Rescue: My First Time in a Brothel
To say the least, our first night of outreach granted me some new experiences that I am pondering this morning as I sit here drinking my coffee. Some precious, some maddening, some hilarious. But what strikes me most is the peace I am experiencing. I am a bit surprised by that, though I shouldn’t be. We’ve had perhaps thousands of people praying for us. Being that it was Sunday, and given the time difference between here and the states, the two campuses of our home church were praying for us during their 9:15 worship hour just as we were going into the bars. That was orchestrated by God, I am certain.
Before heading out to the brothels that evening, we spent the morning wrapping gifts for our girls that will be coming to the Christmas party. We wrapped plush throws, wallets, stuffed animals, scarves, and so on. Our Christmas party will be a beautiful time. When the last gift was wrapped, we circled around our precious Bonita, to glean from her wisdom as she answered questions, shared insight, and gauged our feelings about our first time in the bars later that night. It reminded me of the disciples gathering around Jesus to listen and learn. Bonita, so wise and gentle and patient as she prepared us for the task ahead, guided us gently through this maze. But through it all, she’s so passionate and protective about “our girls” as she calls them. She loves them all, and she wont’ stop until all 50,000 have been offered the chance for a better life, or until the Lord calls her home. She has to live forever, Lord.
Later that day we received an extra-special gift when we visited a beautiful, oasis-like orphanage where we got to hold and hug some of THE MOST BEAUTIFUL children I have ever seen. Many, if not most of these children are birthed by “our girls.” I think of these babies’ beginnings and their heritage, and I know I was witnessing first-hand the beauty God creates from ashes. We spent most of our time with the toddlers–those learning to talk and express themselves. Many would toddle to us, arms raised for us to pick them up. Oh my heart. Even now, the tears gush as I think of it.They loved being nuzzled and cuddled and caressed. They weren’t afraid of the masks we wore to protect them from germs. It was as if they could see the love in our eyes and hear it in our voices. One little boy I held even tooted a little, and I thought, “Yes, this is very familiar. They are just like mine. They know a Mama when they see one.” Though their beginnings and their circumstances and their geographical locations are vastly different from my own sons, they are still very much the same. They just want to be loved, and they recognize when love shows up. Some of them would not let us put them down when it was time to leave. I think I left a little piece of my heart there. But they are well-cared for. God, please be with them. Ok, I am a blubbering mess now.
And then it was time to head to the bars. “Our girls” flooded the streets and inside the bars–some dressed provocatively, some dancing, some yowling their offers, some holding signs indicating their price for a drink or a tryst. I must confess there were times I was tempted to punch the men (jons, they are called) in the face, but I must keep in mind they are as broken as the girls or they would not be here. They are desperate and lonely and sick. They also need the healing touch of Jesus.
And then there were the “lady-boys”–the result of filling a boy with estrogen since the age of ten so that he can also be prostituted. It is a desperate measure taken by the parents if they don’t have girls since culturally the girls are financially responsible for the family. And believe me, these boys are beautiful, which is almost offensive for me to say, and my heart breaks at the practice.
As I witnessed the darkness around me, peace invaded my spirit and love flooded my heart. I thought of Jesus and how he would love on these people trapped in the clutches of the enemy. As I passed each bar, I tried to make eye contact with the girls and just smile. A smile reaches across any language, cultural, or spiritual barrier. I wanted them to see something different. I wanted to them to see they weren’t a spectacle to be gawked at, and that I wanted nothing from them. And that I loved them. Truly, I am surprised at how deeply I do love them. Maybe it’s a small taste of How Bonita feels, and a mere speck of how Jesus feels.
We decided to enter one particular bar that had a pool table. Games are a good way to spend time with the girls and relieve some of the awkwardness. There was a stunningly beautiful girl standing outside “inviting” us to come in. I guess we looked a little like a deer in the headlights, and in her broken English she said, “No worries. These girls no want to boom-boom you.” Well, ok. I’m pretty sure I know what that means, and I’m pretty sure I’m relieved about it. I’m also pretty sure we learned a new word that night. With that knowledge, we entered.
Our Thai liaison to the mamasans (brothel owners) began work immediately explaining about the Christmas party and offering to buy the girls on party night so they could attend. While our liaison worked her magic, we asked questions and got to know our new friend.–the precious soul behind the “professional” façade. She told us her name but I will call her Kim. Kim had come from the North–the very poor area of Thailand where most of these girls come from. She said she had a “boyfriend” from Australia that brought her to Pattaya, and then deserted her not long after. But I knew it was probably a bit different story. He had been a customer that she had hopes would love her. But he left her. And my heart broke. But we kept smiling and laughing and just loving on her. But more impactful was the love she showered on us. She repeatedly hugged us and profusely kissed our cheeks telling us how beautiful we were. And we hugged her back. We hugged her oh so tightly. I expected it to feel awkward, but it didn’t. It felt like hugging a daughter, and I didn’t want to let her go. I wanted to take her with me and hold her and tell her it would be alright.
These girls make money when we buy drinks, so we bought our cokes and continued our visit. Somehow I got talked into writing my name on the dry erase board to be the next in line to play the winner at a game of pool. The problem is, I may have played pool twice in my life as a child and had no clue what I was doing. So here I was, in Thailand, in a bar, with a new friend, expected to play a game I knew nothing about with a boy I had never met. But Kim was so sweet and so patient in teaching me.
The kid I was playing saw my pitiful state of billiards experience and mercifully just hit a shot in the pocket for me. But as the game progressed, I finally began shooting the balls into the pockets. With each pocket shot, the pool hustler mentality in me grew, and by the end of the game I gotta say I was feeling pretty cocky. I was very free with my high-fives, I can tell you. Finally, the only shot I had left to take was the winning one, and I shouted boastfully to my team at the table what a pool shark I was. And then it happened. I beautifully shot my striped ball directly into the pocket. “Woo-hoo!!” I yelled, raising my fists over my head in victory. I think it was about mid-celebration moment when Kim hugged me and sweetly said, “I sorry you lost.” What? But what about my striped ball in the pocket? Well, apparently there is a rule in billiards that the white ball can’t follow the striped ball into the pocket–especially on the final shot. There I was basking in my glory, only to be humiliated in the next second. But everyone– Kim, the young man I was playing, my team, and two Australian men at another table– got a good laugh out of it all, so I guess it turned alright.
And there it was. The connection that once had been so foreign to me. It made sense now why Bonita chooses to meet the girls on their turf. It’s truly the only way. It is brilliant. And here’s the thing in all of it. Jesus was there, and I felt it. In the noise of the music and the awkwardness of the situation, he was there. And I believe he was pleased, even though he decided not to miraculously give me the victory in billiards. Even in a less than desirable place, mingling with a stranger in a situation way outside of my comfort zone, he was there. He was there teaching us to love as He loved. Giving us hands-on experience.
I don’t know if Kim will be at the party. Sometimes the girls say they will come, but end up having to “work,” or they change their mind. And if she doesn’t come, I will be so sad. I will carry her in my heart and I will pray for her again and again. And perhaps she will come another year. But I know one thing. She taught me. She taught me about the game of pool. But I will never look at that game the same. Because it was only a teaching tool revealing to me my pre-conceived judgmental boundary-lines and my knee-jerk reactions to things that look different and dirty. And she taught me there is a place where you find connection with the most unlikely of people.
And so now we prepare for a party where we hope to meet many like Kim, and where we hope to find the ones that want to be free. As we walked the streets, some of the girls indicated they had already heard of this party from years past. Sweet Bonita’s efforts are spreading throughout the brothels. It’s a night of distraction from their despair and their pain. They are showered with gifts, and they hear about a Savior named Jesus who can set them free in every way. And they are given the chance to be free and safe at the Home of New Beginnings.
And I can’t wait to meet them all. I know in each of their faces, I will see Kim. I will now have no trouble loving them, and I will be keenly aware of the lessons “my girl” taught me. And I will be different because of it. Funny how God does that–uses the most unexpected scenarios to teach the greatest lessons. Even a game of pool.
“Then the master told his servant, ‘Go out to the roads and country lanes and compel them to come in, so that my house will be full.'” (Luke 14:23)