December 21: Thank you.

I’m on my way home. My first flight landed an hour early, which meant less time on the plane but a longer layover. So, I’m currently sitting in the Istanbul airport where I have been for around 5 hours now. For whatever reason after I make one transaction in this airport my debit and credit cards suddenly have a block on them- even though I have a flag on my account that I’m traveling through this exact city. It happened the last time I was here also. So that’s frustrating but I will survive. International travels…

ANYWAY. I want to write a bit more about my time in Thailand-specifically  all of the things I am most thankful for. So, in no particular order…

Impact School of Missions

This four weeks of training and fun could not have been any more perfect for my start to this adventure. I actually wish that I could sit in on the classes for another (or maybe 2 or 3 more…) terms just so that I can soak in more of the information that we were given. For those of you who don’t know, the school is split up into four broad topics: Culture, Holy Spirit, Personal, and Missions. During culture week we learned all about the dos and don’ts of Thailand (and India for those who were traveling there for their internships), the Thai culture itself, and what it looks like to be a foreigner living/ministering in another culture. The second week we learned about partnering with the Holy Spirit throughout our internships and lives. The third week we did personality and gifts testing to learn more about ourselves and why we interact with others the way we do and how God can use those traits. And finally the fourth week we heard from 7 different missionaries in Thailand about their specific ministries and God’s heart for His very diverse world of people. Throughout the first month we also had multiple opportunities to work alongside some of the ministries in Bangkok and we visited a few of the tourist hotspots.

IMG_0104

One of the greatest parts about ISM is that it brought 10 very different, unique, beautiful women into my life (+Sandra, Jessica, and Peter). Although we were together for a brief time, it was truly a blessing to get a glimpse at their hearts and the beautiful ways God could, would, and will use them in this world. So, to Impact School of Missions- thank you.

Servantworks- The Well

When God first put Thailand on my heart, I never could have imagined the experience I would be blessed with when I got there. I am so thankful to say that I had the most incredible 2.5 months interning with The Well in Bangkok. I was and will continue to be so blessed by the people there. They taught me about acceptance, love, forgiveness, redemption and so much more.

Every morning I started my day with 3-4 Thai women in the “Baan Dek” (children’s center). It was here that I picked up the majority of my Thai, got to play and do crafts with the kids, and got to spend quality time really getting to know the other women I worked with. They practiced their English with me, and I (tried to) practice some Thai with them. In the afternoons I did a few different things. The first being spending a significant amount of time with my fellow intern, Kylie. She is one of the greatest blessings of my internship experience.  We went on a trip to a NE province together where we got to see another one of Servantworks’ ministries (Breakthrough-Thailand) and even got to help with the rice harvest! We also went with 1 or 2 Thai women every week to China Town, where we had the opportunity to build relationships with women working on the streets. We got to spend the first month playing games/getting to know the older kids who were off of school, spent a lot of time bothering Judy in her office, ate quite a few cupcakes and HiChews, and could almost always be found bent over laughing together. You would never be able to tell by our friendship that there is a 17-year age gap- and to be honest I could never really tell either. I also had the unique opportunity to teach a worship dance class 2 afternoons per week. Even after 13.5 years of dance, I never would have thought that my dancing could be used for ministry…let alone ministry in Thailand. God gave me a passion for dance as a child, but that passion was ultimately going to be used for His glory. So cool, right? My dance class also provided me with time to get to know a lot of the women at The Well, and to see their funny, beautiful personalities. My final day at The Well they gifted me with a time of thanksgiving and prayer. The women and staff shared their thanks with me for specific things, and then everyone (including the children) prayed over me. The tears were inevitable at that point, and behind them were the pains of grief which I am especially thankful for. To grieve is to have loved- and the love I experienced and shared at The Well is irreplaceable in my heart. So, to Servantworks and specifically The Well- thank you.i-vJ6wb5B-X2

Monique

When I got off the plane in Thailand and had gathered my bags, I walked out of the airport and found Sandra with the “Impact School of Missions” sign and with a 6-foot tall Canadian girl. Little did I know that the first person I met would soon become one of my closest, dearest friends. We spent an awkward first couple of hours sweating at the dining room table and making small talk- and from then on we were pretty much inseparable. I knew that I would make friends while I was there, but I never expected to have any of them become one of my best friends. Our list of adventures together is LONG but usually included a mall/bookstore, a motorcycle, a TV series, an adventurous/surreal trip around Thailand, or just talking at a coffee shop. Also, laughter. ALWAYS laughter. This girl prayed with me, encouraged me, opened up her heart to me, and loved me. What more could I ask for, honestly? It was such a divinely orchestrated friendship, and I have been so blessed by it. So, to Monique- thank you.

IMG_0743IMG_1460

Support System

When I got on the plane to come here, I left behind my incredible friends and family. Throughout my time in Thailand I received so much encouragement and prayers from home. I received Facebook messages, emails, letters, a package, and had countless Skype dates. One thing that I was told on my last day at The Well came to one of the staff members during the time of prayer- it was two words: rootless, and rooted. He told me he was thankful that I was willing to be rootless in leaving behind the people and places I loved to follow the Lord’s call, and saw that in that I was still rooted in Christ. So, I need to say thank you to all of the people who supported me in coming here-financially, in prayer, and in encouragement. Without you guys I would not have experienced the Lord in the unique ways I have, I would not have met all of the people and organizations listed above, and I would not have gained the knowledge I have from my time overseas. So, to all of you at home- thank you.

Zachary

My guy gets his own thank you, even though he was a major part of the support system I talked about already. It is with so much joy that I get to call him my boyfriend and that I get to be reunited with him in 15 short hours. My sweet Zack has (aside from God) been my biggest encourager in my time away. He committed to dating me long distance for 3.5 months, which in and of itself was a big step of faith- but in that time he also committed his life to whatever the Lord had for him. Therefore, our time spent apart has become a huge blessing. The Lord has so evidently grown each of us individually, which has made our relationship even more of a joy to pursue. While I was in Thailand Zachary prayed for me, and constantly told me he was doing it. He played worship music for me when I was having melt downs, and he was a voice of reason and reassurance when the heaviness of my internship seemed as if it were too much to handle. So, to Zachary- thank you.Screen shot 2013-09-09 at 8.42.13 AMScreen shot 2013-12-20 at 6.55.53 AM(First and last Skypes in Thailand!)

God

To the Lord of the universe from whom all blessings flow– I am eternally grateful for the sacrifice made on the cross that has saved me from my sins. He has so evidently (as you’ve read) worked in every situation for my good and I’m so excited to give all glory to Him. So, to God- thank you (infinity times over).

So so so thankful for this exciting journey of life that I’m on, and so so so excited to see everyone in the coming weeks.

-E

Advertisements

December 16: Beauty in the Tragedy.

My time in Thailand is coming to a close (for now). I wish that I could sum up even a fraction of my time here, but my memories alongside these blog reflections and my journal entries will have to suffice. It is with this realization that I must record one of the greatest joys of being here. Bear with me.

I have seen tragedy.

I have seen exploited children on the streets of Bangkok being forced to beg for money. I have seen police officers look the other way as illegal activity takes place on the streets of China Town. I have seen girls throw themselves at men to earn a living. I have seen the presence of the sex industry in every city I’ve visited in Thailand. I have seen sadness in the eyes of struggling addicts. I have had children in the slums hang on me just to get an ounce of affection that they otherwise go without. I have seen the hearts of broken women, whose lives have been plagued with poverty, pressures, and an extreme misunderstanding of love. I have seen evil everywhere I have gone.

It’s inescapable. We live in the worst kind of place. A place riddled with sinful, broken people who create sinful, broken cultures, which make up sinful, broken countries which leave us in a worldwide mess of tragedy. This isn’t a Thailand problem. This is a heart problem. This is a humanity problem. But in Thailand, it has been overwhelmingly evident to me. I don’t really know how else to put it. I guess Americans strive for life, liberty, and happiness without flaw, and we’re pretty good at following through with covering up our imperfections. But in Thailand there is a mediocre goal of good merit and saving face and yet there is a cultural norm of corruption, promiscuity, and infidelity. So it sticks out. No one will do or say anything about it at the risk of “losing face” and yet that very inaction contradicts the strive for what I believe would be good merit (lending a hand to those in need?). It’s a bit backwards, and also very different from what I’ve grown up with. So I think that’s another reason why it seems so much more visible to me. This cycle of ignored evil and abuse is tragic. But it is also beautiful.

Tragedy lays the foundation for what is truly beautiful- and that is Jesus’ fully restorative, redemptive, unending, unconditional grace. Without tragedy, without evil, and without sin, our Jesus is unnecessary. His whole life is meaningless. Yet here we are in this world full of tragedy, evil and sin, with the reality of a God who is able, willing, and faithful to show us the power of His almighty hand. That is beauty, and therefore we see beauty. Therefore, I have seen beauty.

I have seen children join hands and passionately pray for each other. I have seen God’s power to lead our outreach to the person in most desperate need of exactly what we had to give them. I have seen the smile of a girl in prison who has taken the responsibility of caring for the younger children and her father. I have seen an innocent 4 year old victim of a nearly fatal motorcycle accident lead a whole Thanksgiving table of missionaries in worship. I have seen the fruit of a growing church plant led by pastors who were once held captive for 11 months in the worst circumstances. I have seen the joy of refugees worshiping the Lord far from the persecution that they escaped. I have seen a prevention ministry that is mentoring and living alongside teenage girls giving them safety and reinstating potential. I have seen the impact that organizations like Compassion International have on a child’s life. I have seen and met people who are all furthering God’s kingdom in the way He has uniquely called them. I have seen and experienced God’s divinity and truth in Romans 8:28. I have seen the hearts of restored women whose lives were plagued with poverty, pressures, and an extreme misunderstanding of love now reaching back to those where they once were. I have seen beauty everywhere I have gone. And I will see beauty everywhere I go.

This is one of the greatest joys I have experienced here- to know and see that in every tragedy, no matter how grave or twisted or evil it may seem, we always have hope in the beautiful redemption offered by Jesus. People live in tragic situations all over the world, and it is heartbreaking! But how heart-filling is it to see and to continue believing for God’s Kingdom come on this earth? It is more than filling. It is overflowing. And all glory goes to Him who created it all.

-E

November 29: Thanksgiving Skypes

Thanksgiving has come and gone in America, but I have a quick post of thanks. I am so thankful for technology. I am so thankful for the chance to be included (even for just a little bit) in the holiday celebrations. I am so thankful for the people in these photos.

ImageImageImageImageImage

I hope that everyone reading this had an incredible day full of traditions, love, thanksgiving and turkey. Sending my love from the other side of the world. I can’t wait to see you all so soon!

-E

November 19: Our God is able.

My friend Dan recently went to the Philippines with International Justice Mission and as he reflected on his trip, he wrote this:

“God gets absolutely thrilled and jumps for joy as he sees the healing of his daughters. He gets beyond excited when he uses his followers to bring his children to rescue. But, he also sees the millions of his other children still trapped. He sees them in their captivity and longs beyond comprehension to see them rescued. So, he is proactive and he moves to accomplish this, and he has chosen to do it through you and me. Micah 6:8 says “Seek justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God.” This is His explicit command and desire for us. He is calling us to live as he did. Just as he willingly gave himself up to die on a cross for me to restore my relationship with him, he wants me to do the same. What better opportunity than to do this for the 27 million people still trapped? There is none. He longs for us to experience His incredibly redemptive power in other people. But to do that, we must step up and lay down our lives for these people. Their is no better job than to help set people free from not only physical slavery, but spiritual as well. Try and picture these innocent daughters of the living God and put yourself in their shoes. How will you respond?

I could not have said this better myself, and so obviously had to share it. After reading his blog I was drawn to Psalm 92. Then I backed up and read Psalm 90-94. I was incredibly encouraged by Dan’s challenge, and by the promises the Lord showed me directly after. I’m posting the entire passage because I am lacking words to summarize and I feel it’s best if the Word of God just does the speaking for me. His words are far more powerful than mine could ever be. Be encouraged and join me as I pray and believe for the truth of these scriptures in this burdened and broken world:

From Everlasting to Everlasting

90 Lord, you have been our dwelling place
in all generations.
2 Before the mountains were brought forth,
or ever you had formed the earth and the world,
from everlasting to everlasting you are God.
3 You return man to dust
and say, “Return, O children of man!”
4 For a thousand years in your sight
are but as yesterday when it is past,
or as a watch in the night.
5 You sweep them away as with a flood; they are like a dream,
like grass that is renewed in the morning:
6 in the morning it flourishes and is renewed;
in the evening it fades and withers.
7 For we are brought to an end by your anger;
by your wrath we are dismayed.
8 You have set our iniquities before you,
our secret sins in the light of your presence.
9 For all our days pass away under your wrath;
we bring our years to an end like a sigh.
10 The years of our life are seventy,
or even by reason of strength eighty;
yet their span is but toil and trouble;
they are soon gone, and we fly away.
11 Who considers the power of your anger,
and your wrath according to the fear of you?
12 So teach us to number our days
that we may get a heart of wisdom.
13 Return, O Lord! How long?
Have pity on your servants!
14 Satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love,
that we may rejoice and be glad all our days.
15 Make us glad for as many days as you have afflicted us,
and for as many years as we have seen evil.
16 Let your work be shown to your servants,
and your glorious power to their children.
17 Let the favor of the Lord our God be upon us,
and establish the work of our hands upon us;
yes, establish the work of our hands!

My Refuge and My Fortress

91 He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High
will abide in the shadow of the Almighty.
2 I will say to the Lord, “My refuge and my fortress,
my God, in whom I trust.”
3 For he will deliver you from the snare of the fowler
and from the deadly pestilence.
4 He will cover you with his pinions,
and under his wings you will find refuge;
his faithfulness is a shield and buckler.
5 You will not fear the terror of the night,
nor the arrow that flies by day,
6 nor the pestilence that stalks in darkness,
nor the destruction that wastes at noonday.
7 A thousand may fall at your side,
ten thousand at your right hand,
but it will not come near you.
8 You will only look with your eyes
and see the recompense of the wicked.
9 Because you have made the Lord your dwelling place—
the Most High, who is my refuge—
10 no evil shall be allowed to befall you,
no plague come near your tent.
11 For he will command his angels concerning you
to guard you in all your ways.
12 On their hands they will bear you up,
lest you strike your foot against a stone.
13 You will tread on the lion and the adder;
the young lion and the serpent you will trample underfoot.
14 “Because he holds fast to me in love, I will deliver him;
I will protect him, because he knows my name.
15 When he calls to me, I will answer him;
I will be with him in trouble;
I will rescue him and honor him.
16 With long life I will satisfy him
and show him my salvation.”

How Great Are Your Works

92 It is good to give thanks to the Lord,
to sing praises to your name, O Most High;
2 to declare your steadfast love in the morning,
and your faithfulness by night,
3 to the music of the lute and the harp,
to the melody of the lyre.
4 For you, O Lord, have made me glad by your work;
at the works of your hands I sing for joy.
5 How great are your works, O Lord!
Your thoughts are very deep!
6 The stupid man cannot know;
the fool cannot understand this:
7 that though the wicked sprout like grass
and all evildoers flourish,
they are doomed to destruction forever;
8 but you, O Lord, are on high forever.
9 For behold, your enemies, O Lord,
for behold, your enemies shall perish;
all evildoers shall be scattered.
10 But you have exalted my horn like that of the wild ox;
you have poured over me fresh oil.
11 My eyes have seen the downfall of my enemies;
my ears have heard the doom of my evil assailants.
12 The righteous flourish like the palm tree
and grow like a cedar in Lebanon.
13 They are planted in the house of the Lord;
they flourish in the courts of our God.
14 They still bear fruit in old age;
they are ever full of sap and green,
15 to declare that the Lord is upright;
he is my rock, and there is no unrighteousness in him.

The Lord Reigns

93 The Lord reigns; he is robed in majesty;
the Lord is robed; he has put on strength as his belt.
Yes, the world is established; it shall never be moved.
2 Your throne is established from of old;
you are from everlasting.
3 The floods have lifted up, O Lord,
the floods have lifted up their voice;
the floods lift up their roaring.
4 Mightier than the thunders of many waters,
mightier than the waves of the sea,
the Lord on high is mighty!
5 Your decrees are very trustworthy;
holiness befits your house,
O Lord, forevermore.

The Lord Will Not Forsake His People

94 O Lord, God of vengeance,
O God of vengeance, shine forth!
2 Rise up, O judge of the earth;
repay to the proud what they deserve!
3 O Lord, how long shall the wicked,
how long shall the wicked exult?
4 They pour out their arrogant words;
all the evildoers boast.
5 They crush your people, O Lord,
and afflict your heritage.
6 They kill the widow and the sojourner,
and murder the fatherless;
7 and they say, “The Lord does not see;
the God of Jacob does not perceive.”
8 Understand, O dullest of the people!
Fools, when will you be wise?
9 He who planted the ear, does he not hear?
He who formed the eye, does he not see?
10 He who disciplines the nations, does he not rebuke?
He who teaches man knowledge—
11 the Lord—knows the thoughts of man,
that they are but a breath.
12 Blessed is the man whom you discipline, O Lord,
and whom you teach out of your law,
13 to give him rest from days of trouble,
until a pit is dug for the wicked.
14 For the Lord will not forsake his people;
he will not abandon his heritage;
15 for justice will return to the righteous,
and all the upright in heart will follow it.
16 Who rises up for me against the wicked?
Who stands up for me against evildoers?
17 If the Lord had not been my help,
my soul would soon have lived in the land of silence.
18 When I thought, “My foot slips,”
your steadfast love, O Lord, held me up.
19 When the cares of my heart are many,
your consolations cheer my soul.
20 Can wicked rulers be allied with you,
those who frame injustice by statute?
21 They band together against the life of the righteous
and condemn the innocent to death.
22 But the Lord has become my stronghold,
and my God the rock of my refuge.
23 He will bring back on them their iniquity
and wipe them out for their wickedness;
the Lord our God will wipe them out.

Our God is able. To do anything.

How are you responding to what has already been done for you?

-E

November 6: Focus

Abby gets straight A’s, but wants to be good at playing the piano. Ben is an incredibly talented pianist, but wants to have a big group of friends. Caleb has a big group of friends, but wishes he was good at basketball. Derek is the star basketball player at his high school, but wishes he could get straight A’s, or at least one A.

Eric lives within 20 minutes of his family, but wants to move to South Africa. Fred lives in South Africa, but wants to be trained to be a nurse in Australia. Gina is a nurse in Australia, but has always dreamed of being a missionary in Ghana. Hannah is a missionary in Ghana, but wishes she were only 20 minutes away from her family.

Jennifer has a brand new ipad, but wants a dog. Kelly has a dog but wants a new car. Luke has a new car but wants a wife and children. Matt has a wife and children, but wants a new ipad.

We always want what other people have: skills, opportunities, material things, spiritual gifts, personality traits, etc. As humans it’s easy for us to look at other people’s lives and see differences from our own. The differences, if they are desired, can grab our attention away from Jesus. If we are enticed by what we do not have, then our focus shifts to that desire, or to the person who has what we desire. We can then become so obsessed with the blessings of other people that we don’t see our own blessings-the blessings that in the end, someone further down the desire chain is bringing to a full circle.

I’ve been thinking about this cycle a lot lately- especially in my daily battle for content-ness. My main challenge has not been a comparison of blessings between myself and other people, but between my present self and my future self. I am over half way through my time in Thailand and I’m so excited to be home with my family and friends! I have been finding it hard not to daydream about the joys in my near future- an airport reunion, Christmas, TCX, just relaxing and watching football… AH! These things are going to be great. I also know that when I do get back, I’m going to have a battle with my present self and my past self. I’m going to want to be back here doing what I’m doing right now. I am battling my very own cycle of desires.

Now don’t get me wrong- having desires and dreams for our lives are good things! It’s when they become our only focus that they begin to hinder our God-given joy. It’s like if I were to go on a walk and focus only on the stop sign at the end of the road. If I do this, then I’m going to miss all of the colors and life around me as I walk. Although it’s great to have a focal point in the future (reunions, conferences, graduation, missions, marriage, etc.), it would be a shame to have missed everything else along the way. You know what I mean? So I have been checking myself a lot lately because I know that God has incredible, daily joys for me right now. I am blessed to work at an incredible ministry that I am personally passionate about. Every morning I spend 3 hours playing with toddlers and babies! Two afternoons a week I am teaching a worship dance class to the women. I have the opportunity to do outreach to women who are still working in the sex industry. Many times the women say they have to work to live, but we (the ministry) get to offer them an alternative. I have found a favorite spot in Bangkok where I can have a taste of home (homemade cupcakes, chicken pot pies, chai tea lattes…) and every Wednesday afternoon I can choose to meet with people who are working in all different ministries around Bangkok to pray as one, unified, body of believers. I have wifi at my apartment, a laptop and an iPhone that make keeping in contact with the people I love as easy as pushing send. I have a list of about a million other blessings and joys that are true of my life right now. And as long as I focus on Jesus, I can clearly see all of them.

I challenge you to focus on Jesus. Then look at your desires, your dreams, and your blessings and sort out where and why your attention is where it is.

You may find that you’re in a battle with yourself- past, present, future, or any combination.

You may find that the things you think you desire are just the manifestations of jealousy in your heart.

You may find freedom in knowing that material things are worth nothing, but eternity is worth everything.

You may find that the blessings you do have could be used in incredible ways for the Kingdom.

You may find comfort that you are always exactly where God wants you to be according to His perfect will.

You may find that you’ve been walking through life staring at a stop sign, and you’re missing the blessings all around you right now.

You may find something unexpected, so…just look! Focus, and then look.

-E

October 23: More on Love.

These are the words of a friend of mine who has graciously allowed me to share them, but wishes to remain anonymous. ENJOY. -E

IMG_1435

I wonder why I love love so much.  Every favorite song, movie, and memory of mine has an overwhelming, underlying theme of love.  Why do we need love? Want love so badly?  What is love?  Have I ever really felt love?  I would like to think so.  I don’t know that I have ever fallen into love with someone.  But I do know the warmth of a close friend’s arms wrapped tight around me has to be somewhere near love.  I know that the empty hole left in my heart after my grandfather passed was love lost.  I know that the joy I feel in a dark world is a Father’s heavenly love for me.  I have seen love.  I have felt love.  I know love.  Someday, I hope he will find me.  Someday, I hope to be able to claim a man’s love as my own.  But for now, I will rest knowing that love is here and now.  The world had once convinced me love was but one thing; one man, one woman, one promise.  But I see love in one sunrise, one embrace, One God.  I see love in friendships.  I see love in my grandmother’s smile that has lived well beyond her “one love”.  I see love eternal with my One and Only True Love, in Romans 5:8.  Turns out this worldly one love that had once fooled me has fooled me no longer.  Love surrounds.  It is never ceasing, immortal, unending, and present.
 
Love is here. Love is now.

October 20: just let Love.

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.

-E

October 13: The Well (week 1)

This past week I nervously and excitedly began my internship at The Well. So much of it was different than I expected, but all of it felt exactly right. For our first week we spent the majority of the time getting to know the staff members, the women, the children, and the ministry. I get to intern with a spunky New Zealand native who has spent her past 15 years living in London and working as a nurse. She’s a fabulous person to spend my days with and has a great sense of humor-plus everything she says is 10x funnier because of her cute accent. It was such a fun week. Here are my highlights from each day:

Monday: In the morning we spent time with different staff members getting to know their hearts and their positions in the ministry. Then in the afternoon we got to spend time in the children’s center! We taught the kids “head, shoulders, knees and toes.” They loved it. Some of the older kids showed me later on in the week and had obviously been practicing! So sweet.

Tuesday: In the afternoon we got to sit in on a relatively high-level English class. The women were HILARIOUS and so eager to learn. Plus they taught us a bit of Thai while we were there! Spending time getting to know the women is so fun. So far they’ve been hilarious. Tuesday night we went on our first outreach to one of the Red Light Districts. We went early so when we got there a lot of the girls were still in their street clothes eating dinner. It was a rainy night so (at least while we were there) things were pretty tame. Judy (co-founder of The Well) was there to translate for us. A lot of the women we talked to had only been there a couple weeks because flooding up north in the rice patties means little to no profit for farmers. So they came to Bangkok to work- and unfortunately all things sexual sell in this city.

Wednesday: Wednesday afternoon we had the opportunity to do a unique outreach during the day. Our translators and fellow outreachers were two Thai women who both used to work in the bars- and if they didn’t tell us their stories, I never would have guessed that about them. They’re incredible, and Jesus beautifully beams through them. We went to China Town- the part of the city initially settled in by the Chinese (hence the name). This part of the city is not safe to be in starting at about 5 PM because it wrecked with alcohol, drugs, and violent gangs. Amidst all of this, young girls and women stand on the streets outside of hotels where they take clients. They are there to service Thai men (20% of Thailand’s prostitution takes place with foreign men visiting Thailand which means the remaining 80% is Thai men. This amounts to at least 450,000 Thai men visiting prostitutes every day). We met two sixteen year old girls, and my heart was broken. I had to hold back tears as our translator explained to us that the girls were cousins and that one of their moms had brought them there to work. One of the girls has a twin sister who was also supposed to be there with them-but she had disappeared five days earlier. They looked so scared and vulnerable. I couldn’t help but think about my baby sister, who is just a year younger than them. I couldn’t handle it. We prayed for them, and as we did a sixty-some year old Thai man stuck his head into our small gathering. I found out afterwards that he was asking “how much for the foreign girls?” Lucky for him I didn’t understand him, or he may have caught my fist in his face (flesh reaction). When we walked away I turned around and saw him leading one of the girls we had just been with into the hotel. One of the Thai women put both arms around me and turned me in the opposite direction. Her words were consoling and reassuring to my obviously emotional state. She said when she first started coming on outreach she wanted to physically fight the men for taking advantage of the women (ditto), but God opened her eyes to see that He loves the whole world and that these men are just as broken and lost as the women (true). We learned a lot about this in a class in our last week of ISM. I’m hoping to post about that later on. God is opening my eyes to a lot of things, and there are just too many to put into one blog post.

Thursday: Well, I spent my morning throwing up and sleeping. After I woke up I was fine though. I spent the evening at the McIntosh’s home for Canadian Thanksgiving. I was so thankful for a home cooked meal, delicious desserts, and fun company.

Friday: In the morning I got to spend time with the kids again, but I also had a chance to join some of the women in a game time! We played Bingo and I got to practice my Thai numbers- a much needed lesson for me! Then in the afternoon we did fun things like go to the coffee shop with Judy and Becky (another volunteer), and move/reorganize Judy’s office! For dinner we headed to a mall food court where we got to spend a couple hours eating and chatting with the staff members and their children. It was the perfect ending to the week.

Week 2 starts tomorrow, and it looks like I’m going to be with the kids a lot and I may even get to teach some dance classes…we’ll see! Stay tuned. -E

October 1: Ministry Week!

It’s ministry week. We have the privilege of hearing from 7 different missionaries who are serving the Lord in various capacities here in Thailand. Plus- yesterday we got to try our hand at collaborating to teach an English class to women who have left the sex industry. Let me just say that I am so thankful to be a part of this program. In the past few weeks I have been overwhelmed with the excitement of learning more about serving the Lord overseas. I have learned so many things about myself. And I can gladly say that there are so many things I love about it here. What a blessing.

In just 6 short days, I will enter into the next phase- my internship. This week God has very clearly reminded me that I have been in training to be better equipped and sent as a Kingdom worker-specifically with the women in the sex industry here in Bangkok. Yesterday afternoon I had my first real-life glimpse into the realities of this billion dollar industry.

After teaching English, we headed out from Nightlight for a prayer walk through the Nana Red-light District. It was around 4 in the afternoon, so the bars were relatively empty. However there were men everywhere-just sitting around. Some of them had Thai women casually around them, some of them sat in groups with their buddies, some of them were alone. The bars appeared to be just like any sports bar in America. Gathering places where men relax, drink beer and talk sports. But these are not sports bars. These are “beer bars.” Gathering places where men relax, drink beer, and buy women.

If only I had the words to describe the weight of feelings that I experienced in that hour. If only I could give you a clear image of the things I saw. If only I could tell you that my thoughts were Christ-like as we passed the bars. But I can’t do any of those things. I will try to explain- but even after hearing many times about the realities of the sex industry, nothing can compare to walking the streets, seeing the faces, and having your emotions ferociously set on fire. Here’s my best attempt to describe it:

Bars. Men-young and old, mostly caucasian, sitting at tables.

Thai women-smiling and hanging on the arms of the men.

The men-smiling back, laughing, enjoying themselves.

More women- at less occupied bars applying makeup and getting ready for the evening of work they had ahead of them.

Eyes. All of the eyes told a different story. Men and women alike-all clearly broken people.

2 separate hotels where women from Africa and Uzbekistan are trafficked to.

A currently vacant, enormous, outdoor bar. 3 floors. Floor 1 had tables with many rooms that each had a circular booth with a table in the center, and 5-8 poles from the table to the ceiling. Floor 2 I didn’t personally go up to, but there was an area pointed out to us where many of the “lady boys” work. Floor 3 is where the sex shows are performed. We were told that around 3,000 women are employed at this single establishment.

I cried 3 times.

I was infuriated, sad, frustrated, discouraged, and in utter disbelief of what I was seeing-in broad daylight. I cannot even imagine the things I will see next week as I begin going with The Well on night outreaches.

And so in the midst of all of this, we prayed. We interceded for the women, for the men, for the trafficked victims, for the traffickers, for the children, for the parents, for the government. We prayed in the name of Jesus. We prayed with power. We prayed in faith that the people who walked the same ground we were on hours later would be transformed. We prayed that God would restore the streets and the lives that have been overcome by this industry of exploitation. And we believe that, in his perfect timing, He will transform and He will restore.

This morning the President and CEO of Nightlight International, Annie Dieselberg, came to speak to us on prostitution and human trafficking. She presented us with a very clear picture of what happens here in Bangkok through research she has done and through her many years of ministry experiences here in Thailand. I will save a lot of the facts for a later post, but I’d like to end with the encouragement that she gave us, because it’s important to remember that in all of this bad, there is something- or rather someone- PERFECT and GOOD. She said:

The more we encounter darkness, the more we notice and see God’s light. In a bright room it is often easy to ignore or overlook the light that comes from a candle- but place a candle in a dark room, and your attention will be drawn to it. You won’t be able to miss it.

Jesus wraps himself in light, and darkness can try to hide, but will always tremble at His voice. Light beats darkness-always.

วิธีการที่ดีพระเจ้าของเราคือ?

(How Great is our God?)

Seriously.

-E