2012 has been an extraordinary year for the New Life Center Foundation and for me personally. Here are some highlights that I’d like to share…!
For the first time since moving to Thailand in 1999, I had the chance to travel into the Eastern Shan state of Burma (Myanmar). The trip was organized by Ms. Nitaya Boayen (the director of the Mekong Minority Foundation - www.mmf.org) and included Scott Coats and other MMF national staff.
The purpose of the trip was to connect with the leaders of the Lahu, Shan, Akha, and Wa Baptist churches, to discuss issues of sex and labor trafficking in the region, and find ways to strengthen our existing cross-border projects and anti-trafficking awareness programs.
I was mesmerized as we crossed the border and drove north towards the city of Kyeing Tung. We passed miles and miles of verdant rice paddies and tribal villages; I saw children playing in the mud, pigs (and all manner of other items and animals) strapped to the back of motorcycles, and school students dressed in the traditional Burmese longyi. The sun was setting as we arrived in Kyeing Tung and it sparkled off the red temple rooftops. Nestled in what may be the base foothills of the Himalayas, Kyeing Tung felt a bit like what I imagine Nepal or Tibet must feel like – and so different than northern Thailand!
The meetings we had with the leaders of these Baptist groups (the spiritual descendants of Adoniram Judson) went well – I was so humbled by their lives, their work, and what they do with such extraordinarily minimal resources. But the highlight of the trip for me was traveling to an area called “Pang Wei”, where (Dr.) Paul and Elaine Lewis - the missionaries who started the ministry of the New Life Center Foundation - had lived for 18 years.
As many of you know, Paul and Elaine Lewis moved to the Eastern Shan state of Burma in 1947. After learning Burmese, they became fluent in Lahu, then Akha. After this, they worked diligently to “reduce” the Akha language into a written script. Paul and Elaine were forced to leave Burma in the 1960’s, but continued their work in northern Thailand, which ultimately led to the opening of the New Life Center in 1987.
Needless to say, it was such an amazing experience to be at the Lewis’s home in Pang Wei, to see the extremely rural village area where they lived for so many years, and to visit with the students and professors at the small Lahu Theological Seminary which they had helped start back in 1950 or so.
I’m so grateful for this opportunity, and trust that the NLCF’s cross-border projects (education about trafficking, migration, and HIV/Aids) - in partnership with our tribal neighbors in Burma - will continue to bear fruit in many ways.
In June, the NLCF was honored to welcome Under Secretary Maria Otero. The “Under Secretary” works directly under the U.S. Secretary of State and oversees the ‘Bureau of Civilian Affairs, Democracy, and Human Rights’ for the U.S. Department of State. The Under Secretary had heard of the NLCF’s exemplary work with victims of human trafficking, and wanted to visit. We were delighted to host the Under Secretary and her team, and everyone was particularly pleased when the guests joined in a baking activity with the residents! (see pictures, attached).
In September, the NLCF’s leadership team had planned a board appreciation dinner. We wanted to celebrate what God is doing at the NLCF, and thank the board for engaging with us and providing good governance. Separately, since June, the assistant director of the NLCF (Tiemchan Kamon) had been working hard on an application for the Kenan Institute Asia.
The Kenan Institute Asia is a major think tank in the region, providing consultation and resources to strengthen NGOs and civil society across a plethora of areas. The “KiA”, as it’s known, invited the NLCF to submit an application for its “Thailand Best NGO Award” program, and Tiemchan worked tirelessly to pull together the information required for the application. She worked with the NLCF’s board of directors, gathered documents, pictures, newspaper articles, etc., and participated in hours of interviews with the KiA staff over several months.
The KiA’s “Thailand Best NGO Award” ceremony was scheduled just two days before our board appreciation dinner. We knew that the NLCF had made it into the group of finalists, but we had no idea whether or not we would win. That night (Thursday, September 13th) the KiA announced that we had won the award for the medium-sized NGO category!
We were all really thrilled about this! The award affirms and recognizes the NLCF’s hard work on so many levels over the past decade – particularly in the areas of capacity building and staff development, clinical care for victims, and good governance.
Two nights later, at our board appreciation dinner, we were able to share the details of this award with the staff, residents, former residents and (current and past) board members and celebrate together. And what a joyful celebration we had!
It is a joy for me to be working at the New Life Center Foundation. This extraordinary ministry, started by Paul and Elaine Lewis (and cultivated by Rev. Lauran Bethell through its first decade) has grown and matured. It is an honor and privelege to address the issues of trafficking, labor exploitation, and migration during this unique juncture in Thailand’s social and economic development history, promoting human rights and dignity for all the ethnic minorities in the region.
Thank you, thank you for your support – particularly to the World Mission Offering – which makes all of this possible!