Tuesday, November 24, 2009
Many thanks to Editor Deb Saul of the Monroe Evening News for editing and publishing parts of this journal in today's paper, and for placing it in its entirety on their website.
Nov. 12-19, 2009
November 12, 2009
Twenty-six hours from now I will step on Thai soil. It will be 11 P.M. Bangkok time. The temperature will be in the 80s, with the humidity in the 800s. I’m now thinking of the wall of humidity that greeted Linda and me and our two sons as we walked out of Singapore’s Changgi Airport in 1990, where I was on a 20-day teaching assignment.
I’m traveling with six friends from our church. This trip is part of a process that began for me in the summer of 2008, when I first heard Annie and Jeff Dieselberg speak at a conference I was part of hosting in Wisconsin. On one of those evenings Annie shared about their work in pulling women and young girls out of the sex trafficking industry in Bangkok and giving them jobs in their jewelry factory. There was (and still is) a waiting list of women who want out of a life of prostitution. Their business, called NightLight (nightlightinternational.com), needed more building space. After hearing about their work, and seeing the fire and passion burning quietly and resolutely in Annie, I was undone. Here was a couple of very talented people who, as I saw it, left it all to give their lives to rescuing people out of deep bondage. I remember saying to anyone who would listen, “Jeff and Annie need another, larger building to house their factory! We have got to do something about this!”
The next evening I spoke before 500 people at the conference and shared my heart. “We must help NightLight acquire a building!” The response was huge. In the next three months we raised $1.3 million dollars and purchased not one, but two buildings in the red light district of downtown Bangkok. I’d been a pastor for many years and have never seen that kind of money come in so quickly for such a great cause. I now have the idea, and the faith, that if God is part of something that has to do with setting slaves free, the money will be there. I don’t ever want to lose this perspective.
With me are (Monroe area residents) Dan Boylan, Joe LaRoy, Ferl Bomia, John Standifer, Lyndon Feller, and Matt Dean. Five other men from Colorado and Kansas will join us in Bangkok. This crew will spend a week renovating the two buildings and preparing them for NightLight to use. We’ve also raised an additional $30,000 toward this project for paint, clean-up, etc.
I am now thinking back to a year ago when our church sent Dan and Joe to Bangkok to evaluate the buildings, and how happy I was when they returned back to Monroe with blueprints and a game plan. Scheduled to be in Bangkok for a week, they were there for three weeks. While we all had Thanksgiving in Monroe, they celebrated it with Jeff and Annie in Bangkok. What happened was that 5,000 Thai protestors took over the Bangkok Airport and cut off Thailand from the rest of the world. Thousands of foreigners were stranded. The existing government got overthrown, the airport opened, and Joe and Dan were on the first flight out. I felt responsible for these two friends of mine. What a relief it was to greet them at Detroit Metro as they walked through the doors of the International Terminal! I told them that on this trip, for their safety, I personally will not allow there to be any coup-attempts in Thailand.
1 PM (West Coast Time)
We’re on our connecting flight from Seattle to Tokyo. Some of the Japanese passengers are wearing surgical masks to protect them from the swine flu. We’ll be on this plane for 11 hours. I’ve done the U.S. – Tokyo flight before, and I for me the thrill of such a long flight is gone.
I’ve brought along Siddharth Kara’s book Sex Trafficking: Inside the Business of Modern Slavery. Its extremely well-written, very sad, and at times it makes me want to morph into Liam Neeson and gun-sling my way into the dark hellish brothels of Bangkok and set these little girls free!
November 13, 2009
Jeff Dieselberg of NightLight picked all seven of us up at Bangkok Airport and stuffed us, plus our luggage, into his station wagon. I did not think this was possible, or even very nice to do, but have pictures to prove that we did it. On our way to our hotel we drove through two red light districts and saw a lot of young girls working in prostitution. Our hotel is in an area where there are 20,000 prostitutes in a one-square-mile area. These girls and women are mostly from Southeast Asia, Japan, China, and places in Europe like Uzbekistan. Just last night Annie Dieselberg and some of her NightLight women were helping a young “Uzbeki” woman escape from a life of prostitution. It looks like a success. I love hearing stories like this!
As we pulled into our hotel at 1 A.M. Jeff pointed to a “business” across the street and told the seven of us, “Don’t go into that place.” I know I won’t. But as I walked past it I couldn’t help thinking about who was in there and what they were doing.
Just over thirty hours ago I was in our church parking lot in Monroe kissing Linda good-bye. Now I can’t wait to shower and stretch out in a bed after all that time in the miserly airplane seats. I am thankful to be in Bangkok. I believe this trip is going to change me in some deep and important ways.
November 14, 2009
I slept three hours last night. Jeff Dieselberg scheduled a meeting this morning at 7:30. What could he have been thinking! I found out that he did this to help us break our jet lag. We are on the other side of the planet and 12 hours ahead of Monroe time. Jeff has instructed us to stay up as late as possible so as to better acclimate to Bangkok time. Personally, I’d like to lay down right now and sleep for ten hours. But I’m not going to.
Early this morning I left our hotel and took a walk. The smell of incense burning at the innumerable folk-Buddhist shrines filled the Bangkok air. The traffic is so thick and crazy that I now promise to never again complain about the congestion on Telegraph between Meijer and Wal-Mart again.
What an incredible first day this has already been for me! In just half a day I have seen and done a lot of things one doesn’t do or see everyday in Monroe. I have… 1) seen many Buddhist temples and Hindu statues and religious symbols; 2) seen the influence of Islam, which is now Thailand’s fastest growing religion; 3) eaten a very spicy Tom Yum soup; 4) had a cup of Siam coffee; 5) experienced a tropical rain-forest-type deluge; 6) bought an umbrella off the street for $3; 7) went to Bangkok’s version of Lowe’s where our team purchased paint and supplies for the building renovations; 8) found out that the Bangkok Airport is spending a hundred thousand dollars to move a pair of huge demon-statues out of the airport because they believe they are the cause of low sales in the airport stores; 9) saw a long series of angel-statues that protect the airport and learned that “Bangkok” is called, by Thai people, the “city of angels”; 10) took an early morning walk and saw the many street food-vendors cooking all kinds of meats and vegetables using spices that smelled delicious; 11) figured out that 33 baht = one dollar; 12) saw a lot of slums and beggars; and 13) was solicited many times by women. I conclude that Bangkok is in some ways different than Monroe.
This afternoon I saw something that made me sick. I saw a man who looked to be my age or older (60) with his aging arms wrapped around two skinny teen-aged Asian girls. This made me feel weird and angry and sad and sick. Then I saw an old man walking towards me embracing a little Asian girl. I could hardly look at these men. And the girls’ faces were empty, vacant, soul-less. I need to remember that this is why our Monroe team is here; namely, to assist NightLight-Bangkok in their efforts to rescue women who, mostly out of their extreme poverty, resort to selling their bodies to lonely men who travel from afar to pay for their services. Seeing these men with these girls makes me want to be a billionaire who could purchase even more buildings to employ more girls who want to leave the sex industry.
I can’t handle these men. I find them to be pathetic. Right now I feel internally conflicted. As a follower of Jesus I am well aware that God loves these men as much as he loves these young girls, and as much as he loves me. Yet what these men have become sickens me. I feel certain God does not love what they are doing, and also feel certain that God loves them in spite of what they are doing. How can I be expected to feel compassion for them? I now feel amazed that Jesus could authentically pray, regarding his persecutors, “Father forgive them, because they don’t know what they are doing.” This is why the song is called “amazing” grace. It’s radical and revolutionary and other-worldly to me. I’m asking for more of that kind of not-of-this-world love. I don’t want it as some religious theory; I need it as an experiential reality. God, will you use this time in Bangkok to morph my unloving heart into the kind of heart you have for even women in prostitution and lonely men who are sex addicts?
I saw a man with no legs crawling like a snake on the streets of Bangkok today. I’m in Bangkok because seven of us have come from Monroe to help a business called NightLight Bangkok that employs women who want to leave a life of prostitution (nightlightinternational.com). We’re renovating a building for their jewelry-making business, so they can employ more women. We’ve had a long day, and we just ended it by walking to McDonald’s for a late night snack.
Here’s some of what I saw and did and thought today, including more about the snake man below.
The heat and humidity was intense this morning as we had breakfast in our hotel and then walked to the worship service at Evangelical Church of Bangkok. This church is made up of people from all over the world who live and work in Bangkok. Today was Youth Sunday, and a teen worship team did songs we were all familiar with. They were loud and energetic and did a good job. I loved the worship!
Afterwards we went to a restaurant in a very upscale hotel where I had the best Thai food I have ever eaten. The thought came to me: here I am in Thailand eating incredible peanut-cashew chicken. Could it get any better than this? Only if my wife Linda were here with me!
We then went to the Thai Christian service supported by NightLight. More about that and the snake man below.
In between the afternoon church service and late night McDonald’s I spent time walking on the jam-packed sidewalks of downtown Bangkok. Street vendors arrive early in the morning and spend their entire day working the tourists for money. Looking at them, I am certain they make very little. Most of them are there from 8 AM until almost midnight. Some even bring TVs and watch them right there on the street. Food is always being prepared and the smells are incredible. There’s the dicing and slicing of vegetable and meats (mostly chicken), and simmering Thai sauces made from peppers and peanuts and coconut. It’s a culinary world of pastries and soups and satay. Street vendors hawk everything from t-shirts to jewelry, shoes, fake Rolexes, knives, brass knuckles, lights, swords, backpacks, food, and pornography. I saw a little 4-year-old girl behind a table selling porn. Her mom was with her. Our hearts went out to this child. What kind of future can she possibly have with this kind of beginning?
I picked up a cup of Starbuck’s and strolled the sultry, steamy streets. I like hot coffee even when it is blistering-hot outside (I think I got this from my parents). I saw a woman praying face down on the sidewalk. As I approached her she looked up at me. She is a leper. I know, because I have met and even held the hands of lepers when I was in India. This praying woman has no fingers or toes. These are the clear signs of leprosy, which is a disease that deadens the nerve endings so one’s extremities cannot feel. If you’re a leper and step on a nail or cut your finger you won’t know it because there’s no pain. This is not good, as infection will set in and fingers and toes will need to be amputated. I just walked right past her. But I could not go on because I felt God telling me to give her some money. She is praying to some God for provision, and here I am. God tells me, “John, you are my present answer to her prayer.” I go back to her, bend down, holding forth some money. She stretches out her fingerless hands with a look of gratitude. Then I stand up, and before me is another woman, a prostitute. who smiles and holds her hand out towards me. Here, in these two women, we have two outstretched hands; two requests for help. One of which is granted, the other denied. Both the granting and the denial, the ‘Yes’ and the ‘No,’ differ according to the kingdom we live in. But, as I see it, only in the kingdom Jesus talked about are both women loved.
In the early evening I went for another walk with Matt Dean and Jon Standifer, where we saw something I cannot get out of my mind. Here is the man who had no legs, crawling on the hyper-crowded filthy sidewalk of downtown Bangkok. He’s not on his knees; he’s low-crawling. Flat. His body was parallel with the pavement, inching along like a snake. Right arm stretched out, his reaching hand held a plastic cup. You could miss him or step on him if you failed to look down. If he makes three feet per minute I would be surprised. I cannot comprehend how it would feel to live like this. Where does he live? How does he get home? Does he have a friend? Does anybody care? I presume the majority of people do not, otherwise I would have not seen him dragging his face inch by inch across this hot, filth-stained sidewalk. (I later found out that this man did have the ability to sit up but apparently chose to crawl while begging.)
This afternoon I again saw my reason for living, my raison d’etre. We were at the Thai worship service, hosted by Jeff and Annie Dieselberg and the leaders of NightLight. Maybe forty people were there. Twenty were young women who had been working in prostitution who have now found God and have had their lives turned around. Now they work making beautiful jewelry for NightLight. When the worship team began playing the song “Here I Am to Worship” I could hardly contain myself. Here was I, worshiping with these ex-slaves who have now been set free. I then remembered that I am an ex-slave, too. “Light of the world, You came down into darkness; opened my eyes made me see.” For these women God came down into their dark world and rescued them. Tears of gratitude flowed from some of their eyes. This is the God I fell in love with many years ago whn I got rescued out of a life of drugs. There are people in Bangkok who care for the destitute! God, thank you for people like Jeff and Annie, and for NightLight. And, by the way, God, I want to spend my life doing things like this.
November 18, 2009
There are four Starbucks in eight city blocks on Sukhimvit Road in Bangkok where our hotel is. In between them thousands of people are moving in every direction, shopping, riding in tuk-tuks (small 4-passanger taxis), on motorcycles and scooters, in cars, with lots of pink taxis, buses, and food being cooked on the streets everywhere. There are countless street vendors, which is interesting since in Bangkok it is illegal to sell on the streets. Also interesting is the fact that it is against the law to engage in prostitution. Yet women in prostitution are, literally, everywhere in this part of the city. And the soliciting is, as our host Annie Dieselberg of NightLight says, “overt.” (see nightlightinternational.com)
It’s not as hot today as it has been (it’s still in the 80s), so our building renovation crew is taking advantage of the conditions. Paint is being coated in the walls of the building as I speak. On the first floor of the building there will be a coffee shop with live music in the evenings. Last night Ferl Bomia and I played live, in Bangkok, in the building’s storefront. The acoustics are really good, and there’s a large window looking on to the sidewalk where hundreds of people are walking by constantly.
A lot of people stopped to watch us play. The acoustics of this room were very good, so my guitar sounded rich and full and carried out onto the sidewalk. We did some worship songs, and I did some solo guitar work to attract people. One man, an American, walked into the building. He was holding a beer and asked if he could bring it in. He said, “I love live music!” He kept looking around saying “What’s this all about?” Finally he came up to me, put his camera screen so I could see it, and said, “This is my baby boy who was born here in Thailand three weeks ago.” I asked, “Can we pray for your little boy?” He said, “sure,” and had a very interesting look on his face that expressed some kind of wonderment. I prayed for this baby, and for this man. I wish you could have seen the look on his face afterwards. He was grateful, and I feel sure that he has not had that happen to him, if ever, before. As I talked with Jeff and Annie of NightLight this morning they both agreed that what happened when we did the music that night confirmed the vision they believe God has given them. This building will serve as, among other things, a drop-in place where good music and coffee will be provided, along with a God-alternative for anyone who wants to talk.
Last evening one of the NightLight volunteers, a young woman named Jessica who is from Canada, took the train from her home to the NightLight building. On the way the young woman next to her was talking. Emily struck up a conversation with her. This woman was from London and has been working in prostitution. Three weeks ago she found out she was pregnant. She was devasted. Now she was in Bangkok, on her way to Viet Nam, where she was going to have an abortion. Emily began talking with her and convinced her to come stay the night at the place where the NightLight volunteer women live. They began sharing with her. The woman said that, just the night before, as she was all alone, she prayed to God to help her and give her an answer to her problem. The NightLight women said, “God has heard your prayers!” She stayed at NightLight last evening. We all prayed for her. Jessica was crying as she was praying for her. Annie prayed and thanked God for His amazing answer to this woman’s prayers. When I awoke this morning and went to the NightLight worship service this woman was there. She has decided not to have her abortion. I am thrilled about this!
Thai women are submissive. There is a Thai saying that goes, “Having a daughter is like having a toilet in your front yard.” In Thai culture there is a hierarchizing of humanity. On the top of the social ladder are Buddhist monks and the king and his royal family. Men are higher up than women. In this folk Buddhist land a woman longs to be born into the next life as a man. A man would like to be born as a monk. The best would be to be born into the royal family. In this way folk Buddhism supports prostitution. If you are a woman and you believe you are a lower creature on the level of a toilet on the front yard, then you will come to feel that you deserve a life of being used by men. (See Siddharth Kara’s new book Sex Trafficking on this.)
With such things in mind I traveled with Jeff Dieselberg and Joe LaRoy for an afternoon at the two holiest Buddhist places in Thailand: the Temple of the Emerald Buddha, and the Temple of the Reclining Buddha. How shall I describe these things? I have taught in Singapore and seen Buddhist temples before, and I have traveled and taught in India and seen Hindu shrines (the two are related, since Buddhism comes out of Hinduism). But I have never, ever, seen anything so ornate and humanly majestic as these two places. You can check them out on the internet to get an idea.
(As I’m typing in Starbuck’s an American man has been sitting at the table 5 feet away from me. A Thai girl in a provocative red dress comes in, he stands up, she comes to him. She is the prostitute he has ordered. They talk, these two total strangers (as it appears to me), seeming to be glad to see each other. Both will get what they want. Except that this young Thai girl does not really want to make a living this way. She may be from northeast Thailand, where Thai girls are daily trafficked to Bangkok. Most of the young girls I’ve seen walking with older American and European men have vacant looks on their faces. City of Monroe – if I could bring all these girls back to Monroe could we care for them and give them a life?)
Jeff, Joe, and I approached the Temple of the Emerald Buddha along with hundreds of other people waiting to get in. You take your shoes off and place them in one of the shoe racks. Cameras must be put away – no pictures, please. We go inside and sit on the tile floor. In front of us are heaps of golden Buddha statues and folk Buddhist symbols, all in gold, layered mountain-like towards the vaulted ceiling, upon which sits, in a glass-enclosed protective case, the Emerald Buddha. It’s about two feet high and carved out of jade. The atmosphere is silent. There are Thai people sitting, or bowing three times to the Buddha statue. There is a special area roped off for Buddhist monks. There are two of them, dressed in orange saffron robes. One is reading Buddhist scriptures as he prays. On the side wall there is a huge mosaic depicting all the events in the life of the original Buddha. It is instructive to note that very little of this has to do with actual Buddhism, but is a conglomeration of tales and stories and rituals that make up, not pure Buddhism, but folk Buddhism. This kind of Buddhism makes no sense in light of the original Buddha’s anti-materialist and even anti-matter teachings. Jeff tells me that, in this place, we are at the center of spiritual Thailand. This is the beating (or non-beating) spiritual heart of this culture that hierarchizes humanity and leaves women with no real hope for this life.
There are over 100 ultra-ornate Hindu-Buddhist buildings in this area that is surrounded by a solid white and beautiful twenty-foot-high wall. There are countless statues of beasts and demons and 5-headed snakes and part-men-part-animals and elephants (the elephant is sacred in Thailand). Just from a sheer human perspective it is awe-inspiring. Just as magnificent is the Temple of the Reclining Buddha. It is 138 feet long and 45 feet high, covered in gold leaf. The face of this Buddha is meant to reflect the bliss of the passage to nirvana, which is the final escape from this material world.
Joe, Jeff, and I returned to Simkuvit Road by boat, and then train. I was not real anxious to get in this particular boat. It was thirty feet long, narrow, and powered by a 350-HP Chevy engine, to which was connected a propeller. I am not kidding you. This thing roared! I am wondering about the boat driver, and his emotional and mental stability, since I have just placed my life in his care. As we were on this boat speeding and hydroplaning along the canal that divides Bangkok I was thinking about the contrasts I was seeing. Here is a highly religious people seeking life’s meaning through many rituals and a statue of the Buddha, in the midst of which is a devaluing of women that reduces the poorest of them to selling their physical bodies to lonely men. What worth does a woman really have? Can a price be put on her? Here is where, for me, the life and words of Jesus are simply culturally revolutionary. He came into a similar culture, one where women were at the bottom of the social hierarchy. And he treated them like, well, a Thai would treat a monk; namely, with honor, dignity, and respect.
I’m shutting down my laptop, and going to the NightLight building where I am going to give some of the NightLight guitar players an hour or two of free guitar lessons. As I look out the window of Starbuck’s and here walks a man that has got to be seventy. He’s an Anglo. He walks, slight bent over. He’s holding hands with a Thai girl who look like she is all of fifteen. This, simply, cannot be right or good or human. And one day this, too, shall be made right.
November 19, 2009
I am home from an incredible week in Bangkok, We left our Bangkok hotel at 3 AM Thursday (3 PM Wed. EST). 25 hours later we touched down in Detroit. It’s good to be home with Linda and my son Josh!
I will be thinking about my trip for many days, and seeking God as to things he wants me to know and do. Here are some final thoughts, given from a reclining position in my bedroom at home, where jet lag is kicking in big-time.
On Wednesday I borrowed a guitar and taught an hour guitar lesson to a couple of Thai pastors and three women, two of whom were exploited in prostitution (given by myself, an ex-slave to drugs, alcohol, and sex). I cannot speak or understand Thai, and my guitar students cannot speak or understand English. Still I was able to communicate to them by demonstrating things on the guitar. These three women who have been rescued out of prostitution are now worship leaders in this Thai church. There were a few times during the lesson that I began to cry. One of them was when I taught them an alternative chordal way to play Chris Tomlin’s “How Great Is Our God.” They were all intrigued by what I was showing them. They wanted so much to learn this new way of playing their instruments. After showing them the chords I then played and sang the song. They began singing with me, in Thai. The guitar lesson had morphed into full-blown worship. I could have melted to the floor in tears and joy and worship. Part of what was going on inside of me was the remembrance of my own ongoing release from bondage and darkness. I’m a slave set free and being set free, worshiping with these two men-servants of Jesus and the three girls who may have been trafficked to Bangkok from Northeast Thailand. This was real worship in real community. Real Jesus-Community is not a fellowship of the “perfect” who then waste their God-time on earth judging the rest of us. Real Jesus-Community is a bunch of slobs, loved by God, redeemed and working out their salvation in fear and trembling, obedience and worship.
It was so much fun teaching them! They were so grateful. Throughout the time I could not get away from the idea that these three young women have been given a life they could never have dreamed of. Here they were, working for NightLight, and singing about Jesus. This is overwhelming to me.
When Joe LaRoy and I met with Annie Dieselberg, she told us a number of stories. Stories are important. Everyone has one. Stories communicate differently than do theories. For me the power of a story is my beluef that it is experience, and not theory, breeds conviction. Here’s a story. One girl NightLight pulled out of sex trafficking decided to leave the life of growing freedom in Jesus and return to prostitution. She went to Singapore to do this. When she got there Annie said she did not pass “Q.C.” I asked, “What’s “Q.C.?” “Quality control.” Annie said this girl was ready to be with 15 men a night. But she didn’t measure up physically and was sent back to Bangkok. (This same woman sold her baby a few years ago. NightLight worked to rescue and adopt the baby.) In the Kierkegaardian “crowd,” aka the Nietzschean “herd,” women are cattle for the pleasure of men. They are weighed, measured, quantified, marketed, used, spit out, and left for nothing, like the used-up women I saw this early Wednesday morning passed out on the sidewalks of Bangkok.
At times during my trip I felt sadness and even moments of grief and helplessness in the face of the in-your-face, overt sex industry in Bangkok. For example, I had heard about Bangkok’s “ladyboys,” and finally saw one on my last day there. Thai ladyboys [aka “katoeys”] dress and live as women. I researched the ladyboy-phenomenon and found the following. They undergo hormone replacement therapy, most have breast implants, and eventually have genital reassignment surgery done. They go to great lengths to conceal any tell-tale signs of masculinity, including surgery to reduce the size of the Adam’s apple and other medical procedures to shape their bodies more like those of women (jawbone, hips, buttocks) - even voice chord surgery. Ladyboys are integrated in and accepted by Thai society. Many of them become prostitutes. The most beautiful ones count among the highest paid sex workers in Thailand. Thais believe that being a ladyboy is the result of transgressions in past lives (the notion of Karma), and that ladyboys deserve pity rather than blame. Ladyboys often belong to lower social classes, and their suicide rate is significantly higher than that of any other segment of the Thai population.
Bangkok, like most huge cities I have been in, is a city of great contrasts. In Bangkok great wealth coexists with extreme poverty. The evening before we returned to Monroe I ate at one of the most opulent restaurants I have ever eaten in, where the waitresses stand at attention at your table holding cloth napkins and, together in sync, snap them open and place them on your lap. Throughout the meal they would come and inspect the table. If there was even one tiny crumb on the pure white tablecloth they would take a little metal tool and gather it up. Yet when you walk out the door of this gated restaurant you will see street beggars looking for a crumb of what you’ve got.
Twice I took the train to Siam Paragon Center, perhaps the most upscale shopping mall I have ever been in. The Siam area is the Bangkok version of New York City’s Times Square. I saw no street beggars or prostitution here. The whole place is sheer elegance. And, it’s all dressed up for Christmas. I found this sad, since among the many thousands of shoppers there might be a handful who know that Christmas contains the word “Christ.” Most Thais don’t have a clue about Jesus and his real, revolutionary message. My own observation is that most Americans don’t either. By the way, everything in this mall is in English. Siam Paragon Center is the American Dream become flesh and dwelling in Bangkok.
I think it’s time to wrap this up, so here are some additional bullet-points I am now remembering.
•got very tired of flying (the thrill is gone), and wondered how I could make money by inventing more comfortable seats to fly in
•read Siddharth Kara’s phenomenal Sex Trafficking: Inside the Business of Modern Slavery
•cried as I, an ex-slave, stood worshiping with all these ex-slaves who have been set free, given jobs making jewelry at NightLight, and are finding who God is and that he loves them
•saw a gazillion old, lonely white men looking for someone who will talk with them and love them and have sex with them
•felt the mixed emotions of hatred and sadness towards these men
•saw the empty stares of tiny girls who make a meager living by having as many as 15 men a night
•walked the red light district early in the morning to see red-lipsticked girls sleeping on the cement, as well as red-lipsticked girls looking for someone else to have sex with, as well as having some proposition me
•saw great wealth cohabit with extreme poverty
•smelled Bangkok, as food is always being cooked on the streets, 24/7
•met so many beautiful, hospitable Thai people
•fell in love with fruit smoothies
•watched, in admiration, as Jeff Dieselberg led his Jesus 101 class in Thai to 10 NightLight girls
•felt proud of our team of men who paid their own ways to come work for a week renovating one of NightLight’s buildings
•heard fresh stories of women being rescued out of prositution
•found out how many bahts make a buck
•saw NightLight’s jewelry-making business up close and was extremely impressed
•spent every day in heat that approached one hundred degrees with comparable humidity
•got spoken to by God about so many things that it’s going to take me awhile to process all of it
•got especially spoken to by God about...love...
•read Richard Stearns’s phenomenal The Hole In Our Gospel: What Does God expect of Us? (Note: if you are a Jesus-follower and have not read this book, stop what you are doing right now, go get this book, turn it on low, and slow-cook in it...)
•saw, up close and personal, the real distinctions between pure Buddhism and folk Buddhism..., which made me think of the distinctions between Real Jesus-following and folk-Christianity
•had delicious iced coffees and watermelon shakes
•found out that the Yul Brenner movie “The King and I” is forbidden in Thailand because of its protrayal of the king
•refused to eat at McDonald’s - I ingested a lot of phenomenal Thai food. On occasion I found myself thinking, “I am now eating real Thai food in Thailand!”
•saw many street beggars and gave to some of them
•sweated a lot
•played guitar in the NightLight storefront on Soi 4 (Street 4) in the red light district
November 20, 2009
I fell asleep at 3 AM and woke up at 1 PM today! It’s 50 degrees outside, about half of what it was every day in Bangkok. I’m sitting in our upstairs room that functions as my office and home, overlooking Munson Park. From the view from this room I see the skateboard park. Five skateboarders wearing t-shirts are working on their skills. It’s going to take time to process my Bangkok experience. I was already impressed with Jeff and Annie Dieselberg’s work through NightLight. I return even more impressed. In Jeff and Annie and their staff I saw many true Jesus-followers who have left the American Dream far behind to follow the Real Jesus.
I am so thankful for the men from Monroe who sacrificed time and money to invest in something that has significance (because significance, not success, is what’s really important). As for me personally, I feel closer to Jesus than I did a week ago. I think I see more of what’s at stake. And I feel more convinced than ever that Jesus’ message of his beautiful kingdom is the answer to all that aches inside of us.
There is one more scene that sticks in my mind. We stayed in a newly renovated hotel that had a nice, bright, clean restaurant. One morning I came down for breakfast and saw a middle-aged man sitting at a table with a little Thai girl. In the background music was playing. The song was Andrea Bocelli’s beautiful “Time to Say Good-bye.” I felt then, as I feel now writing this, something deep inside me that was like a cry for these two people that extended to all of humanity, in all of our loneliness and searching. Beneath the surface of every person there are mysteries so deep they remain unknown to us. Thomas Merton once wrote, “who can swear that his intentions are pure, even down to the subconscious depths of his will, where ancient selfish motives move comfortably like forgotten sea monsters in waters where they are never seen!” Proverbs 20:5 says, “The purposes of a man’s heart are deep waters, but a man of understanding can draw them out.” What we especially need today are not people who have more quantitative knowledge; we need deeper people. We need people whose hearts have been themselves so searched-put by God that God can use them to rescue others, like this lonely man and the little girl who is “with” him. God, I’d like to be that person and bring others along with me.