Our Mercy Children don’t really worry about time and space. So yesterday and today and even tomorrow all become “the right now." If a story rings true to them, they “buy in.” Our kids are unerring, and I’m sure yours are also in spotting the Real from the Fake. They like the Christmas story. So here at Mercy, we celebrate Christmas every day but more especially on December 25th following our Sacred Traditions.
This year the children are planning their own Christmas pageant. First rule: no adults allowed. Then a serious game of rock/paper/scissors to decide who could play the lead roles of Joseph and Lady Mary and Baby Jesus and Donkey and the now-grown-up puppy dog given to Baby Jesus by the shepherd children.
But before that, this is how our Mother Maria re-told our Christmas story for 2012 in Klong Toey – Mercy Centre.
Work was often scarce in Nazareth town for Joseph the carpenter/stone mason. Sometimes he had to travel: make day trips to work in neighboring towns. If his work was near by, Joseph would take the boy Jesus along while leading their donkey carrying the work tools. Joseph teaching Young Jesus to become a Master Carpenter. Mary would prepare food for them as they left at dawn. "Be careful. Be Safe."
Our sacred books say that before their flight into Egypt, before Mary giving birth to Jesus in Bethlehem, before the Star arising in the East and the Magi’s visit to Bethlehem, coming to worship; bringing Gold, Frankincense and Myrrh --when the Angel Gabriel asked and Virgin Mary consented to be the Mother of Jesus -- the Mother of God, Gabriel also told Virgin Mary that her cousin Elizabeth (who was of an age) was pregnant. Her son would be named John the Baptist. Virgin Mary decided to travel the 80 kms to visit – to help. Joseph, who was engaged to Lady Mary, said “It’s madness that you travel alone.” Then Joseph spoke to Donkey. It’s a five-day journey with robbers all along the way. Donkey, you have to carry her and you must be gentle. You must be alert at night also – make noise to warn us if bad men come around.” Joseph walked while Mary rode the donkey. They traveled from Nazareth town to the foot hills where Cousin Elizabeth lived.
Even now, eight years later, back home again, living off the main road by Nazareth, Mary and Joseph felt they could never ever be safe enough. They tried to lead a normal family life, but were always looking back over their shoulders, never quite sure if Herod’s soldiers knew. When they killed all those children in Bethlehem, trying to kill Jesus over eight years ago, did they know that Jesus had escaped that horrible night, that they had been warned by the Angel’s strong loud voice in a nightmare dream to Joseph? "Go! Now! Run!"
Mary wrapped Infant Baby Jesus against the cold winter night. Joseph asked his donkey, "Donkey, can I trust you? You must carry Virgin Mary and Infant Baby Jesus to Egypt. You must not falter, not stumble, no matter how rough the road might be.”
Yes, the memories of those eight years ago…. How would they survive? Virgin Mary had kept some of the gold given by the Magi. Would there be enough, or almost enough, until their arrival at the border of Egypt - avoiding robbers - to survive until Joseph found work? And memories of how Mary kept the Myrrh used to anoint the dead, with a premonition, somehow knowing as women do of the ominous days to come.
Fleeing into Egypt that very night, Joseph walking-running, Mary cradling the infant Baby Jesus in her arms, riding on Donkey. Traveling by back roads, trying to go unnoticed to avoid soldiers or strangers. That was eight years ago, but even today, this new Herod – son of the old Herod - would still kill them for sure if he knew Jesus were alive.
They’d settled down in Nazareth – their home before “the troubles” – a good place to raise a child. Off the main roads, one water well. A place no one noticed. And of course, the evenings were quiet, in those days before electricity, radio, T.V. mobile phones. And Jesus loved to ask Mary and Joseph to tell over and over the story of his birth.
And so it is in our Mercy House as Mother Maria tells our children the Christmas story. And about Donkey and the grown up puppy dog the Shepherd children gave to Jesus. It’s true, we can’t find much in the original Latin and Greek Scriptures but in telling these stories, legends have been passed on by tradition through the centuries, and thus are truer than true.
Our children ask Mother Maria which Bangkok City bus do they take from Klong Toey to visit Baby Jesus. And what is Jesus’ favorite food? And would Donkey be able to pull their three-wheel cart that they ride on for fun and give them a ride? And could they play with puppy dog now grown up? And they ask Mother Maria, how did the now-grown-up puppy dog go with them into Egypt? And then they answer their own question, that St Joseph carried him in his sack. Cuz when Baby Jesus took a nap, for sure puppy dog slept next to him.
They decided in their make believe world that they would charge money for a ride in the cart pulled by the donkey and give the money to Baby Jesus...since Jesus loves everyone; and they knew he would share the money, so they could buy candy.
We wish you all a wonderful Christmas.
When we started our home-based care program in 1999, our goal was simply to get our hospice patients back home with their families. We were homecare pioneers in Thailand and thus had no local organizations to turn to for advice and counsel. So we learned on the ground.
Today organizations and governments turn to Mercy for advice and counsel when they start their own community home-based programs.
Recently we have been helping organizations in Bhutan and Laos, and last week we provided a practicum on community-based HIV/AIDS care for the Mae Tao Clinic, the major health service provider for displaced Burmese and ethnic people along the Thai border.
Photos above and below: Mercy homecare social workers provide a practicum in community care along the Thai-Burmese border for staff of the Mae Tao Clinic.
People often ask us, what is your most basic need? What do your children always need? What do your poorest neighbors need?
We can answer these questions with one word: nourishment. To give you an idea what it’s like to go grocery shopping for Mercy Centre…
We serve around one million meals a year.
Breaking down this one million figure, we provide:
- Lunch for our 2,500 kindergarten students every school day;
- Breakfast and dinner every day for our 200 children, plus their house moms and house dads (three meals a day when schools are not in session);
- Nourishment and sustenance for our poorest neighbors when they are destitute and hungry;
- Monthly supplies of dry foods and sacks of rice for our AIDS home-based care patients; and
- Thousands upon thousands of meals to entire communities following slum fires, floods, and other disasters.
This is most important! Our children give thanks before every meal. They give thanks to the farmers who grow the food. They thank our cooks who prepare their meals. They also thank their house moms and house dads, and Fr. Joe and Sister Maria; and finally, most importantly, they thank God because we are a religious house (Buddhist, Muslim, and Catholic) and want our children to grow up with prayer in their hearts.
As we explain to our littlest ones, “Every grain of rice on your plate was grown to be eaten. If you leave rice on your plate, you are insulting the rice, which will have been planted, grown and harvested for nothing. Plus you will be insulting the farmer, the trucker, the cook, and everyone and everything that moves each grain of rice to your plate.”
Our children understand this argument, and as children they do not wish to insult even one grain of rice.
Our older boys feel even greater respect for their food as they grow much of it themselves.
Most of our older boys live on our farm near the new airport. Their house dad, who holds a university degree in agriculture, teaches them how to farm and brings in professors and speakers to instill the virtues of a self-sustaining life and environment.
Here’s a short list of the crops our boys plant, tend, and harvest before and after school every day: Chili and other Peppers, Eggplant, Bitter Cucumber, Papaya, Spinach, Lemon Grass, Cabbage, Holy Basil, Sweet Basil, Lime, Sponge Gourd, Ivy Gourd, Turmeric, Coriander, Squash, Indian Mulberry, Bananas, Butterfly Peas, Star Goosenberry, Hog Plum, Mango, Chinese Cabbage, Lettuce, Jackfruit, Mimosa, Horseradish, Tamarind, Ginger, Mushrooms (many varieties), Bamboo Shoots, Long Beans, Peppermint, and last but hardly least, Rice. They also practice aquaculture, raising catfish and frogs in ponds on their farm.
Everything they grow they share with all our Mercy homes, and everything left over goes to market.
Back in Klong Toey, our Mercy girls are growing their own vegetables, too, far from arable land, right on top of the roof of our Mercy Centre. Our girls manage a hydroponic garden that is producing a gorgeous array of vegetables, including Red Coral, Red Oak, Rutterhead, Cross, Green Oak, and Finley.
Between our farm and hydroponic garden, we can shorten our weekly grocery list and lower our overall operating budget a little bit, but our expenses, especially for rice, our daily staple, are still astronomical. To serve one million meals a year, the rice we purchase costs 510,000 Baht (approx.. US $17,000).
Cooking oil, noodles, and many other items you’d never think of as expensive are also sky-high when factoring in one million meals.
For our friends who are looking for specific ways to help us, we welcome all support for the nourishment of our children, students, patients, and neighbors.
Thank you so much, as always, for all your kind words and support.
Fr. Wirach Amonpattana
Dear Everyone –
I write to you this Monday morning to thank you all for so many kind wishes on my 73rd birthday this past week on the Eve of All Saints (Halloween.) May we all be Blessed by the ever present silent Protection of all our Saints and Ancestors as we celebrate the Feasts of All Saints and All Souls.
We’ve had some exciting and awesome changes here at Mercy as we boldly walk into our 41st year in the slums. What a privilege, all these years, to be accepted by our slum neighbors and all of you, our Mercy Family, really, for a lifetime and beyond.Our Ms. Usanee has stepped up the ladder as a member of our family to become our International Ambassador both here in Thailand and beyond the seas. Our new Parish Priest, Fr. Wirach, has firmly grasped the tiller as our new Executive Director, steering our good ship Mercy. He is eminently qualified as for the past 20 years he has been helping us whenever he could. He began with us as a seminarian with our Slaughter House Catholics and neighbors. Our slum neighbors accept him, as do the relevant local government agencies, and our staff are happy. Most important, our children think he’s great. He has many university degrees (literally a handful), which is not important, but helps. So the great worry of “who will succeed Fr. Joe” is answered and dealt with. What a relief!!!
Last week, twenty Bangkok slum children – the very poorest of the poor – took a long bus ride to Ranong province and then hopped a boat to Koh Lao to help a destitute island village of ethnic Mokens, the sea gypsies of Thailand.
It is quite unusual for these children to explore the world beyond their own slums. They know every crack in the pavement (if there is any pavement) near their own shacks, but nothing of museums, galleries, parks, or neighborhoods in the “nicer” parts of town.
These twenty children, ages sixteen to twenty, are exceptional and so we invited them to participate in an exceptional Leadership Training Camp. They are the brightest and most motivated of our “Sponsorship Kids,” the kids whose education we sponsor because their parents or guardians have no money to send them to school – no money for the most basic school fees, uniforms, books, stationery, lunch or transport.
For five days, our sponsorship kids engaged with the sea gypsy children in Koh Lao in a variety of activities. In the process, they learned about the value of helping others, the harmony of village life, and the difficulties of being “outsiders,” as the sea gypsies most definitely are, in the modern world.
Activities included plenty of hard labor, such as clearing a path from the seaside village to the hilltop water well, collecting tons of recyclable garbage along the shoreline, and lugging heavy construction materials to the site of our new kindergarten for the island children. But it also included loads of fun. Our Leadership Youth organized and refereed an incredibly high-spirited Sports Day for all the sea gypsy children of Koh Lao, a day filled with side-splitting laughter as the children competed in their first ever “water-balloon toss” and “three-legged race.”
By the time our slum children returned to Klong Toey, they knew a lot more about the ways of the world and how to help in ways that make a difference.
After a devastating fire, the Rama 9 community is whole once again. Thank you so much for your support!
Last April a fire ripped through an old squatter-slum community in the Rama 9 neighborhood. In total fifty-one homes were destroyed or badly damaged, leaving 178 residents homeless, including 61 children and eleven grandmoms and granddads.
Most adults in this slum community work as day laborers, maids, security guards, motorbike messengers, and street food vendors who sell noodles, fruit and snacks from their mobile carts. On a good day these families are able to earn the legal minimum daily wage (300 baht - approx. US $10).
Like most slum residents, before the fire they were already over-burdened with household debt. Following the fire they had lost all that they had ever called their own.
The community leaders and residents asked our Mercy Centre to assist them, as we have in the past for dozens of communities throughout the city following major slum fires.
Our outreach and housing teams worked hand in hand with the community, starting with emergency aid, including food and shelter. We also helped organize the community in petitioning the government welfare and housing departments for aid in rebuilding their homes; and these petitions were succesful: the local governement did provide some support and in doing so recognized those left homeless as legal residents.
There were obstacles all along the way. Even removing the debris left in the wake of the fire was a major hurdle.
(Newly rebuilt homes. Mercy Centre was responsible for rebuilding almost forty new homes, which include plumbing, a toilet, and electricity.)
Your support for Mercy Centre provided the materials and labor to help the Rama 9 community reubild. Your gifts allowed families to stay together. Your gifts meant that the moms and dads did not have to quit their jobs, go further in debt, and move their families to a distant slum neighborhood. They could still work close to home. And their children could attend the same schools, including the neighborhood kidnergarten, which we built and operated for the community for many years. The children could keep their old friends, too, and grow up together in the neighborhood they have always considered home.
On behalf of everyone here at Mercy Centre and the entire Rama 9 community, we wish to extend our most heartfelt thanks.
A rooftop view of the rebuilt Rama 9 community.