I’m currently living in Thailand. Bangkok, specifically. Most people reading this already know that, but after a month and a half it has become somewhat normal to me, so I like to repeat it. I’m in Thailand. I’m in THAILAND. I’M IN THAILAND. Forbes magazine recently listed Bangkok as the number one tourist destination city by international visitor arrivals in 2013. Lucky me- I’m in the most popular city in the world! Sounds glamorous-and in a lot of ways it is. I live in an air-conditioned apartment with running water, a washing machine, and wifi. I went to the beach a few weekends ago and got a manicure, pedicure, foot-scrub and massage for $15. I have friends here who are life giving in their words and actions, and the church I attend has the perfect motto- “Welcome Home.” I love it here. I really love it here. But these amenities and (for me) blessings are not the only things bringing in tourists…
Last year the revenue generated from tourism to Thailand was $30,967,741,935 USD. So we’re talking hotels, food, excursions, entertainment, right? Yes, definitely- that’s to be expected. But the “glamour” that an estimated 7/10 men who step off the plane in Thailand will indulge in generates a whopping $6.4 billion of that number. I’m sure you’ve already guessed that I’m talking about the sex industry.
You guys-it’s everywhere. Downtown there are places where women sell themselves to Thai men 24 hours/day. On the outskirts of town many restaurants turn on Christmas lights after dark to say, “hey there are women here.” There are three (unfortunately) famous Red Light Districts in downtown Bangkok. Last week I watched a (foreign) man walk down the street of Soy Cowboy with wide eyes, a dropped grinning jaw, and a video camera. I can’t remember if it was Sandra or Judy, but one of them told me they’ve seen tour buses stop at the end of the street, let all the tourists walk down and take pictures of the bars and the women, and then they pick them up on the other end. In one of our classes the instructor (who has worked with people in the sex industry in Thailand for over 10 years) said she has had westerners come over who learn that in order to make their quota and receive their full salaries, the women have to take around 10 customers per month- and they respond with, “oh that’s all? That’s not that bad.” What?! What in the world?
Hollywood has set the bar for what we consider evil- and so anything less than “forced sex slavery” and 20-30 customers/day is just “not that bad.” So of course, people come here and don’t see the true evil that surrounds them. They are here for enjoyment. They don’t take the time to gain the perspective of a 17-year-old girl who was forced by her parents to travel five hours from home to Bangkok to work in the bars and take 10 clients per month in order to feed her family and allow her siblings to go to school. They don’t see the brokenness of that girl’s heart, or the 1 million others just like her in Thailand. The nightlife here is seen as “glamorous.” It’s just accepted. It’s in the culture. It’s what “has to” be done to survive. And to try and change the mindset of a 96% Buddhist country and the 22.3 million tourists visiting the country each year- well, that is overwhelming.
The past 2 weeks I have been blessed with the opportunity to work with a ministry reaching out to the women in this industry and to the girls in danger of falling victim to it. During my time here I’ve had the privilege to hear from a woman who has a thriving, transforming ministry to lady-boys. I’ve also heard from a man who is reaching out to the broken men who are often looked at as evil rather than as broken people who have a past that has somehow led them to engage in an evil environment. Incredible, incredible ministries have taken root here. And there is a common thread through all of them. These people know that on human strength alone they don’t stand a chance at helping anyone. Sure, with enough funds they could probably meet the physical needs of many- but as said in my class on poverty alleviation- “that doesn’t address the soul pain, and that is the greatest injustice of all.” These ministries know that there is only One person, One God, that can save, heal, transform, and redeem a human being-let alone the entire world. So they must surrender to Him. We must surrender to Him. In John 15:5 Jesus says,
Apart from me you can do nothing.
It only makes sense to let Jesus do what He has already done. At church today Pastor Daniel said, “The greatest thing that could ever happen in a person’s life has already happened.” It’s so true. And I know if you scroll down you can read multiple similar realizations to this one, but it’s because Jesus weaves his love through everything. In 1 John 4:7-21 it defines that “God is love.” And in Hebrews 13:8 it says, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.” So, because Jesus is God, and God is love-Love is the same yesterday and today and forever. God’s love is the common thread. The only way we can ever hope to see change in this world is to be loved by Jesus, to share that love and to put it in His hands to transform lives by that love.
There is a lot of evil in this world. People are seen as objects to buy and sell. Parents, relatives, neighbors and friends abuse children. Addictions win over the bodies of people of all ages. Mafia rings drug and rent out babies for beggars to use so that they can woo the heart of the tourists. People spend their whole lives worshiping statues and idols. And some evil is even made to look good- like the evil of the sex industry being overlooked because of the false “glamour” that it so often conveys. It’s everywhere. It’s all around us. So what can we do?
We can follow The Common Thread- and we can just let Love.
Love your friends.
Love the child who rebels against everything you say.
Love your rude next-door neighbor.
Love your unappreciative boss.
Love your biased professor.
Love the person who always seems to be starting fights.
Love the manipulator.
Love the person who is lost, and who seems like they don’t want to be found.
Love the person you feel like you can never forgive.
Love the women, the lady-boys and the men in the bars.
Love. Love. Love.