The new college student stared at his class schedule, then looked over at the woman he calls “Mom” with an excited smile. International Mission Board missionary Angela Dawson could feel Skye’s pride of being the first person in his family to go to college. She looked at the college freshman in his new uniform and did what all mothers do on the first day of school — take a million pictures.
While Skye couldn’t stop smiling, Dawson saw the nerves and doubt brewing under the surface. Moms just know these things about their kids. This connection is something Dawson didn’t think she’d ever experience. When she was appointed as a single career missionary more than a decade ago, she knew committing to long-term missions might mean never getting married. She willingly sacrificed her dream of having a family to serve God in Thailand, but He had other plans.
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Through gifts to the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering, Dawson was provided with a home that had more room than she needed and a seven-passenger car. God filled the “extra space” with troubled teenagers and young adults. They came to Dawson, or “Mom” as they call her, because they felt safe and the peace of Jesus.
At the time, five teenaged girls lived with Dawson. She provided for their needs, like other single mothers around the world, by making her salary — meant to support one person — stretch with a lot of prayer and faith. She loved unconditionally. She laid down some rules and taught them about Jesus.
“A lot of the girls who move in with me are not believers and they are at risk for making horrible decisions,” Dawson explained about the need for structure.
“I would say half of the time they move out because they don’t like having rules,” she noted. “I don’t really have that many — no boys in the house, no drinking or drugs and everyone attends family devotion.”
Out of the initial five daughters, two left because they preferred living a different lifestyle than the house rules allowed. Others moved out because they finished high school or their family situations were at a point where they could move back with them. There’s never an empty nest for the veteran missionary, though.
God continued to fill the extra space. He even expanded her reach as a mother to at-risk teens, like Skye, who live at home with their own families but still need a mother’s touch.
Change of plans
The two first met when a girl named Ahm showed up for youth group with Skye in tow. The girl was a friend of Dawson’s daughters and attended an English camp hosted by Dawson’s IMB missionary team. Ahm had a lot of questions about Jesus after watching a video clip on Facebook during COVID-19 stay-at-home orders. The older teenager hoped she could find the answers at Dawson’s house, where the youth group from a church plant met during government restrictions.
“Ahm didn’t want to come by herself, so she invited friends and Skye was one of them,” Dawson chuckled, remembering how the group of teens from the surrounding community became even more a part of her growing household. “Ahm asked the girls questions. She asked me questions and she prayed to accept Christ.”
Each week as Ahm thirsted for knowledge about the gospel, Skye sat like a bump on a log. Dawson figured he wasn’t interested yet he never missed, so she kept sharing, serving and loving with her mother’s heart.
She was surprised when eight months later Skye said he was “ready to accept Christ as his personal Savior.”
He explained he had been depressed the day Ahm invited him to Dawson’s house for Bible study. He didn’t tell anyone, but he decided to kill himself because his parents didn’t care about or support him. What he found at the house changed his plan. Everything within this family was the opposite of the way it was at his house. For the first time, he felt safe and the peace of Jesus. He thought no one cared about him, but this American, who his peers called “Mom,” showed motherly love — a new experience for the young man.
“I had no idea what God was doing in his life,” Dawson admitted, noting that most of her kids are from poor areas of Thailand where they deal with depression, abuse and alcohol daily. “They don’t have a lot of hope or joy in their lives. They need to turn their life to God.”
The veteran missionary said gospel transformations like this are possible because of your precious gifts and prayers that allow her long-term missionary presence in Thailand. Gifts to the Lottie Moon offering helped her learn not only Thai, but two other languages used in the area. Southern Baptist’s prayers helped her be steadfast in learning culture and settling in as a community member.
‘God’s plans are always good’
Because of this, Dawson understands what it means when young adults choose to follow Jesus. Most families forbid them to leave Buddhism. Skye’s parents almost kicked him out of the house for his decision. Another girl’s family is angry because she won’t partake in rituals during holidays like making merit by offering sacrifices and giving money. Ahm waited years for baptism because her mother would not allow it.
“The Lord is sufficient, even when it’s hard. When he calls us to do something, he is all we need. Sometimes it takes years to see the goodness and sometimes we have to wait for eternity,” Dawson, who has served 16 years in Thailand, said. “Knowing that God’s plans are always good is what helps me keep going and gives me peace, even when things get really hard.”