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Episode 2 – Ryan and Rebecca Stowell – Thriving in Thailand

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Music connects with me intimately. A beautiful song can transport me to my youth or help me to empathize with another that I cannot understand because of our circumstances. A melody can gently rock one to sleep or inspire one to break down boundaries that seem insurmountable. It’s among the purest forms of expression that we have in this world. A song can often expose the soul of the composer, it can bond us mortals, and it’s among the greatest forms of praise we have to offer to a God that would offer his own Son as sacrifice for our own iniquities.

One of my all-time favorite artists is a Christian band called Switchfoot. Their lead singer Jon Foreman writes poetry in a way that impacts me deeply as if the words were needles darting straight into my veins and literally revitalizing my flesh. At the end of my time at the restaurant, I remember wondering if I could ever fully explain what I felt in the darkest of times. Don’t misunderstand me; over the course of my restaurant career I experienced many great times but running a restaurant can often feel like you’re being squeezed to death by a boa constrictor and every breath is fire in the lungs. Then Jon Foreman penned the following lyrics…

Been fighting things that I can’t see
Like voices coming from the inside of me
Like doing things I find hard to believe in
Am I myself or am I dreaming?

I’ve been awake for an hour or so
Checking for a pulse but I just don’t know
Am I a man if I feel like a ghost?
The stranger in the mirror is wearing my clothes

No, I’m not alright
I know that I’m not right
A steering wheel doesn’t mean you can drive
A warm body doesn’t mean I’m alive

That’s a bit of a long introduction, but I think it’s important to help facilitate understanding of one of our missionaries. When I spoke to Ryan and Rebecca this week it was easy for me to reflect on the beginning of their journey to Thailand. For most, the place they were at emotionally before getting their call might be hard to understand. The stress and the pure drain that can come from the responsibilities of a small town restaurant can be flat out overwhelming, and sometimes you don’t even know it until you wake up, get dressed, and realize that there’s a “stranger in the mirror wearing my clothes.” I have to believe from my own experiences that this is where Ryan was at when he prayed, “God I don’t care where you send me or what your plans are for me, just make it clear and I’ll go.” This is the type of prayer you generally only pray after you have taken a few hits and frankly are a little desperate. Fortunately, God would meet them not just with a steering wheel, but also with a map just a few hours later.

When Rebecca walked into the gift shop of the Country Bounty later that day she checked her email and found something that would send them on a journey that would show time and time again that God will meet you, lead you, and love you wherever you are. The email had one sentence in the body, “Ryan I think God is calling you to Thailand.” It was an email sent from a family member who had stumbled upon an organization called Frontier Labourers for Christ who were looking for someone with food service and hospitality experience to come and run their facility and host the groups that would be staying at their facility during times of education and spiritual formation. Ryan was 40 years old and had been in the hospitality industry for a staggering 30 years and was looking desperately for a way to leave and go anywhere that God would call him. Seems like God was screaming at him.

It can be very easy to see a time like this in our own life and then spend months trying to figure out all the little details and seeing if it’s even doable, and often times we miss an opportunity simply because we don’t just start taking steps in that direction. Typically, it just starts with taking the first step. For Ryan and Rebecca, they prayed about it that night, inquired about it the next day, and six months later they were on a plane headed to Thailand. Now they spend time thinking about how they didn’t have any of the tools you would expect you would need to take on a task of this magnitude. For example, together they spoke English and a few words of Spanish that they had picked up in the kitchen of the restaurant, most of them less than savory. When I typed “What language is spoken in Thailand?” into Google, the first article I read listed 28 different languages and dialects, and none of them were English or Spanish swear words. This didn’t matter to Ryan and Rebecca. They had been called and they were going.

When they got to Thailand, life was a mix of finding schools for kids, learning how to function in a new society, learning the language, and of course trying to run a facility that had a ton of immediate needs. Let’s just say it was beyond crazy. That wasn’t enough though so they decided to invite two young women into their home to help with room and board as they studied at a local vocational school. Through all the craziness, they came to know one gentleman who would change their purpose in Thailand and change their lives forever. The father of one of these young ladies, a man named Lawpa, was running a dorm that housed 26 students from the hill tribes in northern Thailand. He was helping them receive a general education, but resources were stretched thin and Lawpa needed help. Ryan and Rebecca started serving at the dorm and fell in love with the children.

In order to understand where many of these children come from, you must dig into some of the local history. Myanmar, we know it as Burma, is a country that shares a border with Thailand. It sits Northwest of Thailand and is currently in the midst of the world’s longest running civil war, which dates back all the way to 1948. This has been a bloody conflict that has often included genocide and mass executions. Many village people on the outskirts of Burma have had to flee for sanctuary to bordering countries like Thailand. However, Thailand doesn’t recognize them as citizens of their country either so many of these people are now completely stateless and unwanted by any local government. Not only is obtaining education and employment almost impossible in this situation, it also has become a breeding ground for the ugliest parts of mankind like human trafficking and supplying the sex trade. Lawpa was one of the people that had to flee Myanmar and ended up living in a small village in Thailand afraid and unwanted.

However, God called to him even in the worst of times. A missionary came and shared a meal and the gospel, and Lawpa discovered Christ and the Bread of Life that he offers. Over years of service to Christ, he started a dorm that brings kids down from the villages of the refugees and boards them while providing them with an opportunity to gain an education and skills that may help them obtain a vocation at some point. In talking with Ryan and Rebecca, it’s apparent to me Lawpa has a heart that is so overflowing for Christ and for his people that no walls or barriers can stop him from loving on these kids and sharing the gospel message with them. Through Ryan and Rebecca’s time with Lawpa it started to become clear to them that they had been called out of the mountains of Colorado and straight into the hills of Thailand. After some years had passed, Lawpa asked Ryan and Rebecca if they would help him provide for these marginalized people, and through prayer they deemed that this is where they were needed.

Ryan had made some great connections over the years and decided that just like when they first decided to move to Thailand, they needed to just take the first steps. He met with Family Connection Foundation and pretty much figured all he could do was ask if this was a project that they would be interested in helping get off the ground. Nonprofits can operate very differently in other cultures, and in parts of the world they are somewhat viewed with skepticism as governments see these places as people looking for ways to exploit their systems. However, Family Connection Foundation is instrumental in this part of the world, as they help bridge the gap between places like the Seed of Hope and the government. When they told him that this would be a great fit, Ryan says he almost ‘fell off his chair.’ They were now becoming a more legitimate organization and the pieces just kept coming together. Every step of the way Ryan and Rebecca could look down and see a line of tracks where God had gone before them.

The dorm has come a long way since the Stowells and Lawpa were able to partner up and share their skills and resources. This year alone, they are going to start construction on a new education center with a library, art room, computer room and guest quarters for volunteers of the dorm. They have successfully raised enough funds for a second vehicle so that they don’t have to pack the 30 students living in the dorm in the back of one truck to get them to and from school. Finally, they have developed a comprehensive financial planning program where people from all over the globe can sponsor the children and pay for their portion of the operating expenses of the Seed of Hope Dorm. As of last week, all the kids are at least partially sponsored for the coming year. The last big financial need that’s on their ticket is a piece of rice land that would be farmed and used to feed literally tons of rice to the students at the dorm, making this the gift that would keep on giving. In order to supply this rice land they are trying to raise $27,000, which can seem insurmountable at times. However, when they look back at all the needs that have been met they realize that God is so much bigger than any price tag.

Ryan and Rebecca are just normal people from a small town in Colorado. They have two boys, who have both recently graduated high school. They have friends and family, and they deal with all the same joys and tragedies we all do. This past year, Ryan’s father passed away after a lengthy battle with cancer. They have experienced joy and fear, love and despair in the past years just like all of us that share in the human condition. What then makes them so special and allows them to accomplish so much for the glory of God’s kingdom? How can we learn from what they are doing? As I pray for them and talk to them, I am constantly reminded that as God presents opportunities, I need to just start taking the first steps. With that simple action even a couple people from a small town in Colorado can find a place all the way across the globe to share the gospel of Christ. They can teach people who may feel unloved that there is a God who is seeking them passionately and will love on them more than they could ever fully comprehend.

Though the Seed of Hope Dorm is having some financial success, even recently Ryan and Rebecca are still not even close to fully supported. They currently are about $1,500 per month short of their goal for support. God has been faithful and provided enough over the years to cover the deficit. We know that God’s work is being done in Thailand and at the Seed of Hope, and in faith we know that God will provide the necessary resources. However, if we constantly assume that God will simply meet the need then we can often miss God telling us that he wants us to be his instrument in meeting that need. I hope that you consider partnering with Ryan and Rebecca financially. Even if you don’t have the financial means please consider reaching out to Ryan and Rebecca and supporting them in prayer and in the gift of correspondence. Life can be lonely on the other side of the world and a simple note of encouragement can really help when days are hard.

Ryan can be reached at rythai40@gmail.com and you can also email Rebecca at rmsstowell@gmail.com. If you ever have more questions, please feel free to reach out to them and sign up with Rebecca to get her newsletter every month. She does an amazing job at updating their partners and would love to keep you updated as well. If you would like to donate to Ryan and Rebecca personally or to the Seed of Hope just visit this link and select the proper fund under the designation drop down menu.