The first time I ever met Br Rick Bunch, SOLT, I was on the way to a Bangkok prison, where he was going to introduce me to some of the people he was serving there who were dying of HIV. "Change of plans," he said on the phone. "I just suffered a massive heart attack and they are bringing me to the hospital." So instead I ended up visiting him in the Bangkok Christian Hospital. As I walked in the nurses were inserting an IV needle into his ankle - without an anesthetic. He gritted his teeth held on for dear life to the metal bar of his hospital bed, then looked up at me and smiled, saying, "Welcome to Thailand!" He was a living miracle. Cardiologists do not know how a man who uses 20% of his heart capacity could possibly do what he was doing. He was running several houses for those with HIV, under the umbrella of an NGO called, "Alden House," named after Fr Thorelson Alden, who had worked with Br Rick in the early days.
Br Rick first went to Thailand to work at the Rebirth Centers, drug rehabilitation centers, one for men and one for women. During his stay in Bangkok to learn the Thail language, he was deeply moved by the suffering that he saw there by those trapped in drug addiction, the sex industry, and the squalor of the slums, where he had rented a room to at least to have a presence amdong the suffering. "What can I do? I don't speak the language and have no money?" he asked the SOLT founder, Fr Jim Flanagan. Fr Jim told him, "Take care of the people. The only thing I can tell you right now is to pray to Our Lady and ask for guidance." That is just what he did. Br Rick recalled,
"In the early days, the only thing I could do was just to be with people as they were dying. This was one of the greatest gifts God ever gave me, to encounter Jesus Christ in his sufferings. I recognized him in their emaciated bodies, suffering and slowly being destroyed. The only thing I had was the only thing I could offer them, Jesus. I must have baptized thousands of people as they laid dying. Then I saw in them the Lord's Resurrection. It seemed like you could almost see the light of heaven on their face as they died."
Br Rick worked with those dying of HIV and other illnesses for the past twenty years, rescued children from prostitution, and helped those in the midst of suffering find the consolation that Christ offers. Please pray for the different centers of Alden House. They are all half underwater due to the flooding in Thailand. Recently he travelled to Bangkok by boat for two hours after being picked up on the second story staircase of one of the centers.
As part of an effort to bring all missionaries working alone to apostolic houses, Br Rick will be leaving Thailand to live in community life, but not before he is able to successfully hand on the apostolate to the Thai workers who have accompanied him for the past decade. May Jesus and Mary continue to guide Br Rick in the work of bringing consolation to the afflicted.
-Fr Sam Medley, SOLT Webmaster