We first heard about Deer at our home church in Denver--Colorado Community Church. The Director of the Im Jai House, a woman named Ladda, had traveled to the US to visit friends and churches in order to raise money and awareness for her orphanage. She took the stage of our church and told her remarkable story. She herself was orphaned by leprosy and grew up in an orphanage. As an adult she felt called to care for the fatherless in Thailand. She opened up Im Jai with a ton of faith and only $40. By the time Deer arrived, there were just over 50 children there and she became their youngest resident. Following her arrival, the facility and staff were at their max, so only a couple more children trickled in over the years.
After Ladda had made her plea on stage, Mark and I visited her table in the church foyer. We told her we'd like to sponsor a child. She asked us if we would sponsor Im Jai's newest addition--a little girl named Deer. We saw her cute picture in a black and white photo copy in a binder that Ladda had with her. We began that day to send money monthly to Im Jai's stateside foundation in order to pay for Deer's food, housing, schooling, medical care, extracurricular activities and savings account.
Our first mail from Im Jai described Deer and her arrival. It included this photo and said that her favorite food was fried rice and her favorite subject was drawing (those two things have not changed!).
Back to 2003: at that time, Mark was finishing up his Masters of Divinity at Denver Seminary and we were raising support to be missionaries with Cadence International. It was a sweet time with our newborn daughter, as we crammed in time with our families in Denver and packed a huge shipping container full of our earthly goods and ministry supplies in order to move to the other side of the planet. We moved to Okinawa, Japan in January of 2004 and began our career running the Harbor, with a vision to exalt Christ in the nations through the lives of transformed military people.
A year into our lives in Japan, Mark felt called by God to lead a small mission team of active duty men to the Im Jai House. On March 10, 2005 he left for Thailand with 4 men who he was discipling. I was four months pregnant with Abby Grace and Zoe and I stayed behind.
The team preparing to leave.
On their way! The guys were there during the Im Jai kids' spring break in school. They basically took the kids all over Chiang Mai on field trips: to the snake farm, to ride water buffalo (who knew you could do that!?), the kids' first train ride, swimming in a huge river waterfall, and more.
Mark's first time meeting Deer. She was 7 and so precious. He brought this picture home in a wooden frame that has sat next to my kitchen sink ever since that trip. Hence, it's water damaged and stuck in the frame, but it's still sitting next to my kitchen sink right now. On this trip Mark bought Rebekah a green bike and a barbie (she reminded us of that this evening).
This is sweet Zoe during the week her daddy was gone meeting her big sister (of course none of us knew that at the time!).