Caroline, Erin and Wendy recently took part in ‘Blossom’, a mission trip to Thailand supporting ministries who work with people trapped in in the sex trade. Caroline shares her experience.
I have always wanted to visit Thailand – with its stunning scenery, friendly people and delicious food, however Pattaya is the kind of place I would normally avoid like the plague! The city of Pattaya, located sixty miles south of Bangkok, used to be a small fishing village. However during the Vietnam War it became a favoured destination for soldiers to visit during their periods of rest and recreation. They arrived with money looking for a good time, and girls were sent from all over the country to satisfy their needs. When the war ended many veterans returned to Pattaya, and the sex industry grew from there.
Prostitution is illegal in Thailand, yet it is now estimated that 150,000 women, men and children are being sold for sex in this one city. Pattaya is known as the unofficial sex tourism capital of the world; the streets are lined with bars and massage parlours, and all of them are brothels.
I recently had the great privilege of taking part in ‘Blossom’, a 10-day mission trip organised by Youth With A Mission (YWAM) with Erin Butler and Wendy Young. We were part of a team of 13 women, aged between 21 and 70, from 9 different churches. Our purpose was to serve and support two inspiring Christian ministries based in Pattaya: Tamar Center (www.tamarcenter.org) and Shear Love (www.shearloveinternational.org). Both ministries do outreach into the bars and streets of Pattaya to make connections with sex workers. They also offer English lessons, mentoring and counselling, along with training opportunities for any who want to get out of the sex trade (e.g. in hairdressing and catering).
Whilst on ‘bar outreach’ in a new area of the city one evening, some of our group got chatting to Nok (not her real name), one of the ‘bar girls’. They invited her to a party we were hosting in a local hotel the next evening. Nok accepted their invitation and was amazed when they said they would pay the ‘bar fine’ required to release her for the night.
Nok arrived at the party the following evening, along with 63 other guests. We played some games to break the ice (including ‘duck, duck, goose’ around the tables, which was hilarious and quite bizarre!) and the room was quickly filled with laughter. A delicious meal was served, and members of our group performed a drama and some songs. There was a presentation given by the two ministries, including a powerful testimony by a woman who had come out of the sex trade and been given a fresh start through Tamar Center. The evening ended with an invitation to receive prayer, and many responded. As the team began to pray, tears flowed, and their pain was suddenly very evident. It was at this point, that Nok turned to the helpers at her table and told them she wanted to get out right now. The team took her straight back to the bar to collect her belongings and onto a safe house that very evening. What a privilege to witness someone being rescued there and then, from a life she was clearly desperate to leave.
I could be tempted to write off a place like Pattaya as a lost cause, or to sit in judgement over the horror of what goes on there, but that is not God’s heart. He is present and at work in this city, bringing hope and transforming lives, and His light shines all the brighter in the midst of the darkness and brokenness.
Visiting these ministries has given me fresh insight into the beautiful character and nature of our God. Jesus loves the people of Pattaya, both the sex workers and the tourists. He is full of mercy, grace and compassion towards them, as He is towards us. Jesus said, ‘I have come to save the world and not to judge it’ (John 12:47). He is still the ‘friend of sinners’ and continues to seek out the broken and lost. The challenge is for us to do the same.