I remember the first day I moved into the building in the red-light area on Soi 4. It was the last of three moves we had made in a matter of 2 months. Stuffing all of my belongings once again into to two suitcases and lugging them to my next place of residence was the last thing I wanted to do, but I was excited about finally having a more permanent home. Since we were only moving about two blocks from the place we were staying previously, Janie and I decided we would just take it all by hand rather than flag down a taxi.
So here we were, two little white girls wheeling our baggage down a less than even street attracting an unusual amount of stares from the street venders and foreign men.
“The adventure begins,” I told Janie “This is like the opening chapter to the memoirs we’re going to write on our experiences here…” I had just finished reading Jackie Pullinger’s experiences on being a missionary in the dark streets of the Walled City in Hong Kong and was feeling rather literary. It just seemed so surreal… was this really happening? Was I really moving into a less-than-ready building to live in with one other female one block away from the bars we did outreach at? What was I getting myself into?
But still, the adventure and possibilities of it all outweighed the fears. I knew God was going to great things here and I was excited to be chosen to be a part of it.
We felt like squatters the first week we were there. We couldn’t move into the floor that the newly renovated rooms were located because they were not ready yet, so we camped on the floor of the second floor. We shortly found out the water wasn’t working… and the construction guys were on vacation. That night we fell asleep to the muffled sounds of the bar music coming in from the street wondering where we were going to take a shower the next day.
Needless to say, it all eventually came together. The water was turned on and as the construction was completed we were able to move upstairs. Despite finding out that the music and noise from the street was louder on the 5th floor than on the 2nd, we were glad to finally move into our rooms.
I looked out the window that directly faces the rooftop bar whose music nightly threatened our sleep and thought, “This is my neighborhood.” As I looked down the street I could see it speckled with old white men hand in hand with young Thai girls, little kids from Cambodia begging for change, and bar after bar after bar… each full of Thai women beckoning at the foreign men to come inside.
There is two ways you can look at this, I remember thinking. You can either feel complete hopelessness for the condition of this place, or you can feel the joy of expectancy that God can and will bring restoration to this place. I chose the latter.
Although it threatens to wear on you at times, each day I get to live in this place is a joy and I have fallen in love with my neighborhood, my home, and my family.
I love “the hat man” that sells hats outside our door nightly with his sparkly eyes and kind demeanor. I like to think of him as our own personal doorman. I love “the vegetable lady” who cuts up vegetables for her vending cart in front of our house most mornings and/or afternoons who likes to give us gifts of whatever she is selling from time to time. I love the girl who sells coconuts on the corner who’s face lights up whenever I pass by and is always good for a chat and very patient as I practice my Thai on her. I love my conversations with one of the street girls who is always dressed eccentrically, has a rhinestone in one of her teeth and who always has a completely random story to tell me when I stop to see how she is doing. I love that God loves each and every one of these people and that our very presence in that building is starting something on that street an in those people.
I love that God has added to our community at the house since just the two of us moved in. First, a new long term volunteer that has graciously taken on the role of a house mother. She is always ready with an encouraging word or advice on various things. Her wisdom of years and maturity was a much-needed addition to the house. The next addition was our very first short-term, male volunteer who took up residence on the 4th floor and who continually amazes me with his ability to put up with so many females. His intense kindness is daily refreshing, especially when your outlook on men and their potential tends to dim the longer you spend time in Thailand. It will be sad to see him go. Next came “our little girl” who is actually a grown woman who is in need of much care and attention due to her mental condition. With no other place to go, we took her in. We take care of her as a family, and I think that is the best part, learning to love sacrificially.
We, the Soi 4 family that is, had a time of worship and prayer together the other night. And as we sat there praying and sharing, we realized something. We realized that what we had was very good and sadly, very rare. That we could live together, worship, together, and serve together in fellowship with each other and Jesus Christ, we realized, was what John was talking about when he referred to “making our joy complete” (1 John 1: 4).
In the reflective words of my roommate after our time of worship together on 1 John, “In real community there is vulnerability, where people can be real and exposed and there is no shame or withholding of love. If the church doesn’t do this, they are misrepresenting Jesus. He said He is the Light and that those who walk in the light have fellowship with Him. In the light, there is exposure and freedom.”
I am blessed to be a part of a community that longs to authentically live in the light in a dark neighborhood that so desperately needs it.