As I settle into the steady rhythm of life here I find myself feeling more and more at home. Its normal now to see whole cooked chickens (head and all) hanging from a food stall on the way to work, to eat rice with nearly every meal, and to get stopped on the sidewalk by an occasional slow elephant.
Yet every once and a while I get caught by the reality of it all and just think “Wow, I live here…” which is usually followed by a intense feeling of gratefulness and awe that God has me here a part of this amazing work.
These moments usually happen now when I am in the bars. And although it seems odd to be filled with gratefulness and joy when in that atmosphere but that is exactly what I feel.
I remember on my second visit to the bars when I was still very much in shock with it all, I was sitting uncomfortably in my seat when one of my teammates leaned over to me and said, “I just love doing this and being here, this is the easiest part of the job.” And I thought, REALLY? You think it is easy being here?! That thought was still completely unreal to me. But here I am two months later with that exact feeling. Wow, God.
It’s a beautiful thing really. Because even just sitting there feels purposeful. Walking into enemy territory, as we file into the bar, I get this sensation that I am a part of an army. We pray every night that we are a light to these girls shining through in the darkness and it really works. One night one of the girls asked, “Why are you here?” She was amazed that we would come into the bars like this, “You all seem so happy…” She continued.
These girls probably see men smiling at them all the time, but when we smile at them, its different, and they know it and I can imagine how re-humanizing that is. We smile out of love, not out of lust. We look at their eyes, not at their bodies. We care about who they are, not what they can do for us sexually.
It seems outwardly so inefficient, trying to build relationships in the bars. It is very loud, and even when you know Thai quite well, its hard to communicate. To make it worse, every few songs they must go back up on the platform to dance. But somehow, God makes a way.
The girls are touched by our very presence and open up to us telling us about their children and family and how they ended up and the bars. Each girl has a story, and we are there to listen.
I remember when I used to take the Jr. highers into inner ciry LA to work with the homeless population there. One of the tasks one morning, armed with a few bags full of pastries, was to simply find a homeless person in the park and sit and eat with him or her. I remember being so amazed just sitting there and listening to their stories. And I knew that just listening was turning them into a human again when so many other simply walked on by ignoring their very existence.
There is an incredible power and purpose in “humanizing” when there is so much dehumanizing going on in this world.
I remember noticing “M” right away. When I looked up at the girls in that bar she had a different glow about her, as if not fully engulfed by the darkness she was a part of quite yet. I wondered if anyone else had ever noticed that natural glow about her in a scene like this. “She was not made for this” I kept thinking, “God has better plans for that glow.” One of my teammates called her over and we talked with her a bit. She told us about her family and her little son whom she had pictures of on her phone. He was adorable. During the course of the conversation my teammate handed her a Gospel tract and although that is not my favorite form of sharing the gospel, its helpful when you are in a loud bar. All too soon, however, “M” had to go back on the platform to dance. With no pocket available, she kept the tract in her hand and walked up on the stage. I just watched and prayed. I glanced away and when I looked back, she had opened the track and was reading it on the stage… Her dancing was nothing more than a shifting of weight at that point. I fused that image into my head. It was pure beauty to me. Smack dab in the middle of the enemy’s chaos, she was starting on a path to her basic human right to know the love of Jesus. In a place where she was only known as a sexual commodity, nothing more than an object, she was reading about how she was an actual person desired by a mighty God not because of anything she could do, but because she was his child whom he loved.
We all have the same desire, to be known and loved and cared for. It is our root human desire that can only be filled to its fullest by the perfect love of God. And as his hands and feet in this world, we get to be a part of His reaching out. We get to be a part of his love in action. We get to help make the devalued and dehumanized feel loved and human again. There is no greater job than this, there is no greater love than this. Praise God.