MANATEE -- Every so often, someone comes along whose destiny appears in etched in stone from the moment of their birth.
Christin Chiles of Holmes Beach is one of those people, says her father, well-known Manatee County restaurateur Ed Chiles, owner of the Sandbar in north Anna Maria Island, The Beach House in Bradenton Beach and the Mar Vista on the north end of Longboat Key.
Christin Chiles nearly died at birth 24 years ago. She was a breech baby who was delivered in the back room of the family home in Holmes Beach, her father said.
Why was she spared? Her father believes it was to do what she is doing now, volunteering around the world as a missionary.
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"Christin came into the world as a miracle baby," Chiles said. "From being purple at birth, she became a hall of famer at Manatee High School and went on to the University of Florida where she started a Young Life Christian youth program at Buchholz High School in Gainesville."
But nothing, even his daughter's experience recently with a Christian organization called The World Race, which toured 11 countries in 11 months, backpacking and living in a tent, could prepare Ed Chiles for the Skype call he received from her recently.
Burgers in Thailand?
Ed Chiles gasped when his daughter called from Mae Sot, a city in Thailand near the Burma border and told him she and nine other volunteers of The Journey mission group decided to open a burger restaurant in order to give jobs
to Burmese refugees.
An estimated 100,000 Burmese refugees occupy Mae Sot, escaping the horrific decades-old civil war in their country, Ed Chiles said.
"I said to her, 'Christin, wait a minute. A hamburger in Thailand?'" Ed Chiles said, also wondering where you can get beef in Thailand.
"Dad," Ed Chiles said his daughter replied. "This is a way to have refugees work and learn a trade and get dignity. And, besides, this is, 'The Chiles Group Goes International.'"
"I am not a hard sell for her," Ed Chiles said Friday, noting that there is a BJ's or Sam's Club-type store nearby where the volunteers can buy merchandise. "She sold me. Of course, it's not really the Chiles Group goes international. It's these 10 people doing this incredible thing."
Learning from her dad, Christin Chiles instructed her volunteer friends that they should have a "soft opening" on April 3 before the grand opening of the burger restaurant on April 8.
The restaurant is to be called Famous Ray's, after a well-known personality in Mae Sot.
"Ultimately, once we get going, the profits of the restaurant will go toward a community development project in Burma," Christin Chiles told her father. "One of our goals is to build a school in a nearby village, train adults to become teachers and provide education for the children. We hope this will prevent human trafficking, which is at an all-time high."
Christin Chiles, speaking to the Herald on Skype, said The Journey was started by Jimmy McCarty from Atlanta, a man whose lifelong dream is to address unacceptable realities.
"We were here for a month and a half and there are a lot of nongovernment organization workers here," Christin Chiles said. "We realized you can't find a good burger anywhere in Mae Sot and Westerners need some good comfort food."
The restaurant is in a three-story concrete building in Mae Sot that the members of The Journey have rented. They hope to run day run a guest house on the upper floors so they can provide even more jobs for Burmese refugees.
The first staff person Christin Chiles hired was a 20-year-old woman named Nali who has been left with the care of five brothers and sisters, including one mentally handicapped sibling, Chiles said.
"She was making $100 a month and we are doubling her salary," Chiles said. "She speaks five languages and has the sweetest spirit. She burst out crying when we told her she got the job. If we were not here and this were not happening, this wouldn't be the case for her."
Famous Ray's will feature a Thai burger for $3 which will include a beef patty topped with Thai seasoning and crispy fried morning glory, which is similar to kale.
Christin Chiles is returning home in three weeks for a short visit and then says she is going back to Thailand.
This mission is different from all the rest, she said.
"This is so different than a short-term mission trip because this will offer stability," Christin Chiles said. "People need jobs and work. So, not only are we spreading the Gospel and I am teaching English at a Burmese refugee school, but the sustainable aspect sets this apart."
As for her views on faith and God, Christin Chiles said she has no complex explanations, just a simple one.
"God is love," Chiles said. "I know God is love and cares so much for us and there is hope and jobs and life and freedom in what He has to offer."
Christin Chiles and her colleagues are currently in a capital campaign to raise $25,000 by April 15 to keep the restaurant operating. They have already raised $10,000, Ed Chiles said.
People can give by mailing a check to: Kingdom Inc., P.O. Box 98438, Atlanta Ga. 30359. Indicate it's for The Journey Project.