Sunday, August 22, 2010

Mission on the mat: church youth group shares food life, and hope

By Lê Nhân Tâm

Eating in the Thai culture

Eating together is an important social and communal activity in every culture and society, and for Thai people, it’s no exception. When there are events that involve serving food, those in charge invariably have to think about how much and what kind of food should be served. At my church, this issue often dominates the parish council meeting conversations. For example before our annual church feast, we spent a large proportion of time on this very topic. After the event had already occurred, we talked about whether the food was enough for everyone, and what we should do for the next celebration. Likewise, in our First Saturday gatherings at parishioners’ homes for prayer and scripture sharing, despite my urging that this be a simple affair because I did not want to make it a burden on the host, the parishioners themselves refuse to make it so. No one leaves the house without first being fed. Even when the host family is rather poor, they still manage to get enough food together to serve everyone.

Eating being a part of family, community, or other group gatherings is a requisite for the Thai people who have their own unique way of sharing food. When Thai people sit down for a meal, they usually share the various dishes that are placed in the middle of the table. A pot or container of rice is placed on the side. Dishes differ from region to region. However, most meals consist of a soup, a spicy dish, a vegetable dish, and some fresh vegetables. Unlike many of their Asian counterparts, Thai people nowadays use forks and spoons rather than chopsticks, which are reserved for noodle soups such as kuaytiaw. In the countryside, people often eat with their hands, which is the style of eating practiced before utensils were introduced. For example, in the Northeast region of Thailand, people often use their hand to pick up a piece of sticky rice, dip it in a spicy dish and then put it in their mouth.

Usually the dishes placed in the middle of the table come with a serving spoon. But it is not uncommon for Thai people to serve themselves with the utensils that they use to eat. In people’s homes, especially in the countryside, Thai people often eat sitting on a mat spread out on the floor inside or in front of the house where it is a bit cooler. However, eating in such an open space also requires them to invite neighbors to join everytime one passes by. It is a polite way for the people to continue their meal without feeling like they are being unhospitable. Usually, the passerby politely refuses the invitation and goes on his way leaving the family to eat in peace. Eating for Thai people is a relationship building activity in many ways, and an important part of people’s everyday life. It is no wonder that when Thai people greet each other, they often inquire whether they have eaten or not.

The Christian Agape meal

In reality, it’s not the Thai people alone who employ the occasion of sharing a meal together to enhance or solidify good relationships through the sharing of conversation, jokes, stories, and of course, food. In almost every culture, friendships and communities are often formed and strengthened through meal rituals – both formal and informal. In the Gospel accounts, Jesus was often seen eating with many people –his disciples, community leaders, and even sinners. Sharing food with these people were an important part of Jesus’ ministry and actually afforded him many unique teaching moments. Sharing in a meal with others allowed him the opportunity to convert and transform the lives of people like Levi the tax collector and his friends who were castigated by society (Mk 2:15-17). Accepting meal invitations presented him with perfect scenarios to teach those such as the Pharisee named Simon on the relationship between love and forgiveness (Luke 7:36-50). Breaking bread with his disciples on the last night before he was arrested and hung on the cross allowed Jesus the occasion to say profound and sincere parting words to them, and taught them the way to remember him in the future (John 13-16).

So it is not surprising that in the early days of the Church, Christians would gather around the table in people’s houses to share food and fellowship, sang, and prayed to remember Jesus. This meal is what came to be known as the agape meal, or the love-feast. This act of worship and fellowship would eventually evolve into the formal Eucharist that we see today. However, as the formal Eucharistic celebrations began to take shape, in the past, agape meals often were still held as an activity separate from the Eucharistic celebration. Today, at many churches, agape meals often take on the characteristic of after-mass social, Saturday night potlucks, or even full out meals in which members sit down around the table to share food and fellowship. At one of the churches of Fr. Truc Phan, SVD in Nong Khai Province, every Sunday, the villagers bring food to share with each other after Mass. All these things act as an agape and provide opportunities for building community spirit and unity.

From instant noodles to agape meal

When I first came to St. Michael Archangel Church in Nong Bua Lamphu in April 2008, I was quite disappointed by the lack of spirit in the church. I witnessed a situation in which few Catholic families came to Sunday Mass. I had no altar servers, no assigned readers, no organ player, and no organ. Music that accompanied community singing came from a recorded CD that was used every week. Needless to say, the pre-recorded music did little to enhance the dismal atmosphere in the church.

One of the few bright signs in the church that I saw was a group of 4 teenagers, 3 girls and one boy who came to church every Sunday for catechism. All four had been Buddhist since birth. The three girls had been recently baptized by the former pastor, although their catechism training had been limited. One of the girls came from the orphanage for HIV+ children located behind the church, and the others came from the community.

The catechism classes took place in the afternoon because the teacher had to travel to Nong Bua Lamphu from Udon Thani, the province next over. However, Sunday Mass was at 8:30 a.m. After Mass, the teenagers would often hang out at the church because they did not want to go home then come back for catechism. As lunch time came around, the youth would often ask for instant noodles or whatever food I had in my refrigerator to eat. I let them use the kitchen of the rectory to prepare the food because there was nowhere else to cook the food. Other than the church building itself, the only additional parochial building was the recently built rectory. Even the girl who came from the Children’s Home did not go back but chose to eat lunch with her friends at the rectory. Eating at the church while waiting for catechism class, therefore, became a regular and necessary activity.

As I invested a significant amount of time and effort into building up youth ministry at the church, their presence at the church became common. So was the sight of youth eating together at the church, usually informally. Vietnamese youth who come to find work in Nong Bua Lamphu often came to visit me at the church, to study catechism, or to help clean the rectory. Oftentimes, they end up cooking using what we could find in the refrigerator to make it into a meal. Youth who come to participate in Saturday activities such as doing volunteer work in the village or attending activities at neighboring churches also often find themselves returning to the parish afterward to hang out and eat.

From a group of four teenagers, the youth group in the church has now grown to over 20. Some of them come from the community. Some of them have grown up from the children’s home. Some of them are young adults who are Vietnamese migrant workers who have made their way to Nong Bua Lamphu, and subsequently to the Catholic church. Some of them are HIV+ teenagers who have recently come to live at the Mother Mary Home.

As the number of children and teenagers who come to the church grow, so do the activities designed for them. After Sunday Mass, children learn catechism or musical instruments, or life skills classes, depending on the development of church activities. Presently, activities for the youth (age 13+) take place all morning and officially end after lunch – a meal in which they cook and share together as a group. Thus, from merely giving the youth instant noodles to hold them up until catechism, the Sunday meal at the church now is a formal youth group activity that is participated by many of the youth group members.

Youth group meal as an extension of the Eucharist

While the youth group at the church has grown much larger than the few members just two years ago, not all of them are Catholic. Some are still studying catechism awaiting to be baptized. Some youth who come to the church do not have an interest in studying catechism, and cannot be forced to follow Catholicism against their will. Still, they come to church and participate in Mass. The church youth do virtually everything in the liturgy – serving at the altar, doing the reading, playing the organ (we now have one), leading in the praying as well as the singing. They also do many things outside the liturgy as well. However, the Eucharist for the youth, has not been as much a symbol of unity as desired because not everyone is receiving Holy Communion or on the track to receive the sacrament. It is a situation that is regrettable from the perspective of a parish priest, but it is a situation that I accept with peace and trust in the mercy of God.

What is so far not possible in the Mass is made up for in the youth meal, which is something that everyone is invited to participate in without any obstacles. All are welcome to partake in the food before them and to enjoy the conversation taking place in the group. The youth group meal is the agape meal that becomes an extension of the Eucharist for the youth, and is the activitity that all who come do not have to feel that they are “left out”.

Youth group meal as an act of sharing and participation

Every Saturday morning, when it is still early, Nong Bua Lamphu’s morning market is full of activities. Thewarat Thailampoo, a former seminarian who is now a regular church staff, goes to the market to buy two things – flowers for the church and groceries for the Sunday youth meal. His budget used to be 200 baht for flowers, and 300 baht (about 9 USD) for food. Usually, he buys some meat, some eggs, and some vegetables. He buys things that he thinks the youth can easily use to make a meal.

On Sunday morning, at about 11 o’clock, about five of the youth are assigned to go into the kitchen to make lunch for the group. The rest engage in other activities. Some are cooking experts, but most are not. Yet, they make do with whatever they find in the refrigerator. Their job is to come up with about four dishes along with a big pot of rice enough for the number of people present. They don’t always estimate correctly how much rice or food is needed. Sometimes there’s way too much left over. Other times, the food is gone, but people are still not yet full.

Those who don’t have the responsibility of cooking do the setting up, cleaning, and washing. The group leader has a list of people assigned to the various tasks from week to week. Despite the attempt at a system, chaos is not unusual. Still, every week, the group manages to find enough people to cook, to clean, and to wash.

Youth group meal as an act of unity and acceptance

The taste of the food that appears on the mat spread on the ground in front of the church differs from week to week, from people to people. However, no words of complaint have ever been heard coming out of the youth who join the meal. Perhaps they themselves are too aware of their own cooking ability to dare criticize others. After all, eventually, it will also be their turn to do the cooking. But most likely the reason many stay for the meal is not for the food but rather for the friendship and the fun of cracking jokes at one another during the meal. So the taste is not so much an issue.

The group eats sitting down on the mat, and the eating takes place after the prayer of thanksgiving has been said. Saying grace is the duty of one of the youth who did the cooking that day. Around the food, the members share in the food that they themselves made. They make jokes, talk about the things that young people talk about, and generally enjoy being with one another. I also use the occasion to share with the group some news about the church or about upcoming group activities. I also use the occasion to give comments to the group—praising them for good things that they have done, or remind them to do better in other things. I try to keep negative things to a minimum in this task because it is important to not make people lose their appetite during meal. Just as we begin the meal with a prayer, we also conclude the meal with one. And nobody leaves the mat until the final prayer has been said.

Youth group meal as an act of service

Most youth don’t like to cook and few like to do dishes. But here, they are taught to do both. Serving each other is at the heart of the youth group meal together. Cooking for each other, helping each other to clean up, and washing the dishes become acts of service for one another, and teaches them to value a life of service and cooperation. They not only serve during the meal but also serve in their daily lives. We hope that they will learn to serve the people in their family, the abandoned elderly in their community, the friends at their school, and the poor in society. Oftentimes, the youth group do activities such as going to visit the elderly, or do something for the church. Thus, by creating opportunities for the youth to serve one another in the meal, we hope to also remind them to serve one another in everyday life.

Youth group meal as an act of hope

Everyday there are countless meals being eaten all over the world. But eating together does not always mean building relationships if the participants do not put their hearts and minds into the activity. However, in the youth meal, I believe many of them do. Seeing the youth making food together, sitting side by side, and sharing the food that they have made inspires a tremendous sense of hope in my heart. It is the hope that in this world, people from all sorts of cultures and life situations can come together and accept each other in a sincere way. It is the hope that others will look at this simple group and see God’s love reflected in their interactions with one another. It is the hope that in Christ, there is no Thai or Vietnamese, no HIV+ or HIV-, there is no rich or poor. For everyone, no matter who they are, are the children of God.


Ever since coming to serve at St. Michael Archangel Parish in Nong Bua Lamphu Province, I’ve tried to create many activities—both pastoral and social. It’s been thoroughly a trial and error experience. Some activities have seen great results with community support. Some barely get off the ground. Some go well for a while until something happens and puts it to a halt. The Sunday youth meal as well as all the times when the youth come together to share food is for me a particularly meaningful act. It is not easy to create an orderly system with the cooking and the cleaning, and sometimes the food takes a while to be ready. But I believe many of the youth try their best, and sharing food with the youth has always been something very foundational in my youth ministry. When I see them eating together, young people sitting down around the table, serving one another, talking to one another, and relating to another, while all around them, society is becoming ever more individualistic and inward looking, I feel a tremendous sense of satisfaction and thankfulness because I believe that I am creating an opportunity for people to bridge differences and create community. And it can be done with a simple meal.

Friday, June 4, 2010

The life and times of Father Anthony!

By Renee Hubka
2 June 2010

For most of us, even those of us who were raised Catholic, it is hard to imagine the life of a priest. Often we see their lives as restricted and boring or we make judgments based on the scandals of the day. More often we just have no idea what their life entails or we are just not interested – their lifestyle seems removed from our own.

A religious life has become something negative or, at least, not as respectable as in the past to some people, especially those people coming from developed countries which are becoming more and more secular. As an American woman who grew up going to Catholic school and attending Sunday masses throughout my childhood and teen years, I must confess that I hardly had any idea just what the life of a “Father” is all about until I started to volunteer here at St. Michael’s.

Over the years I have been happy to meet priests on my travels as I often found them very willing to discuss issues in an open manner and they come across more educated than some ministers I know and have met. But I have never worked or lived near the house where a priest lives. As a child, to visit the priest’s house or the nuns’ convent would have made me very nervous, although I did go for lessons in the convent when I was very young and have published a story about that experience.

So, when Father Anthony accepted me to come and volunteer in Nong Bua Lumhpu (NBL), I admit that I was nervous. It is hard to shake the impressions you get from your childhood. Father had only spoken with me once on the phone, yet when I arrived, I was welcomed as a full member of the staff and got to work. We had long and frank discussions about many things right away: how to raise and discipline children, the scandals affecting the church and how it affects both of us, a life lived without a partner (I can identify all too well to that one), how to be a father figure to many young people and not just a priest, how to live on less money, how to get funds for projects, and the many aspects of American life, Asian life, and African life. We have had open and often deep conversations and have found ourselves alike in many ways. I believe we have found true friendship.

Everyday I went to the priest’s house and worked on the computers, joked with the young migrant workers who Father is helping and advising, interacted with any people who are working on their own projects, shared time with the young Brother (Bernard) who is also assigned in NBL as a nurse and generally just hung out with a group of young and dedicated people who are as human as the rest of us. In NBL, I have met other brothers from many countries and varying ages and find them very curious and interested in me and my life.

For Father and Brother and the other Brothers working here and at projects attached to the church, I can see that their lives are really rich, less complicated in some ways, but at the same time filled with regular human interaction that seems less “religious” but more caring. That makes a religious life seem more real to me. I think about what they don’t have to deal with: writing resumes, seeking a job, dealing with a complicated personal relationship, finding money for basic living expenses, having children that upset and frustrate them, being thrown out of their house or losing all to these hard times. I also think of what they have: a community that they will always be a part of no matter how they change or mistakes they make, a chance to learn languages and travel to foreign places, education that they do not have to pay for, work that is meaningful and rewarding, a spiritual life, and, to me, a kind of simpler and more “clean” life filled with less drama.

So, I asked Father a few questions (some I took from The Actor’s Studio) to try and know him a bit more.

Renee: Please tell us your favorite word:

Father: Balance. This was the word that I was told to reflect upon when I was in high school by a priest I knew. He told me it was fine to study and try to be successful in life, but it was important to achieve a balance in all aspects – social, academic, spiritual, etc… I always took this word to heart. And nowadays, I’m advising young people using this very same word.

Renee: Please tell us a story from your childhood that has stayed with you:

Father: When I was a child in Vietnam, about five or six years old, I had very vivid memories of my father riding on a motorcycle coming home to visit me, my brothers and sisters. I remember he brought us presents. But the irony is, I didn’t meet my father for the first time until I was nine years old. My mom was pregnant with me at the time when my father fled Vietnam for the U.S. near the end of the Vietnam War. It was years later that the family was reunited. I must have developed my own memory of my father from the stories that my mom and siblings told me. But to me, this is a very real memory.

Renee: Please tell us a song that always seems to be ringing in my mind:

Father: There is a Vietnamese church song that I often sing to myself when I’m walking alone or driving alone. Part of the lyric is like this: Oh God, let my heart be filled with love, so that no matter how bitter life becomes, I will always love You only, so that my life would not be lonesome.

Renee: What was your biggest challenge as a teenager?

Father: As a young person, one of my most challenging issues was how to reconcile my cultural identities – to be Vietnamese as well as be American. The other aspect was how to be proud and committed to my religion without being different from the rest of my peers.

Renee: Who has helped you in your youth?

Father: I think the friends I made were actually the most helpful. I picked friends that I knew were not so stuck on you having to be this way or that way. I also picked friends who were bi-cultural as I was. They were all very proud of being Asian or Vietnamese or whatever, but they were also very American as well. Of course, I also had lots of non-Asian friends. But my closest friends tended to be the hyphenated type (Vietnamese-American, Chinese-American, etc..)

Renee: Are you a reader and what books do you like to read?

Father: When I was in junior high, my older brother was preparing me for the SAT, so he gave me a lot of books to read. I remember reading War and Peace, Crime and Punishment as an 8th grader. Later I read a lot of 19th century English novels. I would say these classic novels made the most impression on me. I suppose the reason I like these novels is because it’s nice to see people speak to each other in a refined manner, even if they’re plotting against each other.

Renee: Who was your favorite saint growing up?

Father: I don’t know when I first heard about Fr. Damien the Leper (who was canonized last year), but his story made a tremendous impression on me. Fr. Damien came to Molokai, a island in Hawaii to serve the lepers who were made to live in a colony there. Eventually, he also caught the leprosy and died of the disease. Leprosy has deep meanings for Christians because of the many stories of Jesus curing people afflicted with leprosy in the Bible. Fr. Damien’s story ignited in my mind the thought I could go somewhere far to serve those who are ostracized by society. His life inspires me to want to model my life as someone who lives in solidarity with those on the margins of society.

Renee: What does your vow of celibacy mean to you?

Father: My own vow of celibacy means that I can afford to live out my priestly vocation with the greatest commitment to God and to those whom I serve possible. It is of course challenging, but it is also a source of great feeling of freedom.

Renee: What does your vow of poverty mean to you?

Father: My vow of poverty helps me to find a place next to the poor and the marginalized and can enter into solidarity with them. For me, this is a place of great privilege because God is most present in those who are suffering. Being in solidarity with the poor means being in solidarity with God Him/Herself.

Renee: What makes you happy?

Father: I’m happy when I can exercise regularly can keep myself in good shape.

Renee: What makes you unhappy?

Father: I’m unhappy when I let my hot temper get the best of me.

Renee: If you had contracted HIV before becoming a priest, what would you have done?

Father: Maybe throw myself in front of a moving train. But now that I live and work with people with HIV/AIDS on a daily basis and understand it in ways that I didn't understand before, I certainly wouldn't be so extreme.

Renee: What noise do you like to hear?

Father: I like sounds of dry branches falling to the ground in a quiet forest.

Renee: What noise do you dislike?

Father: I dislike sounds of motor vehicles honking.

Renee: What other profession would you have liked to do?

Father: It depends on what stage of life I was in. When I was younger, I wanted to be an astronaut. At that time I really enjoyed reading about the Solar System and the Galaxy. Then I thought about being a journalist or a writer because for a while I was really into reading books. I also thought about being a psychologist so I can help people solve their problems. In college I set out to be a doctor because I wanted to cure sick people, especially those who were poor. Now, I’m a missionary priest. But I still have options for the future. Being a priest doesn’t necessary prevent you from having other professions. In fact, it gives you even more opportunities.

Renee: What is the best thing about living in Thailand?

Father: Really delicious tropical fruits.

Renee: What is the best thing about Vietnam?

Father: Speaking and hearing your mother tongue everywhere you go.

Renee: What is the best thing about California?

Father: The weather

Renee: If you meet St. Peter at the pearly gates of heaven, what would you like to hear God tell you?

Father: “You have friends waiting inside.”

Friday, May 28, 2010

Overcoming language barriers in the mission field


1 June 2010

When I came to Thailand in 2007, the first thing that I did was study Thai. I enrolled myself in a language school in Bangkok and spent the large part of my day pining away at the Thai language – grammar, vocabulary, pronunciation, and eventually , reading and writing Thai characters. Fortunately, I somewhat have a gift for language because I managed to pick it up rather fast. A few months later, I could read simple writings, order my food at the restaurant, negotiate prices at the market place, and understand the fights that occurred on Thai TV drama.

Nonetheless, people told me that the Thai that I was learning was not going to be the Thai that people in the Northeast, where I would end up working, were using. People in the Northeast didn’t speak Thai, they said. They spoke Isan. What? Isan! What’s that? It’s like Laotian, they said. I was a little bit worried. How was I going to understand them if we didn’t speak the same language?

Still, I persisted with learning Thai because it was the national dialect. After my language preparation time was over, which consisted of five months of studying at the language center and another three months of self-study, I packed up my belongings and moved up to the Northeast. I was expecting to find myself in a totally different country with a different language, but it turned out to be a lot less scary than I thought. As it turned out, people in the NE did speak Thai. And they did understand what I was saying. I also understood what they were saying, that is, unless they spoke Isan.

Isan is the local dialect of the people of the Northeast, which is the biggest region of Thailand. It’s comprised of many provinces. And the Isan spoken in Khon Kaen isn’t necessarily the same as the Isan spoken in Sakon Nakhon or in Nong Bua Lamphu. Still, it was the Isan language, and people who spoke Isan generally understood each other. People in this region converse with each other using the Isan dialect. However, in official settings, ceremonies, the classrooms, and the like, people used the “Central language,” which is the dialect used by the people in Bangkok and the central region of Thailand. I was grateful for this reality.

It’s been over two years since I’ve lived in the NE, and if I were asked whether I could speak Isan yet, I’d have to truthfully say that I still can’t. Isan dialect has its local vocabulary, and its own method of intonation, which I have not been able to catch on yet. Not that I’ve actually tried to learn. I’m just happy to be semi-fluent in the language that I started out with.

Still part of me wishes I could speak Isan. I envy my assistant who is from the Northeast and can make children laugh in the colloquial language. I get frustrated when I go visit the elderly in the village and have to pretend to understand their answers to my question, which are almost always spoken in Isan.

Right now, I have not made it a goal yet to be able to speak Isan. Although, I do find that as the days go by, I’m beginning to understand the Isan more, sort of like the way the old folks understand my central Thai but don’t speak it. There’s less guessing or pretending going on than before.

Indeed, to be able to communicate in the same language is so important to building relationships and intimacy. It is a challenge on the part of foreign missionaries like myself to overcome barriers of language, culture, customs, and worldviews. It is a daunting task, but it can be done if we are willing to listen and be patient. Eventually, that word that the people pronounce so differently from the way you’ve learned in school will suddenly sound familiar and natural. And you don’t even realize that it’s being pronounced in a different way.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Responding to love with love: a church youth group’s encounter with a blind beggar

By Lê Nhân Tâm

Love is best repaid with love. This is what the members of the youth group from St. Michael Archangel Catholic Church in Nong Bua Lamphu, NE Thailand discovered today when they went out onto the street to ask for donations for the victims of the January 12 earthquake in Haiti that killed and injured hundreds of thousands of people and left millions homeless.

Like people all over the world, people here in Thailand were left dumbfounded by the amount of damage that took place in this small and poverty stricken Carribean nation. Appeals were made for assistance by government, non-government and religious organizations all over the country to assist the Haitian people in their time of need, just as Thai people received assistance and support when it was struck by the catastrophic tsunami some years ago. Thai people have been generous in responding to the call for help.

When the church youth group, which was composed of members who were students, young migrant workers, and teenage orphans infected with HIV, heard about the appeal from the Thailand Catholic Bishops’ Conference for all churches to join hands to help the peopler in Haiti, they readily responded. After a short discussion, the group decided that the following Saturday, it would go to the local market place with posters and boxes asking for donation. The group would get together at the church at 9 o’clock in the morning and head out to the market by 9:30.

When Saturday came, people arrived as planned. Only some of the members were missing because they were busy with other activities that couldn’t be helped. As they got down from the church pick up truck to go stand in a public place to ask for money, the feeling of nervousness were apparent on their faces. No one in the group had ever done this before. They had not even thought of exactly what they would say to the people passing buy. They weren’t sure how the people would respond to them. Would people trust them to give them money? Would people criticize them or speak unkindly to them? Sure, they were all wearing shirts imprinted with the church logo, and the poster had a letter and contact information of the parish priest to show that they were not some group trying to make a buck off other people’s pain and suffering. But still, they were nervous.

The group made its way to the entrance way of a bank. It was Saturday morning, so the bank would open later than normal. It was located only a few meters from the local market where people sold fruits, vegetables, meat and other goods in their individual stalls. In front of the bank, various people had also set up “shop” there. One man was selling sunglasses. Four or five people had their cases opened, and inside the cases were displays of lottery tickets.

In front of the bank is a good place to wait for customers. No one knew this better than the beggar who was also sitting on the edge of the sidewalk next to one of the lottery ticket salesmen. He was a man about 40 years old. He was apparently handicapped because he had a cane lying behind him on the gutter. He was also blind. This was certainly no ordinary beggar because he also had a “sound system” complete with amplifier, a CD player, and a microphone to help him with the business of begging. The beggar was talking on the microphone when the group came, asking people going about their errands to spare whatever they could. A song was simultaneously being played on his sound system. His voice was quite attractive. If he was in a better situation, perhaps he would be a radio D.J.

The group stood about five meters from the beggar, not wanting to crowd his space. They held up their posters and hesitantly started to make greetings to passerbys asking for donation for earthquake victims. They had to be urged to speak more boldly and to all people because many were still too shy to make a sound. The first few people started to put money in the box and the youth became more encouraged. They began to speak a bit louder than before. More people heard them, including the blind beggar sitting close to them.

To the young people’s surprise, the blind beggar did not become in the least annoyed by the competition from the group. On the contrary, once he found out by his keen ears that the group was there to ask for donations for the earthquake victims in Haiti, a country that not many Thai people had even heard about before this natural disaster occurred, he started to speak into his microphone that he wanted to make a contribution. And as it was difficult for him to walk, he asked that they come to him to accept the money. One of the youth group members approached him with the tin cookie can covered with pink paper and had the words “Help Haiti” written on it. He took out the money from his pocket, the money that he collected from his own begging and put it into the box.

It was a gesture that made every member of the youth group both surprised and humbled—surprised because a blind beggar knew exactly what the group was doing and what was going on in Haiti that called for this effort. And humbled because even a blind and lame beggar who didn’t even have much could afford to contribute to their little fundraising drive. The feeling of admiration for the blind beggar came from the 11th grade girl who was the leader of the youth group, and from the 14 year old boy who was infected with HIV, and all the rest who realized that generosity was not something that only the people with means have a monopoly on. Rather, caring for the poor, sharing with those less fortunate, and being in solidarity with the suffering was something that even the poorest of the poor and the most unfortunate of the unfortunate can do extraordinarily well.

The blind beggar did not only stop at giving a donation, but the entire time that the group was standing at the entrance of the bank, the man continually used his microphone to appeal to the conscience of people making their way through the group and of those sitting nearby but had not yet budged. His concerns no longer centered on his own needs but the needs of the earthquake victims who his eyes couldn't see. With his own generous gesture and constant appeal, the blind beggar made those sitting around him unable to simply watch but also had to make their own contributions, even if just 10 or 20 baht. The youth group themselves also felt they had to reply kindness with kindness. They bought food and drinks and bought it to the man and thanked him for his generosity. The people around were impressed by the simple and honest exchange of kindness between the beggar and the youth group members. One of the group leaders said afterward, “Today we witnessed a small miracle.”

By the time the youth group left the marketplace two hours later, it had collected twice the amount of money it hoped for. Their voices calling out to people passing by, whether walking or driving cars, riding motorbikes or sitting on tuktuks became more bold and easily heard even from a distance. By that time some members had even gone to the large street intersection to call out to the people stopping at the red light. Quite a bit of money was received there. Perhaps the people in the cars were impressed that teenagers were taking their time out on a Saturday morning to stand in the hot sun to collect money for perfect strangers in another country.

But back at the entrance of the bank, the youth group had to move because the bank was opening and cars had to go in and out. The youth group said good bye to the blind beggar and thanked him once more for his generosity. The blind man offered to make a second donation, but one of the older members of the group told him that his first donation was more than enough. They were very grateful for his help already.

Back at the church, as the group was eating lunch together – a simple meal consisting of sticky rice, papaya salad, fried eggs and fish, they talked about what had taken place that morning. A question was asked: “What impressed you the most about our activity this morning?” One of the teenage orphans replied simply and succintly, “The blind beggar.” He didn’t expound on his comment, but all understood what he was thinking. No one in the group had a different answer.

"I tell you the truth, this poor widow has put in more than all the others. All these people gave their gifts out of their wealth; but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on." Luke 21:3-4