Here is something you may not know:
The cross-cultural missions world is flooded with women. Of all the faith based organizations I have come in contact with since moving to Thailand, its safe to say about 80% of those staffing these orgs are women. Of the countless numbers of short term teams that travel through our doors, about 90% are women. We partner with a missions training school here in Bangkok who takes in 10-15 students per term, most of the time, not a single guy is enrolled. I talked to a larger missions training school about this, same results. The most recent term of 200+ students, only 22 of them were men. I answer countless e-mails from those interested in joining NightLight, and maybe 1 in 10 will be from a male. In my five years working for NightLIght we have received 25+ foreign volunteers for various lengths of time, only 6 of those have been men. I went to a Justice conference last year, a meeting of countless organizations and individuals dedicated to justice oriented work in the Christian realm, and again, the majority of the attendees were women.
What is going on here? Where are all the men? And how is this anything less than a complete tragedy?
Let’s bring this back to my particular context. I work in the world of helping women out of the sex trade. At first, I thought this whole lack of men around thing kind of made sense. After all, who better to help women than women? But the longer I have been here, the more I realize how awful it is to not have more good men. I am as much of a feminist as the next girl, and I believe women can do so much more than men, and most societies in general, give us credit for. But here is the thing, we need men. We need men to balance us out. We need men to honor us with their particular giftings. We need men to help us to look at things from different angle. We need men to step in for absent fathers. We need men to help us show that every woman has value and should be respected and treated well. We need good men, at the very least, to show us that they even exist.
These women we help, I would say a good majority had never met a good man before stepping through the doors of NightLight. Most of them, growing up, had absent or lazy fathers, abusive male relatives, or male neighbors who wanted to pay money to sleep with them. This is their whole world. Then, in the sex industry, they understand themselves to be nothing more than what a man will pay for them. They hope beyond hope that one of these men will want to “keep” them, become their foreign boyfriend who will help send money to her family so she won’t have to work in the bars anymore. But then, even if they do find such a man, without being able to actually speak the same language, most of the time she is not much more than a sexual partner, just a step up from prostitute, really. Men who gravitate to those kind of “relationships” are usually in those relationships because they can have power and control over this woman and never really have to invest in her emotionally. And maybe that is better than working the bars, but is that the best she should hope for?
What about the Thai men? Well, the most repeated sentences we hear from Thai women of all walks is “Thai man no good”. There are local studies that claim that Thai men are arguably the most unfaithful in the world. Built into Thai culture is the idea that it’s okay for a man to be unfaithful. Most Thai men will have several girlfriends at the same time before they’re married and, even when married, will often have a wife and a ‘mia noi’ or minor wife (sometimes, more than one).They are champions of abandonment as well; most of the women we work with have a “baby daddy” in their lives who does little to nothing to contribute to the welfare of the child.
How can we make a dent at any of this if the ratio of good men to bad men remains so unbalanced? How can we provide adequate care and healing to these women if they cannot experience an example of what it is to be truly loved and respected by a man?
Jeff Dieselberg, the husband of the founder of NightLight, is one of my favorite men on the face of this planet.
When his wife started NightLight, he jumped in whole-heartedly. I am sure there were many obstacles to overcome before he became the man that he is today in his role at NightLight, but his commitment is evident. He is our spiritual director, but more than that, he everyone’s father figure. He is the one constant male figure at NightLight that all 160 women who have come though NightLight has had the benefit of being loved by. He cares for each of these women deeply. He designed classes for them to come to know the saving love of God, leads heart groups where the women can share about their struggles and gain tools to overcome, and organizes and teaches daily morning devotionals to encourage the women in their walks. He helped start a church that our women can really sink their lives into and feel safe inviting their male family members to. The small group of men at church is slowly growing, with Jeff as their shepherd. I have had the pleasure of working alongside Jeff at NightLight as well spending time with him and his lovely family in their home. He and his wife have raised 4, now adult, children and have just recently adopted two new young ones who found themselves stranded in Bangkok after their Ugandan mother died suddenly of heart complications. With no family wanting to claim them, and a wife who always dreamed of having African children, it did not take much to convince Jeff that he would be their father. Our women get to experience the dedicated love of this man daily. But to put it frankly, we need more Jeffs.
Where are they?
The MST project is a group here in Thailand dedicated to building relationships with men who frequent red-light areas. I have gotten to know the MST folks pretty well since I took on the role of helping to manage the coffee shop. Being a cafe in the red-light district means we get a high percentage of sex-tourists walking through our doors. It’s a pivotal place to make connections with these men. Twice a week a team member from MST just hangs out in the shop and starts conversations with men who happen to find their way in. They also hold weekly “men pursing purity” small groups in our upper rooms. Their motto is this: “We seek to be an example of redemption and restoration to men wherever they may be found.” If only that were the motto of more men. But this team is small. MST has a bit of a hard time finding men that want to fill this role. Why are there not more men heartbroken by this?
One of my continual struggles in Bangkok is to keep myself from forming an unchecked hatred of men. Terrible men are everywhere. A couple of months ago I stumbled upon an article about why men use prostitutes. It made my heart hurt. UK researchers conducted number of interviews as a basis for this study. What struck me the most was not the “why” but the “who.” It seems a great number of men who use prostitutes do not fit the stereotypes you are thinking of. These are “everyday” men from all ages in all walks of life. More than half of them are married or in relationships… more than half. To make it worse, the interviews also showed that most men knew, to some extent, that there was likely abuse and coercion involved with how this women ended up in prostitution. ugh.
So I ask again, what is going on? What is happening to our men? Why are there so many more women interested in cross cultural missions than men? Why are there not more men care about those who need them most? Why do I have such a large community of amazing single Christian women around me in their 30’s? Are there really not enough good men to go around? I’m saying this again, this is a tragedy. And something needs to be done.
What is going on in the church? Why aren’t we producing better men? Because we can say the problem lies with the men that don’t attend church, but what about the ones who do? What are the women hearing that the men aren’t? Are we unintentionally creating men that only care about certain things? Allowing men to never deal with their deep junk, until it festers and ruins lives? Are we really talking about the hard stuff? Are we really calling men to be the best that they can be?
If it seems I am a little angry, maybe I am. Maybe I am tired of seeing enemy destroyed men destroy other lives in the process. Maybe I am tired of hearing stores from my dear friends about how they have been hurt deeply or abused by the men in their lives. Maybe I am tired of seeing child after child grow up without a good father. Enough is enough.
Do I have all the answers? No. Do I even know where to begin, not really. But I do know that there is always hope. I see hope in people like Jeff and the MST project team. If it is possible for them, it is possible of you, yes you, possible male who is reading this blog, to start asking yourself the hard questions about what kind of person you are and what kind of influence you can use your one and only life for. I am calling you out. Think and pray. Pray that there are more men who are willing to stand up to their calling to be better men and reach out to those who need them most. And even muse that maybe, just maybe, one of those men could be you.