Apaw was once a drug addict but he found freedom through the rehab program at Operation Dawn. After he finished he was mentored and is now one of the staff at the center. Dating and such is not allowed at the rehab center, but as Dao and Apaw studied together in classes they began to realize their feelings went beyond friendship. Dao’s year of rehabilitation was coming to an end but Dao and Apaw decided to try a long distance relationship.
When Dao’s year was up, we faced another challenge. Dao is from Bangkok but she did not feel safe returning and was afraid the abuser might track her down. She was also afraid her relatives might sell her out to the man. We contacted Tamar in Pattaya and they agreed to take her into their program. There, Dao received inner healing and discipleship. She was invited to join their outreach teams going to the rural areas to do ministry.
Dao and Apaw’s relationship grew deeper. Even though it was a long distance relationship, they now had the freedom to talk and get to know each other. They shared common dreams for serving God in ministry. A wedding date was chosen and when Dao finished the program at Tamar, she moved back up north to prepare for the wedding.
Dao is an orphan. She was raised going back and forth between her grandmother and her aunt. Dao’s relatives were not very involved, at least not in a positive way. Dao was getting married and she needed guidance so, at her request Pon, director of NightLight Foundation, gladly stepped into the role of wedding planner. Since Dao has no parents, she asked if Jeff and I would stand with her in the wedding as parents. Our names (and Nella, the Dutch director of Tamar) were put on the wedding invitations (in Chinese) as parents of the bride.
Dao looked stunning on her wedding day. At the sound of a gong and a Chinese announcement the ceremony began. Jeff walked Dao down the aisle and gave her hand to Apaw. The guests were mostly either staff of the center or residents of the program. When it came time for the vows, two people from very different cultures, brought together through their victory over drug addiction turned shyly to face each other. Fighting back tears, Apaw spoke his vows in Chinese and Dao, tearfully responded by giving hers in Thai. They chose their heart languages to communicate their love and commitment. Firecrackers exploded to announce the marriage and then a Chinese feast to celebrate.
Apaw built their first home, a simple thatched hut, on the ground of the rehab center. Dao proudly took us to see her one room home. She admitted it was simple but it was theirs and she was excited. Dao had grown up in the city where the happiness index seems to be measured by possessions. The insatiable appetites of abusers had exploited her need for love and belonging and had nearly destroyed her. God brought Dao out of exploitation, out of drug addiction, and out of an orphan identity. Nestled between the rural mountains of the north, in a simple thatched hut on the grounds of a small rehab center, Dao and Apaw have found a place of belonging, together now in the place they call home.