I first met Lamoon two years ago when I was teaching English classes at the local government school. He was always dressed neatly in his well-pressed khaki shorts and white uniform shirt. When I would walk onto the campus in the morning, he would greet me respectfully, palms pressed together and raised in the traditional Thai way, his face beaming. Eager to learn, he would have his notebook open and pencil ready when I walked into the classroom. It was easy to engage with Lamoon as a student. I could see that he was bright and enjoyed the challenge of learning a new language.
Unlike Lamoon, several of his classmates struggled to keep up with the pace of the group lessons. I gave them as much one-on-one instruction as I could. While working with a student individually, I would often look up and see Lamoon helping his peers complete an English assignment I had given them. Lamoon would finish the activity quickly and immediately begin helping others. He was patient and never got frustrated when helping his classmates, no matter how long it took.
During the lunch hour, all the students were tasked with helping to clean up after their meal or tidy up around the school grounds. I would often see small groups of kids running off to hide and avoid helping. Not so with Lamoon. I never saw him attempt to ditch work duty even once. At the end of the day, I would regularly see Lamoon helping to sweep up his homeroom and straighten the desks and chairs. I know that his teachers appreciated having him as a student because they never had to scold him or coax him into doing anything.
During the year that I taught at Lamoon’s school, I was able to attend several special programs. I especially enjoyed seeing the cultural programs the students would perform because they taught me more about traditional Thai culture. The kids would get dressed up nicely in their uniforms or costumes. Sometimes they would sing a special song or share a traditional dance they had been practicing for weeks. I remember watching Lamoon practice with his friends for these events after school. I could see that he was focused on giving a good presentation while having fun at the same time.
One event that left a deep impression on me was a holiday that is celebrated annually in every school in Thailand. On this day each year, the students make beautiful hand-crafted flower arrangements and present them to their teachers to pay respect to them and show their appreciation. The day before the program, I watched Lamoon sitting cross-legged on a woven straw mat on the floor carefully braiding banana leaves together with flowers to make an ornate basket he would offer to one of his teachers. The next day, I saw him bow respectfully at the feet of one of his teachers and present them with the fragrant gift while the teacher touched the top of his head in a sign of blessing. As always, Lamoon’s face beamed with a smile.
When my teaching contract at the government school was finished, I lost contact with Lamoon for some time. Then, a few months ago, we saw him and some of his friends riding their bikes around the village. We invited them to come after school to the learning center to get homework help a couple of days a week. Soon after, Lamoon began coming to the Kids’ Church program for middle-school aged kids every Sabbath afternoon.
One afternoon, I was walking down a narrow road between the rice fields near the learning center with Justus and Jon Marc. Lamoon and his friends came riding along on their bikes on their way to the center. Justus ran over to Lamoon, and immediately Lamoon offered to give him a ride on his bike. Justus struggled to climb onto the rack behind Lamoon’s bike seat. Lamoon quickly slipped off his seat and planted his feet firmly on the ground. Holding the bike with one arm, he helped Justus get seated comfortably with his other arm. Gently, so as not to knock Justus off the bike, Lamoon pushed off slowly and pedaled steadily down the road. Again, Lamoon was beaming with a smile, and his little passenger was just as happy.
In November, we began practicing with the children on Sabbath afternoon for our Christmas program. The highlight of our program was a dramatic reading of the nativity story, which the children would present for their families and neighbors. All the children were dressed up in costumes, and each of them had a character to play. Lamoon’s role was that of the Angel Gabriel who came to announce that Mary would give birth to the Christ Child. Lamoon practiced his lines faithfully and delivered an excellent performance.
Lamoon’s life is not without struggles, however. Outside of school, he sometimes wears a wig and dresses in a feminine way. In his speech, he presents himself alternately as a boy or as a girl (a common practice in Thailand). This makes him a target of bullying. Sometimes boys harass him, and girls tease him about his hair and clothing. We talk with all the kids about bullying and how they need to be kind to each other. But we can’t stop all the bullying, especially what happens outside of the learning center. Yet, through all of this, I’ve never seen Lamoon get angry. He is always gentle, kind and respectful and willing to help those in need.
Like all the children we work with, Lamoon holds a special place in our hearts, and we know that Jesus loves him, too. And like Jesus, we want to help guide Lamoon and his classmates to find the green pastures and the still waters even in the darkest valleys. Please continue to pray that God will help us make the creative learning center a place of refuge and rest for every child.