My name is Siriwan Trakunhan. My husband is Wichian Trakunhan. We have 4 children. I’d like to share with you about my life. In my family, there are altogether 5 siblings. We were born into a Christian family. When I was a child, I loved to attend church. I loved Sunday School. I loved to hear Bible stories from my Sunday School teacher. I loved singing worship songs. I loved memorizing Scripture. I loved praying. But none of the relatives who I grew up around were Christians. My relationship with Jesus was often threatened/opposed by my relatives, until eventually I grew distant from God. As a teenager, I lived my life as most teenagers do – I made merit at the Buddhist temple and visited fortune tellers. I did everything I could to convince my relatives I was like them, and therefore be accepted by them. Of course, in all these choices I made, I lacked joy. I felt an emptiness and was searching for ways to fill my void.

At the age of 18, I had the opportunity to go to a youth camp. It was a life-changing experience for me. I finally found the thing I was looking for to fill the void in my life. I cried out to God in tears, and asked Him to be my Lord and Savior. My life was changed. I had a desire to study the Bible. But because my family was very poor, my mother and father couldn’t pay for me to attend Bible school. I spent one year praying, asking God for the opportunity to study the Bible. Through faith, God answered my prayers. I received a grant from the Mennonite Brethren for a 4-year Bible school program. I was a dedicated Bible school student, and I shared the Gospel with people everywhere I went. My desire was to teach children to know God, and before I finished my first year, I was chosen to join a team of 24 Bible school students to share the Gospel in a school for one week.

After we had spent the week sharing the Gospel at a school, we were returning to the Bible school and the brakes went out on the vehicle I was riding in. 2 of my friends died, and 8 others had major injuries. Only myself, and 2 others, had no injuries from the accident. I still remember every second of the event. I remember crying out to God saying, “I want to share about you with many children who’ve never heard. I can’t die yet!” I know God saved and spared my life that day. I believe he saved my life because he wanted me to share the Gospel with many children. One of the verses I cling to is Proverbs 22:6“Start children off on the way they should go, and even when they are old they will not turn from it.”  I firmly believe that if we teach children the truths of the Gospel from when they are young, those truths will stay with them as they grow up. Though many things in their lives will change, the truths of God remain the same in their lives.

After Bible school, I returned home to serve the Lord in my village for 2 years. I still desired to teach children, and so I went to work teaching children in an orphanage for 3 years. I got married and my husband and I then served together for another 3 years teaching in that orphanage. During that 3 years serving together, we had our first child. After 3 years with the orphanage, my husband went to work for another foundation working with children, and I went to work for a Christian bookstore connected to that foundation. During that time we had our second child. We both began to dream and pray about opening our home to disadvantaged village children who hardly had opportunities to develop, not even having electricity in their homes. We thought about taking in orphans, poor children, or those who had no chance to study in a school. We wanted an opportunity to take them in so they could get an education, but more importantly, so they could learn about God. We began with 2 children joining us in our home, quickly expanding to 17 children. We praised God for his grace! Our house was very small, with 3 bedrooms and 2 bathrooms, and we were raising 17 children besides 2 of our own, making 21 of us in that house. What’s more, there was never a moment that any of us lacked. Every child in the home ate until they were full for every meal each day.

My husband left his work to start his own van business, driving van to transport school children. I also left my work and cared for the home, growing a garden, and sustaining a fish pond and chicken coop, to help feed our crew in the home. At times, God would expand our harvest enough that we could sell the overage at the market for extra income. We never solicited sponsorship for our children, other than asking God to provide. While the children were at school I would tend to the large garden and the animals. When the children returned from school in the evenings, they would help me with the chores, and we’d help them with their homework, teach them the Bible, and teach them to pray. These children lived with us for 8 years. Once they finished sixth grade, they had enough education to move forward on their own and return to their mountain villages. Even more important than their education, we felt, was that they received love and spiritual nurturing during their time with us. And we have faith that those children will not depart from their faith as they mature. We have received word that the children who were with us are now leaders in the church as well as evangelists.

Once we saw those 17 children through sixth grade and return to their village homes, I wanted to continue to serve God. I submitted my application to open an orphanage out of my home, but it wasn’t God’s timing or will. Instead, God led me to come serve with Mennonite Brethren Missions as the Foundation office administrator. I told God many times, “I can’t do this! I’ve never done this kind of office work before.” But as I joined in their ministry besides the office work, and began to teach the Bible in the juvenile girls’ prison, I told God I understood why He had called me to serve with the MB missionaries and office. I saw that the girls in juvenile hall had very limited opportunity to ever hear the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Many of the girls were arrested on charges of drug sales and abuse, human trafficking themselves, or running human trafficking rings, or theft. Before the girls were arrested, their lifestyles outside prison were such that they didn’t have the opportunity to hear the Good News of Jesus, and for us to reach them in their various lifestyles would have been very difficult. Therefore, the girls being imprisoned was an opportunity for us to share the Gospel with many of them at one time. The chance of these girls going back to their delinquent choices once released from prison seemed high, but for those we got to share the Gospel with, and who made decisions to follow Jesus, it seemed their chances for having a different life after being released were good. They would have a chance to make better choices.

God showed favor on the ministry of teaching the Bible in the juvenile girls prison, and the guards permitted us to teach the Bible every Thursday afternoon to all the girls. There are regularly on average 40 girls each week. We meet together as church each week, studying Bible stories, worshiping, and fellowshipping together. Many of the girls over the years have prayed to receive Christ as their personal Savior. Their lives changed as they believed, and the prison staff have seen the changes as well.

In the early ministry days, God led us to start a program called Freedom Trades. In this discipleship and skills training program, we received girls who were released from juvenile hall to come learn how to be a disciple of Jesus, how to be leaders, and how to do a trade, such as sewing, woodwork, baking and cooking. It was the vision and purpose of this program to see these young women grow as disciples of Jesus, and as leaders who lead their peers to Him. They were empowered to be witnesses of the transforming love of Jesus among their families and friends. When young women are released from the prison, they need community and leaders to come around them to shepherd them in their spiritual journeys. As a leadership team, we oversaw their trades work, their spiritual lives and physical and emotional needs. We met together daily to study the Word and pray, and the girls attended a Thai church on Sundays, and a small cell group during the week.  Currently this ministry has developed into the Naomi House ministry and community development center, and continues to impact young women who were previously incarcerated, as well as refugees and local marginalized families.