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Chance encounter changes lives of two women

By Josiah Brown

Meeting Sirirat Pusurinkham from Thailand changed Nancy Cabe’s life. What started as a chance encounter in Louisville, Ky., has evolved into a 14-year friendship and a ministry with women and orphans in Thailand.

Sirirat and Nancy Cabe
Sirirat Pusurinkham and Nancy Cabe

While sightseeing before a Presbyterian Women’s Churchwide Gathering in 1997, Nancy asked a stranger to take her picture next to a horse. Little did she know she would encounter this stranger several more times at the conference and at her hotel.

This stranger was Sirirat, a recent graduate of San Francisco Theological Seminary, who was returning home to Thailand to be a pastor.

Over the course of their conversations, Nancy began to learn about child prostitution, which was the focus of Sirirat’s doctoral dissertation.  Learning that there were more than 800,000 child prostitutes in Thailand tugged at Nancy’s heart.

After running into Sirirat four times during the conference, Nancy realized “God was bopping her on the head to do something.” Sirirat started sending cross-stitching from Thailand, which Nancy sells at the Jubilee International Marketplace at First Presbyterian Church in Spokane each year.

That first couple of years Nancy received small boxes of cross stitching and was delighted to make a few hundred dollars, but now she receives crates full of it and can raise more than $2,000 at the sale.

For Nancy, this is her way to address the problem of prostitution in Thailand. Because the women in Sirirat’s community can now make a little money through sewing, they don’t have to resort to selling their bodies.

Being the chair of the mission committee at First Presbyterian Church at the time, Nancy was also able to put Sirirat’s project into the church’s mission’s budget. The next year Sirirat made her first trip to Spokane to report to the committee on her ministry.

During Sirirat’s second trip to Spokane, she mentioned she was dreaming of opening an orphanage to take care of six children, who had been orphaned by AIDS. Hearing Sirirat’s estimate that it would cost only $5,000, Nancy said, “Let’s go find some money.”

The orphanage, which ended up costing $34,000 dollars, was finished two years later in 2003.

In 2006 the government of Thailand said the boys would have to leave because they had become teenagers and shouldn’t be living together with the girls. Again without hesitation Nancy decided that they couldn’t kick the boys out. So efforts began to build a second orphanage.

The second dorm was finished in 2008 and cost $84,000. Together the two buildings currently house 26 orphans.

For the building dedication, which Nancy attended, half the village of 5,000 came. Even though the overwhelming majority of the community is not Christian, there is strong local support.

Visiting the orphanage for the first time moved her “to tears over and over.”

Conversing with Sirirat before going she learned neither dorm had any beds. In another leap of faith she told Sirirat to go ahead and buy the beds, and despite some doubts she was able to raise the $3,000 in the short time before she left, from her friends and church community.

“I had assumed that they were sleeping in beds.” Nancy said.

When she arrived the kids were clutching their new beds because most had never had a bed before.

In March 2010, a group, including Nancy, from First Presbyterian Church visited the orphanage for a week. They played games with the children, took them on field trips, and did projects around the orphanage. They also brought money to purchase water purifiers, a washing machine and several commercial sewing machines.

For Nancy it was inspiring to reconnect with the children she met on her first trip.

“They worm their way into your heart. You can’t ignore them, you have to help them,” she said.

More than being just a project she raises money for a couple times a year, the orphanage has become part of her life.

“What started as a random meeting in Louisville evolved into a true friendship,” said Nancy.

When Nancy’s daughter died of leukemia in 2001, Sirirat came to Spokane to offer support and pastoral care.

It is a mutual relationship.

The next time that Sirirat came to Spokane was just after her sister died. So Nancy ministered to her.

In addition, Nancy uses her involvements to benefit Sirirat’s ministry.

Serving on the Presbyterian Church’s Churchwide Gathering Coordinating Team, she was responsible for purchasing tote bags for everyone coming to the gathering. So she contracted with Sirirat for 3,000 bags, providing income for more than 100 women and money for the orphanage.

When Nancy sells cross-stitching from Thailand both the women in the community and the orphanage benefit. Part of the money provides women with a fair wage, and the rest helps keep the orphanage running.

Growing up in Montana she never thought she would become so involved with an orphanage in Thailand.

“I never would have done this if God had never bopped me in the head, four days in a row,” she said.

Participating in the Presbyterian church since her childhood exposed Nancy to being caring and compassionate at a young age. A member at First Presbyterian Church in Spokane since 1965, she has been involved in various ways—from leading the mission committee to representing the presbytery at synod.

She sees her involvement with the orphanage in Thailand as “a beautiful example of listening to God and responding to God’s calling.”

Next Nancy will raise money for a women’s center on orphanage land, a place where women in this patriarchal society can congregate, sew and do Bible study.

“The women have learned to love the community of sewing together,” she said.

Estimating that they need $15,000 more to finish the center, she hopes to raise that money on Sirirat’s upcoming visit to Spokane from Nov. 10 to 22.

“We can stick our heads in the sand and ignore that prostitution is taking place and that orphans are left without moms and dads, or we can talk about it,” Nancy said.

Sirirat will be at the Jubilee International Marketplace, which is from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m., Friday, Nov. 11, and 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., Saturday, Nov. 12 at First Presbyterian, 318 S. Cedar. She will preach at Millwood Presbyterian Church on Sunday, Nov. 13, and speak between the services at First Presbyterian Church on Sunday, Nov. 20.

She will also speak at the Spokane Coalition on Human Trafficking at 4 p.m., Monday, Nov. 14, at World Relief, 1522 N. Washington St.

For information, call 238-6448 or 747-6580