World Challenge teams are reaching out to those who have crossed the borders of Thailand out of desperation and found themselves caught in even worse straits as a result.
“Escape from the tiger only to meet the crocodile.” —Thai proverb
This saying has many versions in Southeast Asia, and its truth is one that the people there often know all too well. When you flee from one danger or struggle, you are likely to walk straight into a situation equally bad or even worse.
The ubiquitous proverb unfortunately describes the lives of many immigrants and refugees in Thailand. Thousands of migrants flee Myanmar, Cambodia and Laos to cross over Thailand’s borders each year. Most are looking for opportunities to escape from the oppressive poverty in their homelands.
These migrants often enter with no civil rights and no protection from abusive employers, dangerous work, racial discrimination and violence. Some feel they have no choice but to participate in illegal activities like timber cutting. The job can literally be a matter of life or death. Workers face the very real danger of being arrested or shot by local authorities for ‘stealing’ wood. If they manage to escape human oppression, jungle animals pose a serious threat as well. Some workers become lost in the forest, searching for trees, only to be abandoned by their employers.
Nevertheless, the demand to put food on the table and the hope of lifting their families out of poverty drives people to face these dangerous crocodiles, often alone and afraid, far away from family and home.
Turning a Life Around
Kaw, a 38-year-old Cambodian man, lives right on the edge of the Thai border. Like many others, he had begun trekking illegally across the border into Thailand to work for timber collectors, sometimes for months at a time. His days and nights were filled with sleeping in the forest, fleeing arrest and a relentless desperation to provide for his family.
In his despair, Kaw recalls wandered through life without hope. He gave in to drug and alcohol abuse to numb his pain and fear. The addictions, while easing the oppressive weight of his anxieties, quickly sucked away what money he was able to bring home to his wife and four children. He acknowledges, “At that time, I failed my family and led us into a life of debt and hardship.”
When World Challenge’s partners visited his village, Kaw came to know Christ as his Savior. “Jesus has changed my life completely,” he says. “Now my life is free from drugs and alcohol. I started to take care of my family.”
The team had helped Kaw come to a saving knowledge of God, but they wanted to show him how a relationship with the Creator should affect every part of his life.
A primary value of World Challenge’s poverty solutions team is development, but this isn’t in the traditional sense of developing a community through projects that are being driven by overseas organizations. Rather, we believe that God has created every man, woman and child with an echo of the Lord’s creative capacity, unique strengths and the ability to contribute.
Creating Opportunities for Others
Our teams on the ground help local people identify the assets they already possess and mobilize them for the development of their families and communities. In Kaw’s case, God used the community health evangelism program to help him uncover resources and opportunities he had at his disposal.
As Cambodia develops and villages begin to have modern facilities, one growing demand is buildings supplies for latrines. Kaw learned to make cement rings for building toilets and started his own business.
Now, his whole family is part of their own small business, and they earn a respectable living together. Kaw no longer has to take dangerous jobs to earn money, and his wife and children don’t have to wait in suspense each day, wondering if he will return home or if someone will attempt to assault them while he’s away. He shared with our team, “I really thank Jesus for saving my whole family. Not only saving, but also blessing us with income, joy and happiness.”
As Kaw has grown in his faith and captured the vision of development and evangelism for his community, he has joined the local Church Development Committee. He regularly volunteers in surrounding villages, facilitating health lessons and sharing the Word of God. He has also become an active church planter in the region.
God has transformed him, and his life these days is a far cry from that of the desperate woodcutter two years ago.