Traversing Soi 6- A First Look at Sex Trafficking in Thailand8:35 PM
Our Outreach Team and Translator
It was something in their eyes that caught my eye as we walked down the street that first day. There was no sadness, no shame, no horror at the hell they were living in. I saw, rather, scores of disinterested, dead looking eyes in which no hint of joy or pain ever seemed to trespass. Thoroughly primped transvestites with pouty, heavily makeup-ed faces, strutted across our paths in six inch heels, carefully avoiding the many rain-filled pot holes. Sleepy women perched on bar stools, painted their faces and eyed our progression from the insides of the dark bars. A car honked angrily behind us surely voicing the thoughts of everyone on that street. What were six naive looking white girls doing on Soi 6 at ten in the morning on a weekday?
As I looked around nervously, the names of the bars began to filter through my shock; unspeakable names, unthinkable names, descriptive names. I quickened my gate longing to look up and see the comforting sign of the Tamar Center. The Tamar Center is a ministry in Pattaya, Thailand which reaches out to the thousands of bar girls and offers them hope of a new life (According to one report, there are about 27,000 sex workers in the city.) They hold English classes during the day, conduct a bar ministry at night (what the founder of the center called, "hunting for jewels") and do job training for women who are ready to look for other sources of employment. Most of all, they offer Jesus, the one hope of true love; something these women crave more than life itself. Half way down the street, we found our destination. There, inside was a Thai woman sitting on a couch talking with a few women who were also obviously foreigners. As we crossed the lake that was their doorstep, I heaved a sigh of relief seeing that each of us girls had made it safely down the street and past the bars. I was already beginning to feel like a mother hen at that point in our journey. The women ushered us upstairs and told us to wait for the first students to arrive for the English class. When we got there, I looked at the girls on my team and saw mirrored in their faces, the horror that no doubt was written all over my own. We sat particularly silently, none of us wanting to relive or comment on any of the things we had just seen. Much to our relief, the students arrived soon afterwards. Though "at work" prostitutes themselves, they seemed a bit less hardened than the women who'd glared at us as we walked down the street. They smiled shyly as each one took a seat beside us.
Yes, that was the rocky beginning of our time in Pattaya, Thailand. Soon, we became more accustomed to the perverse and sordid sights that would greet us on that street daily, and began to focus more on the girls we were working with. Though we couldn't speak a lick of Thai, they could understand some English and would show us pictures of their children and grandchildren. One woman, I really grew to love, was a lady of 39 though she didn't look a day over twenty. As she went to show me pictures of her grandchildren, I caught a glimpse of condoms practically spilling out of her purse. My heart sank to remember what consisted of her present life.
Every day, after English classes, we "teachers" would line up to say goodbye and give a hug to each of the students. At first I was reluctant to touch them at all; not because of any disdain for them, but because of the deep respect I wanted to show them. That first day, the Lord whispered into my heart, that it was good to give them a hug on behalf of Him and with all the love He had for them. As we hugged them, the women started to weep. Looking deeply into their eyes, I saw something that went beyond language barriers. It was as if all the ice they had put up to protect themselves had melted and despair filled their souls. One women wept and clung to me almost begging me without words not to make her go back to work. I cried too, wishing they wouldn't go, wishing I could stop them. And as they walked down the stairs and up the street, back to their personal horrors, my heart broke. I had never known what it was to despair for someone else's life before that moment. In that snatch of time, I had caught a glimpse of God's longing for humanity, of His heartbroken desperation to see them come back to Him. It was only a glimpse, but it's something I'll always remember.....
I hope to write more about our time in Thailand and all of the hope there! There are just too many stories of God's grace to put in one blog, but I wanted to give you all a picture of what our time was like out there. Thank you all who have been praying and supporting me in the ministry! Without you all, I would never have been so privileged to see the things I have!