I sat in the van and watched as the boy walked up and jerked the handle on the passenger side door. Every Thursday I ride this same route to pick up the rowdy villager kids that attend the school. Every Thursday this boy, Ochi, walks along the side of the house that sits between his house and the road and clambers up into the front seat.
Today though, his head jerked around as he went to open the door. He looked back towards his home and so did I. In front stood a man. He was very obviously Ochi’s father. They had the exact same eyes. The man started to yell something and I’ve never seen a man look at his own son with such hatred.
Ochi looked back towards the van almost immediately. He would not look back. He climbed up into the van and closed the door. I’m glad he did. Because his dad, with the most venomous face, lifted his hand and gave his little boy the middle finger.
I finally understood why this boy, who is so active in the classroom, becomes silent on the way home.
I couldn’t bring myself to interact with the kids on that ride. I was so deeply sad. I always come to this point, at least once a day. I would give anything to be able to say something that would help them.
As usual, as soon as I think that, I also think how perfect it is that God has put me in a place where my many words do no good. My only resort is the best resort. That is prayer. So I prayed for him. I prayed that God would reach this boy’s heart and be the Father he needs. That Ochi would not grow up believing the hateful things he’s told but that he would find his worth and safety in Christ.
That entire day I watched for him and smiled every chance I got. I think he’s wonderful and I want him to know that even if the most influential man in his life doesn’t, his English teacher thinks he’s special.
Friday I went to Phayao to finalize my visa. My visa expires in just a few days. The officer at the front desk in Immigration is a warm and sincere guy who I had met the last time I was there.
He had asked me my name. I had said, “Eliza.”
He smiled and nodded. “My name is Pep.”
“Pep.” he affirmed, then added, in order to tutor my pronunciation, “Like Pepsi Cola, but just Pep.”
“Oh, I see.”
“That’s just my nickname.”
“Yes, my full name is——————-”
I put the line because not for the world could I pronounce or remember that name. It was so long.
“What’s your nickname?” he asked.
“Eliza is my nickname.”
He seemed incredulous. “But it’s so long.”
I felt like it wasn’t. I still feel that way.
“A nickname in Thailand is usually one syllable.” Gik, the headmistress of the orphanage, interjected at this point.
“Oh…” I said. Pep nodded and gave me a look that made me feel like I should consider doing the same, just to save all the Thai tongues from pronouncing the ‘l’ and the dread ‘z.’ My name is easily the most mispronounced name at the orphanage. Followed closely by Rose. Her nickname is mispronounced like, ‘Raws.’
Pep sat and I could see him mouthing my name. He turned to me after many moments.
I couldn’t bring myself to force him to put some vibrations in his ‘s.’ I nodded. He was very pleased.
This last time that I came, Pep was standing at the printer and when he turned and saw me, he froze.
“Elisa!” he finally said, pointing at me. It was the most un-Thai greeting I’ve ever received. He realized this as well and wai-ed Gik with a respectful, “Sawat-dee-khap.”
“Pep.” I wai-ed him.
He came and started sorting our paperwork. He had me re-fill out an application on a new form.
“Are there different questions on the new form?” Gik was curious.
“Nope.” I looked at her, about to laugh and tell her the new form was word-for-word the same as the original form, except that they had put a bolder font on the headings for each category, but I stopped myself when I saw Pep’s attentive face. I cleared my throat and searched for the words. “It is -eh- much cleaner.” I finished lamely.
He nodded and seemed pleased.
I bent my head to finish filling out the ‘new’ form.
“How are you?”
I started and looked up. Pep was looking down at me intently. I don’t know why I was so shocked, maybe it was the quiet and normal tone of his voice, but I couldn’t remember the correct response. I felt like one of my students.
“Good.” I choked out. I looked down at the paper. Oh yeah, it’s polite to return the question. Man, it’s been too long since I’ve had to speak my language correctly. “And how are you?” I asked, finally. The moment to ask this was past, the awkwardness told me that, but it was already done.
It was his turn to look trapped. I saw the same thought-process occur. What is the correct response?
“Go-od.” he answered haltingly.
I smiled and nodded. He seemed pleased again.
I’ll probably need to practice my social skills before returning to the States.
The officer in charge of our case came out. He seemed regretful but he informed us that they could not see us today. Gik took it in a stride and we arranged to come back Monday.
So, I still am not officially approved for my work-permit and my visa expires in about two days. It will be ok.
Saturday, I cleaned my room and swept the walkway outside my door. I shouldn’t have bothered. A backhoe appeared out of nowhere and dug up the stairs and the entire hill beside it. That was more excitement than the kids could handle. All day long we sat and watched that monstrous beast paw at the concrete and earth.
That evening, I think they were exhausted. During the evening devotions, as they were singing, a boy gestured to me.
“Jee!” he pointed into the crowd of kids sitting on the floor and singing. “Cry!” he added.
Jee sure was. I still don’t know what had happened, but Jee was sitting crosslegged, his face towards the ceiling, sobbing like his heart was broken. I had another of those moments. The ones where I wish I could say something, anything.
Jee never cries. He is a fierce tribal boy with proud features that transform when he smiles. But I’ve never seen him cry. I know that if I go to him, he will refuse to look at me. He will refuse comfort from me.
As I sat and yearned over how broken he seemed, he turned and looked at me. He squeezed his eyes shut and turned away. What can I do? Pray.
He wasn’t the only boy who had a melt-down that night. I decided that the excitement of the day had proven to be too much. Many of the boys simply laid down on the floor and slept.
The girls seem to handle everything so much better. They sang their hearts out and then went to dinner like usual. All the while boys were falling left and right. I saw one boy with his sleeve in his hand and his shirt torn clear up the side. I don’t know why. When I sent him to change, he nodded but when I saw him at dinner, he was still wearing it. I decided to let him alone. He must have his reasons.
Today was Sunday. I woke up to sunshine but had coffee with Rose after lunch, watching the rain. It’s like that here. The rain comes and it goes, mostly once a day, sometimes more. You can never tell. At least I can’t. The rain does not stop the kids. They traipse around, some under scavenged umbrellas, others with their heads bare to the elements and enjoying every moment.
Despite the challenges and the communication barriers, I love it here. I could watch these kids all day… I do watch these kids all day. That’s sort of my job actually. I know that there will be more frustrating moments, more moments of missing my own people, but I think God has made my ‘mind like water’ as Nat says. There is always something and someone to love in every moment.
I’m learning too. Things I didn’t think I would. When I saw Ochi’s father do that hateful thing, I was angry and sad. I turned my heart to pray but God showed me something I didn’t expect. I was mourning Ochi’s past and looking into his questionable future. I was realizing that even if I did speak his language, I could not fill the void left by an abusive father. I could not be an example to him of what a man should be.
So I started to pray for the father. While I was doing that, I realized that this is why I should try to reach everyone with the Gospel. It’s easy to feel the burden when it is children, it’s easy to reach out. There is almost a zero-percent chance of rejection from a child. But every woman I see could be someone’s mother. Every man could be a little boy’s father. Whatever their failing, whatever their walls, they need Jesus Christ to mend their broken hearts and their children need a strong family.
So I asked God not to make me a good child care-giver, though I do want to be the best one ever, but I asked Him to make me a bold soul-winner. Because nothing will provide better for a child than their own family, whole and healthy. And no-one can make a family whole better than God. So next time I have a chance, I’ll say something. Because little lives might depend on it.