Tuesday, August 2, 2011

God's Light in the Red Light District

The biggest thing I want to share with you is our involvement and experiences with the Red Light Districts. On July 21st, Annette, Kiana, and I joined a sister from Newsong named Sophia and went to the Red Light District in Nana (an area in Bangkok). Sophia has been doing ministry with the bar girls for years now and she agreed to let us join her in her ministry. Our team had gone to the Pat Pong red light district twice before and had walked around to see with our own eyes and hearts the reality of sex-trafficking and the sex-slave industry.
Sophia brought the three of us into a bar in the Nana red light district. I walked through the curtained door. Top-less girls, ages ranging from 13 to 45 or I don’t know. I sat down with Sophia at a table while Annette and Kiana sat at the table a little way down from us.
Sophia instantly greeted one of the girls that was dancing on the right stage. The girl smiled, waved, and definitely seemed overjoyed that Sophia was there. Sophia ordered water and I ordered a Coke because you are required to buy a drink when you enter those bars.
Finally the girl could step down from the stage and ran to Sophia. They hugged and Sophia introduced me. Due to security reasons, I will not say the girl’s real name and will call this girl Katie. Sophia told me that since she has been doing ministry for a while now, she has known Katie for a few months and has visited her consistently. Sophia introduced me to Katie and shared that Katie is 30 and has two kids (ages 4 and 2). Katie asked us if we could buy her a drink, and I gladly told her yes, of course!
So here is the deal. These girls cannot come and talk to any “customers” unless the customer buys them a drink. The girls have to keep dancing and dancing on stage and work from 6 P.M. to 2 A.M. Most of the girls cannot read or write in Thai and it is difficult for them to get a good-paying job. At this bar, they get paid approximately $300 per month, but they have to work every single day, only have 2 sick days per month, and must get bought out 7 nights out of the whole month. For each drink that a customer buys for a girl, that girl only receives $1 towards her salary. It costs about $23 for a customer to buy a girl for the night, and the customer can do whatever he or she wants with the girl for the entire night.
I learned that for Katie, she works because she needs to send money back to her mother and brother who are taking care of her children. She told me that she doesn’t want to work in the bar, but she can’t get a job anywhere else and jobs such as being a waitress do not pay enough and many places do not want her because she is not educated.
Well, I asked Katie if she wanted to come to our Newsong Sunday service that weekend, and to my surprise, she said yes! She also told me that she wanted to share her story with us, but it was really painful and would probably take hours and hours. The thing I loved about Katie was that she was happy and joyful the entire time she was talking, but you could still see the pain and tears in her eyes. Anyway, the night was ridiculously eye-opening, and the new experience led me to meet a sister that I knew God just wanted us to love on her and lead her back to Him.
Well, we left the bar after an hour there because Sophia said it starts getting crazier as the night gets later because there are more customers. To finish the night, Sophia brought us to a nearby hotel and told us that we could see women being sex-trafficked there. Inside, there was a normal-looking restaurant, but inside there were about 10 women who were there waiting to be bought for the night. None of the women were Thai, and it was scary knowing that the issue of human sex-trafficking is a global issue.
Sunday rolled around and I was really anxious at church to see if Katie would show up at church. It sucked though because that whole weekend I had food poisoning. Kiana prayed for me at church that my stomach wouldn’t hurt the entire day so I could enjoy the time at church and with the girls from the bar. Lo and behold, my stomach was fine for the rest of the day and for the rest of the trip! Praise God!
Anyway, Sophia walked into Newsong with Katie along with 2 other girls from the bar!! I was SO HAPPY. I recognized one of the other girls (we’ll call her Lucy) because I saw her at the bar. Lucy has 4 children, 2 of them from relations with customers from the bar. She also shared with our team that the father of the other two Thai children had passed away in the tsunami of 2004. The third girl from the bar (we’ll name her Daisy) was 21 years old and was a waitress at the bar. She gets paid only $100 per month, must work every day of the month, and customers are also allowed to buy her out for the night as well.
Well, they told us that they really enjoyed service and felt safe at Newsong. Lucy had gone to church once before, but she told us that she wasn’t welcomed there. I guess it was a new experience for them because they felt welcomed since so many people wanted to talk with them and get to know them.
After church, we went to a food court and got to hear more about Lucy. Abe and Annette really spoke truth to her in response to her sharing, and it was just an overall good time. Then, we all went BOWLING! ☺ It was such an amazing time taking the girls out bowling because you could tell they hadn’t gone bowling in a really long time. Also, being able to cheer them on and celebrate with them when they got strikes, spares, or any pins was amazing. They had huge smiles on their faces and it was such a blessed time. It was crazy too because they still had to work that night, but were willing to go a little late, which they get docked off $1 per minute that they are late. I told them that we would hopefully see them again on Thursday when we went to visit the bar again with Sophia.
The Thursday after, July 28, Annette, Kiana and I joined Sophia again to go to the same bar. This time, we bought a drink for Katie, Lucy, Daisy, and two other girls that Annette and Kiana were talking to. Every 15 minutes, the bar girls would have to rotate shifts for dancing on the stage, even if a customer has bought them a drink. So I talked with Katie and Lucy whenever they were able to sit with us. Sophia noticed that Katie didn’t have her usual happy persona and asked her what was wrong. Katie said that her family had been calling her all week telling her that she wasn’t making enough money and needed to sent more money to them to pay for her children’s schooling. You could tell she was really stressed out. Lucy also told us that her son was in the hospital because he had gone frog hunting at a river, stepped on a glass bottle which cut his foot, and his foot got infected. We told her that we would be praying for her son. Then, I felt like God was pressing on my heart to share something about Him, maybe a Bible story, I had no idea. I ended up telling her about my experience in Mexico last year when I prayed for someone, and God healed his back. I didn’t really know why I shared that, but I continued to tell her a little more about our God. Lucy can’t read Thai, so we decided to try to find her a talking Bible or audio version of the Word. I also shared with Lucy about my own experiences with losing loved ones. I guess the whole night was good being able to see the girls again and talk with them. I asked if they were coming to church again on Sunday and they said yes! ☺
So Sunday, July 31st, Katie and Lucy came to church again. Dave Gibbons was speaking and he also got to meet them. The girls had only 2 hours of sleep, and I was surprised they still came to church. We got lunch and went karaokeing. The girls seemed really tired, but they would sing occasionally.
That night, all of us had dinner with Newsong staff. Katie and Lucy came, and there were a lot of people there, including Dave, Mrs. Lee, Newsong Bangkok Staff, and Dan Park. After eating, Dave asked if Katie and Lucy could share a bit about themselves. They shared about their families and Lucy also explained how she felt that whenever Sophia comes into the bar, she brings God into their lives. That was really encouraging because Sophia said that was the first time Lucy ever said the word “God.” Katie began to share her story as well, and then she said, “Wait, I want to hear all of YOUR stories!”
Thus began the long hour of sharing, going all around the table, each person sharing their name, maybe how they became a Christian, their pains and their joys. It was a crazy time of intentional sharing, and when it came to my turn, I felt the Holy Spirit pressing on my heart so I shared my biggest temptations and some of my deepest pains. It was really scary because more than half of the people sitting at the table had never heard my story and Dave Gibbons was sitting 2 seats away from me!! But after, Shannon and Dave came up to me and thanked me for being vulnerable and for opening my heart. The night was such a great time because it was true community and it was cool to open up the community to the two girls too.
It was also super crazy because the girls had actually bought themselves out for the night, which is around $23, just so they could spend time with us!! Later, Mrs. Lee gave them money to cover the cost for buying themselves out for the night. I’m glad that everyone was so quick to serve and love them, and they definitely seem to want to keep coming to church! ☺ God is soooo good!!!
I think this has definitely been one of the greatest experiences from this trip. Seeing the inner beauty of the girls even in a place that may seem dark and forsaken. God is definitely just crying out for these girls to come back to him. Most of the girls definitely do not want to be in this business, but they are trapped. What God has done in these past few weeks has been amazing and please keep praying for all of these girls. Sophia told us that she would stay connected with us, so that if we want to send messages to the girls, she can relay it to them. God is so good!!!
I hope this encourages you! If you have any questions about this, ask me when I come home in 4 days!! I should be at Newsong Irvine this Sunday (second service)!

Love, Rebekah

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