Winter 2022 Newsletter
Updated: Mar 14
Lee Family Fall/Winter 2022 Newsletter Chiang Mai, Thailand
This is the DIGITAL version of our newsletter. Some of you have already received the physical mailed copy, but since we have only physical addresses for 50% of all contacts, we send this out as well. It also serves as a great way to forward our newsletter to others who may be interested in what God is doing here.
New Space reaping dividends
We opened the second rented space on Sunday, May 12th, 2022 with the help of MANY Thai Christians from the Acts Church of Chiang Mai where both our staff (Khao Fang and Fon) attend. In addition to staff and other volunteers, we had 24 women and two children attend. (SEE 2ND PICTURE BELOW).
Along with introductions, games (where participants got an illumin8 T-shirt) and a video about the past year, our staff prepared a special time for women to share about their experience with illumin8.
During this time, six different women spoke through tears to explain what the illumin8 community center meant to them over the past year. It was a very memorable event to hear what a difference could be made with such a small space. Those who shared mentioned love without condition, acceptance, food and help as other needs may arise.
Thank you SO MUCH to those who have prayed and supported us through the Global Disciples 501C3, Amazon Smile's giving, via prayer or your visits here! We now have a respectable office in which these women feel both comfortable and welcomed. It seems like each month we are welcoming more and more who are then sharing with others about the space. Sometimes they come to wash clothing, sometimes for food and sometimes just to sleep in the air-conditioned space away from the bars. Regardless, they are welcomed. Click the link to see a short 5 minute video Ashley filmed of our new space.
Since we first started thinking of coming to Thailand, we knew we wanted our focus to be discipleship and with the expansion of the new space, hoped this would provide that opportunity. Just as the office has grown, so too have our perspectives. To say our attitudes towards discipleship have changed would be a severe understatement. It would be like saying water is wet or all labs love lip-licking. It is more a statement of fact we see things quite differently after having practiced discipleship in earnest over the past three years. Gone are the thoughts that someone has to be "up to par" before they can meet the criteria for being a disciple. If we're to be honest, we've got some who frankly do not really believe yet, but are actively sharing what they do know to see what actions come from their obedience. In these examples, discipleship bears fruit in faith, faith built by seeing the results of what they have prayed and shared without yet really believing. Learn one thing, share one thing, witness the result of this one thing which then builds faith. SEE BELOW: Discipleship leading to increasing faith, not the other way around.
An example of this would be praying, 'God, if you are real, show me'. I can share my testimonies of faith and how it is the foundation of my faith, but to them it may merely be a story. They need something personal to hold onto to claim faith. By praying for faith before believing, they are opening up a space in their heart for God to reside, a place that very often, up to that point, is quite empty. We cannot tell them what exactly will happen, but we do tell them to be prepared for something special although not always immediate.
Discipleship amongst our friends
Khao Fang and Fon have been encouraging in the way they are able to connect with many of the women. They really relate to them and already have one-on-one Bible studies with two separate women, all in Thai, and all led by them. The picture SEE RIGHT shows some of the volunteers from churches in the Thai community that helped with our grand opening. It was an encouraging event made more impactful by those who came to show their support of illumin8.
We are so excited about the impact the team is making upon the community, but always mindful of the difficult task of presenting a new light to communities living in darkness.
I think nothing highlights this difficulty more than a question we ask, "How can you know what to do unless you know who you are?" This may at first seem like a simple question, but who we are is defined by that little dash on our tombstone between the dates of our birth and death, not our name we were given. It is defined by those we impact, because we have made a choice to be different by our very intentional (not reactive) actions. We tell the women as they start learning about a relationship with Jesus, "Who you are is not about your name, it's about what you do or strive to do with purpose."
There is definite excitement in the air, but we would be remiss to not include the difficulties we face as a team. A week in October, was especially frustrating as we had a baking class, English class, discipleship with a younger individual, and a reconnect with one of our longer-term relationships all of which canceled or just did not show. It is trying at times as we have maybe 40% of appointments kept and are frequently confronted with untruthful behavior that hurts. However, we must continually remind ourselves that love should not have a filter AND that we cannot understand the life and circumstances some of these women live with on a daily basis. Personally, there is a lot of comfort in the parable of the sower found in Matthew, Mark and Luke's gospels. It takes a weight off our shoulders to understand we simply sow and God does the work, the heavy lifting of someones' heart of despair. Sometimes, this comes as a realization that we shift our resources (without excluding anyone) from someone who hears to someone who hears and is willing to listen and engage to make the most efficient use of our time. Very often, after initially meeting someone new, we talk not about discipleship, but based on what needs we can serve in a functional capacity. I've mentioned before Home Depot's slogan which I think fits well here: "You can do it, we can help". It has to be a decision on their part to want something different. If they do, we will assist, but not do it for them. We want to be empowering, not enabling. We want to walk beside them as they lift themselves out of poverty, improve their financial situation, find new jobs, and hopefully discover the love Jesus has for them despite their past or current situation. No conditions are set upon those who seek food from the pantry, laundry services or clothing. Sometimes this results in deeper conversations, sometimes not. At the very least, this shows them that Christians love them DESPITE a desire to study or engage further. We are in this for the long haul and sometimes it takes years of observance and quiet questioning before women feel ready to ask, "Why me? Why do you do this? I don't know what a Christian really means, but I see something in you that I want for myself or my family."
illumin8 a year in review Combining all of the tough hardships and accomplishments, it has still been a very successful year and, if anything, we're even more excited about what the upcoming year holds in store with God's provisions. As we look day-to-day it seems progress is slow, but as we observe the past year it is with clearer focus we can see progress being made, each person on their own time and without coercion. You may recall, we started planning to open a "bar ministry" in late 2020 and finally opened the new illumin8 space in September of 2021 after much work to determine the mission statement, ministry focus and desired outcomes. Our mission statement remains one of discipleship: "To equip those working in Chiang Mai’s red-light districts to make wise decisions regarding their lives and relationships and to serve them in practical ways that help them understand that they are valued, forgiven, and called by Jesus". In January of 2022, Khao Fang was hired (MS in Counseling) and later illumin8 hired Fon (BA in English) in April of 2022. After seeing initial success with the first space, things slowed down and we were not as engaged as we had hoped. Therefore, we pivoted adding the second side with washing machines, TV's from which to watch the Chosen, a large meeting space, and a clothing closet upstairs. Since that time, our space is frequently utilized by many women on a daily basis.
If you're anything like me, a tall and slightly weird guy who loves math, you can really live in the visual details of what we are doing. For some quantifiable metrics, it felt best to provide some real-world data of our work over the past year.
For the past 12 months, illumin8 has served 75 different women (and some men after hours ONLY) who have come to the office, collectively devoting 445 total hours of service in an effort to better know and equip them with the knowledge of Jesus (if they are interested).
Most individuals who come for the first time are seeking basic food or other needs. Usage of the laundry services, food pantry, or those seeking clothing, remain some of our biggest needs from those we serve. Although pantry needs only amounted to 51 total hours spent, it really is a disproportionate picture because each visit to the pantry may constitute 15 minutes at most if they want to talk. Comparing this to laundry, which takes an hour or more, there are four different 15 minute visits to the pantry for each one hour usage of the laundry facilities. Food continues to be our biggest need and our biggest expense. Recently, the staff voted to increase spending on food from $300 to $500 per month. Despite this fact, we still run out often, which we are actually excited about because it shows continued usage without enabling. We limit individuals to one small bag per week which they can fil
l to their discretion. Furthermore, this ensures food is not abused and hopefully readily available for all. These services also provide a great opportunity to meet new people as many women know of different foundations and really don't become interested until they learn there is free food, clothing and laundry services (not free but about a $.60 donation for unlimited washing that then comes with free food, coffee and laundry soap). Those who come and get to know our team sometimes become our best advocates for others. It is far more compelling to hear of services that are provided from their peers than from our team (who may be just a little biased).
ABOVE: Time utilized per activity over the past year
II. Future Plans
The team here is led by innovative and driven individuals who have numerous ideas about what can be done in the future to encourage increasingly deeper connections with those we serve. We have two main initiatives we are looking to finalize:
The first is UpSource, a Thai-owned business seeking to provide outsourced accounts payable, accounts receivable and invoicing for American based companies. This is being presented to individuals here who already speak English well and do not have lingering drug or alcohol issues, but wish to leave the bars with a job that will allow them financial independence so they do not have to return to the bars. The pay would be $5-$8 USD per hour with an incentive to work efficiently as pay would ultimately be based upon jobs being completed, correct and on-time.
Ashley and I also had the opportunity to meet Peter, the owner of Ascent Fly Fishing, when we were visiting family in Colorado. Upon returning to Thailand, Peter connected us to Giles, who runs Shadow Flies (www.shadowflies.com). We were delighted to tour the Shadow Flies factory in a nearby suburb of Chiang Mai. Giles runs Shadow flies in a very professional way and increasingly needs women who seek long-term job prospects as it costs his staff years to train someone to properly tie a fish fly. The location we visited had around 80 women, was very clean, and fully air conditioned. When we arrived the team at Shadow Flies was working against a backlog of 2.9 million flies. We are excited to see what future opportunities may be available to women who are ok with hard work and higher pay (than average Thai's) in a company of 99% women.
A retreat was completed December 12th through the 14th which was very impactful for the women. It was led by our staff along with Ashley. This will be a women-only event so Ryan was not be present.
There were 11 women and 5 children (of those women) who attended the event at a beautiful hotel within 40 minutes of our office. At the end of the retreat, all 11 women recommitted their lives to Christ! We pray they would be a light to others as some of these women continue to work in places of darkness. Be on the look out for a facebook post with pictures from Ashley very soon.
III. Prayer Requests
Using abbreviations to protect individual privacy, below are the most recent prayer requests.
P is a hypochondriac and always worried about diseases unlikely to be present. We would like to be able to refer her to other positions, but currently this is not possible given her mental state.
F is SO HAPPY to have been provided a food cart by a generous donor earlier this year. She is starting discipleship classes this week and we pray she will continue to be a bright and joyous light to others.
FS has a job at a bar but is overwhelmed by stress from debts assigned to her as a cosigner on a construction loan. She is working hard to get out of debt, but really needs to sell her house to be able to see some traction.
N was just recently diagnosed with stage 3 cirrhosis of the liver. She has been heavily dependent on alcohol, but is now trying to stop drinking for her (and her son's) health. When she visits the office, she says thank you for praying for her, and knows we care and are here for her. She also started a study of the Bible and discipleship.
R has been a good friend for over two years, but about six weeks ago disappeared and is not responding to any communications. This happens frequently with those we work with, but we are still worried for her well-being.
MN has restarted school after many years and is now working his way through the 7th grade. He is not excited about going back, but Khao Fang remains an ever-present source of light helping to provide him wisdom in his youth.
KZ continues to come to discipleship class every week right on time. We have finally made headway through past experiences so we can now focus on the future instead of rehashing painful memories from the past.
D is always a bright light when she comes and is so willing to listen. She calls Ashley 'mom', Ryan 'dad', and Khao Fang and Fon 'sisters'. She struggles with a disability and walks abnormally. We have told her she WILL run someday whether it be from God's direct healing or from a blessed medical procedure. As I write this, today was D's first day of Bible learning and we are so excited about her potential to be a great advocate into the future.
N is an excellent student and continues to surpass all expectations. He is excited about discipleship and asks very good questions like a child consuming the word and believing.
A lot has happened with our family this past year . Last spring brought the end of COVID for school purposes and the start of a more normal routine. We visited family and friends we had missed so much for THREE years back in the US this summer which was absolutely wonderful. However, we were all ready to be back 'home' in Thailand. It's weird when I think about it sometimes, because I never thought I would be this far from my family and be ok. But I am, we all are. We miss everyone, but are thankful for social media and video calls. Is it hard? Yes. Still, we know we are fulfilling God's plan for our lives, and that makes it ok.
Just last week, Kaelyn told me she was so happy that
we moved here because her faith is so much stronger and she loves seeing God work. She is in 7th grade now, and doing so well at school. The school continues to work with her and provide resources with her dyslexia. She is really soaring. She has many friends and is currently playing soccer, loves art, playing with animals and video games. Kaelyn also has an introverted side and is learning the balance we must all find in life between friends and personal time. Kendal is in 9th grade now (AAAAAGGGHHH) and played JV soccer this year. Their team just won the championship trophy for the Chiang Mai Athl
etic Conference and she couldn't be more thrilled! Her faith also continues to grow with many conversations about God and life and how to navigate difficult situations. Her heart is huge and she loves her bunnies, her friends, reading and soccer. Did I say she loves bunnies? I meant she LOVES bunnies. Blake and Tracy are doing well in Arkansas. They started an Etsy store where they sell fun digital art. Tracy also works at her parents' nail salon plus does dog grooming on the side. They both love animals and we got to meet their sweet crew while we were there this summer. Recently, Blake has had some health issues so we ask for prayers and guidance. On a positive note, he was able to go back to college this past month, and we are all so happy for him. He's pursuing a degree in Graphic Design. We love you all so much and pray for you often!
MISSION - To make disciples of ALL nations who make disciples by loving without conditions PLATFORM - Protecting trafficked and at risk peoples with Christ's love as our example
If you would like to support our efforts here or know others who might share similar interests, please click the link HERE. It links directly to our 501C3, Global Disciples, supporting us and the illumin8 ministry. Thank you ALL!!
Do you know someone whom might find encouragement in reading our newsletter? Send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org (Ryan) or email@example.com (Ashley) and we would be happy to add them to the distribution list.
Address in Thailand: 207/58 Baan Nai Fun
M.3, T. Mae Hia, A. Mueang Chiang Mai, Thailand 50100 +011 66-094-626-1100