An aspect of the week that has been stretching has been exposure to two different refugee situations. We went to the community where the Montagnard people, refugees from Vietnam, are gathered. Several hundred live in Bangkok, having fled both religious and economic persecution from the government over the past decade. While they have UN refugee status, they are ignored by the Thai government, cannot work legally, have no source for income, and very little chance that any country will choose them as refugees. They live in perpetual limbo. We sat on the floor of a small room with about 25 of them crowded in with us, while more hovered at the door of the room, and listened as several took turns telling us their stories of land confiscation, prison sentences, and various other forms of persecution. And they beg for help, for someone to sponsor them. It was both a humbling and frustrating experience. There is very little we can do, but very much that needs to be done.
Today we visited other immigrant detainees in the Immigration Detention Center, a prison for people arrested for being in Thailand illegally. While the over-crowded prison has people from many parts of the world, the bulk are from Pakistan. They are people who fled religious persecution there (usually because they are Christian), came to Thailand, but cannot get any legal status here. So they live with no legal jobs, and no opportunity to leave, until the police arrest them and place them in the IDC. They experience of visiting a person you have never met by yelling across a six foot gap between two chain link fences, while surrounded by over a hundred other people also yelling across that same gap at the same time carries quite a bit of power. "I was in prison and you visited me". I stood back at one point and thought about the fact that each of the people on the other side of that fence was a representative of Jesus, in fact he says we were visiting him. God lives in the over looked and the under cared for.