Published with permission from NightLight International. For more information about their ministry and how to get involved, visit nightlightinternational.com.
On Friday morning, our team joined the staff and volunteers of NightLight ministry for a morning of worship. They meet for worship every morning, but this day we were privileged to be providing the music. Ian, Lindsey, and Ashley led worship and were able to use instruments that NightLight had available. John asked one of the leaders of NightLight if it would be appropriate to have me dance as part of the worship time. He said that they recently had someone come and teach dance, so the people there would be eager to see it as part of worship. He even cleared off the small stage area and wanted to make sure I had enough room. It was a great experience to be able to dance freely in worship and to have people be moved in the spirit through my movement. It was also incredible to hear everyone singing so passionately, joining us in familiar songs but in Thai. After worship and a message from John, we had the opportunity to pray over the ministry and the people there.
In the afternoon, we went to Citylight Coffee for a tour of NightLight ministry and an introduction to their mission. It was an eye-opening time as we learned about the reality of human trafficking and the sex industry in Bangkok. An estimated 15,000 girls work between Sukhumvit Soi 1 and Soi 31 (Sukhumvit is the main road, and Soi refers to the side streets off of it), which includes the Nana Plaza red light district. Working in bars and clubs, the girls earn a salary equivalent to $300-$400 a month, but their pay is dependent on their ability to meet certain quotas. Every month, they have to receive 90-120 drinks from customers and take as clients 12-14 men, usually leaving the bars to go to the men’s hotel rooms or a short-time hotel. They only get two nights off each month, and if they miss too much work or fail to meet their quotas, their salary is cut. Many turn to alcohol and drugs to cope. Some may hear these statistics and think it’s not as bad as they expected. “12-14 guys a month? Okay.” But Annie, founder of NightLight says, “Never become desensitized to the horrific norm of the majority. Just because it’s not like Taken doesn’t mean it’s okay.”
The volunteers and staff of NightLight work to build relationships not only with the girls in the clubs but also the managers and gatekeepers. Through honor and respect, the ministry has been able to build a trust that has allowed them to help women and rescue them from the sex industry. But rescue is only the beginning. What follows is a long journey of healing and reintegration. As part of this healing process, NightLight provides job training in jewelry making and screen printing through the design company branch of the ministry. One element that is integral to the mission of NightLight is their refusal to use the girls’ stories as the selling point of their products. For NightLight, the dignity in making jewelry comes from making beautiful jewelry rather than items people buy out of sympathy with no real interest in wearing or using. It’s about looking ahead and moving forward instead of continually revisiting the past with each finished necklace or pair of earrings. Women employed by NightLight receive salaries above minimum wage as well as medical insurance and a savings plan.
After our introduction to Nightlight, our team hung out at the cafe, supporting their ministry with our presence and by buying dinner. Sophie and I were able to talk to a husband and wife from the Unites States who are living in Thailand as missionaries teaching at an international school. They talked about their first experiences in Thailand and the way they encountered God in new ways despite some initial skepticism, a similar story to the ones Sophie and I have about this trip. It was encouraging to hear from them and the ways they’ve had to be reliant on God’s timing and guidance for their lives. They are eager to connect with us as we return home and try to communicate our experiences to people who were not with us. I am thankful that they are so willing to be a part of our post-trip processing even though we have just met.
Later that evening, most of the women on the team joined NightLight to minister to the girls who work in the bars. Lindsey was unable to join us, because she is underage. It worked well for her, though, because she was then available to perform with Ian in the coffeehouse. Sophie, Kathy, Ashley, and I went with other volunteers to the clubs to bring a ministry of presence, to help change the atmosphere and be kind to the girls. We bought them drinks to help them reach their evening’s quota (non-alcoholic if we managed to order the drink for them). I talked briefly with a couple girls at one club, and both were younger than me. I think one girl said she started working in the clubs when she moved to Bangkok at 17 years old. Despite saying they enjoyed dancing, all the girls looked dead inside once they got onto the stage. What was surprising was how dead inside the men looked, too. They come to these clubs to find pleasure but leave feeling nothing. At the end of the evening, we returned to the cafe to debrief and share what information we had gathered from our conversations so that volunteers could follow up in future visits to the clubs.
I escorted Josiah back to the hotel, and during our walk, we talked about what each of us had experienced throughout the evening. While I was at the clubs, the guys were at the cafe making connections there and drawing people in to enjoy the live music. As the evening’s crowd grew and spilled out onto the street, they helped to increase the visibility and presence of the cafe within that neighborhood. They were able to cover the street and the people there in prayer. It was helpful to process with Josiah all I had perceived at the clubs. It was a refreshing reminder that not all men are like the ones we saw in the red light district – that men’s hearts are capable of love, not just lust. Men can care for women and not abuse them. For both of us, it had been so easy to look at the men on the streets of Bangkok, especially the white men, with disgust and anger. It seemed like the natural response. But as we walked home, we reminded each other that the clubs are full of broken people – not just the girls on the stage but the guys in the audience, too. We can care for the girls, but the ones we view with disgust are also in need of love and compassion. And as one of the volunteers said during our debriefing time, “There wasn’t a single person I saw tonight that Jesus didn’t die for.” The dancers, the customers, the pimps, the mama-sans – Jesus died for them all.