Posted by: thewhitesintokyo | March 29, 2009


When we returned to Minnesota for Christmas Break in December 2008 we had a few priority visits to make. One of them was to stop by our favorite restaurant in White Bear Lake. The restaurant is called Wild Ginger, and it’s a fantastic and simple Thai restaurant run by a wonderful man named Sam (review here).

He knows us pretty well now, since I generally dropped by every time Rachael was out with her girlfriends last summer and Rachael’s family goes there periodically. We recount pretty often how Sam got a kick out of Mike (Rachael’s dad) one particular night at the restaurant, saying “You funny man, Mike!”

During this December visit, we talked about our upcoming trip to Thailand and Sam was apparently so excited by an idea that he stopped mid-conversation to run quickly back into his kitchen. He emerged with several brochures about “Beautiful Thailand: The Land of Smiles.” It was a sweet gesture that definitely got us excited about the trip.

Call it irony, coincidence, or God’s sense of humor, but one of the children at the orphanage that we will not soon forget was named Sam as well.

On our first day in Buriram, Thailand at the Tree of Life Orphanage, this Sam kept his distance from the foreigners (“Faraang” in Thai, “Gaijin” in Japanese, “Gringo” in Spanish) who had invaded his home. He played with a couple of the other boys and basically refused to acknowledge that we were even there while most of the other kids immediately latched on to us (figuratively and literally, my back is still sore from all the piggy-back rides).

By the end of the second day though, I tried a few new things with him that never seem to fail with kids: Beatboxing and my Donald Duck impression. Within minutes, he and another boy named Fil were dancing crazily and having a great time. He opened up right then, and spent every moment he could with us from that instant until we left.

Sam is very smart and would fit in well in my second grade class (he’s 8 years old). He loved learning and analyzing magic tricks, practicing math facts on flashcards, practicing his limited but developing English, and playing card games (more about this later). During our visit to the city pool he proved himself a great swimmer and his silly ways of jumping in the pool had everyone’s undivided attention. Sam is also pretty overbearing with the other kids and often yells at them when he doesn’t get his way. I later saw that this came from his equally short-tempered interactions with his “dad,” the director of the orphanage.

I really love Sam. He’s making the best out of a rough situation, and has a lot of potential to be successful and make a life for himself in a difficult area of the world. He also has some dangerous pitfalls. At the age of eight, his temper is already developing strongly and thanks to a few previous visitors who thought it would be a good idea to teach him how to play Poker, Blackjack, and a game called Sticks, Sam is already gambling at every chance he can. He finds and uses the small 1 Baht coins to bet and play with his friends. In contrast to many Christians who feel gambling is acceptable, most Thai Christians form a clear separation from society on this issue and make a stand to avoid it completely. You can imagine how his mother reacted when she saw him teaching us how to play “Sticks” one night (without betting, of course, but playing nonetheless). We got her point right away and taught him several new card games like Solitaire and Memory which he also loved…and won.

As we packed the truck bed with our suitcases to return home to Japan, we gathered all the children for some final group photos. Surprisingly, Sam sat on the other side of the playground and refused anyone’s call to join us in the photos. So, in this photo, you will not see Sam.

I immediately recognized this reaction since it happened on the last day with my third graders in Minnesota last year. One of my most challenging (and oh so rewarding) third graders balked and stood in the back of the room while we took photos wearing Mr. White’s ties on the last day of school. At first I couldn’t understand why he would be “so rude” on the last day that we would have together. It turned out that in both cases, these boys just didn’t want to let go. Both boys began their relationship with me with clear defiance, ignoring most of my attempts to make them feel loved and appreciated. By the end of our time together, they had opened up their vulnerable little hearts and it was just too painful to say goodbye.

This situation begs an interesting question, but one which I believe does have a clear answer. Is it worth it, emotionally, physically, and spiritually to spend a week loving these kids with all we have…just to leave them a short week later? Is that too hard on them? Too much to expect of their trusting young hearts?

Although it was difficult for all of us to part ways, I believe with all my heart that, in the long run, the hugs, giggles, and teachable moments that occurred throughout that week far surpass the pain of separation. Still, I will continue to pray daily for Sam and the other kids at the Tree of Life Orphanage.

That he would grow into a responsible, kind and lighthearted man would be a dream come true.



  1. Hi Brad and Rachael
    I am glad to hear that you in Thailand now. Hope everything goes well for you.

    Miss you,

    Sam (Wild Ginger) not the one in Thailand 5555.

  2. Brad,
    Your story about Sam and the reason for his absence in the photo brought tears and even an ache in my stomach. The reality of it all, just hit me hard with your explanation. You are touching so many little hearts, minds and lives and I’m so very proud of the path you are taking and now with Rachael at your side, the two of you can do so much good in this world. I’m a proud Maaaa, and miss you both beyond any words I can write down. I feel the ache each and every time I have to say goodbye to you, but I know I’ll see you again, where little Sam’s heart was broken in knowing he would probably never see you again. Just too sad….. You both keep giving and making a difference. Love, Maaa

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