Jeab is speaking in her native Thai, so I can’t understand a word she’s saying. Yet I have no problems following her story; her facial expressions are telling me most of it. She has the most extraordinary elastic face, which reveals her every emotion in lucid detail. She’d make a terrible poker player. Just a […]
Jeab is speaking in her native Thai, so I can’t understand a word she’s saying. Yet I have no problems following her story; her facial expressions are telling me most of it. She has the most extraordinary elastic face, which reveals her every emotion in lucid detail. She’d make a terrible poker player.
Just a moment ago her face was telling me how excited she was when she found out she was pregnant with her second child. Seconds later translator Anja Markkanen told me in words the same thing.
But now there is a dramatic scene change on the stage of Jeab’s face. Down in the orchestra pit the conductor silences the cherry piccolos and calls for the sombre oboe. I watch a single perfect tear slip from Jeab’s right eye and cruise down her cheek. It comes to rest for a moment on the crest of her cheekbone, and then falls in slow motion to her lap.
‘But I don’t know where my husband is’, she is saying. ‘He said he was going away to find work. But he left one morning without saying goodbye. I haven’t heard from him for two months. I want him to come home, so that we can be a happy family — like we used to be.’
Another tear, the identical twin to the first, rolls down her left cheek.
When her husband left her, Jeab had no way to support herself, her baby Keziah and her little one on the way. Her family had more or less abandoned her; they did not like her husband. They wanted her to abort this second child. ‘They are not willing to help me, and they aren’t able to.’
Jeab’s husband’s family are Buddhist and were never happy that he married a Christian, (Jeab became a Christian when she was 17) so she cannot expect support from them either.
‘My first pregnancy was wonderful. We were a happy family. My husband had a job and we had enough money to raise a child. But this time … all these losses, all this sadness. How will I raise this baby on my own?’
Jeab never considered having an abortion. Except in the case of rape or where the mother’s life is in danger, abortion is illegal in Thailand. But there are ways. If you can pay, someone will do it for you. Of course it is risky business, but desperate women will take risks, even with their life.
Jeab wants this baby. She strokes her belly tenderly without realising she’s doing it. ‘Besides that, it’s against my faith to have an abortion. I believe that God made this baby and he wants me to have it.’
A friend told her about Home of Grace. She came here with one bag; in it was everything she owned. She is lonely. She feels that her friends have turned against her. ‘They think I have done something wrong to deserve all this pain. It’s just what Job’s friends said to him.’
Jeab reads the book of Job a lot. ‘My baby’s name is Keziah. I found her name in Job. There are so many stories from Job’s life that remind me of my own.’
Jeab is one of about 40 or 50 women who stay at Home of Grace each year. Home of Grace is run by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Thailand (ELCT). About 40 or 50 women stay at Home of Grace in Bangkok each year. Since opening its doors in 1986, the home has sheltered over 500 pregnant women who would otherwise have no support during their pregnancy and in the months after the birth of their child. Most of the mothers are between 17 and 25; the youngest was eleven and the oldest 42. The home can accommodate up to 15 women at one time.
It is financially and prayerfully supported by Lutherans in Finland, Norway, Japan, Hong Kong, Singapore, Australia and New Zealand. Lutheran Women of Australia is a long-time supporter.
Anja, a nurse and missionary with the Finnish Evangelical Lutheran Mission, has been working at Home of Grace for three years. She and her pastor husband came to Thailand eleven years ago to work with the fledgling ELCT in whatever ways they were needed.
Home of Grace was established by the Lutheran Mission in Thailand (LMT), a project of Finnish and Norwegian mission societies, supported by Lutherans also from Japan, Hong Kong and Singapore. The home was the first diaconal institution they established. Initially it was planned to be a home-away-from-home for women coming from rural areas to Bangkok to find work. When some of the women became pregnant, they lost their jobs and had no support from their families. This opened the eyes of the LMT missionaries to the plight of unsupported pregnant women in Thailand; they changed the focus of Home of Grace to caring specifically for women in this situation.
‘Women often arrive here in tears’, Anja says. ‘Some are a long way from home; they are frightened. Some don’t tell their family they are pregnant, so they feel lonely and isolated. They worry about the future – how will they support themselves and their baby?’
Home of Grace gives the women a safe place and space in which to work through their feelings in the company of women who are experiencing similar feelings. Often strong bonds of friendship are formed.
‘Here they can relax and think about what they want to do, away from the pressure of their families. They have some time to sort things out and not do anything rash’, says Anja. ‘Some come here thinking they will have an abortion and then change their mind once they’ve had time to think. About half of them think they will give their baby up for adoption, even though most of them don’t want to.
‘But the change is quite radical in the months the women are here. In the end, most are able to keep their baby. Only a small number – maybe around five or six each year – put their child into an adoption home.’
The women may stay at Home of Grace for up to two months after the birth of their child, and longer if necessary. Home of Grace workers encourage the women to re-establish contact with family and friends, so that mother and baby can be supported once they leave the home. ‘We never send anyone out onto the street’, Anja says. ‘They stay until we are assured they will be okay once they leave here.’
An important aspect of Home of Grace’s ministry is the loving care it gives to the women. ‘Here they are not looked down on’, says Anja. ‘Here they learn that every woman and every child is valuable, whatever they do, whatever they have done.
‘Most of the women are Buddhist. This is a Christian home, and so we talk a lot about mercy, that God loves everyone. We don’t force them to believe anything; they don’t have to change their religion to be loved and cared for here. But we say to them clearly when they arrive that this is a Christian home. We have morning and evening devotions, and on Sundays we go to church near here.
‘The local congregation supports us. Volunteers come to help us.’ An evangelist from the church come to Home of Grace once a week to lead a simple Bible study.
‘The women get to know what is behind our faith. They learn about Jesus. Some girls want to find out more about Christian life, and sometimes they want to be baptised. Last year three women were baptised.’
Anja always wanted to work where she could show that she is a Christian, but ‘I don’t want to preach only in words. I like to work where I can show the love and mercy of God more by what I do. Here at Home of Grace, as a team, that is what we do. This is very much teamwork. I learn all the time from my colleagues about Thai society, and I hope I have something to give, too.’
Anja is in the right job here. Like Jeab, she wears her emotions on her face. The tears well in her eyes as she tells me the sad stories – such as the times the mother wants to keep her baby but her family makes her give it away. Anja’s tears of compassion speak louder than any words that the love of Jesus is in this home, and that it will sustain each woman here through whatever trial she will face.
Jeab has a picture in her mind; ‘There is a bird flying in the sky. But then something bad happens, and the bird falls to the ground. It is hurt and cannot fly. It is frightened; it does not know what to do.
‘So, here I am at Home of Grace, waiting for my wounds to be healed. I have to accept that Home of Grace cannot give me back all that I have lost: my husband, my house, my car … I cannot have my old happy life back. But God will give me a new set of wings’.
‘Somehow this experience will help me to understand other people who are hurting. But later on. Not yet. First I need to rest here for a while and to heal.’
This time there is not just one perfect tear on her cheek. There is a flood of them. Her face is awash.
‘Home of Grace is the place where they help birds like me to fly again’, she said.
Many of our partner churches are working in new territory for the kingdom of God; therefore, spiritual attack is their everyday reality. As a member of a congregation, school, or family, or a couple or individual, you are invited to commit to praying for our partners in mission. For regular prayer point updates, go to www.lca.org.au/international-mission/act-now/pray
Read more stories about our partner churches in Thailand at http://www.lcamission.org.au/category/stories/international-partners/thailand/