Chronicles of Thailand: Into the Redlights

Bangkok has several red light districts. During our night of outreach, each of our team members was assigned to a certain district where they were to enter as a group, then break into smaller groups and set out with the simple goal of loving the women encountered. Our goal wasn’t to raid and rescue or anything like that, but to establish gateways of relationship that our partners in Bangkok could follow up on later. I’ll leave it vague like that on purpose, since this is a dangerous business.

Anyway, I was assigned to go to Nana, the red-light district known to be the most vicious of those in Bangkok. There were three of us on the team and we were to meet up with a fourth person once we got there, then walk in together. Now, if you’ll allow me, I’d like to make a proposal. Instead of just recounting my experience, I’d like you to place your hand in mine and allow me to lead you into that red-light district with me. I promise I’ll keep you safe, but it’s so easy to think this issue is far off and that it happens to people far different from you…that I need you just to step in and see things from a new perspective.

So imagine that you are there with me in a little sanctuary of a coffee shop, waiting. Waiting for the full team to assemble. Waiting for the night to unfold. Waiting to have your expectations demolished by reality….

Finally, the door is opened and you are beckoned to head out into the night and leave the station at the window from where you had been standing and watching the passersby. Now you join them, heading to your right, down the sidewalk towards the entrance to the Nana cul-de-sac of hell. The crumbled sidewalk causes you to watch your step as you pass vendors of all types of street food and other goods, taxis and streetcars whiz by and the air is full of the sounds of traffic and sizzling food, chatter, and shouting. A proper city street. You breathe in a putrid scent, heavy and drug-like. A strange mixture of incense, fried food, and something rancid and humid, like body odor, but not quite.

All these observations are registered quickly, but you have not gone more than a few paces before noticing the faces. The majority of the buildings along the street are bars with outdoor terraces open to the street and, lining the rows of thin bar-tables flush to the railings, are rows and rows of men. Most of them late middle-aged to elderly. Almost all of them white and appearing as tourists. What strikes you is that they converse very little with one another, as if not one knows any of the others, but there they sit, separate and together, staring out into the night en masse, like jackals waiting to feast on another beasts’ kill. And then you look and see what their eyes have already been consuming, the faces of young women appearing on the terraces too, but across the street. Their dresses are short and their heels high, their faces chock full of make-up and bright lip stick. Vibrant. Glitzy. Sparkly. And dead. The night has only just begun and while some wear a gaudy grin, most stare off into the distance with void eyes. The sun is almost down and they aren’t required to put on their mask just yet.

You keep walking, anger brimming up inside you. You suddenly have a new appreciation for wrath, and some choice words come to mind for the “consumers” lining the bar edges. But then you remember that hatred will only temper your ability to love well so you focus on the faces of the forsaken instead, trying to catch their eyes and communicate in one brief interaction, “I see you and I see your suffering.” You pray that 3 seconds in enough to pass on the taste of hope.

And you continue on, finally turning into Nana, the district known for making sport out of torturing women. You utter the word “Jesus” under your breath over and over and over and over and over, realizing you are far beyond your depth and powerless to intervene in the exploitation taking place on every side of you.

You travel up an escalator to the second story of the district and make your way past snoozing cooks and trash cans out to the balcony that extends around the whole second story. You’ve heard stories of what happens up here and your stomach tightens, wondering what you will have to behold at your final destination and at last, you step into that bar, dark and dirty and take a seat a few feet in front of the dance floor, full of poles and bikini-clad women, each with a pin attached to her bottoms with a number…so you may easily “order” who you’d like.

Above and behind you there are cages that expand to cover all four sides of the large room you now sit in. One larger cage rises up from between two dance floors and sits suspended in the center of the room. You order a coke and quickly realize your best bet is not to look around. You were encouraged to look straight into the eyes of the dancers, the most, and only, dignifying thing you can do, so you do. You look into their eyes and hold their gaze. Some act more seductive at that, thinking you’re a customer. Others look away. Some stand at the back of the dance floor half-hiding, looking beyond frightened. You decide they must be new.

Finally the DJ yells something into the microphone and the women come down from the stage to find customers. One nearly runs up next to you, pointing to one of the team members you’re with, asking if you came with her. Her eyes sparkle when you nod and her stiff posture instantly relaxes. She knows she’s safe. You order her a coke and try to converse, although neither of you speak the other’s language hardly at all. Even so, she speaks to you rapidly, pointing here and there and when the DJ makes another call and the girls remaining on the stage simultaneously lose an article of clothing, she looks at you and scowls. “I hate that,” she says. You keep sipping your coke and teach her tic-tac-toe. She giggles loud and innocently, like a little girl, every time a game ends and gasps at every cat’s game. Between games, she tells you her dream, simply that her daughter will have more opportunity than she has had and not need to be a dancer. The DJ makes yet another call and she sighs and stands hesitantly, frowning. “I have to go dance again…but I’m coming back,” she promises, then disappears into the other side of the bar…

You watch the other faces and you meet other women and your expectations are confirmed–they are not enjoying themselves. The girl next to you giggles flirtatiously as her customer gropes her body, but when she’s unaware that she’s being watched and her mask is down, you see in her eyes a blank, numbing stare. No smile. No sparkle. Just nothing. Her job is to get him to buy as many drinks as possible, so she does what she must to ring up the bill.

On the ride home, you struggle to comprehend your feelings. Heavy is not the right word. Glad, maybe, for the chance to meet the girls behind the masks. Glad to build relationships that can be followed up with. But you feel loss too. Powerlessness. And at the same time, hope.  You could do nothing to relieve them from that hellish place and that bar was better than most, but there must be something you can offer. You think real hard and then it occurs to you, you can offer what you do have: a voice. You can share their stories. You can lift them up in prayer. You can help change mindsets. And you can empower others to do the same.

Now it’s your turn. You didn’t go all the way Bangkok to see it firsthand, but you don’t have to. The truth is, the sex industry in America is really not that different from Bangkok. We may not have red light districts you can walk to filled with 40,000 women, but we do have red light districts–in America they are just online. I’m told that 90% of Thai men visit a prostitute with some regularity; it’s ingrained in that culture, but it’s denied that prostitution exists there. And in America, we have learned that 68% of young men and 18% of young women visit porn websites at least once a week. But no one wants to talk about it. Pornography is sex trafficking. It is exploitation in every sense and fuels and catalogs the trafficking that would be considered “more traditional” by nature. And by our silence, we will sacrifice a generation to the neurological, physical, emotional, and relational devastation that are the implications of this consumption. Not to mention that we will victimize millions of adults and children in the process, with horrors that you can scarcely imagine. This is the Siren’s island.

You maybe can’t rescue the sweet girls in Nana, but let your voice be loud on this because one voice is enough to change a life and many voices together can change a culture.  Don’t be fooled, people don’t consume pornography. Pornography consumes people. If you want to know what you can do to stop sex trafficking, this is it.


For Heaven’s Sake

For Heaven's Sake //

I remember reading in a book once that the problem with my generation is that we all know what we’re against and none of us know what we’re for.

Harsh and a wee bit generalized, but there may be some truth in that.

What are you fighting for?

I’ve been thinking about that recently and realized how rather silly it is for us to be united over something we’re against if we don’t have anything to be united over that we’re for. If you’re against war or poverty or racism or eating animals or child labor or parking tickets, what are you for in that?

I would say I am against human trafficking, but that’s because I’m for freedom. I’m for people being whole and full and human trafficking violates these things so therefore I am against it. But the difference in being for things instead of against them is that you can no longer stop at eradication.

Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.  Romans 12:21

This means I can’t just be happy if we successfully end trafficking in America (don’t get me wrong–that would be something to rejoice over!) because there would still be a whole lot of people hurting from it out there. If I’m for fullness, then I’m not satisfied until those people are restored and healed. Being for means not being satisfied with ending evil until it is replaced by good.

This applies not just to “causes,” but to sin as well. It’s easy to be against anything and everything in terms of sin, but usually that sort of attitude only yields guilt and condemnation. Come on, what are we for? What is God for?

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.  John 10:10

I would venture to say that God is a pretty big proponent of fullness and joy and life, so as His follower that makes me a big fan of those things too. Then if I’m for fullness, I’m against gossip because it violates fullness. It tears apart relationships and poisons the heart of the one who embraces it.  Instead, I want to embrace edifying words and encouragement, because those go with fullness. Stopping gossip doesn’t lead to fullness, replacing gossip does.

Get the picture?

If you are only against something and not sure what you’re for in that fight, maybe you need to reevaluate your efforts. If your answer to this is–“Because the Bible says so!”–Great–I’m thankful for your obedient heart! But maybe this is a great time to explore the Word more and see what God is for and therefore why the Bible says to avoid the things it does. This might just apply to relationships in your life too.

Praise the One who is the Giver of all good things.

The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me,
    because the Lord has anointed me
    to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
    to proclaim freedom for the captives
    and release from darkness for the prisoners,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor
    and the day of vengeance of our God,
to comfort all who mourn,
    and provide for those who grieve in Zion—
to bestow on them a crown of beauty
    instead of ashes,
the oil of joy
    instead of mourning,
and a garment of praise
    instead of a spirit of despair.
They will be called oaks of righteousness,
    a planting of the Lord
    for the display of his splendor.  Isaiah 61:1-3

Breaking the Bonds of Shame

Breaking the Bonds of Shame //

Shame. It’s the deep feeling of being unworthy, dirty or contaminated. It’s the thing that makes us want to hide away or cover up the truth. It’s that overwhelming feeling you get when someone is looking at you. Really looking at you. When it feels like they can see every flaw, every blemish and you cover your face and hide away in shame.

Shame can stem from what we’ve done or shame can stem from what others have done to us. Most have experienced it at some point in their lives, however some experience shame that is crippling, which they carry around like a cloak, hindering them from truly living the way God intended.

How to find freedom from shame

So what can we do with this disabling disposition? First, we need to recognize it and its symptoms in our lives and then it is up to us to decide whether or not to travel down the road that leads to freedom. It is our choice whether or not we continue to live under the cover of shame, continually crying out ‘unworthy!’ or ‘unclean!’ to anyone who tries to get close to us. Second, we need to accept cleansing from the One who died to wash our shame in His blood and make us His own. Like those lepers who were once outcasts of society – ‘unclean’, is to seek out the One who can clean us, make us as white as snow! (Matt 8:1-3, Luke 17:11-14, Isaiah 1:18)

Roadblocks to freedom

A lot of us run into problems when we begin to overcome our shame. No matter how many times someone tells us we’re beautiful, we cannot hear it. Encouraging words bounce off us like our hearts are made of stone. We can receive no hopeful words from others. We cannot get over the feeling of always being unworthy. Well, to be frank, you are.

We are all unworthy. Romans 3:23 says ‘for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,’ when we look at us compared to the glory and the splendor of God, we are nothing. We have nothing to boast about.

We often try to overcome our shame by finding worth in ourselves. We try to find something to feel proud about. But that’s just it—pride! Attempting to produce our own worth of ourselves is pride. Looking for worth in ourselves is just feeding our pride, it does nothing to eradicate shame.

No, the only way to break the bonds of shame is to put our worth, hope, and trust in Jesus Christ through whom we are justified.

Shame flees at the cross

Romans 3:24 goes on to say ‘and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.’ We are to cling to His promise to free us from our sin and shame, and in doing so we can associate ourselves with the One who is worthy! We can rejoice in His goodness. We can boast in His righteousness.

If we are in Him and He in us, we can stand tall and boldly approach the throne of grace (Hebrews 4:16) without shame because of what He did for us. We should not fear to be seen or exposed because God has cleansed us from the inside out. We are whiter than snow. We are beautiful children of God. May your heart believe it!

Instead of your shame
you will receive a double portion,
and instead of disgrace
you will rejoice in your inheritance.
And so you will inherit a double portion in your land,
and everlasting joy will be yours.
– Isaiah 61:7

Impossible with Man

Impossible with man //

I have a lot of work to do and I can’t do it. I read an article in a magazine today about a website that facilitates adultery and it has ruined my day. It isn’t the first time I’ve heard about it, but it has ruined my day none-the-less, or at least my hour.

The worst part is the article itself is not what ruined my day. I was doing some work on Facebook and saw several other articles and videos posted testifying to the gravity of the depravity that inundates this world, and then read that awful article all in a matter of 15 minutes–and all without trying to find such instances of evil at work. And so this combination, this reminder of the magnitude of evil in the world, ruined my focus.

Looking Above

Instead, I started praying. Sort of. I imagined the mass number of people recorded flocking to this anti-marital website and I started crying. I thought of a conversation I had yesterday with someone believing prostituted women choose to be prostituted. I thought of the statistical level of online porn usage and the number of people it has sucked in and devoured. I told God it sure looks like evil has triumphed. I asked Him what He was thinking making all these millions and billions of people who have become so eager to marry themselves to evil and join in its fate.

Then I saw myself here crying and I remembered that I am not the only one. I am not alone. I am not the only one broken by the awareness of evil. I am not the only one whose heart and mind Christ is and has been at work to change into one like His own.

Perhaps this awareness does not affect all in the same way. There are those called to be set apart, to see the world through a different lens, to think with a different mind, and to live differently, as ones reconciled to God. There are others and they are one.

They are called the Bride and the creation of the masses with the ability to choose or reject Christ was the only way to have her and He found her worth it. And He has eyes for no other. He is the only faithful One, and by His faithfulness He cultivates faithfulness.

The Impossible Is Already Done

And so my day has been redeemed. He has done what was impossible to do. He defeated death. He ransomed the hearts of men and is actively changing them into His very own heart.

I’m not sure which is harder to believe. Both are impossible, but He did and does. And so when I think of people who ask if what we at TriHOPe wOrkney to do is even possible, if it’s even possible to end sexual assault or to stop sex trafficking or to change the attitude of our culture, I will tell them confidently, “No.” It is not possible; it is impossible. With human effort, it cannot be done. On my own I can do nothing. Nothing. Yet I serve One who specializes in accomplishing the impossible.

My faith is not set on the results I may or may not see in my lifetime Rather my hope and my faith are in the One who is faithful and the One who is capable and the One who overcomes. So I will not stop working for His purposes. And I will not stop praying for His purposes. And I will not stop testifying to His purposes. I will fix my eyes on Him who is the Author and Perfecter of my faith and not on the evil that runs rampant. Because He is the One who triumphs.

I’m going to get back to work now.

Unless the Lord builds the house, they labor in vain who build it… Psalm 127:1

Pin It on Pinterest