The hot March afternoon sun beat down on the canopy, and we sweltered in the smoky air. The big fans set along the perimeter of the seating area helped. The air was record-breaking dirty, with smoke from the slash and burn agriculture in the mountains adding to the already potent pollution of the city, but at least the air was moving.
We sat in eager anticipation, not really minding the discomfort, because it was a big day. Graduation day. Each of the graduations are a victory, because none of them have come easily. Almost all of the kids came to us from a difficult life situation and were far behind academically. So far behind that most give up rather than struggle on at an age when others have already finished their education and have gone on with life.
Preston was one faced with those challenges, but he never complained and never hinted that he would like to throw in the towel. Yesterday was the pay-off. At 23 he received his high school diploma – that piece of paper that will open so many doors to a better life.
As I sat there, waiting for the ceremony which, as is common, was delayed by more than an hour, I thought about this young man and how the Lord brought him into our lives and into our family. It was nearly five years ago when Paul called me.
“We have a new boy,” Paul told me.
“Really?” I asked. “Which one is he?”
We had recently separated from the man who had been running our children’s home. Molly, an angry and stubborn little girl, had just come to live with us. I was in America because of a death in the family. Now Paul was calling to tell me that our second child was on the way.
I sighed. “You do know that describes ALL the kids in the home? How old is he?”
“He’s 18. He told Social Services that he wanted to live with us, so I told them we would be happy to take him.”
We had recently learned of the abuse and the misuse of funds that had gone on in the children’s home we had supported for years. We tried hard to close it down and get the children to safety, but it was an uphill battle. Social Services interviewed the kids, but they had been threatened and were afraid to complain about the man we had formerly trusted to take care of the ministry here. Prasit, or Preston as we would call him, wouldn’t complain, either, but told the officials he didn’t want to go back.
He was 18, so the officials said he could live where he wanted. Could he live with the Browns instead, he asked. They called us and we immediately said, “yes.” We’ve never regretted it!
From the first, Preston was the one who was the most reluctant to ask for anything from us. He has been a willing worker, quick to see what needs to be done and to do it. He made his schoolwork his own responsibility and has done well, making good grades.
Like most of the kids, he was far behind in school because he didn’t have schooling opportunities when he was younger. He was in ninth grade when he came to us. Because he aged out of traditional high school, we sent him to a school similar to a vo-tech in America. He has always been interested in electricity, so he chose to study to be an electrician.
He wants to continue studying to get a higher degree in electricity in order to be better equipped and to get a better job. We are happy to be able to help him continue his education, especially since it is much more affordable here in Thailand than in America.
At last the ceremony began and proceeded much like those which will be held across the United States in a few months. Just like moms on the other side of the world, I kept my eyes fixed on the dark head that I would recognize anywhere in a crowd now. I rushed out to snap pictures as he bowed to the president of the college, took his diploma and walked down to his seat.
More pictures followed after the ceremony. We were delighted that Preston’s mom and step-dad were able to come from their mountain village, along with his pastor and a couple of aunts and cousins. They were so proud of him – and we were, too!
A celebratory dinner at the family’s favorite restaurant – a type of buffet where you cook your own food at the table – followed.
We are going to miss Preston and William when we move in a couple of weeks. They will stay on here in Chiang Mai to continue their education.
Other big changes are ahead, too. Kimmy is leaving on March 27 to return to America. She continues to have trouble with her gall bladder, and at our suggestion she is returning early to avoid having an emergency surgery situation here. She has been a great blessing to us, and we certainly will miss her!
The calendar for the next couple of weeks is jam-packed. On Tuesday, Jay will graduate from the ninth
grade. That’s an important milestone here. The kind of job a person can get depends a lot on his schooling. Without at least a sixth-grade certificate, only hard manual labor is available. A ninth grade certificate opens more doors, and, of course, a high school diploma and university schooling is the best scenario. Jay is the only one of the kids who is in the grade he should be chronologically.
The other kids will be out of school after Tuesday, too. Jay and Molly will be joining our Good Shepherd Learning Center when school starts again in May. They will attend the Thai informal school with Moses and Nora to work toward their diplomas.
Bang and Danny will be the only ones still attending Thai elementary school. They will get their sixth grade certificates next year and then join the crew at home.
Perhaps by then we will have a building of our own, or at least be working on it. The government moves slowly, and when we finally get a long-awaited paper, we find it has something missing and must be sent back again. Please pray with us that the red tape will come to an end and the title to the property will be ours soon.
In the meantime, we are moving to the area to start our ministry there. We are partially moved into the small house we have rented and will get the large house on March 27. Moving 12 people and their accumulation of stuff is no joke, so we need prayers for strength and grace as we tackle that job.
Notes about repairmen, doctor appointments, and placement tests for the kids, etc. clutter my calendar. I keep calling our long-suffering secretary, Pann, to add to the long list as I think of more things we must do before we leave.
Meanwhile, Paul and I have been in Mae Chan for preachers’ training. I love teaching English to the guys. They really get into the lessons and we all laugh and have a good time. Even drills are hilarious.
“Are you happy?” I ask them.
“Yes, I’m happy!” they shout in reply, pulling their faces into ridiculous grins and then doubling over with laughter.
“Are you sad?”
“Yes, I’m sad,” they shout, sticking out their lower lips in exaggerated frowns. More uproarious laughter.
And so class goes.
This was probably the last preachers’ training we will have in Mae Chan. The new rent house has a large covered area in the backyard that we think will work great for it. We think it will be much less expensive and easier in many ways. For one thing, we won’t have to leave home to teach. The guys can come to us We stopped by there on the way to Mae Chan because the men who traveled with us wanted to see it. They were so excited!
Thank you for your faithful prayers as we go through these big changes and the eventful move. And a special thank you to our supporters who make the work here possible. Preston earned his diploma, but your gifts provided the means for him to reach his goal. It changed his life. We think eternity will show it was a good investment!