During the summer of 2002, Twyla and Rob O’Callaghan along with Paul Rase (currently the Romania Field Director), moved to Bangkok, Thailand. Together the launch team spent an exploratory year evaluating what opportunities they could possibly respond to in the city. After hosting a Servant Team and forging several relationships with local ministries and NGO’s, the first Word Made Flesh Thailand team discerned the timing wasn’t right to establish a community in Bangkok.
Five years later, in 2008, the Hupe family moved to Bangkok to relaunch the presence of WMF among the vulnerable poor in Bangkok. In 2000 Amy took part in a Servant Team in Lima, and Tim took part in a three-month South East Asia internship with Amy in 2005. Elijah (Ella) was just one and Arielle (Ari) was soon to be born, a month after her family’s arrival in Thailand.
Though aware of a strong missional presence already in Bangkok the Hupe’s felt very clearly they had some specific role to play, and began their time really focused on submission to the work already happening and following Christ as they navigated the road to the relationships he had for them. This first glimpse of Christ and the role for WMFT came in the version of a young girl begging on the street with her mother and infant brother. Due to the intensity of first year language learning, frequent trips to 7-Eleven for chocolate milk and Oreos became a requirement for late hours studying. It was during one of these trips to the corner store that Amy met this little girl and her family. Over months of visiting, Tim and Amy began to feel clearly God’s direction towards this family and the many other families that make a living begging on the streets of Bangkok. Meeting with leaders and others who have lived and served in Thailand for many years affirmed what the Hupe’s were feeling in their hearts; the need and lack of people spending time sitting on the pavement with these families.
The families who beg on the street predominately migrate over the border from a very poor neighboring country. This country has endured genocide and year of war, leaving its economy in shambles. It is considered to be the poorest country in Southeast Asia. Many of the families come from villages with no running water or elecricity, and the prospect of earning a wage in the major cities in their country are less than $1 a day, not enough to feed your family. The families bring their young children to beg in the red-light districts of Thailand.
These notorious streets bring foreigners from all over the world; the children will work the entire night every night of the week, begging from these foreigners. With their children’s earnings these families will make significantly more than they could possibly earn in their home country. Tim and Amy have maintained a relationship with the little girl and her family as well as many others over the past 3 years. During this time the Hupe’s have had the opportunity to visit with this family in their home country, play soccer in Bangkok, celebrate Easter and Christmas. The Hupes continue to try to connect their friends with opportunities in their country to leave the streets and start again. There are amazing obstacles to connecting and deepening relationships with these families. But feeling God’s heart beat for not just the children but the parents who put them out to beg keeps WMFT committed to navigating this road and pushing forward in relationships. WMFT believes that some of these children will have the opportunity to get to go to school and live normal childhoods.
In 2009 the Hupes completed their focused language period and moved to a home that would serve as a community house for the Hupes and Servant Teams from the US. At this same time a partner organization in Thailand began having immediate needs for housing of women leaving prostitution. Tim and Amy began to invite these women into the community as well. Over the 2 years that they lived in the Community House they housed 15 Servant Team members and 7 women leaving prostitution. Sharing their lives with women has been one of the most beautiful experiences of serving in Bangkok. The transformation and healing experienced in the lives of the women is, according to Amy, “addictive”. The Hupes have had to temporarily stop housing women, but are dreaming of a holistic healing center that can touch the needs of women and eventually offer housing again.
As a natural progression to assisting women and families WMFT has begun to connect people with children sponsorship. There are currently two girls attending school here in Bangkok whose mom is a refugee and cannot afford to send her daughters to school. Attending school assures these girls a visa and potential for the future. In the future WMFT hopes to expand this program to assist other friends from the street.
In 2011, WMFT began the application process to establish a recognized non-profit in the Kingdom of Thailand. The community realizes that committing relationally to migratory populations and to women who are going to leave Thailand to return to a home country is extremely difficult. Through the women they have lived with, the families on the street, and the sense of Bangkok as a transit country, the Hupes have seen a need for a place where someone can be welcomed in the short or long term. This would be a space that begins to cut the invisible strings that hold people vulnerable to exploitation and inhibit that deep understanding of their intrinsic value. In 2012 WMFT will launch this center, the Creative Center for Awakening (CCA). It will be a completely free facility offering therapeutic and creative services through the arts and artistic ways to open the mind, to channel the part of the brain where hopes and dreams are formed. WMFT hopes this center will not only be a catalyst for change to those who are vulnerable, but a catalyst for social action within Thailand as well as a place of rest and beauty in a dark place.
In the past three years, God has already done much in Bangkok. Still, the Hupes’ feel they are now just beginning. WMFT gladly invites you along to welcome what is to come.