrong decision, and we understand that. Even now I’m not positive it was the right decision, only that we did what we knew: we prayed, we talked, we listened, and then we did our best. That seems to be all we’ve got these days–praying and talking and trying.
We were honest in saying we can’t do this for everyone, and we are fearful of that. We told them we don’t agree with it all, but we are friends. We want to help.
We don’t know if we’ll get the money back, and to be honest, that’s not my biggest concern.
Fast forward just a short twenty-fours, because the drama doesn’t leave us long around here.
A family came to us Saturday morning because their father was quite sick–he had thrown up this morning and had a lot of stomach pain. Since it had just been a couple hours, we said we’d wait and see. It seemed like a case of food poisoning or something that just needed to get out of his system.
They came back an hour later quite worried. When we went to check again, his pain level seemed abnormally high, his hands were icy, his breathing was labored. It just didn’t seem right. We also didn’t have a translator home at the time, so communication was very limited.
We called a friend, a nurse who could speak Thai to this family, who happens to know Thai very well. She was absolutely wonderful to help: she examined him in his house and discovered she could feel his liver, which apparently you shouldn’t be able to feel. She recommended we take him to the local Burmese hospital and offered to help.
We helped him and his wife into the car in the rain and headed off to the hospital. However, on the way, she decided he was in enough pain we should go the public Thai hospital for better treatment. She then proceeded to spend four hours with me there, and was a stellar help.
As of today, he has been admitted for two days and has had a couple ultrasounds as they are watching his liver function. He has been told that it’s from drinking; they can regulate it now but if he continues to drink, he’ll die from it.
That’s where we got to tonight, when Mong Ey decided to visit again.
She came over and started talking to me about the man at the hospital, Jaw. I gave her an update and we shared some small talk. She told me how they over-charged at the hospital, but we didn’t have to pay it all. I explained that I understood the system–we’ve been there a few times, you know. But she soon got to her point: she wanted to tell me how much I should pay at the hospital for him, or how much we should help. She told me that we shouldn’t help so much with the adults. It’s fine to help with the children, and it’s fine to help some of the adults, but if they are going to drink and drink and drink, that is their own fault. We shouldn’t pay to help them.
I don’t think I have gotten angry in another language yet, but it was coming. I was boiling pretty quickly.
I calmly told her we were here to help everyone. I said we may not always be able to help, and granted, we probably won’t pay for him to go to the hospital day after day if he continues to drink. But we would choose with each person that comes to our door. I also told her the money isn’t ours. I told her our church and our friends, they give us the money to help. She repeated the same speech a few more times: yes, we can help. We can help the people who come to our door. But not all of them.
By the third rendition, I went for honesty.
I told her that when anyone comes to our door, we choose. Sometimes we can help, sometimes we cannot. But always, we pray, we talk about it, and we choose. I told her that when she asked for 1,000 baht the other day, we prayed about it, we talked about it, and we chose to give it to her. In every situation, we will pray, and we will choose.
She told me we didn’t have to help everyone, and we could keep the money for ourselves.
I told her we are here because we love them–all of them–and we want to help. If we didn’t love them, we wouldn’t stay. I told her I would go back to America. But we want to help, and we will stay to pray, help, love, and be friends.
It was one of the best conversations we’ve ever had. At the beginning, when she gave her first speech and I was just beginning to boil, I wondered why we are here. Does she understand at all our hearts? Are we just the crazy, rich, gullible neighbors?
But by the end of the conversation, I was back to knowing and believing that this, THIS is why we are here.
I was able to tell her so honestly–well, with language limitations of using the words “help” and “choose” more than I would’ve liked–why we are here, why we do what we do–why we let the kids play in our yard and house, why we go to the hospital many times a week, why we keep a small pharmacy in our living room, why I loaned her money.
Because of love. Because we keep praying, and God keeps surprising us.
Because in a week of addictions and consequences and controversial decisions, grace abounds for all of us.