And it's like the family of Jesus coming home from Egypt, heart rending, painfully beautiful, often dangerous and that long trip back from Egypt to Galilee. Like it is, for us. To come home for Christmas.
And at Christmas we once again tell our Sacred Stories.
Joseph with Mary and Baby Jesus. "Master Carpenter for hire" going from Egyptian town to Egyptian town looking for work - migrants. Work construction, in wood and stone. The legends are that they were chased out of several towns as the statues there mysteriously fell down as they walked by, but others, and I prefer them, that the Land was Blessed as they traveled and Egypt also became a Holy Land.
It was almost two years now that they'd run, fled for their lives, that death filled night from Bethlehem where Jesus was born.
Joseph had that dream, an Angel sent dream: a premonition that something horrible was about to happen. Evil Herod sending his most ferocious men to kill the child. Mary was already up. Somehow she knew: women's intuition. She woke up baby Jesus, kissed him quiet, as mom's do and then in raw fear and horror of the screams and shouts about them, they had secretly slipped out into the midnight darkness. The voice in Joseph's dream said: Take the mother and child to Egypt."
Our oldest Christian legends say they traveled alone that night - took the dangerous route through the Negev desert, trusting in God - guided by the Stars, Afraid if they traveled the normal route through Gaza, that evil Herod's soldiers would be waiting with their swords.
They'd traveled about a month into Egypt. Lonely strangers in a strange land. Cautious - trusting no one.
Now, again, The second Birthday of Jesus. Centuries later we would call this day the Feast of Christmas. But tonight, they are alone. Mary and Joseph and two year old Jesus. No Angels singing Glory to God in the Highest Heavens. No Shepherds. No Magi bringing gifts of Gold, frankincense and Myrrh.
Short on money. No real home. Living probably in workers camps, on or near construction work sites. Joseph, not Egyptian born, part time work when no one else would do the job. No bickering for wages - take what you can get - what they give you. Smile. Strangers in a strange land. A foreigner working on an Egyptian or Roman Military construction site.
Joseph heading always towards "Old Cairo: where centuries later, the present Cairo would be built. Old Cairo on the Nile River. He had heard that there was steady work there for a Master Carpenter. And so as the Legends say they stayed there a while. Settled down for a couple years. Always waiting, praying for an Angel Sent Dream. Waiting for a Sign that would tell them they could go home.
They'd spend five long years in Egypt - so the legends say -and then a Sign came. Scriptures say that Joseph had another dream. A Dream that evil king Herod was dead. Mary had heard the rumors also in the Fresh Market.
Joseph and Mary talked - prayed. They decided it was safe for the child to go home. Home to Galilee, their ancestral home.
They traveled about a month. Home to Galilee. By boat down the Nile River, by donkey, by foot. Cautious again, they traveled round about way - avoiding the city Jerusalem and big towns back home to Nazareth. A family reunion - lots of tears - catching up on news. Who had died, who had had new babies. To begin life again. They'd been away going on six years. A life time really.
So once again we welcome all of you good and holy folks reading this - welcome you home again to Mercy Centre. And maybe "Your own special Mercy Centres" are places in your own hearts filled with memories - often bitter sweet - but let us all come home. You there, and we here, and maybe if we are lucky, really lucky we might meet Joseph and Mary with Baby Jesus walking along the pathway, and you might even meet an abandoned street child. Perhaps they are cousins of Jesus. Please wish them Merry Christmas. Give them a big hug.
Merry Christmas to you all. Prayers - fr joe and our Mercy Centre kids.
And if we may, we would like to demonstrate with a few 2010 numbers and statistics how your friendship makes a difference for our children and neighbors in Klong Toey.
To start, one-hundred-and-eighty-two orphaned and abandoned children have lived with us as family in 2010. We send our children to school; encourage, tutor and nurture them; open their world to music, dance, sports, fine art, and martial arts; and celebrate everyday life together.
A few more 2010 statistics:
2,324 Slum children enrolled in our 21 Bangkok preschools
651 Education sponsorships for Bangkok’s poorest children
505 Education sponsorships for the poorest Moken (Sea Gypsy) children in Phang Nga, Phuket, and Ranong Provinces
54 Adults receiving palliative HIV/AIDS care in Mercy Centre
846 Mercy HIV/AIDS patients receiving homecare
3,648 HIV/AIDS patients counseled by Mercy teams in government hospitals
88 Street children and adults enrolled in our Janusz Korczak School
359 Destitute families, especially the elderly, who depend on Mercy for food and basic living expenses
380 Poor children we represented in police stations and courts
1,013 Poor children and families receiving legal aid counsel
97 Micro-loans made to members of our Women’s Credit Union
27 Mercy children attending vocational college and universities, at home and abroad
Although there are many more weights and measures in 2010, we wish to leave you with just two.
First, 36 children –27 boys and nine girls - joined our Mercy family in 2010. We have never turned away a child in need and never will.
Finally, our favorite statistic of the year: in the past twelve months 23 Mercy children – 16 boys and seven girls - were able to return home to live with their real families. The transition home for these children rarely is easy. It requires coordinated efforts from diverse Mercy teams – and equal or greater efforts from the families themselves - but nothing we do gives greater joy.
Family is everything.
Thank you for being a part of our Mercy family and for every way you have supported us this year. Every kind word, every warm gesture…. everything you do on our behalf is a wonderful gift.
Wishing you the most joyous New Year with family and friends,
Usanee and the The Mercy Teams
Photo by Yoonki Kim
This was her second birthday visit to Mercy Centre. Last year, as a gift to HRH the Princess, our children promised that they would go to school, study hard, and be honest and polite with friends, family, and everyone they meet. This year our children renewed their promises and gave a performance of music, dance, song, taekwondo, and (among our youngest children) the Hula-hoop.
HRH Princess Srirasmi was especially moved by the children’s rendition of the old Thai song, “The Lotus Dance,” - a song, she said, she sang as a child – and asked a favor of our children to sing the song again. Our children proudly and passionately gave their Princess an encore performance. Photos by Chawalit Kumsatok. Photo Gallery.
This Wednesday the world will mark World Aids Day. Observed on the first of December each year since 1987, the day is dedicated to raising awareness of the AIDS pandemic caused by the spread of HIV infection. Between 1981 and 2007, AIDS has killed more than 25 million people and there an estimated 33 million people living with HIV, thousands of those are children. In Bangkok's slum community of Klong Toey, sixty children are all HIV positive are cared for at the Mercy clinic, many of them are orphaned or abandoned.
Presenter: Ron Corben
Speakers: Father Joseph Maier, Catholic priest at Mercy Clinic; Miss Chutima and Miss Watcharee, Mercy Clinic workers; Prawina Sompong, the Centre's communications officer
Galong was in his mid-20s, living on the street, and working as a “doorman” at a bar near the Pratunam market when we found him fifteen years ago. Born with a kind of Downs’ Syndrome, he could speak only a few words, and unfortunately they weren’t the ones he needed to explain where he came from or how he came to live by himself in the most crowded neighborhood in Bangkok.
We don’t know much about Galong’s past, but we have a pretty good idea how he survived on the street: he is incredibly good-natured and loves to help people. Galong comes at you like a burst of joy, and his joy is irresistible. During his years on the street, many kind people must have looked after him.
Others, however, were surely less kind. As a perpetually innocent child, Galong could never possibly negotiate his way through an adult world without facing abuse and injury.
Our Rimklongwatsaphan Kindergarten, one of eight preschools we operate in Klong Toey, is a modest wood-frame schoolhouse located right next to a canal, about 200 meters from the Slaughterhouse. It may not look like much, but in the past twenty years, over 1,000 slum children have graduated from this head-start Mercy Preschool in preparation for government primary schools. These are children who might never have gone to school or learned to read and write their names. On its 20th anniversary, we held a grand celebration. (Photo gallery here.)
The children, including several recent graduates, performed in song, dance, drums, horns, and even Hula-hoops.