Mike lane is the founder of Hope Bridges, a nonprofit serving over 100 children in northern Thailand with food, clothing, education, and basic health care. They help the children learn to navigate life in a world where poverty, drugs, and trafficking are very real dangers. Mike’s involvement started with a short trip and visit to a refugee camp where 17,000 people lived along Thailand’s border with Burma.
The next year was filled with prayer and planning. God provided a way to get the organization off the ground fast, and others joined in with the vision. Things are so much better with a team.
Calling, of course, is a big theme on the Life and Mission podcast, so I asked Mike about his experience and how God called him to help children so far away from his home in Kansas City. The work of the Holy Spirit, in His way, speaking to the heart and through the Bible make it clear that we are to help widows and orphans in distress. Mike’s mission has been a prayerful and obedient response to that call.
One of the ways Hope Bridges funds its mission is to sell coffee. We talked about how Mike and his team have tried to make sure the coffee production process helps people at every step along the way.
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Kay: I’m Kay Helm and this is episode 46 of the Life and Mission podcast. Every week I try to serve up an interview with someone to inspire and equip you to live a life of purpose and to help you fulfill your mission, whether that’s in business or in the nonprofit or ministry space. Today my guest is Mike lane of Hope Bridges, a nonprofit serving over 100 children in northern Thailand with food, clothing, education, and basic health care.
Now, I’m going to let you in on something I’d like to chat a little bit with my guests before we jump into the interview and as Mike and I were talking, he shared about how quickly hope bridges was able to get off the ground. And it really resonated with me, because I had a similar experience with the ghostwriting part of my business just a few weeks back. I’ll put all that together at the end of today’s show, but for now I’m just going to drop you right smack into the part of the interview, really, the pre interview, where Mike shares how Hope Bridges got its fast start
Mike: In that you need to do to get started. And I said, well, we need to become a incorporator. We, we need to have 501(c)(3) status. And so, we need an attorney to help do that. we could have gone through that ourselves and done that by ourselves, but it would have taken probably a year instead of two months.
[00:00:18] Yeah. You know,
[00:00:19] Kay: pretty good. You guys
[00:00:20] Mike: you know, getting back and forth. Yeah. It was, it was a literally. I think it was in, Early February 2010. And by April we had our papers back, from the IRS giving us status. so she was really good. And wait, he’s the, the guy asked me how much do you need to get started? And I said, a thousand dollars.
[00:00:42] And so we kept talking on and on and on, he found, he said, give me a second. I got to go find my wife. And we were at church and talking, and our wives were doing there. Choir thing and singing and stuff. it came back a little bit later and he handed me a check for a thousand dollars.
[00:00:57] Kay: Hmm. Yeah. And that’s so cool how God provides. He lays it on each person’s heart.
[00:01:02] Mike: Yup. And so that, that was, that was how we got, got started. He wound up being one of the founding board members. and, and so that was in. 2010. So, we’ve been, we’ve been taking care of over a hundred kids for, 10 years
[00:01:19] Kay: That’s cool.
[00:01:21] Mike: and three years in. We started talking about trying to figure something out that we could do that would help us.
[00:01:29] Keep from having to ask for just straight up money all the time. and so, I found a source that we could get, good Thai coffee beans. We have them roasted in Kansas City. We sell the coffee and all the proceeds of that goes back to the kids in Thailand.
[00:01:47] Kay: And it is some good coffee too.
[00:01:49] Mike: Yes, it is good coffee. I would say I would argue that some of the best coffee you can get, you know, unless you want to spend a hundred bucks for, you know, a panel of the coffee.
[00:02:00] So, and I wouldn’t, I wouldn’t, I don’t think I would buy a hundred-dollar box that a pound of coffee. So
[00:02:07] Kay: Yeah. You want to actually be able to enjoy it and drink it?
[00:02:10] Mike: yes, exactly.
[00:02:12] Kay: Yeah. Yeah. I love the names like elephant coffee and, you know,
[00:02:17] Mike: Well, I was talking to a marketing guy and he said, the first thing you gotta do is you gotta name it. and so, based on the origin of the coffee is, is what we may, named our first, two, serious copies, the elephant roast. Because there’s elephants there and I’ve walked with elephants before I don’t ride them because it’s not good for the elephants. In orchid, they have orchids everywhere in Thailand. And so that’s, it was, it really came from
[00:02:49] Kay: Yeah, that’s great though. It’s, you know, the way you’re marketing, the hope does coffee. I mean, I love it because you’re always reminding people of what the coffee is making, you know, what you’re making possible with that cup of coffee.
[00:03:03] Mike: Yes. Yeah.
[00:03:06] Kay: the message.
[00:03:07] Mike: Yeah. Yeah. About 55% of the, of the cell of any cell goes to back to the kids. and because we buy the beans, from a co-op we’re actually helping to support the farmers to keep them in the coffee fields and out of the opium fields. And so, and it helps the kids and the roaster we use here in Kansas City has a ministry to the homeless.
[00:03:33] So our coffee bean holds the whole chain is doing good for people.
[00:03:42] Kay: Oh, love that. Love that way. The chain. Can you explain to people what fair trade really means? It’s kind of one of those words, we hear a lot, but what is, what does it mean?
[00:03:52] Mike: Right. Fair trade means like, like we buy our, our, coffee beans from the co-op. So a lot of, sometimes people will go in and they will buy the beans as cheap as they possibly can. and so that is not fair trade because they can’t make money to live on. And so fair-trade means that you’re paying them a decent wage for the coffee.
[00:04:17] Kay: Yeah. Cause there is a lot of business that is just taking advantage of the people that are doing that work. Especially at that beginning step in the chain.
[00:04:26] Mike: Yes, exactly. And, and so we, we, we don’t do that. so, so if you want to get labeled as, as fair trade, you had to spend a lot of money to an organization. and I think you have to do that on a yearly basis, but I’m not sure cause we don’t go through that process. To get that label on there just because of the cost.
[00:04:47] It’s just the cost of it is just crazy. So, so, so yeah, that’s, that’s, that’s what we do. So I mean, it all goes back to the kids,
[00:04:57] Kay: Yeah. So in a nutshell, it’s do business in a way where everybody benefits.
[00:05:01] Mike: yeah, exactly. Yep.
[00:05:03] Kay: So, from the guys that are growing the beans, and then you’ve got the guys that are roasting it, and then they’re also using, their profits to benefit people, which is really a beautiful thing.
[00:05:15] Mike: Right
[00:05:17] Kay: And tell us, just touch on where that idea came from for a coffee.
[00:05:23] Mike: for coffee, had a conversation with, with one of my board members who, and, you know, in nonprofits, we have to rely on donations. As you well know that, but he thought it would be good if we could offer something related to Thailand that wouldn’t, would curb that a little bit. and actually, if we had enough coffee cells, we wouldn’t have to ask for donations.
[00:05:50] So, but aside from that, and it’s, it’s, it’s good to offer something. That is a worthwhile and a lot of people like coffee. So I remember basically when the conversation ended a couple days later, I remembered that there was a coffee shop that we went to one time and I really liked the coffee. So I started searching around and I found a good source for the coffee.
[00:06:16] And so, and in fact, I like it so much that when I travel, I take that coffee with me.
[00:06:23] Kay: Oh yeah.
[00:06:24] Mike: And when we go to mission trips, To Thailand. I take coffee from Kansas City with me to Thailand,
[00:06:32] Kay: Wow.
[00:06:35] Mike: and one of my partners over there, I take her two pounds of bags to one pound, Pat bags of coffee, for her and I take coffee and we have coffee first coffee every morning. So.
[00:06:51] Kay: Yeah. You, before we started recording, you were sharing a story of, a time that you were in Thailand and you wanted some coffee.
[00:07:01] Mike: Right first. Yeah. First trip to Thailand. we, we were spending time with, another group of people from a church. We were in this process of, of getting to know each, each other and churches and things, to do mission work. With each other. And, we did a lot of, a lot of the touristy kind of things.
[00:07:22] and, and I, and I asked, if we could go by Starbucks and I said, sure. And so we get there and they kind of pull over a little bit and they’re going really slow. And they said, there’s the Starbucks. And he started to go on and said, Whoa, I want a cup of coffee. And so everybody started laughing and, and, I went in, I got my coffee and I was a happy camper.
[00:07:45] but it’s, it’s that cultural difference of things. You know, when, when here in America we say, let’s go buy. Whatever place you want to go to. And so that means that we’re going to go there. We’re going to stop and we’re going to get something or we’re going to go through the drive through and get something.
[00:08:03] but in Thailand, if you asked to go buy it somewhere, it’s like, you literally go buy it and you don’t, you don’t stop.
[00:08:10] Kay: Yeah, we’re going to go by, you can wave at it as you go by, but hanging out the window. I knew.
[00:08:18] Mike: Hey ways. Yeah, but I don’t. I, yeah, I, I drink copra. Just gonna fail all the time now.
[00:08:28] Kay: so, so, you’re obviously not from Thailand. but so you’re in where,
[00:08:37] Mike: Kansas City.
[00:08:38] Kay: so how do you get from Kansas City to ended up, uh, working with the ministry in Thailand?
[00:08:45] Mike: Uh, God.
[00:08:47] Kay: God happened? Yeah.
[00:08:50] Mike: Uh, you know, in a very powerful way. one of the, initial trips that we went on to Thailand, we were at a dinner party and then there was a young man there come to find out. He was, he leaves a huge relief agency and, um, we got to talking and I said, I want to learn more. I want to know more.
[00:09:12] He said, well, bring your team, buy it tomorrow. And so, we, we went, went to the service and I preached, and then, we left right after that and went over there. You got to know more about it. And just through that process, it was such a powerful, a few moments. We’re only there 45 minutes. I knew just by the overwhelming presence of the Holy spirit that.
[00:09:37] To me, that was a call to do something. And so I came back Mmm. That, that meeting occurred in, August of 2008. So in January of 2009, I went back. I spent a week in a refugee camp and also the second week I spent time visiting children’s homes where I learned that children live in bamboo huts with, Their floors and, and, they’re, some of the children’s homes range from very nice homes, similar to like what American standards would be down to the bamboo and dirt.
[00:10:17] And I just, I knew that’s something had to be done. We don’t. Say, we’re not going to be able to save every kid in Thailand. but we can do what God called us to do, and that’s what we’re trying to do, so,
[00:10:32] Kay: And what is it that you do? So, so I, you know, we’ve talked about the coffee and everything, but what is the work that you’re doing there with the kids and, and how are you helping?
[00:10:41] Mike: Okay. let me give you a little background on the, on the different homes that we work with. We work with three different homes. Two of them are called education homes. And what that means is, is that the kids live so sparse out in, in the areas of, rural areas, that they cannot get to, a school.
[00:11:04]so basically on Monday morning, they come, they’re dropped off at school. When they get done with school, they walk to the educational home. and basically, they are bamboo.
[00:11:16] Kay: So like dorms or something.
[00:11:18] Mike: Right. Basically, it’s like a dorm, you know, there there’s the girl’s dorm and the boys dorm. and it’s, the, the Korean, tribal people, they build, About six feet above ground. And so you can walk underneath them. and so, so the kids live there, they have hardwood floor, it’s unfinished hardwood floor.
[00:11:36] That’s just put together. so there are cracks in that, that you can see through the bamboo walls and ceiling, you can see through them. and that’s, that’s where they live when they go to school and then they go back home, Friday afterschool. So, so, um, basically what we try and do is help support them because they come from very poor families.
[00:11:59] They do have a mom and dad, a lot of the moms and dads are, have drinking problems and drug problems. Some of them work in the OPM fields that are addicted to opium, just from the handling of it. So we’re trying to raise the kids up out of that, that environment. And, and to do more with them. And so that’s one home has 22 kids and the other home like that has 85 kids.
[00:12:27] Um, however that the, the home with 85 kids, they do have some, orphans, I think there’s about 20 actual orphans I’m in that home. So it’s kind of a mix between orphanage type setting and, educational learning. the other home that we Help with is, it’s, it’s very nice. it is a well-built it’s made out out of, bricks.
[00:12:51] Nice covers. Very nice area, very safe area for the kids. And they all go to school. most of the kids are going to school. We’re trying to help put six kids through college.
[00:13:04] Kay: Great.
[00:13:05] Mike: and, and so, their tuition is like $2,000 a year. you know, of course it doesn’t come close to what the cost is here in America,
[00:13:16] Kay: yeah, yeah.
[00:13:17] Mike: but, but yeah, we’re trying to, trying to raise funds for them to make it through.
[00:13:22] college. we do have, We don’t pay a hundred percent of their, Tuition. We want them to have some skin in the game. So, so we do like 80, 80% of their tuition. Okay. And, and, um, we, we would, we haven’t done this yet, but we would be interested in entering into a contract with the kids paying a hundred percent of their tuition, but then they have to spend like four years, five years.
[00:13:51] Well, we’d have to figure that out some, but, but, you know, working with the kids and, volunteering, doing a lot of volunteer work.
[00:13:59] Kay: So they kind of pay it, pay it back just in experience and. Yeah. Yeah. And what I’ve just from my experience and some of the groups that we’ve worked with, are in different places around the world. There tends to be a desire to do that among the kids, as they, as they grow and, you know, not everybody, but, a lot of times they want to come do something within the ministry.
[00:14:25] Mike: Right.
[00:14:26] Kay: Boy, help us understand something a little bit about that area.
[00:14:30] Kay: Northern Thailand. So there’s the, you’ve got border there with, you’ve mentioned Burma.
[00:14:36] Mike: Right. Burma Lau. Yeah, Laos, we print Americans pronounce it, Laos it’s actually Lau. and then, that’s the golden triangle where all the, opium as a grown in that area. so. Drug running is, is huge. There are areas in the Northern Thailand, that I cannot go go into at any time of the day, I’d be arrested and put in jail.
[00:15:02] If I did, there’s areas that I can go into during the day, but I have to be out of it before dark. You know, cause it’s all, you know, um, when you’re traveling in vehicles, a lot of times they’ll stop. The stop points, where you, where they, you know, say, what are you doing, where you’ve been, do you have any drugs?
[00:15:21] and of course the answer is always no, because I don’t allow people to bring drugs around. so that’s kind of the Northern Thailand. That’s a little bit further North of where, we are in …and the homes that we support, we don’t have those problems. one of the homes we, when we go to visit, we stay overnight.
[00:15:41] they have a church; on their property and we usually sleep in the church on the hardwood floor. And it’s, there’s an elephant, a sanctuary, real close to that home and we go and visit that. We take the elephants for a walk and have some lunch and play with the elephants in the river.
[00:16:01] And, so
[00:16:03] Kay: That sounds like a nice day.
[00:16:05] Mike: yeah, it is it’s, it’s a, it’s kind of cool, especially for people who have never been around elephants or anything. it’s a lot of fun, so
[00:16:12] Kay: Yeah, that’s cool. I’ve had the opportunity to do that and it’s there, they are really neat animals.
[00:16:19] Mike: they are, they’re amazing.
[00:16:23] Kay: yes. Yes, they can. So you’ve got, you know, the, so with the drug trade being up there, you’ve got the drug trade. You got a lot of tourism. I know there’s a lot of trafficking that one of the things, unfortunately, the Thailand is, and the whole area is known for.
[00:16:42] Um, and then I’ve seen just enough of trafficking to know, especially when children are involved, that it is, I would say one of the most evil.
[00:16:52] Mike: I would agree.
[00:16:53] Kay: that I’ve ever encountered and it’s just a re a relentless evil, and there’s, it’s just, so oppressive and so much deception in it. And so much pressure.
[00:17:08] Mike: Yes. We, um, Mmm. We, there was a group of, four of us from one of our trips. We were walking around, and we walked through the red light district and, we started a conversation with one of them, prostitutes there come to find out she’s 18 years old. she, at that time she had a two-year-old baby and, her parents take care of the baby.
[00:17:34] Mmm. They basically told her that she had to go to change my and work in the red-light district. So she could send money home to her parents, or they were going to sell her baby.
[00:17:49] Kay: Wow.
[00:17:49] Mike: Yeah, it’s just, I have a really hard time processing that and, and, Yeah, I just, that infuriates me and is very sad and I just, Oh man.
[00:18:05] So yeah, it is pretty bad. It’s very open. it’s yeah, it’s not good.
[00:18:13] Kay: Right. Right. And you know, one of the things that, that drives it is that poverty and it’s that kind of, that, that oppressive poverty where there’s, there’s not a way out. And so, you know, by providing the education you guys are providing, I hope the hope, the word hope. You know, besides being in your name it’s for real, that’s the thing you’re actually extending.
[00:18:39] Mike: Great. Great. That’s all we try to do. we also, teach the kids about Jesus. we don’t, we don’t force it on them. Cause, I mean, you can’t really force things on somebody that don’t, that they don’t want, unless you are really mean about it. Yeah,
[00:19:00] Kay: wouldn’t really match up with Jesus. Would it?
[00:19:02] Mike: no, not at all. So, so in, in Thailand, 97% of the people are, a Buddhist. there is a very small percentage of, about 2% is Christian. And then, just a whole mix of other religions, in that. So, so it is, not very much of a mix, but, The, I’ve been in, temples, before we, we usually take people to the temples and let them see the temples. We, kind of, when you, when you go go to a lot of places, a lot of time, you sit on the floor.
[00:19:41] And, so, so when you go to the tumbles, most simple, as you said on the floor, and in Thai culture, if you put your feet, the bottoms out towards somebody that is considered, I’m a very unkind gesture. So,
[00:20:02] Kay: Wow. And you got to sit on. Okay.
[00:20:05] Mike: so yeah, you’re sitting on the floor and you can’t put your foot out like this. And we were in, we were in, Oh man, Bangkok. There you go. Bangkok. And we were at the, at the, Kings. I forget what, what they call it, the key, but it’s, but it’s a huge area. lots of beautiful plants, a very nice thing. The temple and the Jade Buddha have, have you ever seen pictures of the Jade Buddha?
[00:20:32] Kay: seen pictures of it. Yeah. And we were, we were next to that temple, but it didn’t go in our schedule. Didn’t give us time.
[00:20:40] Mike: So we, we went in and we were looking in and, and a few, a few of the pupil were, you know, when you sit down on the floor, you know, in America, you’re put your feet out and we don’t think anything of it, but people came over and said, don’t point your feet. And they were, I mean, they were polite about it. But they were serious about it.
[00:21:02] And so, so the girls that had their feet out, like, they’re like, Oh, sorry. And you know, what is it? You know, the, some of the, the difference, cultural things are always interesting. Like, one of the, when we go to Thailand, I always try and plan it to where we arrive in Chiang Mai, mid-morning and.
[00:21:23] And we go to the hotel. We get checked in, we leave her, drop her bags and I make everybody go with me to the mall. And, and some of the ideas that people had of going to the mall and Chiang Mai, were like some old beat up ugly strip center, but this was the mall we usually go to is like maybe three or four years old now, but it is five stories.
[00:21:52] And almost as each level is about the size of football fields. It is huge mall and. And so we, we spend the day there and so we go eat dinner. Cause I keep people up because if you don’t stay awake, you’re not going to get your time turned around and it’s a mess
[00:22:13] Kay: It is.
[00:22:14] Mike: all day asleep.
[00:22:16] Kay: Yeah, you gotta get that first night, right?
[00:22:19] Mike: Yes. Yeah. Yeah, it definitely is. So when we got to the mall, I just kept saying, we’re going to the mall, we’re going to the mall and we get there and the taxi stopped. So we get out there. They’re just looking up on, wow, this is not what I was expecting. So I love taking people over there because it is so much fun.
[00:22:42] And it’s so fun to watch him with the kids, that were support. And it just, it is awesome. So,
[00:22:50] Kay: It sounds like you enjoy kind of shaking up some of our preconceived notions about other places,
[00:22:57] Mike: Absolutely.
[00:22:58] Kay: which I love.
[00:23:00] Mike: absolutely. Yes.
[00:23:05 ]Kay: I want to loop back around. We talked a little bit about calling, we’ve got several episodes now, this podcast about calling, and what it is and how do you know? And, and I think what, you know, you’re a pastor, you’re a missionary. You, you lead other people in that.
[00:23:25] And then you had this. The strong call to, take this shift and work with the kids and, Thailand. Can you, what is calling and, or maybe share your story a little bit, but, but kind of address that whole idea of calling, you know, for us, help us unpack that.
[00:23:48] Mike: Mmm. I think, think calling is responding to the Holy spirit. And, and, and, and just a really quick. A few words. but actually, to unpack that, there’s a lot more to it than that. you know, Isaiah, he, he said, he thought, and take care of the orphans, take care of the widows. And James did the same thing.
[00:24:15] If you look at Jesus’ ministry, he helped take, take care of women and children
[00:24:21] Kay: Yeah, it does.
[00:24:22]Mike: Women and children are. Oftentimes way too many times, taking advantage of, and it’s, you know, 99% of the time, it’s a women, I’m sorry. It is men who take advantage of them and it is women and it is also smart, much smaller amount, but women take kids taking advantage of them too and trafficking and all that.
[00:24:48] But, calling they’re there. Well, for me, when I’m called to do something, there is an inner The presence of the Holy Spirit. Mmm. And, and it’s not like, you know, a cloud comes down and my do you know, go do this thing. But a lot of it is, is our heart and the whole Bible calls us to mission. Um, you know, it doesn’t say, say, Hey, you have to go over here and do this mission. Might go over here and do this one. That is, that’s not in the Bible. What is in the Bible is for us to go do mission work. And it is up to us and work on. We have to discern where God and the Holy spirit and Jesus want us to go do that.
[00:25:39] And, I had a person really push hard on that to me one time. Why aren’t you doing more in America? Well, because God sent me to Thailand and, and so, so it’s, it’s a lot of that is the relationship that you have Mmm. With God.
[00:26:01] Kay: When you were sharing earlier again, before we started that, you know, Thailand is not the only place you’ve been.
[00:26:07] Mike: Correct.
[00:26:07] Kay: And it’s not the only place where you’ve worked with children,
[00:26:10] Mike: Correct.
[00:26:11] Kay: but yeah, that’s where, you know, there was a pull there, there were, there was a poll that started.
[00:26:17] Mike: Right. When my first call out of, out of seminary, I was an associate pastor. So I did a lot of different things. Mission trips was a part of the part of it. And we went to Romania a couple of times. one of our church members. I forgot why they were in, in Bucharest. And, I can’t even remember the name of the town that, that ministry is actually based in, but it got to the point where, they talked about it so much.
[00:26:46] So I finally went with them on a trip. And that’s when I got, I guess, bent by the mission bug, you know, or international mission bug, I guess. and, we went there and worked with the kids. and a lot of what we did was, was, I met a lot of people, that from Romania that lived there, that I talked with and worked with.
[00:27:10] Worked with and played with the kids a lot. I made two trips like that. and then, after the second trip, I knew that I would pretty much always be in some kind of, international admissions and, and I just, I landed in Thailand and been there for, I don’t know if the last 12 years I’ve been to Thailand, probably getting close to 20, 22 times, something like that.
[00:27:34] I quit counting.
[00:27:35] Kay: Yeah. So it’s like, there’s like a more general call and then it gets more and more specific. It sounds like.
[00:27:42] Mike: Yeah, and to me, that was how the call aspect worked.
[00:27:48] Kay: Yeah. And that, like you’re saying that relationship with God and the Holy spirit, um, Oz Guinness, and his book, the call, he says, there is no calling without a color, you know? And so it’s simply a
[00:28:01] Mike: Very, very true.
[00:28:02] Kay: know, what we do is in response.
[00:28:07] Mike: definitely.
[00:28:07] Kay: That’s cool. Well, my thank you for joining us today. Is there anything else that you want people to know?
[00:28:15] How can they connect with you?
[00:28:17] Mike: Uh, they can visit our website, hope bridges that orange-y, that would probably be, the best place to start. we’re also on, let’s see, Twitter. Facebook and Instagram. we have little icons on, on the website that you can go look at. There’s tons of pictures, on Instagram and Facebook.
[00:28:39] So, so yeah, we probably try and put out two or three posts a week trying to remind people that our coffee is great. Get the coffee.
[00:28:49] Kay: Yeah. Yeah. And you can get the coffee from the hope bridges.org as
[00:28:53] Mike: Yes, absolutely.
[00:28:54] Kay: All right. Do it.
[00:28:57] Mike: Yes. Thank you.