Director's Blog

Will cynicism kill your capital campaign?

I read today -- and I don't know if this is true -- that construction on an average new church building costs about $6,000,000. That's for 9,000 square feet, seating 288 people and a parking lot for 72 cars. 

That's a lot of money! And based on my experience with church capital campaigns (I did the marketing for a few of them when I was in that business), it can be pretty difficult to raise those funds. Aside from the fact that people tend to be strapped for cash, church building projects tend to tap into a reservoir of cynicism that can cause people's wallets to snap shut and go into hiding.

"Do we really need a new building? Are there better things we could be doing with this money? Should we really be spending millions on fancy buildings and expensive sound equipment when there are people starving to death all over the world?" 

I've heard all of those before, and I'm guessing most pastors have too.

And wait -- full stop -- before I go any further, I should say that I'm not here to criticize churches for building things. On the contrary, I'd like to *help* churches raise those funds. And, perhaps, help orphaned kids in the process.

What if every church embarking on a capital campaign took proactive steps to inoculate themselves against cynicism and enthusiasm-sapping congregational self doubt by building into every fundraising project for themselves a gift for orphaned kids?

Think about it. It costs an organization like Asia's Hope around $75,000 to build a beautiful new home for 25 orphaned children. That's an unthinkable amount of money to a poor child in, say, Phnom Penh, Cambodia. But that's really nothing in church construction costs.

I mean, when putting up a new building, most churches will make $75,000 decisions about carpet. Or AV equipment. Maybe even signage.

What if that $6 million campaign became a $6.1 million campaign, and what if pastors and elders added a new home for orphans into their plans for a new home for their congregation? If church members knew that the money they were giving was also transforming a community of orphaned kids half way around the world, they might be a lot less likely to dismiss the overall campaign as frivolous or unnecessary. 

If you're a leader in a church that's thinking of embarking on a capital campaign in the next few years, I'd love to talk with you about how we can work together to help Asia's Hope provide homes for orphaned kids and help your church raise the funds you need to build or expand your facilities.

If you attend a church that's doing a feasibility study or starting a capital campaign, ask your leaders to contact me. I think this just might work.

Email me or call me at 614.804.6233. 


"Come see! Come see!"

I grew up in a working-class neighborhood in a family with limited financial means. In addition to their day jobs, my parents took on extra work at times -- my dad as a janitor at the church, my mom selling AVON. As a result, we always had enough. But we were never anything close to wealthy.

We lived in a small house -- two adults, three kids in a three bedroom house with one bathroom. When I was 13, my maternal grandmother died, and left my parents a significant but not extravagant sum of money. I remember well three major purchases: a new but sensible Toyota Corolla, a trip for our family to Disneyworld and most significantly, a new house.

Left to right: Me, my brother Steve, my sister Julie. 1984.

Left to right: Me, my brother Steve, my sister Julie. 1984.

I remember feeling as if we had somehow won the lottery. My parents picked out a floor plan, selected a builder and began to make modifications to suit our family's needs -- two and a half bathrooms, a living room with a wood-burning stove, a workshop for my dad in the basement and of most interest to this teenager, a room of my own that seemed huge: I mean, I could open the door without hitting my bed!

I remember vividly our visits to the construction site and our excitement as the house took shape -- first the foundation and cinder blocks, then the framing. When the second floor was finally roughed out, I could actually stand in my new bedroom. I paced out measurements on the dusty plywood floors, and figured out exactly where my bed would sit. I remember lying down on the floor before there was even a roof, closing my eyes and imagining what it would be like to shut my door, turn on some music and tune out the rest of the world in my own private space.

I'm sure my parents were stressed about the money and about the logistics of the project, but I loved everything about the building process. I loved the smells, the sounds, the sights. Most of all, I loved what the new house seemed to represent -- we certainly weren't rich, but we didn't feel poor anymore. I'm sure that our overall financial situation didn't change much at all with the purchase of the home, but as a kid, my stress about our family's fortunes was allayed -- unlike our old place, where everything seemed to be broken, everything was new, and in good condition.


How much more exciting it must be for the kids of Asia's Hope to watch the construction of their beautiful new homes at our Prek Eng campus! Most of these kids can still remember lives of real, not just imagined, destitution. They remember the death of their parents, their subsequent dislocation and the terror of being alone in a big, scary world. Some of our children were themselves heads-of-household facing the impossible task of providing food and shelter for younger siblings after their parents were killed, deported, imprisoned or ravaged by disease.

We've worked hard to provide each of these children everything they need, and thanks to our generous supporters and the hard work of our staff, they've recovered miraculously from the trauma of their youth. The homes they currently live in really are just fine. No one has to sleep outside, and there are gates we can close and lock at night. Mothers and Fathers now tuck them in at night and kiss them gently when they're sick or scared. But for years, I've wanted to do better for them.

The unstable property rental market in Phnom Penh has meant that some of these new families have had to move three, four, even five times over the last decade. And every time we outgrow or break something, we have to decide if it's worth investing in a property we're likely to lose at the end of the year. 

By 2011, our long-held plans for a permanent neighborhood-style campus in Phnom Penh started to take shape: the board approved a capital campaign, and we began gauging key donors' interest in the project. In July 2012, my son and I stood sizzling under the Cambodian sun with a couple of pastors from partnering churches, a few potential supporters and a handful of staff looking out over a nondescript plot of land, completely undeveloped except for a copse or two of tropical fruit trees and some untended and unruly chili plants wilting in the summer heat. We made a bold request of God: "Would you give us this land as an inheritance for our orphan children, and bless us with the resources we need to build permanent, high-quality homes, playgrounds and a school?"

For the sake of the kids and to His Glory, God has answered our prayers! Not only have we purchased the land, but we've finished construction on the school, nearly completed three of the five homes and have started building the fourth! And the homes aren't just adequate, they're beautiful. Each home has separate levels for boys and girls, apartments for staff, generous multipurpose living spaces and lots and lots of bathrooms. There's room for a soccer field and for playgrounds, and there's even adjacent land available that we could purchase if God provides the funds.

Yesterday, my family visited the site with the children from Prek Eng 2. As we pulled up to the gate of our property, the kids let out a cheer. As we spilled out of our cars, they grabbed us by our hands and dragged us, running toward their new house. "Come see! Come see!" they squealed as they led us around. "This is my bedroom, and this is mom and dad's. And this is the kitchen. And here is where we will study!"

"No swimming pool?" I joked. "No, but we can use this," one of the boys laughed, pointing toward the half-submerged septic tanks out back. Soriya, one of the teenage girls hugged me and said, "We can't wait to move in! It will be so nice to have all five homes on the same land -- we can improve our friendships, have lots of fun and feel very good."

In less than two weeks, we'll be dedicating the new campus with a ribbon-cutting ceremony that will be attended by some of the people who helped fund the project. God willing, the campus will be finished and furnished by the end of the year.

But we still have work to do. We've raised more than $600,000 for this project in just over a year, and we haven't even really gone "public" with our needs. But we've seen before, the last dollars are often harder to raise than the first. And we still have about $170,000 to go before we can build Prek Eng 5, outfit the homes, church and school and get the campus ready for full occupancy. 

To be honest, I don't know where that money is going to come from. But I do know a couple of things. 

  1. God will provide these funds; and
  2. God will bless everyone who helps with this project.

I really believe this. I've already seen God work miraculously on behalf of these kids. He's used rich people, and he's used people of very, very modest means.

The stories of generosity will be told for generations on earth and in heaven. One of these homes was built with funds that came from a family who, along with their children, decided that their house was bigger than they needed. They sold it, moved to a smaller one and gave us the money we needed to provide a permanent home for 25 once-orphaned kids!

Churches have taken special offerings. Kids have done bake sales. Businesses have tithed profits. Families have given tax refunds. Young couples have given money they were saving for downpayments on first homes.

As Proverbs 19:17 says, "He who is kind to the poor lends to God." Matthew 19:29 says, "Everyone who has left houses...or fields for my sake will receive a hundred times as much and will inherit eternal life."

At the risk of sounding like one of those crazy guys on TV, will you talk to your spouse, your kids, your boss and your pastor? Will you ask them to pray about joining us and finishing up this project for the sake of these wonderful children? 

We've set up a giving page on our web site. If you click on "Capital Project in Prek Eng," you can give via credit card. You can also send checks through the mail. And, of course, you can email me directly if you have any questions about this project.

Join with those who have already been blessed by their participation. Together and with God's help, we can do this! I look forward to celebrating with you as God continues to provide for the kids and staff of Asia's Hope.

Smiles for miles

As my trip winds down, I find that I'm having trouble organizing my thoughts into cogent, bite-sized chunks. The importance of the things I need to say seems to be inversely proportionate to my blogging ability. So today, instead of writing about, say, the progress on the new Prek Eng campus, I'm going to show you pictures of smiling kids. 

We spent the day hanging out with the Prek Eng 3 and Prek Eng 4 kids. I hope you'll enjoy some of my pics. 

"Like Clara Peller being bludgeoned to death. With the AFLAC duck."

5:30 a.m. and the Jumanji sounds are once again emanating from the bowels of this hotel. And there's apparently someone pulling cats backwards through cheese graters on my balcony. Oh, wait. That's the wedding party a block down the street. Judging from decibel levels alone, it seems they rented their sound system from the Rolling Stones' most recent world tour. And then shot it repeatedly and at close range.

Adding menace to the mayhem, government propaganda is blaring from the large and horribly bespeakered pickup truck parked just outside my hotel, courtesy Prime Minister Hun Sen and the Cambodian People's Party.

It sounds like Clara Peller being bludgeoned to death. With the AFLAC duck.

So let's just say that, while I like the sound of a live goat being eaten by a condor as much as the next guy, it hasn't been the most relaxing morning.

I was hoping to get a little more sleep, as we're planning our own noisy "people's party" tonight, a dance and ice cream extravaganza at the Asia's Hope campus. Perhaps some late-night Gangam Style or Cotton Eyed Joe will be sufficient payback for the aural affliction imposed on us this fine Cambodian morning. I'll throw in some Call Me Maybe if I'm feeling sufficiently retributive.

Sleep-deprived snarkiness aside, we're having a pretty great time here in Battambang. Our little piece of heaven in Battambang, Cambodia really is one of the happiest places on earth. Inside the gates of our community, the sick get healed and orphans get families. It's really extraordinary, and if you haven't been here, you really can't get the full sense of what it's like. If my photos and stories convey even half, it's a minor miracle.

We've spent hour after joyful hour with our kids and staff, and are really going to miss them when we say good bye after tonight's party. Tomorrow morning we will pack up the car and drive to Phnom Penh, where we'll spend a week with our friends and family there. 

I can't wait to see the new campus taking shape in Prek Eng -- just one year ago it was an empty field. Today it's something quite different. There's a church and a school and homes being built. We still need more funding to finish the project, but it'll be amazing to see in person the progress I've been following through emails and Facebook all year.

So, be encouraged. I am. There's a lot of bad, bad stuff going on this world. But there is also profound good. It's a privilege to be a part of what God is doing here.

Home in Cambodia

Even though I'm 8,000 miles from Columbus, Ohio, returning to Battambang always feels like coming home.

After church on Sunday in Phnom Penh, we packed all of our bags and all six of us into the car Savorn graciously lent me, and we drove to Battambang. I made the five hour trip in just four, but we were still too tired to make it out to the campus. We relaxed at our hotel for the evening, and had a nice breakfast in the morning.

We ran some errands, grabbed some lunch and headed out to Asia's Hope Battambang in the early afternoon. What a joy to see old friends and family! Many of our BB1 kids are already grown, and I had the chance to see 24-year old Phearum, who was visiting from Thailand and spend time with 23-year old Chhem, who is finishing her undergraduate degree at a local university. We also had the pleasure of meeting the 25 new kids from Battambang 9! They are still a little apprehensive, but they're getting more comfortable with their new families every single day.

The campus is looking great. It's been two years since Kori has been in Battambang, and she was amazed to see the progress. At her last visit, we had only four homes on the campus. Today, we have nine.  We've expanded Hope Fellowship Church, built a learning center with three classrooms and a silversmithing lab, and added a sewing center where more than 30 of our girls and a handful of our staff are learning the art of tailoring. The footers have been poured for BB10, and construction pace will pick up as the rainy season subsides.

Our campus is taking shape as a safe and affirming neighborhood for our Asia's Hope families. When BB10 is complete, we will have almost 300 children and 50 staff living there full time! It's like a little preview of heaven, where the poor are fed and clothed, and the orphans are placed in families. Amazing stuff, and an honor to be a part of it.  

We played in the hot sun for about 6 hours and finally headed back to the city for a late dinner and bed. 

We drove this morning about a half hour outside the city to ancient Banan temple for some sightseeing and a picnic lunch with our Battambang home parents. I love these guys. They work so hard. They welcome and care for the children as if they were their own. Theirs are 24-hour a day jobs, and it was an honor to be there guests for a traditional Khmer meal -- grilled chicken, wild boar, rabbit, dried fish and rice. 

We're taking a quick break at the hotel before heading back out to the campus for some more fun and games with the kids. We probably won't push ourselves as hard as we did last night, as we're hoping to stay healthy so we can enjoy the next two weeks with our Cambodian family.

Enjoy the pictures -- they can't adequately capture the beauty of our experience here, but maybe they can give you a little taste. 

Wrapping up India

Well, I finally have a computer. I don't have the correct cables to hook it up to my old one to transfer files, but I'm thankful that I can pull photos off my camera, access Dropbox and write blog posts and emails. 

My status as a technology "have not" has kept me from posting a wrapup from India, and now I'm not sure where to start. We're in Cambodia right now. We arrived late last night, met up with our good friend, Peter Shumaker, and got to bed at about 1:30 a.m. At 8:30 a.m., I preached a short and hopefully coherent sermon at our church in Phnom Penh. Afterwards, we said goodbye and drove to Battambang, about 5 hours outside the capitol. We're safely at our hotel, and we plan on having some dinner and hitting the pool. We considered visiting the campus tonight, but everyone is pretty darn tired. We'll relax this evening and be fresh for tomorrow.

Despite the computer problems, the India trip finished well. The Scarlet City Church team was wonderful, and they took a ton of great photos and video that I can't wait to share with you soon.  I have lots of pics of my own, so many in fact that I can only post a small portion of them here. 

We enjoyed a church service with our Kalimpong staff and kids, and also had the privilege of baptizing some of them. We then took all of the older kids to Darjeeling to visit the zoo. It poured down rain most of the day, and was quite cold. Nevertheless, it was a great time. We said our goodbyes to the kids after a great day, and spent the night in town before heading down to Siliguri. 

We spent most of the day driving through heavy fog. We zigzagged back and forth across the India/Nepal border, but were unable to see much of Nepal. I can say that I urinated in the country along the roadside. Too much information, I know. But I was happy to step foot in Nepal and add it to my list of countries visited.  And I had to pee. Again, too much information, I know.

Along the way, the rain stopped long enough to allow us a short hike into the tea fields. To call them beautiful would be an understatement, and I have neither the talent nor the equipment to do them justice in photographs. I will cherish the memories every time I drink a cup of Darjeeling tea.

We visited a plot of land that we would one day like to buy -- if we could swing the whole piece, we could put at least 10 homes there! But more on that later. We still have to finish our project in Cambodia; let's not get ahead of ourselves... 

We all flew to Delhi, and the Scarlet City guys left for home. My family and Adam hit the city to do some sightseeing. Delhi is an amazing place, everything you can imagine in an ancient Indian city and more. We stopped at a perfumery that has been in business since 1816, and bought some custom scents. We ate more naan than you'd think possible, and may have had closure on tandoori chicken. At least for a week or so. 

I miss India already, especially the staff and kids. Please keep praying for church partners; we desperately need at least two new churches to take over the sponsorship of homes in Kalimpong.

Thank you for making all of this possible through your prayers and financial support. Together we're changing the world. 

Frustration and joy

Well, today has been a day of both frustration and joy. Frustration? My laptop is broken beyond repair, or at least beyond the kind of repair I can get here. I've ordered a replacement, which will be coming via a friend next week, but I'm frustrated. Aside from the money I've had to spend, I have no access to some of my important files and no way of editing photos. I have meetings this week that require, at least theoretically, some of those files.

Sigh. First world problems, right? 

So I'm trying to take things in stride and not stress too much about things I can't control. I am praying that when I do get the new one, I'll be able to transfer all of the files. There was no impact damage, so I'm assuming the data is fine. 

For now, I'll try to relax and thank God that I have an iPad to keep up with correspondences and put up some posts, rudimentary as they may be. I'm thankful that we have another -- and better -- photographer on this trip. I'll try to post links to Danny Jackson's photos so you can see what's going on in India.

Other than catastrophic technical failure of the ol' MacBook, today was pretty great. We took some time in the morning to explore the town of Kalimpong, wandering its crowded and somewhat chaotic streets. We bought a couple scarves at a local textile shop, and spent an hour or so in the produce market marveling at the sights, sounds and smells.This is truly a remarkable country with many extraordinary experiences to be had. 

After lunch, we joined a large group of our kids and staff at a swimming pool a couple miles from town. The water was quite cold, as the temperature here has been in the 60s and perhaps 70s for weeks, but I had the privilege of baptizing six people -- one staff member, two staff children and three of our teenagers. What an honor to share this important milestone in these people's lives.  

Tomorrow morning we'll join all of the kids and staff for church. Gabe DeGarmeaux will preach, Adam, Janelle and I will sing, as will all of the Asia's Hope kids. It's a long service -- at least two hours, so I hope my own kids emerge with good attitudes intact. But I can't wait. Who knows? Maybe God will heal my laptop while we're in the service. Stranger things have happened.


Scarlet City

Yesterday, Nandu and I left Kalimpong extra early to pick up the team from Scarlet City Church -- just in case. Over the last week or so, there have been numerous landslides and boulder bounces along the road to Siliguri, and we knew there was a chance we'd be delayed. 

Not far outside of town, Nandu noticed that there was no traffic coming from the other direction and correctly concluded that the road must be closed somewhere down the line. He made a phone call to confirm, and we pulled off to take the "scenic" route. The route was indeed picturesque -- soaring mountains and plunging valleys, pine forests draped in prayer flags and hillside tea plantations shrouded in fog. It was also twice as far. Instead of going directly to Siliguri, we went first to Darjeeling and then cut over, adding at least two hours to the journey.

Not far from Darjeeling we stopped at a little town and ordered momos -- the local version of pork dumplings -- and tea. Once again, our breakfast proved that the very best meals can be found in the simplest establishments. No New York chef could have improved on any facet of the meal, and we ate our fill for only a couple of dollars.

We arrived at the airport just in time. The team's plane arrived on time, and they stumbled out onto the tarmac and into the tiny Bagdogra airport. Relieved but slightly rumpled from more than 30 hours of travel, all five of them -- plus my good friend and board member Adam Heath -- gathered their bags and exchanged tired greetings with Nandu and me before grabbing a bite to eat with us and heading on up the mountain towards Kalimpong. We encountered heavy traffic and some sketchy pavement conditions on the way up, but were able to take the main road which had been cleared from the earlier landslides. 

Four hours later, we arrived in Kalimpong, ate dinner at the hotel and headed to bed. Overnight my oldest son, Chien, developed some stomach trouble, and spent most of the hours between 10pm and 3am vomiting. He stayed at the hotel all day, while the rest of my family and the team joined the kids and staff for a 3 hour dance and music recital, an hour or so of games and freestyle disco madness. We then enjoyed a wonderful lunch made by our staff and members of Nandu's church.

The kids were awesome. They've been working for months on their songs and routines, and they were just radiant. All of us were moved by their performances and felt the love of God just wash over all in attendance. 

Tomorrow we will spend the day playing with the kids, most of whom have finished school for the term. Saturday, we're doing more activities and having a baptism service. Sunday, church. Monday, we'll be taking about 50 of the kids up to Darjeeling with us to see the zoo, have a picnic and play games. And so on. And before we know it, the trip will be finished. The Scarlet City team will return to Columbus, and my family will head to Cambodia.  

I hope you enjoy the pictures. They can't begin to convey the beauty and the joy we're experiencing here. But at least you'll have a little taste. 


School days

When children come to us, they've often led lives of deprivation and despair. They're usually not ready to start "regular" school due to serious educational, nutritional and social delays. Staff in each Asia's Hope country have to give these children special care and work with educators to create tailored solutions that meet their unique needs.

In India, we have a large number of young children who, prior to coming into our care, have never had any sort of education at all. Rather than trying to mainstream them immediately, we've begun home schooling them. By default -- due to the numbers -- our home school is becoming larger, and more complex. In fact, it's run very much like the one-room schoolhouses that once formed the backbone of the American education system. 

Unfortunately, we don't have a separate stream of funding for our little schoolhouse in India (nor do we have full funding for our large, k-6 Christian school in Cambodia). So if any of you reading would like to help us raise funds specifically for early childhood education, please contact me! 

At any rate, we got up this morning, braved the dense fog that blanketed Kalimpong city and we grabbed a quick breakfast before heading out with Nandu to a local sporting goods store -- a tiny wooden stall on a busy street, not the Dick's Sporting Goods you may be imagining -- and bought some basketballs, soccer balls and volleyballs for the kids at the school. We then headed to our mini-campus, which houses homes 1 and 2 and the schoolhouse.  

We passed out the balls to the most of the kids' delight. Some of the newer kids are shellshocked, and don't quite get what to do with toys, or with people giving them things, for that matter. The playground was absolute chaos for about 45 minutes. Then we divided some of the older kids into teams and played a few rounds of Steal the Bacon (Steal the Chicken here, since no one knows what bacon is in this part of the world).

Afterwards, we shared a delicious lunch of rice, dal (curried lentils) and beef. We left afterwards so the kids could practice a performance they've put together to welcome the soon-to-arrive teams from North Church and Scarlet City Church in Columbus, Ohio.

I love these kids. It's so interesting to see the difference between the ones who have just arrived, those who have been with us for a year, and those who have been together for much longer. They're all in different places developmentally and relationally, but they're all so precious. 

I have a special place in my heart for the kids I know the best, but all of them are great. Please pray for more sponsoring churches. We are in urgent need of two sponsoring churches in India and one in Cambodia. Having spent time with these kids, and having seen the impact on churches who partner with us, I can't imagine why anyone would not want to jump in with both feet. But we're trusting God. He continues to provide for us, and we know that he has given us these kids for a reason.

As you look at these pictures, will you pray for permanent supporting churches for the kids from Kalimpong 3 -- and for those who will be Kalimpong 4. May God bless us all as we work hard for these wonderful children. 

Home in Kalimpong

Finally, after too many days of travel and what was ostensibly a relaxing time "off," it's really great to be back among the kids and staff of Asia's Hope. It's a big difference traveling as a tourist and being hosted as a family member. 

We visited our newly-rented facility, a spacious one-acre (although much of it is overgrown at the moment) plot with two kitchens, ample play areas and a one-room school house where most of our kids k-5th grade study and a large, three-story house that serves as home for Kalimpong 2 and Kalimpong 3 children's homes.

Eventually, we will buy land somewhere and build separate single-family dwellings for each home like we have in Cambodia and Thailand. But for now, both of the homes have separate floors in the building, separate entrances and function as individual families. And that's really what's important. Buildings play a role in big role in our strategy, but they're not the foundation. The most important thing is that each child has a mom and a dad, and belongs in a family.

We also visited the Kalimpong 1 home, which has also recently moved into a new, more spacious place. We didn't spend much time with them, because all of the middle- and high school students were studying hard for tomorrow's final exams.

We joined Nandu, Anu and their children Apphia and Nicholas for dinner at their house which is now quite empty. The Kalimpong 3 kids moved into their new space, and now Nandu and Anu have only 12 kids (who will one day be part of Kalimpong 4) living with them.  

(Parenthetically, I should point out that we don't even have a sponsoring church for home 3 -- we've been surviving on generous donations to feed the "extra," or "provisional" kids. Please pray for a sponsor -- soon!) 

My daughter Xiu Dan and Apphia are the same age, same size and like the same things. They are going to be good friends. 

Tomorrow we will spend more time with the kids, and then in a couple of days we'll take off toward Gangtok for a retreat with just our family and Nandu's. The kids will keep themselves busy somehow, and Nandu and I will dig deep into strategic and tactical discussions.  

I'm hoping the weather is clearer tomorrow. I would really love to see the Himalayas on this trip, but everything has been draped in fog. But as always, we will take what the day gives us. Good night! 

Cloud City

Greetings from Cloud City.

All of Kalimpong is shrouded in a thick fog this morning. The monsoon season has come to India, and even when it’s not raining, the clouds always hold the threat of a sudden and intense downpour. Pedantic me advises that it’s mathematically impossible, but colloquial me insists that it’s about 140% humidity out there. Still, it’s much nicer here than in Delhi, where the temperature will reach 104F today. In Kalimpong, we can expect the low 80s.

We arrived here last night after a long, scenic and somewhat harrowing drive from Siliguri, which lies two hours – or four, or five, depending on weather and road conditions – down the mountain. Our Indian director, Nandu, and his wife Anu met us at a hotel in Siliguri and drove us the rest of the way. They had intended to meet us at the airport but were delayed by a landslide that killed a number of motorists, missing Nandu and Anu by only a kilometer or two.

Leaving Siliguri, we faced intense traffic, but enjoyed relatively straight and flat roads that could easily fool a first time traveler into thinking that the road to Kalimpong isn’t nearly as bad as he had heard. Unfortunately – or fortunately, depending on your preferences – we exchanged heavy traffic for poor roads about a half hour outside of town.

Carved into the side of a mountain, this “major Indo-Chinese highway” is only slightly wider than one lane of an American interstate. That would be fine, if traffic only went one way on these roads. But here, huge trucks, tiny cars, SUVs and motorcyles all vie for position in what is practically indistinguishable from a massive game of chicken. If you want to pass (which, of course, every driver wants to do – all the time), you lay on your horn, flash your headlights and jam on the gas. If you possess sufficient skill and more than a little luck, you won’t encounter an oncoming vehicle and get forced off the side of the cliff into the rushing waters of the Teesta below.

Transit drama aside, we arrived safely in Kalimpong shortly after dark and checked into our hotel. The Silver Oaks hotel is a raj-era retreat that looks like something your English grandmother would design. For a Wes Anderson film. It’s a little more expensive than I would like, but it’s really the only game in town if you want internet access and proximity to town.

We’re all sleeping together in one big room – Xiu Dan in the big bed with mom and dad and the boys on their own beds. We slept well, ate a big breakfast and now we’re resting before Nandu comes by to take us to his house. We’ll spend some time with his family and then begin visiting the kids and staff of Asia’s Hope. We’ve rearranged some of our facilities; all of them are rented at this point except for Nandu’s house, so we will continue to move around until we can find land that we can afford to build on.

We’re all ready to see the kids. It’s been nice having a few days’ vacation, but we’re getting stir crazy. We didn’t come here to see the monuments and hang out in hotel rooms.

I’ll have pictures later.


Travel weary

It's only 9pm, but I feel like it's half-past midnight. We've had an enjoyable but exhausting couple of days. We flew from Bangkok to Delhi, spent a day in Delhi, drove 5 hours to Agra to see the Taj Mahal and 5 hours back. Tomorrow we fly to Siliguri and drive up into the foothills of the Himalayas into Kalimpong. 

I'm greatly looking forward to being in Kalimpong. I miss my Indian staff and kids, and it will be nice to be back in Asia's Hope's world after spending a few days as tourists. It'll also be nice to get out of the brutally hot weather. Delhi reached 106F/41C today. Kalimpong is going to be about 79F/26C. Nice. 

I'm also looking forward to spending a few nights in the same place, rather than putting the kids through a constant circuit of check-ins and check-outs. Don't get me wrong. Bangkok was nice. Agra was beautiful. Delhi is exhilarating. But Kalimpong is our Indian home, and I'm ready to settle in with friends and family for a while. 

Alive and well in Chinatown

We arrived in Bangkok yesterday morning, and checked into our hotel on Yaowarat Road, smack dab in the middle of Bankok's ancient Chinatown. Dismissed by snooty travelers as dirty, crowded and chaotic, Chinatown is the place to be if you're a food lover in need of a few days' R and R. 

We're staying in a cool old hotel that feels like I'd imagine 1920s Shanghai, minus the opium and gangsters. Poorly lit, musty and fabulously evocative, I wouldn't want to live here, but it's great for a break.

Yaowarat Road is the main drag, and it looks exactly like you'd expect -- lots of signs in Chinese, tea shops, duck vendors and purveyors of watches and sunglasses of dubious provenance. It's best first thing in the morning and just after dusk.

As the lights go down, the street kitchens roll out. Carts, card tables and umbrellas crowd the sidewalks and spill out into the road. Tuk tuks, taxis and buses speed by as diners slurp down noodles and sip beer at restaurants whose appearances belie the world class cuisine served therein.

Anyone who knows me knows that that I'm in heaven around here, right?  Unfortunately, the cold I was getting in Chiang Mai hit me full force last night, and sapped me of all energy and appetite. Kori assures me that last night's dinner was delicious, but I could only finish a couple of bites. I dragged myself back to the hotel -- Pak had to carry my bag, as I was too tired to do so -- and was in bed by 7:30. I slept until about 8:30 and decided that I was going to feel better, even if it killed me.

I took our clothes to a back-alley laundry (saving about $50 -- hotel laundry services are the biggest ripoffs in the hospitality industry), grabbed a bag of cooked rice, a few steamed buns and a styrofoam carton of crispy pork belly and returned to our room. We ate our breakfast on the floor of our hotel room (saving about $30 -- hotel restaurants are the second biggest ripoffs in the hospitality industry) and decided that I felt well enough to take the family out shopping. 

We took a taxi to the impressive and bewildering Central Plaza mall. We don't really need anything, so we just wandered until lunch time. We selected Din Tai Fung, a dim sum restaurant widely reputed as having the world's best xiao long bao (soup dumplings). I don't have enough experience to confirm the dumplings' status as world's finest, but they were certainly the best I've ever had. Rolled and stuffed by hand, these are the real deal, and are a far sight better than the ones served in Columbus at Helen's Asian Kitchen. 

We returned the hotel, and the kids stayed in their room doing homework while Kori and I walked down the street for a foot massage. By the end of the massage, my energy had almost completely returned. Thank God! And thank all of you for praying.

Around dinner time, we headed out and enjoyed the fine dining and people-watching I'd missed out on during last night's malaise. We walked around for about an hour before settling down at a folding table right on the street, and we enjoyed noodles with duck broth, crispy duck breast and pork wontons. It was a perfect meal, and cost about a buck a bowl. Not so bad.

Afterwards, we stopped for tea and cookies. So nice. Everyone is happy, and we are all getting along. And I'm feeling much better. About 75%. I'm hoping for 100% tomorrow morning. We'll visit the Royal Palace and something billed as "the thieves market." Sounds cool. 

We have one more day in Bangkok, and then we head to Delhi. After a couple of days in Delhi and Agra, we'll be in Kalimpong to visit the kids and staff of Asia's Hope.  

Wrapping up in Thailand

It's been a great couple of weeks. I'm happy to say that the kids and staff of Asia's Hope Thailand are thriving under the leadership of Tutu Bee, our national director. Tomorrow, we leave for a couple of days R-and-R in Bangok, and then we're off to India.

Tonight Xiu Dan is hanging out with Tutu, while the rest of us head to the city with her son Daniel to grab some dinner and hang out at a Jazz club. 

On Sunday, we spent the morning worshiping with the kids and staff at Wiang Pa Pao, and enjoyed the scenic drive back into town. 

Last night, we spent the evening with at our Doi Saket 2 home, and played takraw and volleyball with the kids much to their delight and amusement. It's probably not necessary to say that neither Kori nor I will be trying out for any takraw teams anytime soon.

This morning we joined all of our Thailand staff except for those in Wiang Pa Pao (it would be quite a drive for them) for a meeting, prayer and a delicious lakeside staff appreciation lunch.

I feel so blessed to call these guys my friends and co-workers. I'm going to miss them, but the calendar says it's time to move on. Pray for us as we embark on a few days of travel. Aside from some colds and an occasional bout of the squirts, we're in sound body and spirit. 

Next up, Bangkok. 

This little piggie stayed home

Tomorrow will end our three day visit to our campus in Wiang Pa Pao, a project we sometimes refer to as “the farm.” While we do have some crops growing here – lychee, pumpkins, corn, chilies, cabbages and mulberry trees (for a small-scale silk production) – it’s the people that we’re here to see.

Tutu’s parents live here as caretakers, along with 7 widows, 8 other staff and two homes of 20 kids each. The homes are both sponsored by Wooster Grace Brethren Church, which has been a generous partner for many years. I remember when the property was fallow and abandoned, the large house which is now the Wiang Pa Pao 1 home in disrepair. Today it’s in great shape, something always under construction, and filled with laughter.

Last night we had dinner Tutu’s parents’ cottage – home-grown chicken, mountain rice and the best mangos you’ve had. We played soccer with the kids and watched them leap through the air catching a rubber band rope with their toes in a game that I could barely understand, much less attempt. We sang songs and walked hand-in-hand through the mulberry orchards.

Today we showed up around 11am to find that the pig for this afternoon’s barbeque had already been slaughtered, an apparent concession to the my kids’ western sensibilities. We didn’t complain; we’ve been present for the pig’s demise on a number of other occasions, and it’s a fascinating, but nasty business.

Staff and kids worked together to butcher the beast, and before long, the meat was portioned into large bowls where it was combined with garlic and chilies grown on our property, honey, soy sauce and other secret ingredients. The meat was hung on hooks inside a grill made from a cleverly-converted 50 gallon drum and cooked over charcoal and wood until the outside was glazed and crispy, and the inside tender.

Demonstrating once again the superiority of the New Covenant, we feasted on pork until we felt like pigs ourselves. We then escaped the afternoon heat, retiring to the newly-constructed chapel to play games and enjoy the two new keyboards bought by one of the members of Wooster Grace Brethren.

After exhausting ourselves, we returned to our rooms at a local mountain-side hotel and enjoyed a dip in the pool. Right now, Kori’s reading a book and all three kids are working on their summer homework. Tutu’s coming to pick us up for dinner soon, although I must confess I’m all that hungry. I just hope pork isn’t on the menu.

Tomorrow we’ll worship together, have lunch and then return to Chiang Mai. We’ll spend the evening with the kids from Doi Saket 2, and then before we know it, our time with Asia’s Hope Thailand will be over. On Wednesday, we fly to Bangkok for a couple of days of r-and-r, and then we’ll be headed to India for the next phase of our adventure.

I still have quite a few meetings with staff and visits with kids before I leave, but I feel like I have had a productive trip thus far. Beyond that, it’s been enjoyable. My family travels well together, and aside from a few surly moments from each of us at different times, we’ve not let stress on our bodies and minds discourage us or turn us against each other. I’m sure that before this is all finished, we’ll have our moments, but for now I’m feeling extremely blessed to be able to taste and see the fruits of the last decade’s labors. Thank you for your love and support.


Three Cheers for Cricketeers

Anytime one of our friends in Thailand use the words "cricket" and "dinner" together, my kids get a little nervous. But tonight's fare was unrelated to the protein rich members of family gryllidae. It was, rather, a celebration of 9 students who have competed at the highest levels of cricket in Thailand and Around the world.

Eight of our "cricket champions" joined us for dinner; one of our boys -- Narabed -- was unable to pull away from studies to do so. The kids voted unanimously to eat at an open-front, roadside restaurant called "The Pig Pen" (The name is justified by the unlimited servings of raw pork, fish, squid, chicken and beef you can grill on gas-powered braziers in the middle of each table.)

Among the nine, we have three young players who are truly world-class. You may remember that Parichat and Jutamat were two of only 14 girls nation-wide who qualified for Thai National Team, which competed in the world championships in Kuwait last year. They will also travel to New Zealand for international competition in a few months. And Narabed (not pictured; he was home studying) represented his age group on an international level in Malaysia.

It is amazing that out of all the youth cricketers in Thailand, three of the very best were raised at Asia's Hope. For all nine of the teens we celebrated last night, their success on the pitch represents untold hours of hard work and indicates a certain drive and character that will serve these kids well in whatever endeavor they choose in life. 

I don't know much about the game of cricket, but I do know that I'm really proud of each of these wonderful kids.

Praying for Ford

Today we visited Ford, the son of our Doi Saket 2 parents, Dong and Ying, at McCormick Children's Hospital. 

You might remember this little guy, who was thus named because he was born in the back of a pickup truck.

Well, he has suffered from a recurring condition since birth wherein he gets a kink in his small intestine and has to go to the hospital for treatment. As you might imagine, this is painful for him and both scary and frustrating for his parents.

He's been in the hospital for three days now and is expected to be released tomorrow. Thankfully, the doctors were once again able to treat him successfully, and he is no longer in any pain. When he is older, he may be able to have surgery to correct the problem, but for now, all we can do is deal with it each time the problem flares up.

Please join me in praying for complete and immediate healing for Ford. 

Ford with his Dad, Dong, and his mom, Ying.

Ford with his Dad, Dong, and his mom, Ying.

Day of rest. Sort of...

Sunday is for rest, right? Well, Tutu did take Kori, Xiu Dan and I to get Thai Massages after lunch (imagine chiropractic-meets-Brazilian-jiu-jitsu). But aside from that, it's been non-stop activity all day long.

We started the morning with church at our main campus in Doi Saket -- all of the kids and staff from our seven homes in town, as well as neighbors and a contingent from another organization's orphan homes joining their voices in worship. Pretty amazing.  

After lunch, my sons went out with Tutu's son and nephew and played video games at a local internet café while Kori, Xiu Dan and I endured/enjoyed the aforementioned massages. We then returned to Doi Saket 1 and spent the remaining sunlight hours playing cricket and soccer.  

At dusk, we said goodbye to the Doi Saket 1 kids and headed into the city for the Sunday walking market. We ate some great street food and wandered around with a multitude of others, mostly tourists, looking at but not buying the handicrafts and souvenirs.

It's 11pm now, and I'm feeling weary but blessed. It feels like we've crammed a week's worth of activities into a single day. Tomorrow we'll exhaust ourselves all over again. Maybe Tuesday we'll get some rest. Or maybe not...