I’m sitting on the balcony in Citylight cafe on Soi 4(street 4) in Bangkok. From this black leather chair I can see down into the comfortable coffee shop and observe all the customers who come in. Some come for quick coffee on their way to a meeting, some come in to chat with friends, some come in because this place is a safe haven for anyone who needs that.
I’ve been in this chair for a while. It’s been a fairly productive day doing quiet time with Jesus, emailing, planning/research, and now blogging. I’ve downed a second latte and Nan, one of the sweet staff members who works here, brought our team freshly made cheesecake.
From this vantage point, I can perfectly hear the conversations below. I was preoccupied with drawing and listening to music when two loud voices below caught my ear.
“Hello! Would you like your usual today?”
“Yes, thank you.”
A white-haired man sits down in a big chair and pulls out his phone. He scrolls there for a minute or two when a woman walks in. She smiles and sits next to him. They chat for a few minutes but I’m not really paying attention. He has ordered her a cup of coffee. I’ve continued drawing a dancer and listening to Jonathan Ogden, they are sipping their lattes.
This coffee shop has been covered in prayer and is always filled with amazing, on-fire-for-God people. The atmosphere is easy and sweet. After spending so much time in that building for ministry, it quickly felt like home. Sometimes I’d even forget that I’m still in public. It’s easy to do when staff serve us food like we’re their children. And when the girls come in for Beauty Shop and hug and kiss us like family. Everything about that place is inviting and genuine. There’s also such a powerful ministry in those people and between those walls. It’s truly a sanctuary.
I was thinking about this, listening and drawing, when I absentmindedly glance down and notice her hand on his knee. That’s when I realized this isn’t friendly or romantic. This is business.
I pull out my earbuds and eavesdrop, still drawing. They are still chatting as if this was any other conversation but they’ve moved closer. When I strained to listen I could hear what they were saying. He is American and she is Thai. He pulls out his phone again to use Google Translate in attempt to explain “spur of the moment”. As she finally figures out what the phrase means, she quickly agrees and says, “Yes, it is last minute!”
“That’s why I wanted to make sure you’re comfortable and buy you a coffee first.”
“Thank you” she says as she moves her hand.
It doesn’t take long for them to finish their coffee and walk out onto the street. She stands up after him and he smiles. As they walk out the door, he had his hand on the small of her back.
These things are subtle. A hand on his knee, the flirtation with no relationship, a hand on her back. These are small things. But seeing Soi 4, hearing stories, knowing the context, I was disgusted. I got angry, thinking about what was happening.
He was a regular and he acted as if he knew her. It’s not uncommon for a man to have a favorite prostitute he comes back to. He would take her back to his hotel and she would please him and he would pay her.
A lot of men who come through redlight districts believe they are being kind when they offer to buy the girls drinks, meals, or gifts. They’ll justify by saying, “I treat her well.” This industry has twisted love and sex into such awful things that it can be justified with, “I’m gentle!” It stems from brokenness. The men are broken. The girls are broken. Because of that, the industry is strong.
It really infuriated me to watch this happen and not be able to do anything about it. I know they are both hurting. He desperately needs to be loved and is searching for it in the worst ways. She is desperately trying to support herself or her family and feels stuck in this system.
Each time she sleeps with a man, she’s gaining yet another tie to that person.
Yet another risk of sickness or infection.
Yet another night of abuse (no matter how justified as “gentle” or “kind”)
Yet another 1,500 baht in her pocket ($47.07usd)
For him it’s yet another tie to a girl he doesn’t know.
Yet another temporary pleasure that won’t last in the morning.
Yet another dig deep into guilt, shame, or apathy.
Yet another $47.07 to an unfulfilled desire of something deeper.
As we’ve gotten to know Soi 4, the culture of Thailand, the ministry of Nightlight, and the girls, I’ve had such a change of perspective on the sex industry. It’s not at all what I thought it was. The media portrays it completely wrong.
I love Beauty Shop and getting to know the women on a personal level. Sometimes they open up about something hard and we listen, encourage, pray, and just be there to be a friend. Sometimes all they need is girl time and someone who won’t judge them based on choices or how sexy they are. They are all amazing people with dreams and passions and families. Most of them feel stuck in some way, whether by threat or because they have to support their family.
Personally, in working with all these ministries, I had become accustomed to walking through Soi 4 and seeing the bars filled with broken, flirting people. I wouldn’t say it ever became easy to watch but I had gotten too used to it. That morning I was praying for God to stir up my heart again. I wanted Him to remind me of the passion I have for these people. That He did with this conversation.
I’m still learning what the balance of passion is. There’s a place for righteous anger and there’s a place for peace in knowing that God is moving. I haven’t fully discovered what that balance is…I don’t know if I’m supposed to. But in hearing this conversation, a lot of emotion was brought up in me. I was angry at the situation and the fact that this industry is so huge with so much supply and demand. I was heart broken for those two people, the girl who is trapped and the man who doesn’t know what love is. I was inspired to continue ministering and working and rescuing and being a part of people’s healing. I was excited to see God move on Soi 4. I was reminded of the importance of work that we’re doing right now.
That’s an important thing for us to remember. Sometimes it feels like we’re not doing much or like we’re not making a dent in this gigantic industry. We walk, brushing shoulders with hundreds of people directly affected by this twisted idea of sex+love. When you see it so up close and personal, it’s easy to see the whole thing as daunting and impossible.
But our God is the God of the impossible. We have been here a month, working with the same girls and have made incredible relationships with them. We don’t often see the fruit of our labor. But I’m learning that’s okay. We are laying foundations. Our ministry is actually so cool. We get to change their perspective of white westerners. We get to show them what a real Christian looks and acts like. We get to be supportive of them in their ambitions and dreams. We get to pray over them and speak into their lives and make impact on their spiritual lives. We get to be a loving friend to them.
These are all small, subtle things that make such an impact on them. These are the things that point them to Christ. And these are things that point them to getting help and getting out. This is powerful stuff. I am so blessed and honored to be a part of these girl’s lives. They’ve inspired me so much. The ones who know Jesus are so in love with Him and their resilience and passion are astounding.
I think this post is mostly me processing but also a little insight into what we’re seeing and doing. Our God is an awesome God and I love Him to pieces. He’s done incredible work that we’ve seen already and it’s amazing to be a part of such beautiful people’s stories.