For many years, we as a church have had a relationship with Paul Sommerville and his ministry Empower Asia. In 1990 Paul and his wife Carlie and their kids moved from New Zealand and commenced working amongst pre-teenage boys who were working for a gang that pimped them out as prostitutes to foreign male sex tourists in Patpong, Bangkok. Over a period of four years they planted two homes in Thailand. Following this they were invited to develop homes for teenagers in a number of other countries. In 2002, Phuong, Oran and myself (Caro) along with 3 other young people from Central visited one of these boys home in Khon Kaen, Thailand and then again in 2004 a combined team from Central and C3 Thirroul went to Cambodia to visit one of the boys homes in Phnom Penh which was being run by a good friend of Fred and Janet’s, Donna Byham.
The heart of Empower Asia is to take ‘at risk’ young people and give them an education, introduce them to Jesus, and raise them up to be leaders and influencers within their own countries. What are they ‘at risk’ of? It differs from country to country. At times it may just be the ongoing cycle of poverty where the chance of education is unavailable due to the need for them to be working to support their families. In other places, they are at risk of entering the sex industry, for our Wa boys, it’s the possibility of being taken to join the Wa State Army or enter the methamphetamine drug trade that the Wa organise. At the moment Empower Asia has homes in Thaliand, Cambodia, Nepal, Myanmar, Bhutan and West Bengal, India. There are both boys and girls homes.
Over the years our church has supported homes in Thailand, Cambodia and Nepal. In 2010, our church had been through a time of great change, and we didn’t directly and regularly support any missions work. Paul Sommerville visited us and shared with us his desire to start a home amongst the Wa in Myanmar. There was already one or two Empower Asia homes in Myanmar, but as far as Paul knew there was no Christian mission activity at all amongst the Wa people. Myanmar, as a country, consists of several different people groups (the Bamar, Shan, Kayin, Rakhine, Chinese, Kachin) The Wa are one of the minority groups that together with others only make up 4.5% of the population. In 2002, Time Magazine did a fascinating piece on the Wa which you can read here.
Paul asked us if we would, as a church, consider partnering with him in starting a home for Wa boys. He told us it would be small, long-term, slow, and unsexy mission work, which sounded right up our alley! For us, we’ve always had a belief in how Jesus talked about the kingdom of God as being like yeast or a mustard seed...small, seemingly insignificant, slow to work and grow, yet of great value!
So we prayed together as a church, and to us it felt very much like God’s leading. So we said yes. In many ways, in the beginning, it was our finance working together with Paul’s contacts in Myanmar...and slowly something has taken shape.
It began with 5 boys in 2011, and has grown to include the purchase of land, great house parents, and now 23 boys. The work is not without its challenges, but from the reports we hear back, it seems to be already producing good fruit.
The aim of most Empower Asia homes is to support young people right through from Primary School to University, producing teachers, doctors, lawyers, engineers, nurses (whatever is the dream of these young people) so they can give back into serving their countries in positions of influence as people of faith. With our Wa home, it seems that many of the boys are too far behind in the education to ever possibly get to university, so for many of them finishing school and getting a trade seems a more likely option. Many of them want to go to Bible College, so armed with a trade and some Bible College training, these boys may grow up to work and serve in local villages and towns and take the gospel with them wherever they go.
Today, many of us give regular monthly amounts into the church mission account, which goes towards the Wa home. It’s a bit like sponsoring a child through World Vision or Compassion, except they are kids we are directly connected to as a church and our money goes directly to the work rather than being filtered through a large organisation. Currently, the monthly budget sits at around $1,000. However there is always need for more. If you would like to partner with us in this work you can give into the church missions account BSB 032695 Acc 225850.