Tuesday 1 December 2015


How does one define it? That familiar strange sensation of old and comfortable things accompanied by a vague but definite sense of being out of touch. At home and not at home. Homecomings are complicated. Emotions and expectations are disproportionately high. My closest and most meaningful reasons for being alive are arrayed before me with eager smiles and outstretched arms. I hold and hug and kiss and I cannot get enough of their smell. Funny how homecoming is so sensory.

Home! A month is a long time to be away.

Arrivals. The joy of my arms wrapped around my horse's chunky neck and the muddy sweet feel of him - he slightly aloof because of my long absence and my over enthusiastic emotion; the wriggling, licking, leaping joy of our dogs - who have no problem whatsoever with over enthusiastic emotional displays. The dogs! In my absence Angus has left puppyhood behind and two dogs gleefully let me know that it is good that I am home.

In the shadows, their presence very much felt but for now, studiously ignored, are my responsibilities. They wait patiently but confidently. My soul sneaks a glance and shrinks back. There are so many. They don't mind waiting. Like many coloured layers of thread they know that they belong in my hands and that I will pick them up in a while. But not now. Now it the time of transition. Of re-entry... And I have time. My husband has arranged to take Kate to College for the next two days so that I can have some time at home. Home alone. Home. My soul needs this. It needs the time to process, to gather the pieces together. It has been such a good trip. But literally half a world away; I have been in another world. The concept of parallel universes is tangible, experiential. Far away, people of other languages, life experiences, cultures and nations are going about their living, and for a while we have shared that living. They welcomed me and drew me in. I have been there. I am there. But I am also here.

Yesterday morning it is such a relief to go inside the cool quiet of my air-conditioned bedroom. The sun outside is impossibly hot, even at 7 in the morning. Later, at the airport in Bangkok I position my over-hot body right in front of the air conditioner and I am reluctant to move, even when it is my turn at the Passport Control counter. Many hours later I come off the airplane into another airport. It is winter in Europe and I am bracing myself for the cold. But I am securely enclosed in a centrally heated building. It feels weird. My body is already disorientated about the mystery of having travelled 12 hours but it only being 6 hours later. And by the fact that far away in Cambodia it is the middle of the night, when I should be sleeping, not the cusp edge between late afternoon and early evening. There are things the mind knows that the body cannot understand. But now it must also deal with heating where there was cooling. And I need to wait for 2 hours in this place. I wander past coffee shops cheery with Christmas advertising and colour, and where the drinks on display are warming drinks - mulled wine and hot chocolate and coffees with cream. My body is sadly yearning for ice. Iced coffee, iced tea, iced anything. Finally, at Starbucks, I find what is advertised as a ''Lime Cooler' and I order one with extra ice. It is delicious and refreshing. I down it in 10 minutes and go back and order another one, to the obvious but kindly amusement of the barrista behind the counter.

Home! But home feels strange because there is another place - places - my heart calls home too. There are people who have bound me to themselves with cords of love, and I to them. In the midst of my happiness at being home is an overwhelming longing. This is the tension I now embrace, the tension that is the gift of travel.

In the midst of the UK night I awaken. Of course! It is morning in Cambodia. And I am far too hot. I get up and switch off the central heating. My poor family also has to deal with my disorientation. Then I drink some water - filling my glass from the tap. This too feels strange. I have spent a whole month reminding myself NEVER to drink water from a tap. It feels like a forbidden activity, and I have to reassure myself that it is safe to do so. I go back to bed and fall asleep again to the sound of my husband's quiet breathing. It is going to be ok. It is ok. I am home.

Homecomings are everywhere. They are often in unexpected places too. They are the stitches of the threads that hold the pieces of my soul, my very heart, secure, each in its place. It is because of these homecomings that I am able to knead and integrate these diverse experiences on opposite ends of the earth into the one composite whole that is me and the way I experience my living. I am. I am England and South Africa and Brazil and Thailand and Myanmar and Cambodia.

Mary Oliver asks: ''What is it that you intend to do with your one wild and precious life?'' Here is my answer. In the peace of the shell that is my home I reflect that this is it. Whole. I know. I am at home in this world, in this beautiful, heartbreaking, overwhelming, impossible place. I live. And I love.

This is mine. This is me. This is homecoming.

Saturday 7 November 2015

Prayer Walking in Pattaya

The problem with Pattaya is that it is also a place of ugliness.

Today I went on a prayer walk around Pattaya. I went along the beachfront and down Walking Street and back again. And as I walked I thought and prayed about what I saw...

There are men everywhere. And the thing that stands out to me about these men is that so many of them look dead. I'm reminded of that question in Proverbs, ''Shall a man heap coals into his lap and not be burned?'' In my research about Pattaya I find many websites that tell me how great it is; how wonderful it is to be able to have a different girl every night and more than once a night if you want. Apparently it's like a man's dream come true; ''Disneyland for adults'' one writer called it. So how come the men look dead? That's an interesting question. So many of them look unhealthy, sick and pale.

There is an inherent sadness that I feel when I walk around Pattaya. It's why I find it a hard place to be. I look at the women waiting on the beachfront for clients, and their make up is immaculate and their hair is lovely and they are wearing their high heels and they look so good. But there is a hardness and a sorrow on them. And I catch their eye of one or two and when I do, I smile at them and they smile back, surprised, like why would I smile at them? Don't I see what they are?

There are dogs that wander around with misaligned jaws and sores on their bodies. They have a pretty tough life, but they are survivors, like everyone else in Pattaya. They are tough. The trauma is just more noticeable in the dogs.

And the signs. Oh God, the signs... ''Live Dolls'' proclaims one. Live dolls? How that hurts my heart.What does it feel like to be seen as nothing more than a living doll? I wander along the famous Walking Street, and I'm praying in the Spirit and I'm singing songs, the songs, the songs of God in dark places, and my heart is sorrowing, sorrowing, sorrowing. I want to see these places destroyed. But I am so conscious of the Lord with me, and that I am not alone, and after a while He says: ''Take a break...''

So I wander into a bar and I buy a coke, and I walk through the bar to the other side and I go and sit out on the beachfront where the bar overlooks the sea and it's so beautiful. The sun is starting to set and the reflections of the boats on the water are lovely, and there are these huge, huge clouds. It's beautiful, but my heart is aching.

And then I look up, and there in front of me there is a statue and it's a girl, and it's beautiful. She's holding a torch, and she's strong, and mighty, and triumphant. And I'm reminded about two prophetic words I have been given about Asia - one is about awakening the right arm and the other is about being the carrier of the blue flame. And I've been asking God about these things, What is the significance of the right arm? And the blue flame?

And as I've read His Word, I have seen that the right arm is justice. Just before I left the UK our worship leader reminded me that ''Justice and righteousness are Your throne O God...''

I also remember a recent conversation with my Catholic friend Christine about why St Mary the Mother of Jesus is usually clothed in blue, and her answer that blue stands for purity and for royalty. And I see the statue of the woman with her right arm holding her torch so high and she's so beautiful, especially against the backdrop of the setting sun and the sky and the reflections on the water and she stands for justice and for purity and for the royalty of womanhood. And my heart cries out: ''O God, can you bring justice to this place? Can you bring back purity to these women and restore to them their value? Can you destroy the darkness and the shame of Walking Street please?''

And I find my heart encouraged and the sorrow that has been so heavy lifts, and a quietness and a peace comes. He sees and He knows. He knows. And as I turn around and begin to walk back, I declare it, over and over and over again:
''Our Father, 
Who art in heaven, 
hallowed be Your Name.
Your Kingdom come; 
Your will be done, 
on Walking Street as it is in heaven, 
in Pattaya as it is in heaven, 
on earth as it is in heaven.''

Our Father, our Father, our Father....

Friday 6 November 2015

Pattaya the Beautiful

''Pattaya is an overwhelming mix of beautiful and ugly things''.

That's what I wrote on my Facebook page. On this, my third trip to the city, I saw beautiful things.

The ministry of Tamar Centre has always been beautiful. For 20 years now, Nella Davidse and her team have held out a hand of compassion and hope for the city's beleaguered bar girls. I have been on some of these outreach sessions with XP Missions and Tamar and I have more than once heard Nella tell the story of how and why she came to live and work in Pattaya. The no-nonsense integrity of the woman, and the warmth in her piercing eyes, even when she is tired... this is beautiful.

This time I sat in an audience at a graduation, listening, with a warm heart, to the testimonies of two new graduates of the three month Tamar training programme. This was the 17th Tamar graduation, and we were celebrating the achievements of eight young people. All eight had come out of dangerous exploitative situations; all eight had new qualifications, smiling faces and hope in their eyes; all eight were proud of what they had achieved... this was beautiful.

The graduates had been given gifts and flowers along with their certificates, and I watched one of the girls try to give her flowers to Nella, who lovingly but firmly refused them: ''This is your day...'' The interaction was warm and honouring and swift, and I was moved by it... this was beautiful.

After the ceremony, we had supper together and there was time to meet people and chat. I met a group of fresh faced young women, some from the USA and one from Holland, all of whom were giving up three to nine months of their lives to learn and to serve the women of Thailand. I looked deep into their innocence and their purity and I was amazed at their willingness to get involved with intervention in this, the most un-innocent of female activities. I was reminded of the slogan of the women's conference I had attended with Malina: ''Together, we are stronger''... this too was beautiful.

Tuesday 6 October 2015


Less than a month from today I will be in Asia again...

It still amuses me when I think of it. I was so resistant to the idea of visiting Asia at all, and even more resistant to the idea of actually getting involved with anything there. And yet, now, year after year, like the quiet but persistent drumbeat of my heart I am drawn back. Back to Cambodia. To the squalor and the filth and the poverty and the shame and the pain of a nation in recovery from trauma and abuse. Why? It is so strange, so irrational. I like my First-World lifestyle.

But I am also drawn back to the beauty, the smiles, the fun-loving spirit; the innate courtesy of the people; the wonderful Khmer friends I now have; the precious children rescued by XP Missions; the feeling that drop upon drop upon drop of compassion and involvement can and does make a difference; and my abiding love for the incredible people who have chosen to spend - expend - their lives in drip, drip, dripping that difference into the continent. I think of Andrea, Mark, Sharon, Alice, Shelley, Jen, Ginny, Pastor Chuck, and so many more, and I know I am so privileged to get to touch their lives, even just a little bit.

And ultimately, it is about obedience. Jesus said that He did what He saw the Father do. He indicated, quite clearly, that if we wanted to know what God was like, we should look at Him. At the way He lived, taught, dealt with people. And then He said that the works He did, we should do also. We too should be demonstrating in our living what God is like. And one thing has always been clear - God cares about the poor and the suffering and the downtrodden and He fully expects us to care too.

As time has passed, I have found my horizons expanding in Asia. It is still not a rational thing. God asked us first of all to open our hearts to Thailand, and right now I have no idea what to do about that. Was Thailand a marker on my road or a destination? So far, Thailand has ended up being a means to an end - it is the neighbouring country of Cambodia that has engaged my heart. Although of course, Pattaya, that coastal Thai city, that place where it all came into focus, that murky seedbed of nefarious activity, is never far from my thoughts..... And I know lightbearers there too, Malina, always Malina. And David, Ying, Pu, Nella, Somsak..... It's relationship that calls me most. I am very relational, and for me, it is always about people. Knowing people, and loving people.

And now there is Myanmar. Drawn inexorably by the determined vision of my young friend there, I will return for another week, again to teach in a Bible College and to visit with David and his friends, and to bring encouragement to Burmese Christians from a member of the Western church. We look different and speak different languages and have different cultures and life experiences, but our love for God draws us into a fellowship that is beyond those things.

So, reflections over, I am excited. I will spend a week in Thailand, a week in Myanmar, and two weeks in Cambodia. In the flurry of preparation and activity that precedes a trip there is a growing anticipation. I look forward to being in Asia. Again.

Monday 1 December 2014


I find Pattaya a hard place to be. There is such a concentration of the worst of human issues – the sheer sadness, the loneliness, the lost-ness, the entrapment, the darkness of mankind – thinly covered by a veneer of fun and smiles and shrill laughter. After my first trip to Pattaya, I was to say to a friend: ‘If ever I doubted the existence of that malevolent evil we call satan, I no longer do.’ There is a lot of good in the world, and the goodness points towards its Source. The same is true of evil. Pattaya is heavy with it.

I spend time with precious people, people like Stephen and Ying Fulton, people like Nella Davidse, who have the courage and the fortitude to stand, as beacons of light in this vast darkness. I see them, and I am astonished by their beauty. Light always shines more brightly when it is really dark.

I ask them how it is that they find grace to live in Pattaya. Again and again, the story is the same…. For love. For love of God and for love of His children, They saw what I see, years ago, and it catapulted them into action. Not away, but towards. I look at these people and I am awed by the simplicity of their message, a message they live as well as speak: Love overcomes. Light shines. Goodness changes people. They hold out the Word of Life, day after day after day.

Is it worth it? Some say no. They look at the statistics and say the problem is growing.

But look into the eyes, as I do, of just one changed person, one person who has exchanged a life in sorrow and darkness for a life in Light and say it’s not worth it. Can you? I certainly can’t. The core of Heidi Baker's life message is very evident here. Love is when we stop for the one. 

Tuesday 25 November 2014


The young bar-girl Lynn was talking to decided not to come to XP's training centre. Lynn was in tears, telling us. Too afraid to trust the hand held out, she had decided to stay with the high-risk but more familiar environment in which she found herself.

That she did so is not as surprising as it seems at first glance. It is the proverbial frying pan and the fire situation. Yes, she knew she was in danger. But what she didn't know was whether or not she would be in greater danger if she went with this friendly white Western woman. Young women are trafficked to Thailand, Malaysia and further afield from Cambodia, lured by promises of work and development opportunities. How was she to know that this promised 'Everlasting Love' training program was not a trap?

The statistics are sobering. Rescue agencies tell us that for every girl saved from sexual exploitation, 99 are not. Needless to say, this situation has to change. Outreach is an important part of the task of building relationship and trust so that girls have confidence and know where to go for help.

Sunday 23 November 2014

Women at Risk....

Tonight we waited, chatting and eating delicious ice cream at the Blue Pumpkin, while Lynn and Jenn went to find a young girl, just a teenager, who was working in one of the bars - Jenn had made contact with her the day before, and we hoped that she would be able to come onto XP's 'Everlasting Love' Program. They had a very good chat with her, and it is all looking very positive. They will meet with her again tomorrow, and if she decides to do so, she could start as soon as next week. The biggest challenge is trust - when a young person has been betrayed by all she holds dear, why should she trust Western strangers, even if they are accompanied by Khmer translators. How is she to know we aren't traffickers with even worse plans for her future? Relationship building is careful work....

Back in our tuk-tuk, Lynn was in tears, describing how tightly this youngster had held onto her when Lynn hugged her... she was so very young, and so frightened, so uncertain who or what she could believe. Lynn was concerned about the Western men in the bar, who were watching with interested eyes. There is a real sense of urgency about the need to get this young woman out of the situation as soon as possible.

I was reminded of Siem. My heart still hurts, almost three years later, when I think of her. Such a sweet little girl. Far too sweet and innocent to be working in a karaoke bar in Poipet! How desperately she wanted to be rescued. It has been hard to forgive myself for leaving her, but at that time I was naive and didn't not realize how serious her situation was. And even if I had known what I know now, it was too soon - we were not yet in a position to help. It was the early days of Operation Justice and hardly anything was in place. Now there are  options... and XP can offer the girls a lifeline, opportunities, training - choices.

So where is Siem now? What happened to her? I have no way of knowing. I hope against hope that somehow, she did get out of her situation. The sad reality is that it is extremely unlikely that she could have done so - not without help. And so I look for her in every Khmer face I see. If I could find her, would it be too late? Would she be hardened, innocence betrayed, trust lost forever? I hope not. I hope she would still be open to hope. I hope she would not feel like I abandoned her.... which of course, is precisely what I did do. Not by desire or by choice, but that doesn't change how it must feel for her.

I said I would look for her... and I do. I will continue to do so. And I pray. I dream of finding Siem. I dream of walking up to a young girl one day and of her turning to look at me, and of me realising it is her. I'm glad I didn't promise I would find her, because so far, I have not been able to do so. There are so many young girls in prostitution in Asia; it is like hunting for the proverbial needle. I did tell her that I would look for her. And I said that I loved her, and that I would always love her. I remember the feeling of her, snuggled, bird-like against my side. I remember how desperately she clung to me when it was time to go. I remember the pain of walking away. Even though it was only one small encounter, I cannot forget her. She is in the heart of all I do here in Asia.

This is why I love being part of what XP Missions is doing. This is why I love touring the brand new women's ministry centre, aptly named 'Everlasting Love'. In fact, I have done so three times now. I love seeing the vision materialize. I love encountering our very first recruit, eagerly learning to sew. Seeing the joy in her face and the hope in her eyes. Knowing that this girl will no longer have to prostitute herself in order to survive. And she is the first of many who will come.... I see a time when the women's centre will be too small, and we will need another one. I see hundreds of beautiful women, discovering themselves and their gifts in freedom and dignity. I see restoration and hope and a future.... one by one by one. Engagement, encounter, affirmation, determination, hope. This is what love looks like. It always has.