Serving coffee in a red-light district

 

I suppose I have fallen into the trap of most other hopeful bogglers out there. Starting off posting as often as I could, excited to share stores about what was going on. Then life keeps going and blogging is somehow not on the list of things that must get done. And now, today, I find myself back on here in an attempt to update some information on my support page, suddenly feeling inspired to write something about what’s been going on. So here it is, an update. God has taken me into a world I never in my wildest dreams thought I would someday be doing: Serving coffee in a red-light district. Here is how it happened:

Four years ago I was rolling my suitcase along the less than level sidewalks of Bangkok looking around at the various beer bars, food vendors, short time rooms, and street walkers wondering “what am I getting myself into?”

I was moving for the third time, since moving to Bangkok a year earlier, into a building smack in the middle of one of Bangkok’s notorious red-light districts. I figured if I had to move again, it may as well be there. NightLight had acquired this building in a miraculous way and we knew it was going to be strategic, we just didn’t know exactly what or how yet. In the meantime I moved in and this red-light district with all its craziness became my neighborhood. I lived on the top floor, the only floor that was really livable at the moment. The rest of the building was dusty and crumbling from un-use. We were still a long way off from turning the building into what is is now, but ideas were abundant. We wanted to to be a center of community, a safe place of service, but most of all, a true light in one of the darkest streets of Bangkok.

And that became my community, I remember blogging about that, all the people that became my neighbors. I remember standing on top of the roof looking down a the street after its nighttime transformation into Bangkok nightlife chuckling to myself, thinking once again, “how did I get here?” But I knew God was doing something, how else could you explain any of it other than God was doing something, and I was going to get to be a part of it.

We knew we were going to do fantastic things with the space and at some point “coffee shop” got thrown into the mix. It seemed necessary to have some sort of safe welcoming front to the whole place and good coffee in a welcoming atmosphere felt like just the thing. And really, Bangkok could use some good coffee. So for a couple more years we dreamed about what could be and slowly began renovating the building for use. I watched as each floor was transformed into something new; the old grunginess of the building fading away and the newness of fresh white paint and clean furniture filling the space with new hope.

Finally, two years ago we got the green light to continue with the final stage of our plans. God sent us an amazingly gifted couple to help fundraise and set up the coffee shop. I had already moved out of the building quite some time ago as renovations continued, but I felt too connected to the project and the neighborhood not to jump at the chance to be a part of this team that was to bring the coffee shop to life. It was nearly a two year journey start to finish, from fundraising, to barista training, to creating a menu, to hiring and training our Thai staff, to finally opening the doors, the smell of fresh coffee wafting about. It was beautiful, a difficult labor of love for sure, but absolutely beautiful seeing that empty space transform into the refuge that it is today.

And that is exactly what this place is, a refuge amongst the chaos of this street.

We hear it time and again as customers find their way inside, “Wow, what a refuge to find on this street” as if you can tangibly feel the change in atmosphere from outside to in. And we get all kinds travelers, locals, street workers, sex tourists. We welcome them all and we love them the best we can with our amazing coffee and fresh baked goods, encouraging conversation, making connections. Hospitality at its best.

People are often confused by us, we are clearly not like anything else on the street. We are nestled between to pubs and surrounded by bar after bar, nightclub after nightclub. “Why did you open this place here?” they ask, clearly wondering why we wouldn’t chose to make more money as a bar. “We just wanted to be different,” I often say. And its true, no other place here represents what we represent.

We now hold English classes in the upper rooms for the Thai women we meet in the bars, we have an ongoing men’s small groups for those interested in pursuing God and purity, quarterly medical clinics, and an always open prayer room on the top floor. We have dreams of much, much more.

In a world of ministry where there are so many ups and downs, this coffee shop is such a gift. It was a tangible gift of God’s goodness and first hand experience of what God can do with willing hands. I got to be a part of it, start to finish, it was great. And still I wonder some days, how did I get here? I spend my days making coffee, taking to tourists or expat men (who are in likely in the area for one particular thing). I teach our Thai employees how to bake (because Thai people don’t bake, so that makes me an expert here 😉 ) It’s simply amazing the things that God has used.

I don’t know what God has ahead for me, but for now I am grateful. Grateful for this experience, and happy to be of service to him in this crazy atmosphere of a red-light district coffee shop.

CafeStaff

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