Category Archives: Humanitarian Me

World AIDS Day: Kefilwe’s Story

“My momma’s got AIDS” the little girl whispered. It was one of those whispers that is so quiet that it knocks your breath away, like a sonic boom. Her skin was like copper, hardened, darkened, but smoother than silk. She had a pock-mark on the corner of her forehead, near where her coarse, black hair began to embrace her head. I couldn’t help but think that she looked beautiful. Her dirty “Adiddas” shirt had questionable smears on it, which made my stomach turn. Pathetic and beautiful.

“I’ve never met someone with AIDS until now,” I whispered back. She nodded, knowingly. “Neither did I until my daddy got sick. He’s gone. My momma was mad at him when she found out. She told me that he shouldn’t have done it, that it was wrong for him to do that to her. I don’t know what she meant, but I guessed it meant that if you have AIDS it means you’re a bad person.” I listened to her as we bumped our way over the dry, lumpy grass road.  I glanced around to see if I could find my water bottle. I wasn’t used to the feeling of dust continually clinging to my skin. We were driving to a medical compound, which according to my uneducated guess, must be even closer to the Kalahari Desert than we already were. It seemed surreal. I vaguely tried to connect the string of events that got me here, but I quickly gave up doing so. However I got here, I was here. Just for this week. But I was in a different world.

But Kefilwe, my copper-skinned companion, actually probably had known many people with AIDS before her dad.  At least one-fourth of the people in her little African Village were HIV positive, which is actually normal in Botswana (and much of Southern Africa). I shook my head.  I knew Kefilwe’s mom was dying. Maybe if we could get the drugs to her sooner, but she had an advanced case of Tuberculous, as well. I guessed she had less than a month to live. This poor little girl worked so hard. From sunrise, to sunset she would do what little she could to make her mom’s life less miserable. I marveled that my neighbor’s kid back in the States, the same age as Kefilwe, ate Lucky Charms, went to school, Karate, and then after dinner would watch TV, or maybe go outside to catch fireflies.  All the while this girl would be mushing who-knows-what, and then cooking it over a fire for her and her mom to eat. Or maybe she would be fetching water from that stinky mud-hole three miles away to cool off her mom’s forehead. The only reason I actually believed this nonsense, that Kefilwe’s drastically different life was actually real, was because I had watched her live it for a few days now. And she didn’t complain about it. Which must mean that its normal, because if it was my neighbor kid living Kefilwe’s place, there would be hell to hear.

“Do you think only bad people have AIDS?” she questioned. “I don’t think my momma’s bad. She doesn’t look pretty, but she’s not bad. The witch-doctor said that my momma has an evil spirit. But the church-people say that God is punishing her.” My mind wandered. I knew that in Botswana, although a large portion of its people consider themselves Christian, many practice a traditional African religion as well, referred to here as Badimo. Although I considered witch-doctors something of story books, I couldn’t help but wonder if we were not so different in America, practicing multiple beliefs at the same time while only claiming one.

“Kefilwe, have you gone to school?” I asked. Kefilwe just looked at me confused and then turned back to admiringly study the new stuffed polar bear someone with us had given her. I wondered if she even had a clue of what a polar bear was.  Another passenger took advantage of her distraction, leaned over, and proceeded to explain to me that the small school which had serviced Kefilwe’s village shut down five years ago when both the teachers had passed away because of AIDS. The passenger, who worked for Peace Corps, continued by telling me that if a country who was a major world-player, like India, China, or Russia had the same AIDS infection rate as this area in Africa, their economies would also falter. Yet, because of their global influence, it would create a domino effect in the economies of the world.  I looked at the Peace Corp with skepticism. She explained that a huge portion of Africa’s labor force had already succumbed to AIDS, creating gaps all over society and overwhelming barriers to growth. I knew that India already had a high rate of AIDS infection. I had never considered the effect of such a disease on a whole country before, let alone its effect on a continent, or the world at large.

Kefilwe eventually looked up from her polar bear, picking up our conversation again: “My momma says she won’t come back soon, and it will happen just like when my daddy died. She said she will look even skinner, and not talk much before that happens. She told me I don’t have to cry when she won’t let me feed her.” I smiled sadly. It’s not everyday I hear such a young child talk about sickness and death. She will soon be added to the fourteen million children who have been orphaned in Southern Africa because of AIDS. “My momma says I need to get that medicine for myself so I don’t end up like her and daddy. Momma says you have that medicine. She said you could get it for me. She said that the nice people in your village will hear about how we need their help, and they will bring us back the medicine.” And then she looked up at me with such big eyes full of hope.

Kefilwe wasn’t aware that she was already HIV positive. She never had a choice- she was born with it. A little knowledge, basic medical assistance, and access to antiretroviral drugs could have easily kept her from this fate. Instead Kefilwe is a statistic, one of the 400,000 babies born with HIV yearly. But on a positive note, she had made it this far. Half of the children born with HIV don’t even live past age two. I began to wonder about Kefilwe’s future: “Do you have any brothers or sisters, Kefilwe?” “I have a sister who is almost five, and we had a baby brother. He died last year.” I began to panic. Kefilwe was the oldest of two HIV positive girls. Would Kefilwe have someone to take her in, and regularly give her the antiretroviral drugs? Or would she become the head of her household? I shuttered. Kefilwe was six-and-a-half.

As if she knew what I was thinking, Kefilwe scooted across the ripped-seats, shyly grabbed my arm, and began to sing. Her tiny voice was shaky and off-pitch. But as I smiled down at her, she sang beautifully louder. Soon everyone else riding with us either joined with her song, or was grinning at her. We soon arrived at the clinic, and I begin to help the medical workers process their new clients. Because of the antiretroviral drugs (AVRs) we were able to deliver, these individuals would not only survive, but probably would even thrive for years. At least as long as they had access to them.

After helping distributing the AVRs with me, Kefilwe tugged at my pant leg and asked me for a drink. I stooped to her level, took her little hands, and closed that first forty-cent pill within her fingers. I hoped my family would not mind the ramifications of what I was about to say. I took a deep breath, locked Kefilwe eyes with mine and then promised her that it would all be okay, that I would make sure of it.  Kefilwe glanced down at that life-giving pill and then gazed in wonder back at me. She is my hero, even though she looks at me as if I am hers.

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These are the brutal facts of the AIDS pandemic, the doomsday virus that I sometimes call the greatest humanitarian crisis of all time. But once again I want to stress that there is reason for hope. . . Between 2001 and 2005, prevalence rates fell in Botswana from 38.8 to 24.1 percent . . .” (p.150).

Stearns, Richard. 2010. The Hole in Our Gospel.  World Vision, Inc. Thomas Nelson: Nashville.

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This is a fictitious story based on facts. Kefilwe’s story is meant to give an accurate example of the current situation in Sub-Saharan Africa.

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Blog Action Day: Delicious Water

So I started to workout. Most of the people I know laugh when I say that. Not only do I know next to nothing about sports, I am chronically bad at anything exercise related. I am one of those people who run like I am a girl and throw like a baby. A baby girl. You should see my daughter run. Poor child; she inherited my DNA. Regardless, I am trying to exercise and I am not failing miserably just yet. I keep telling myself just one more minute, and after that one more minute. After awhile I have completed my thirty minutes while gulping down water. Then, I consider doing it again the next day (although usually don’t). And I know the days when I workout can add up like 1+1+1+1+1 . . . until I will have exercised all throughout this autumn, resulting in health and hydration.

I say hydration because I get thirsty.  With feet flailing around as I bounce up and down on the elliptical, or while my heart is pounding faster than my toes can twinkle on the pavement- wouldn’t you get parched, as I do? I feel famished. For water. Which I means I am thirsty. Do you feel hungry when you are thirsty, too?  I remedy this by walking over to my refrigerator, overflowing my glass with ice-cold water as I am distracted, making a puddlely mess on the floor for my toddling son to slip on.  Or if I am not home, I can stick a crisp George Washington in a machine, which then pops out a fresh bottle of water. I pull of the top, twist, snap, and drink deeply from the bliss of agua deliciosa while I consider the fact I used the idiom “George Washington” to refer to a dollar bill for the first time in my life.

It’s somewhat sad then, that a good part of the world experiences thirst and/or only has unclean water. That “part of the world” suffers from sicknesses and diseases found in the nasty water they have, which countless deaths are caused daily by. Some kids can’t go to school because they have to walk to the water source to fetch water. In fact, typically burdened with the responsibility, women’s whole lives are controlled by the time, distance, and weight of water. Think sitting in traffic to get milk for your upset toddler is bad? War and conflicts are also aggravated by the need for clean water. Oh, and here is another largely quoted fact anyone who is anyone  in the global water biz will let you know: “Contaminated water and poor sanitation are factors in 80 percent of all disease in the developing world.” It’s crazy to realize how influential clean water is- it’s one of those things we just don’t get what its like to be without until we’ve experienced it.

There are two specific ways you can help, right now. One is clicking on this post, Delicious Water: Charities about organizations whom you can donate to for clean water. I hope you know that it costs only $1 to give one year’s worth of water to an individual in a developing country (which is the “that part of the world” I mentioned earlier). And, if you partner with other people who give one miserly little dollar, it becomes 1+1+1+1+1+ . . .  Numbers do something. They add up. Last year, raised only by my friends, we came to just shy of $600 for my birthday.  That gave water to 29 people for 20 years. I have no doubt they will appreciate it. As will those whom you give water to.

The second thing you can do is to sign a petition like this one, for the MDG water goals (read about what that is, and what is going on with it in WaterAid’s recent report) I know, petitions seem stupid. But honestly, they are not. Okay, maybe sometimes they are stupid. But, they aren’t asking you to sell your identity by signing them. And numbers do something. They add up: 1+1+1+1+1+1 . . . can quickly become five million voices which someone will pay attention too. I am serious. You know the “Darfur Crisis” which everyone has at least hear of in the U.S.? Yep, that was a complete grassroots movement. It was weird people like me forcing normal people like you to sign petitions until some people heard about it in the media who made the government focus in on it. Not enough has been done about it, but still, at least people know about Darfur. And it is a lot easier for the average joe to buy water for someone than it is for them to stop a genocide. Have I made my point? Sign the water petition already! Otherwise I might start talking about how I get thirsty when I exercise again, and we all know it goes downhill from there.

Lastly, but importantly, spread this. Watch the cool clip on the following link, reminding us why water is so important for us to talk about. if you are a blogger, join in on the Blog Action Day. Or if you don’t blog, Facebook about water. Or tweet about it. Or tell a friend at dinner that they can give you a George Washington right there on the spot which you will donate with your paypal account. Then after that you can come and exercise with me.

Labels, Housewives, and L2F

I am part of an organization, L2F Needs Network. Actually, a best friend (the director of L2F) and I spend the majority of our non-essential-household-taking-care-of-time (there has got to be a better way to say that) running L2F. Well, her more than me- It’s her baby. But I like it too, partially because it categorizes some of my life under a label. I like labels. After studying things like psychology, sociology, and anthropology for so many years I am excellent at analyzing, categorizing, and labeling things. Ironically, we who study the social sciences proclaim the evils of stereotyping and labeling,  but that is pretty much what we do.

I’ve been thinking about labeling because sometimes I want another label in life. Typically I am labeled as a stay-at-home-mom, also known as a homemaker, housewife, domestic engineer. . . or my personal favorite (which is on my business card): domestic goddess. Lots of people understand this label as really meaning one (or all) of three things:

  1. Housewives are too stupid to do something else.
  2. Housewives are obsessed with their kids.
  3. Housewives are super traditional.

Of course, this is only my opinion of what others think, which might not be true at all. Regardless, I don’t like being stereotyped as such because I don’t feel as though I fit into any of these categories. Now, before you cynically remark about why I do fall into category number one, beware, before the character war begin! Case in point: these are the dangers of stereotyping. People only like being labeled into some categories, and not others.

In short, being a stay-at-home-mom is not my dream job. Raising my kids and managing my house are part of my dream job, yes. But, in addition to that I have been consumed with a little thing which I crave from the deepest part of me: Changing the world. I really want to reply, when someone asks me what I do, by saying “Oh, you know, I am a professional world-changer. For the better, obviously. What do you do?” If you really must ask, yes, my business card says “world changer” on it too.

I have spent countless hours psycho-analyzing why I am like this. Nurture, nature, life experience, etc. . .  might all go into it. I could write my life story here, if you really want to know why I am like I am. Thankfully, I will spare you this time.

I am pretty sure that having a label helps you change the world better. For years I have wanted to go back into an official position at an organization, church, non-profit, NGO, or have a profession, in part, just to have a label. People respect you, consult you, or consider you an authority when you have a title. I guess I don’t think people take me seriously otherwise, which annoys me because I think it hinders me. I wrote up the hours I spend doing various activities this week. Trust me, doing dishes and laundry were probably lowest on the list. Which explains why they are not done (and I don’t care). But, time spent trying to make a dent in the world was definitively at the top of my hours-spent worksheet.

Another benefit of the label is the accountability that comes with it. There is a set of responsibilities one has when they are a professional. Professional engineers, spys, dry cleaners, trash men, worm catchers, and even bad guys all have a standard they are expected to meet. Helping out on the side typically has minimal expectations and accountability. Even being an official contract signing volunteer, one has just a few standards to live up to. Yet, as a professional, with a title, the responsibilities and pressure to perform is actually there. I know most people view this as negative, but if you think about it, there can be a lot of positive motivational value as well.

I have semi-successfully been raising a family while trying to serve God by loving others for a few years now. Even though my label might not be what I prefer, I should only be thankful that I am able to raise my kids, that I am able to manage my own time, and I am therefore able spend so much of my time putting into what I believe matters. I might not feel fulfilled in having a dream job as a professional, but I am at least trying to be the first to admit how overwhelmingly blessed I am. I am content in my blessings; blessed by God and my husband, notably.  Regardless of whatever our label is, we can at least still make a difference where we are.

Hence, I wanted to introduce you to L2F (click here to see our blog, still in development). It is part of who I am, and its cool (so I think you should like it). In a nutshell, we pretty much find out about needs, communicate those needs, and try to meet those needs. It’s like we are Robin Hood, but we don’t have to steal from the rich. Which is good, because I would probably have some moral qualms about that. The vision goes beyond just helping people, it is really also just as much about giving others opportunities and teaching them to be world changers. Of course, I am the only one who is a little too ahead of the game, caught up on the phrase “world changers.” Most of us are just excited to be making a difference in Ashburn.  Our motivation is because we love Jesus, and we feel that this is the way He has guided us right now to show His love to our community.

A lot of what we do is through the local schools, but its kinda been all over the place. This week I delivered a bunch of diapers and formula to a social service organization, did some social media stuff, got school supplies for some kids,  talked about assisting a refugee family, helped plan a backpack program for hungry kids at our schools, and packed backpacks for the homeless. See, I told you its a bunch of random stuff! Personally, I love working with immigrants and developing contacts and relationships with those in need, as well as those who are already active in the community. Yet, there is always more to do! In fact, through our church (J10 Church), L2F Needs Network was really able to make a difference in an area that had no assistance directly after the earthquake in Haiti. I’ll conclude by showing a video of that experience below, and here is a link to some pictures a friend, Herb Looney, took while on this trip to Haiti.

Question: I know culture typically considers it morally good to want to change the world. But I have come to realize a lot of people don’t have that urge. Do you, personally, have that passion? What do you feel your responsibility is to your family, community, and the world as a whole? What is one practical step you can take right now, to make a positive difference?

Conversations with Avi: Delighting, Remembering, Doing Good

Image by Laura Wolfgang

Today, I spent about twenty minutes just listening to Avi talk as she walk around our living room, playing. I was laughing hysterically almost the whole time.

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(Avi walked up to me, pointing at the picture she drew on her doodle pad).

“See it mom? Korean girl.”

(I look at the triangle she drew on the pad, trying to remember if I ever taught her the word ‘Korean.’ And thinking it would be pretty cool if she actually had a clue of what that word means).

Me: “Oh, it’s a Korean girl.”

Avi: “Say it.”

Me: “Say what?”

Avi: “Say Korean girl.”

Me: “Um, okay, Korean girl.”

Avi: “No, say it!”

Me: “Say what?”

Avi: “Say it!”

Me: “Sing it?”

Avi: “Ya, sing it?”

Me: “Sing what?”

Avi: “Sing Korean girl.”

Me: “Um, Korean girl?”

Avi: “Ya. I myself did it.”

Me: “Okay. . . that was weird.”

(While I try to comprehend our conversation, Avi walks back over to baby doll, babbling about drawing a picture of “him” [her] and putting “him” to bed. For the next 15 minutes she alternates between having other typically nonsensical conversations with me, and going “night night” on a chair with her baby doll).

Avi: “Em, gonna give baby the toy”

(She picks up some stacking pegs, then goes about dropping them in specific locations on the floor. This must either be creative art or she is practicing war tactics again. If the latter, these landmine-like devices will cause pain in one foot and hopping up and down on the opposite leg. I choose to presume this is an artistic expression, while make a mental note not to step on them).

Avi: “Here mom.”

Me: “Thanks”

Avi: “Your welcome” “Here, three, six, seben. . . . I’m gonna get em mom on my chair on my my my  head.”

(She goes under a chair, pulls out more pegs, and brings them to me as Josh comes up the stairs).

Avi: “Uh oh, a hurry daddy”

Me: “Where are you hurrying to?”

Avi: “Oh look at her [him], its dan its sue . . . What are you doing dad? What’s your hands doing? I hab Toys. I want to have more grandma.”

(drops pegs on me).

Avi: “Oh, Sorry mom, sorry.”

(I think, “Thanks Avi,” as we move on to the next activity- which would be a zip-line in poison ivy. And, you should know I’m not kidding).

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My daughter is a delight. She makes me crazy, grating on my impatience or shocking me with her callous little girl evil. But, its impossible to not love her. It is thrilling to see her discover everything from gravity, to social graces, to language- her ability to soak up the world around her mesmerizes me.

I love enjoying my daughter. Vaguely, in the back of my mind, I know I am blessed. There are many parents who don’t get to enjoy their children. Some parents die, leaving their children orphaned. Some are separated by war or poverty. Others only have languid children, not happy and experiencing life like my daughter is. Their children are sick, thirsty, and hungry. Some other three-year-old children are hurt by the most gruesome forms of oppression. I encourage you to read this story, which gives a glimpse of other stories kids the same age as Avilynne’s experience.

I know I am being a kill joy, but as the radio sings, “. . . you don’t know what you got ’til its gone . . .”‘ I am reminded to try to be grateful before it is too late. I am sure I just lost some of you; I did not just change subject to trees and parking lots. I am still on the subject of being thankful for my little girl. I guess I just want to be so grateful for what I have been blessed and entrusted with, rather than take it for granted. And I don’t want to forget the truth that there are so many whose children suffer.

In the Old Testament God directed the Israelites to do all sorts of things to remember what He had done for them, bringing them out of oppression as slaves in Egypt.  God prescribed holidays and memorials. He wanted them to sing about it, read about it, slap reminders on their foreheads, door frames, and tell their kids over, and over, and over, and over again of what He had done.  It was like God was putting post-in-notes all over their lives, getting them to see the obvious- He is good! God saved! God heard them! God cared!

I have a few post-in-notes in my life, as well. I am overwhelmingly blessed, and sometimes its good for me to remember that. So, thank you God for Avi, “The Father’s delight!” (as her name means).  Just like the Israelites were directed to do, I want to tell Avi as she grows up of how good God has been, and how she is a reminder to me of that. And every time I tell her this, I hope to be spurred on to remember the other children whose lives are anything but full of hope. I have no doubt God sees them, hearing their cries, just like I hear my daughter’s when she has a nightmare. I wish I could see all the stories of how God has intervened on their behalf already. But even more than that, I hope my thankfulness for God’s goodness in my life, overflows as action to change the lives of these hurting children. After all, I have been blessed to bless others. God might have used Moses, plagues, fiery pillars, and a wall of water to save the Israelites. I am sure He can do so again, if He wanted to. But, I am also pretty sure He can use little me.

“So be careful how you live, not as fools, but as those who are wise. Make the most of every opportunity for doing good in these evil days. Don’t act thoughtlessly, but try to understand what the Lord wants you to do.”

Ephesians 5:15-17 NLT

Pray for a Recently Attacked Village in Burma

This makes me sad, knowing this is just happening. This sounds like a typical genocidal displacement the Burmese Army has been conducting with regularity for years. They target villages of minorities and/or minority religions (like Christians, as in this village) and randomly attack them, trying to kill or at least hurt those in the village. Can you take a few minutes to pray for those in this village today? I don’t know much about this ministry, although I have received their updates for awhile.The idea of making cards and sending them to encourage those who survived seemed to be a cool idea. I haven’t researched the organization enough for me to recommend donating to them. Below is the email I received (Somewhat in thick Christianese).

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Brothers and sisters,

   If you are reading this, I am confident in the Lord in you, that the recent events of which I shall describe will be prayed over fervently.  On July 22nd an entire village was assaulted and razed to the ground in E. Burma.  This might not mean that much, perhaps a blip of news from a faraway country that has problems like this all the time, I pray and trust it means not so to thee.  As I prepare to send my team leader in before the sun shines this very moment, hiding in the jungle are countless men, women and children.  The casualty total is not known just yet, nor will it be soon.  The very pulpit of a church in which my Pastor, Joe Tuccinardi, myself, and other brothers have preached in is ashes.  The very schools that were built with men’s hands through the donations of some blessed brethren stand no more.  As I write and hear the monsoon rains I know our brothers and sisters in Christ are burying their dead, hiding in the forest, wet, cold and hungry.  This is one of the brazen attacks recently, and there shall be more.  As I met with some strong brothers in the Lord this evening/night, as they prepare to answer God’s call on their lives going back “home” tomorrow, we lose not hope.  We are not discouraged, we are not destroyed, we will not give up in believing that God shall use this according to His Will, that His sovereign hand was upon all the comings and goings of the Burmese Army.  We prayed for the “enemy”, knowing that they are just in darkness, blind, needing love, compassion and grace to touch their hearts now.  We prayed for all those who are mourning, who have lost more than loved ones, who have no other desire but to till the land and worship Christ peacefully.  More than likely this very moment that you are reading this someone is being raped, someone is starving to death, someone is burying their child but they, nor we shall lose hope, for our hope does not disappoint.  Now is the time to pray more than ever, if I am a voice crying in the wilderness, so be it, I shall call upon the God of Jacob, the Lord of Hosts for only His arm is not shortened, it can save.  Until I have official clearance to release the full report of this massacre, God knows its name and more importantly His sheep that dwell within it.  Pray with us please, your prayers change things.  I am unworthy and so blessed to be laying next to my “miracle” son, and my wonderful wife right now.  I don’t deserve to have a roof over my head for my Savior had none, I don’t have a right to breathe if not for Christ.  As the faces and voices of the brothers and sisters in Muthraw District play over and over in my mind, only smiles, laughing, praying, worshiping, working hard with our hands, enduring hardship without a single complaint are their personifications.  I know not which ones I will see on this earth again, but I am confident that right now some are in a glorious new body, in the presence of the glory of the throne of God. 

   Weep with those who weep, yay, rejoice with those who rejoice, but I encourage thee ne’er to be tween the two, ne’er be in doubt, for our God is mighty, holy and the great I AM.  Please direct your prayers towards Muthraw District, E. Burma, specifically as the Holy Spirit imparts unto thee, or don’t if you have not the time, we still love you the same only because He loved us first. 

    I am writing this as fast as possible, and prayerfully tomorrow the first load of relief will arrive, but God is there and here now, so pray, I beseech thee, as you have been so faithful before to do.  If you feel like writing I will make sure whatever you send (letters, postcards, a hand drawn picture) will be hand delivered to a weary soul in search of a cold cup of water, good news from a far country. If you are moved with compassion to be a part of giving immediate assistance, please don’t hesitate, bibles, rice, plastic tarps, pots, baby clothes and medicine will get to those who need it, and we will rebuild the schools, the churches and the homes, so after the landmines are cleared and the SPDC retreats, warmth and love and fellowship in Christ will continue.  All information is below, all wisdom, power and authority is above, go boldly before the throne of God.

Unworthy to die for Christ,
P. James and the Love in Action team E. Burma
“Please don’t pray that God takes away whatever sufferings He has for us, we thank Him, please pray we may be steadfast and have strength to be faithful until the end”-  Thera Doh **** **, Karen Pastor of the main church that was burnt down when I asked him what does he want prayer for.

Mailing address:
LIA c/o James Garwood
P.O. Box 67
Mae Sariang, Mae Hong Son
Thailand, 58110

Paypal donations:fordomosake@gmail.com

In USA email Pastor Joe Tuccinardi for more details thaicalvary@aol.com

Love in Action
5353 Steamboat Way
Boise, ID 83713