Well hello to you all! I was just thinking yesterday, with all the goings on I have had since I’ve been back, I haven’t had a chance to tell you anything about Thailand. While there is no way to cover everything, I figured I would give you some of the highlights.
So, without further ado:
* We spent time in Pattaya (yes, the same Pattaya where Asian leaders were evacuated because of protests) working with ministries helping women who are trying to leave prostitution. There are approximately 20,000 women working in the sex industry in Pattaya alone, and it was a heartbreaking sight to walk down Walking Street, the main area for prostitution, and see these women waiting for men to come along. There is a real “Cinderella” mentality for many. They imagine that a dashing Western man will come in and marry them and take them away from all the poverty. Most often, as you can imagine, this is not the case.
As dire as the situation seems, there are glimmers of hope. Over the last couple of years, more regular shops and restaurants have come to Walking Street. My friend Jessica has had the opportunity to do worship in several bars, and even saw business slow drastically after holding a worship event at a transvestite bar! There is a breaking in the spiritual realms, and people are starting to open up to the Gospel in a country where Buddhism is the national religion.
* We had the distinct pleasure of visiting Tamar Center, which takes in ladies who want to leave prostitution. It works something like this: Tamar holds English classes for women wanting to learn basic English skills (valuable in their job.) They also hold weekly outreaches at the bars to talk to women. As relationships are built, and the women share their misery, they are invited to leave prostitution and come to work at the ministry’s card-making business. It’s a job that they can start immediately, and Tamar pays the ladies by the number of cards they make, so the center can accommodate as many women as the number who want to come work. The proceeds go back into running Tamar Center. You can purchase cards here if you are interested in supporting this ministry.
After the ladies have been working with the card business for a while, they are invited to do a school to learn more about God, and also to train in Tamar’s bakery or hair salon and gain more marketable skills. The school runs kind of like a YWAM Discipleship Training School, but involves more healing ministry to the girls, and teaches the basics of Christianity. Some girls later go on to complete a full DTS, but it is not required. Honestly, you should see the faces of these ladies. They have been set free, and they are so thankful and happy. They are looking forward to a new life, one where they are free and forgiven. It’s an amazing transformation after seeing the girls in the bars.
* We also ministered in Mae Sot, which sits on the border of Myanmar. There are refugee camps backed up the mountains where thousands of Burmese have fled political unrest in their country. In the middle of all the turmoil sits the Karen Bible School and College. These incredible young people are learning skills so they can minister to their own people in the refugee camps. And with donor nations (the U.S., Canada, and Norway among others) taking 40,000 refugees each year, these young people have the opportunity to become missionaries and take Jesus to the world. The highlight of our time visiting the college was hearing 200 or so Karen young people stand up and sing their national anthem in four part harmony. The hair on my arms still stands up when I think about it. Pray for the Karen people and for Burma, that they will be able to return home, and if not, that they will have an influence on people around the world.
Also, no outreach is complete without some blips and bloopers and fun bits:
* We go to baptize a husband and wife in a river that serves as the Thai/Burmese border. Na-Ri, the wife, dunked Betsi after she was baptized.
* To get to the river, we took a very dusty 20-minute ride. As it turns out, we were only 1 kilometer from our newly baptized friends’ house, so instead of taking the dusty way back, we took a little adventure trip down river.
* Betsi, Sarah and Phil danced at a Thai soccer match.
* We visited Ko Samet at the end of our trip to unwind and relax. Sadly, we all ended up sick.
* Sarah may or may not have crashed a motorbike.
* We taught the game Cat and Mouse to a school for refugees. It went over so well, I’m not sure if the school mistress will be thanking us or cursing us in future.
* We met a guy who had been a monk for 13 years before becoming a Christian. His reasoning for leaving the priesthood? He was bored.