Just before Christmas, dozens of street kids gathered for a party, organized by Mercy Centre and fellow NGO members of the Bangkok Street Children Network. The party took place where the kids are most comfortable, beneath the Rama III Bridge on a sliver of park that many of these kids call home. Our street teachers organized games throughout the day – from three-legged races to co-ed soccer – and presented gifts to every child. Fr. Joe spoke and exhorted the children, as he always does, to be honest and to look after their brothers and sisters on the streets. Most importantly, he reminded them that whenever they need help, no matter what, "Call us. Drop by Mercy. Don't hesitate. We are always here for you." Photo gallery here.
Back when the world was much younger, but still quite a while after the Bible began, our ancestors celebrated Christmas – the Birth of Jesus – each year, when the darkness of winter stopped - and the light began to come back.
That glorious bit of history told through the centuries that their neighbors in Nazareth town told Joseph that they, the neighbors, distant cousins really, could register in Bethlehem for him and Mary, as they had to go to register themselves anyway. A tiny gift to the officials there would be sufficient. It was a kind-hearted gesture. That Joseph would not need fret and worry of having pregnant Mary make that several-days difficult journey to Bethlehem.
Joseph and Mary talked. Maybe it was a good idea. Maybe they didn’t have to travel after all. Pregnant Mary said to Joseph, "We both have to go ourselves, I believe and know from all the old stories and legends passed on through the centuries - prophecies really. I know and am convinced in my heart of hearts that the Messiah, my baby, must be born in Bethlehem. The angel did not tell us where the Child is to be born, but I believe and know we must make the trip. That is the right thing to do. No matter how difficult."
Thus Joseph with Pregnant Mary and the neighbors all traveled together - for safety sake - traveled by mule, by foot, by camel, south from Nazareth to Bethlehem town. A day’s walk outside of Jerusalem. And of course, they believed that their special Angels hid them from sight along the five day journey - kept them invisible from robbers and brigands.
In the old language: " Thus it came to pass” - Jesus was born in Bethlehem in a cove stable – offered to Mary and Joseph in desperation by an apologetic kindly inn keeper and his wife. His wife had told him sternly “How can we possibly turn away a Pregnant woman.” Old Belief is that there was truly no room available, and this was the best they could do. But that the inn keeper’s wife and her friends, plus the women coming with them from Nazareth tried to help Mary best as they could. Helping as women do, with the birth of a child.
Years later, Joseph and Mary re-told of those days: We didn’t know before hand. How could we know? But we were met by Angels singing in High Heavens, Shepherds, their wives and children. And three Wise Men, learned men whose advise was sought by the great of this world. They had traveled far, several months from the East to worship our new born Child. Offered gifts of Frankincense, Gold and Myrrh to Baby Jesus.
The Wise Men said they had long followed this unique Star, brighter than all the rest. A Star that the Sacred Books say: somehow "came down" to light up the cove stable where Jesus was born - to point the way for the Shepherds and later the Magi.
And the women brought food for Mary and Joseph, and clothing for her Infant Baby Jesus against the cold. The Shepherd children wanted to touch Mary’s new born Baby… and Mary let them… but ever so carefully. An old shepherd man, respected in those parts for his sage wisdom told them, “Keep the gold and the gifts of the Wise Men safely. There will be a time soon when you will need them – a time when you have nothing else. “
As Pregnant Mary said to Joseph, “we must go ourselves, no one can go in our place.” And the women cooking and sharing their food, helping to look after Mary and her new born child; and the men standing by, watching, protecting; the children playing; the Magi bring life-saving gifts. And again, thus it is, and thus it must be with each of us.
Later on, much more happened, but that’s for another day.
So it’s Christmas. “From theological mists, true then, true now becoming present reality.” We all, somehow, in our lives, do walk to Bethlehem and we “meet on the street corners of the world.”
fr. joe maier
December 13, 2011 - For the third consecutive year, HRH Princess Srirasmi visited our Mercy Centre to celebrate her birthday with our Mercy children. From the moment she arrived, her joy for our children filled our Mercy Centre and the world around us.
Our children renewed their vows to the Princess, promising to work hard in their school studies, to be honest and polite with everyone they meet, and to respect and protect their family and loved ones. Following their vows, our children performed in song and dance to the Mercy Thai Classical Orchestra, comprised entirely of our Mercy kids,
HRH Princess Srirasmi had special moments with our blind girls, Nong Peh and Nong Fon, showing us that our most disabled Mercy children are also the most loved.
Photos: Above: Her Royal Highness with our disabled blind children, Nong Peh and Nong Fon. Below: Our children recite their promises to HRH Princess Srirasmi.
Last week our Mercy girls shined in a concert held at the New International School of Bangkok that showcased their skills and passions in the performing arts – in songs, folk dances, piano recitals, and popular show tunes.
Like proud parents everywhere, we are probably not the best judges of our own children, but in this case we are quite confident in our opinion: our girls gave a first-rate professional and entertaining performance. The audience of NIST students, teachers, family and friends thought so, too. Each Mercy child was a star: Nancy, Tammy, Toi, Niew, Kat, Kook Gai, Phen, Gwan, Ann, and many of our younger Mercy children, too! (Photo by Alexandra Ashley. More photos at gallery here.)
by Fr. Joe Maier, C.Ss.R.
Published in Bangkok Post, Sunday Spectrum, Dec. 4, 2011
She's never been in a shopping mall, never owned a pair of shoes. She never found them necessary – even when working construction, flip-flops were fine. Granny Pot mentioned once that her own mother who worked as hired help in the rice fields before taking construction jobs in Bangkok never had shoes either. Granny said she'd look funny wearing them. Feet were important, not shoes.
So when her three granddaughters told Granny this year that all first, third and fourth graders must wear shoes to school, the old woman was mystified. The whole business of mastering left foot, right foot alone! She threw up her hands.
But dear goodness, Granny's daughter Ms Oey is another story! She loves shoes – even owns a bright red pair. Granny called her utterly shameless when she saw those. And Ms Oey said, "Mama, I might not be a good girl, but I ain't shameless!"
Ms Oey is Granny's youngest. Her elder sister comes once a year to visit, always bringing Granny a new pair of flip-flops and a bag of that expensive sweet-smelling rice.
Last year we experienced horrifying civil strife in Bangkok. This year we have devastating floods. But no matter what is happening outside, in Mercy Centre our children rule the day, mostly with their laughter and smiles. For a glimpse into their everyday lives, please visit our new photo gallery here. All photos by Rick Ashley.
Dear EveryoneIt's 22 November 2011 in Bangkok. Day 26 since our first slum kindergarten flooded. - a total of eight went under water. In three slums, the water came up in an hour. Water to the ceiling. The children are safe, everything was soaked. In my letter of a couple weeks ago, I said 10 schools were going under water. I believed 'the T.V. weather guru'.. but in truth only eight flooded and 750 children lost their schools, most of them lost their homes also. Our other 14 schools are in slums on dry ground, and school is back in session as normal.
As I write this today, some of the waters have gone down some. Our shack'school buildings are a mess, but we have patched and scrubbed and cleaned to get them functional, at least temporarily to get the kids back in school. Future repairs will be a head-ache, but I don't even want to think about that right now.
The slum peoples have all helped. Most important, re-wired the buildings since the electrical outlets were flooded, rusted and dangerous as can be - for shorting out and electrocuting people. We got the toilets working - bought new kitchen equipment, brought in clean drinking water. Books and pencils etc etc etc. Eighteen of our teachers (whose homes have been totally flooded also) have moved into the schools, as they have no where else to go. We have bought mosquito nets, sleeping equipment, refrigerator, fans, - a small old fashioned clothes washing & dryer to make their lives as comfortable as possible....under the circumstances. Got them new mobile phones, as most of them had lost their phones in the floods. We have resumed class (after a fashion) in five slums. Of the 550 slum children who usually attend these five kindergartens shack/schools, 250 are back in class. The other children are still literally "Up country in the Rural Provinces" staying with their grand parents - for safety. They are slowly returning to Bangkok.
Three other slums, where we have schools, according to the Weather man.. it will take another 45 days for the waters to go down. Two hundred children attend these schools. We are trying to do what we can to begin school as soon as possible. We did some 'horse trading' with the marine police who received 750 small plastic boats from the Government of China (the boats hold a maximum of 8 children) - the police let us use two boats and small putt-putt motors So the teachers, somewhat captive in their flooded schools have freedom to travel in the boats - also if one of the children get sick, etc, they have transportation. We have been lucky thus far, only two children and one teacher have been bitten by creepy-crawlies. Nothing serious, but they have had to 'shoo shoo away a few snakes, also looking for a dry place to live.!!!
So in conclusion - we're doing our best. Some of the children are back in school. That is so vital. Our teachers are real heroes - beyond belief, living, in difficult circumstances..!
Also with this, I am sending you a U-Tube link which a friend from Australia did for us. It's filmed near the slaughter house, thus near the river, with the tides going up and down twice daily. But it does give you an idea.
Again - I want to thank all of you - the worst is yet to come, and the crisis still exists, but the urgency is a bit less. Please do continue to help, if you can. In a couple weeks, I will send you my annual Christmas Letter - and promise I will not talk of floods...
All of you are wonderful. Prayers Respectfully
fr joe & all of us here at Mercy Centre.
Preschools: Our primary aim is to get our slum kindergartens back in operation in several flooded communities.
To this end, our Landin preschool has moved to temporary quarters. Twenty-seven children came to the new classroom on the first day.
Our Sua Yai preschool reopened last week on the same spot it’s always been. We renovated several areas, including the kitchen and bathrooms, and built a temporary “bridge” in front of the school, as it is currently surrounded by a “moat” filled with fetid water. Thirty children attended on the first day. More will follow when families are able to return to their homes.
We have purchased boats to help ferry the children and teachers to and from school each day.
The Mercy Chocchai Ruamit and Poonsap preschools will be reopening next week.
Other Relief Efforts: Getting the schools up and running also requires that we provide emergency relief to the families in these slum communities. Mercy Emergency Flood Relief teams have delivered 1,500 care packages, filled with rice, water, dry foods, and hygienic essentials to the families most severely affected.
We have been providing emergency care and housing assistance to forty families living with HIV/AIDS and approximately fifty additional families who are utterly destitute.
Many friends of Mercy Centre provide education sponsorships for the poorest children in Bangkok. Fortunately, most of these children live in Klong Toey, which has not been devastated by the floods. So far, we are providing emergency care to the families of thirty sponsored children in communities that have been inundated. More news soon...
The floods have not yet receded in any of our communities, but we are doing what we can now, today, and will do much more tomorrow and in the days to come. With your support, we are reaching out to the poorest families devastated by the floods, providing care packages, emergency supplies, food, rice, and whatever it takes to regularize people’s lives – to get the moms and dads back to work and the children back to school.
Several Mercy kindergartens have been flooded, including our schools in Landin, Suyai, Rimkong Watsaphan, and Lad Prao. Wherever possible, we are securing spaces on higher ground to open up temporary kindergartens. Photo gallery here.