17Թ

February 19, 2024 Mission

Thailand Mission Trip: The Team Has Arrived!

SMT 2024 Made it to Thailand

On February 16, our 17Թ Mission Trip teammates arrived in Thailand. The team has been immersed in the Thai culture and has been fortunate to meet those they will be helping through our partner, GROW. Construction begins this week!

Read their updates below.

SMT 2024 Made it to Thailand
SMT 2024 Made it to Thailand

Our team safely arrived to Wiang Pa Pao, Thailand after a grueling 32 hours of travel and little sleep. After leaving our homes around 3 AM EST on 2/15, we arrived in Minneapolis together as a team. From there, we boarded our plane to Seoul. To our discomfort, we waited about two hours to de-ice the plane – a rough start to what was already a 15-hour flight. We arrived in Seoul two hours late and had just enough time to make it through customs and rush to the gate as they were doing the final boarding call for our 6-hour flight to Chiang Mai. To say the least, our team was tired. The excitement that started the morning remained but was overshadowed with exhaustion.

Upon arrival in Chiang Mai at approximately 11:30 PM, we gathered our luggage (minus a few lost pieces which have since been recovered), and began exiting the airport. We knew Faa (GROW’s Founder), Jeana (US Executive Director), and Donna (US volunteer) would be picking us up from the airport. However, the welcome we received was truly a surprise. Faa, Jeana, Donna and five kids/staff from GROW awaited us at the gate, cheering for us, showering us with gifts and smiles. Instantly, that exhaustion faded and the energy we started the trip with was reinvigorated. The GROW children/staff gave us beautifully woven flowers as well as bags made by women in their tribal villages. Their hospitality and joy instantly set the mood for the trip.

After the airport, we headed to our hotel for the evening, a place Faa had booked nearby in Chiang Mai to introduce us to the culture. In the morning, the GROW staff/students met us, where they brought in Carol from Canada to do the “Intro to Thai Culture” session. Carol was able to share her experience as a non-native and customs she learned over the years. After a BIG lunch (they have been feeding us constantly!), we parted the hotel and began the two-hour drive to Wiang Pa Pao to GROW’s campus.

Prior to the trip, we were told that the children had experienced much trauma and that they would be more standoffish. That was not our reality. As soon as the trucks pulled through GROW’s main gate, the children came running up to the vehicles screaming “hello!!!” in English. Their joy was immense. We could barely get out of the trucks before they were flooding us with more gifts – flowers for Sabrina and I, hand-crafted name tags, and cards for each of us welcoming us to their home and filled with beautiful drawings. Additionally, they had a large banner printed with our 17Թ logo and team pictures from the training day to welcome us. What a welcome!

Only a few minutes after arrival, we were being pulled toward the bus – it was time for the night market for dinner, a special treat the children only received on Saturday evenings. They were given a small amount of money and the independence to explore and purchase their own food (GROW’s way of preparing them for life outside of their gates). The short bus ride to the night market was filled with squeals and laughter. Our team quickly learned that it was hard to communicate but, alas, the universal language with children arose: games. Rock-paper-scissors and thumb wars with our team began to take place throughout the bus. The children’s squeals said it all, and our squeals matched theirs. How I wish I could share pictures of these beautiful children with you all. They have a light in their eyes that sparkles and cuts to your soul.

At the night market, the kids immediately grabbed our hands and began taking us through the market, filled with exotic food and vendors. It’s strange to see such young children protective of adults, but they put out their hands when a car was coming and made sure we went to the best vendors. Back on campus, we opened and shared our various findings, including grub. That’s right, Sabrina bought grub and peer pressured some of us into all eating a bug with her (Rob even ate two). No, the grub was not good, it tasted like dirt and mush. But as we shared a meal and laughter together, the bonding I hoped our team would find on this trip enfolded. I guess there was something good about eating a bug after all.

Sundays at GROW are focused around church and home visits. They do not allow work on Sundays due to their religious beliefs. However, before church today and after a breakfast of rice soup (we’ve had rice for every meal), we were able to do our first site visit. We knew the contractor was moving quickly over the last few weeks and the majority of the masonry work was complete before our arrival. Part of any mission is flexibility and we have known from the beginning that our team would need to adjust to whichever stage the project was in, as we are jumping into an active project as opposed to a standalone project like our past trips. It appears we will be finishing the masonry and plastering the interior/exterior walls, as well as doing some plumbing, but we will firm that up with the contractor first thing Monday morning and get to work. The girls’ dorm will have a common living space, two rooms for girls (6 each), and a room for a female counselor.

We then were pulled away from the site quickly by the kids, dressed fully in their beautiful tribal attire. Some were bedazzled, others with intricate stitch work, some with unique headwear or beads, and all colorful. For church, the students prepared worship songs (where William played the guitar alongside them), traditional tribal dances, and read Bible verses. Not only did various children share their testimonies with us, but I was fortunate to be asked to share mine and a message with them. They even allowed me to wear their tribal attire while doing so, a true honor. We came from different nations, but together under that roof, we were one.

After more rice for lunch, we jumped in the truck to head into the kids’ villages. 30 minutes in the back of a truck up a dirt road mountain was an experience. The depth and beauty of the mountains drew us in but we were also covered head to toe in red dust. More bonding for our team. When we finally got to the top of the mountain, homes began appearing. Not homes like we see in the US, but ones with dirt floors. The kids were thrilled to see their families and siblings, clinging to them tightly. Seeing these villages enlightened us to the bigger picture of their stories and gave us perspective. The GROW campus where we are building our project is extremely special, but the villages are the areas they were rescued from – from abuse, poverty, and more. As I said above, the children at the GROW home have a sparkle in their eyes. However, the other children in the villages’ eyes were dim. We saw poverty, illness, and a lot of lack. We saw parents asking Faa to please take in their children to give them a better life, to give them education, water and more, necessities we take for granted every day.

Today, our team gained the perspective needed to serve to our fullest potential this week. It allowed us to put drive behind our work: to give more children the ability to have their basic needs provided for and receive love for perhaps the first time. Tomorrow (Monday), we get to work.