We've had a lot of great times on this trip, but the highlight to this point was yesterday morning. Midmorning, I heard a knock on my door at the guesthouse, and I looked outside to see the smiling, moon-shaped face of Bui, one of the boys who grew up at and graduated from Asia's Hope here in Thailand. It was appropriate that Bui arrived early; when he was a child, he was always the first to greet me at the home upon arrival and always the last one to let go of my hand as I left.
I knew that we would be sharing lunch with some of our college-age kids, but I didn't know exactly who was coming or how many would be able to make it. Some of our university students live only a short distance away in Chiang Mai. Others go to school many hours away and can rarely make it home for a visit. Over the next hour or so, more kids joined us, one or two at a time until we had 16 smiling teens, embracing us and each other, chattering away in Thai. For some, it was a reunion with siblings and friends three years in the making.
We settled into a second-floor meeting room overlooking the guesthouse pool, and someone produced a guitar. We sang a few worship songs, Jerod, Jamie, Pak and I said a few words of welcome and encouragement. We asked the students to share about their fields of study, their dreams for the future and how growing up at Asia's Hope had affected their lives.
One by one the students stood up, told us a little about their school, their major and their thoughts on where they had come from and what was next for them. Addison pulled out his phone and recorded some of it, so maybe we'll transcribe and share some of what they said later. I didn't expect to have such an emotional reaction to the gathering, but within the first 45 minutes I had wiped my eyes and choked back tears at least a dozen times.
What wonderful kids we've raised! They're studying to become mechanics, teachers, pastors, lawyers, bankers and hotel managers. Each of them has a different dream. But in their testimonies a number of common themes arose.
"I'm so thankful to Asia's Hope and to everyone who supported me financially. I don't know where I would be without them!"
"Growing up in Asia's Hope was a wonderful experience. It's so different out here in the world with all of the city kids — I'm just a hill tribe kid from the village. It's tough at first, but I know I can do it."
"Asia's Hope was a real family to me. My parents at Asia's Hope loved me, cared for me, provided everything for me — just as if I was their own child."
"Growing up at Asia's Hope, I never understood the rules and the restrictions, but now I see why you protected us and pushed us to study hard."
"If I hadn't come to Asia's Hope, I would have never even finished high school. I would have dropped out, gotten married and had many children by now like the other girls from my village. Now I'm in university and have a bright future!"
"I'm so thankful for Ajan Mae (Teacher-mom, what they call Tutu) and for all of her hard work. She made a place for me and my siblings, and we would not have survived if it wasn't for her and Asia's Hope."
One profound young woman said, "My childhood at Asia's Hope was like a wonderful present I couldn't open at the time, but now I get to open and enjoy it."
This is why we do it. Yes, it's important to rescue small children and give them safe shelter throughout their youth. But if we didn't work so hard to provide them the tools they'll need to succeed as independent adults we would be at best delaying their fate as paupers and perpetual victims of exploitation and injustice. But by giving them a real family and the promise of college education or vocational training, we're helping them break once and for all the chains of poverty that have enslaved their families for generations.
I've watched these kids grow up. I've known them since they were only small children. To see them achieving their dreams is humbling and exhilarating.
Thank you so much for all you've done on behalf of these hard-working young adults. Your generosity and courageous leadership is shaping them into the kind of men and women who will lead their families, tribes and country to a better tomorrow. I am — we all are — grateful for your prayers and consistent financial support.