Dear family and friends,
The academic year is drawing to a close, and all but six of our children will return to their families or relatives for the Hot Season on March 6. Our college students will have returned to their homes by March 14. It has been a year full of grace and God’s love and mercy to us. We are deeply grateful to Him for His presence with us and for His extravagant provision. I would like to take this opportunity to offer heart-felt thanks to the so many of you who have prayed for us and who have supported the ministry financially over the past twelve months; without you we could not have given education scholarships to our 47 precious children.
Becky Gaslin, a member of our international Board of Advisers, and her husband, Doug, visited us recently and wrote the following about their visit: “A highlight of the trip for both of us was the chance to observe interviews of prospective recipients of Grace Ministries scholarships and their parents in a Lisu tribal village near the Burmese border. Yao, Ewe, Yokie, Charles, Doug, and I journeyed by van into the hills high above Chiang Mai near the Burmese border expecting to interview six to eight children. Instead, the parents and kids kept coming until we had met 17 sets, mostly on the floor of a three-room cinder block home in the village. Five children from this village (Mae Yai, Yada, Koy, Phon and Chat) are currently living at Grace, and it says a great deal about their experience that parents are so eager to send their children there.
Two kids especially made an impact on us. The first student we met was a 7-year-old boy who will be among the first “batch” to live at Bethlehem House when it opens in late April. His 21-year-old mother, Surada, married at 14 and is determined to provide a hope-filled future for her son Beng, even to the point of parting with him for over nine months a year so he can live at Grace. Her younger sister, Mae Yai, has lived at Grace Ministries for seven years and is currently studying English at Buriram University. The young mother has seen what a good education and the nurture and encouragement of the Grace staff have done for her sister—and she wants that for her little boy. I don’t know many American or European moms who would be willing to send their 7-year-olds away for an education, but, of course, we don’t have to. Poverty narrows one’s life and limits one’s opportunities! This will be a rare chance for little Beng to escape his background and open doors we take for granted.
The last child we met that day was a beautiful 14-year-old girl named Alae. We had to seek her out because she was living in a government boarding school for the poorest of the poor of hill tribe children. Alae’s father is in prison for life for a drug-related crime, and her mother had committed suicide a month prior to our visit. This child of inestimable value in God’s eyes, had no one willing to provide for her, love her, and teach her how special she is—until the Grace staff invited her to live in Bethel House. Her reaction to the invitation was beautiful—amazement and gratitude as a tiny light of hope appeared in her darkened and sad life. Alae is an excellent student and should blossom under Yao’s, Yokie’s and Jim’s loving care.
The students at Grace are currently finishing up their final examinations before heading home for a long Hot Season break. Please pray for their safety as they leave the protection of the staff; some of them are going home to very difficult and precarious situations. Please pray, also, that every one of them will return when the new school year begins on May 8—along with every new child who has been selected during the past couple of months.” There is a considerable battle being waged for a number of them.
Noot’s (Siriphon) testimony on graduating from Buriram University:
I graduated from college with an undergraduate degree in child psychology on Wednesday, February 27, after six years in high school and five years in college. I have been looking back on the previous eleven years with wonder in my heart and sincere gratitude for God’s extravagant love for me.
All these years ago, God came to my village when He sent members of the GM staff with the promise of an education scholarship. I was extremely poor, and my parents were both laborers who could not afford to send me to high school. I was a poor girl with very little self-worth and was wounded, broken and quite without hope.
After living in the girl’s home for a while, I remember Dad and Mum and Pi Yao trying to speak words of comfort and hope to me, but all I could do at the time was to break down in floods of tears. Slowly, I began to realize that God was real and that He loved me, and He won my heart through the love I received here and through the words I heard read and taught from His book--the Bible.
Having graduated from high school, I was overjoyed to be given the opportunity to study in college, the first person in my entire family ever to do so. I chose to study child psychology, in part so that I could learn to understand myself more and also to gain the knowledge to help other underprivileged children like myself. I was amazed once more to learn that a family in Malaysia, who are friends of Dad and Mum and whom I have never met, offered to pay for my college expenses.
I was determined to succeed in my studies, applied myself diligently, and obtained good exam results. You can imagine my amazement when I was one of a tiny number of students to be offered a position in the best kindergarten in Thailand, located in Bangkok. However I declined the offer, as by then God had given me a love for and a burden to help children like myself by working with GMFT.
The past five years have taught me many things. The first thing I have learned is that God is real and that He loves the poor, the broken-hearted and the despised. The second thing that I have learned is the love and the nurture and the deep respect that we find at GM is found nowhere else in society here.
May I encourage each of my younger sisters and brothers to persevere in your studies in order to make the most of the opportunity that you have been given by God. Resist the pressure to drop out of school or to take an easier route. Resist the values and attitudes of many of your friends and fellow students and seek something more than they will ever know. Be courageous enough to be different than the crowd. Seek to change your past and your present so that your past can no longer define who you are, and your present can no longer dictate what you can become in the future.
What a testimony to the grace of God Noot, (Her “Christian” name is Siriphon, meaning freedom and blessing) has become. How delightful and full of love and mercy is the God, “who came to my village” when she was a child. How powerful is the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ in rescuing, saving, transforming and beautifying a human life. How He has brought her through, and out of so much! She is respected by all that know her. She is safe, debt-free, well educated, and full of hope and expectancy for the future. What an encouragement it is to the staff here as we seek to provide the same for all the precious children in our care.
How good is the God we adore!
Yao, Witoon and Ewe, Charles and Yoke Fong