When We Say (Juicebox), 2017
Hand-drawn type design (pen on paper)
Based on lyrics from “When We Say (Juicebox)” by AJ Rafael
Miracle Max: It just so happens that your friend here is only MOSTLY dead. There’s a big difference between mostly dead and all dead. Mostly dead is slightly alive. With all dead, well, with all dead there’s usually only one thing you can do.
Inigo Montoya: What’s that?
Miracle Max: Go through his clothes and look for loose change.
I thought of this quote from The Princess Bride while weeding around the rose bush in front of my house. A month ago, the bush was mostly dead. I had neglected to water it sufficiently during a particularly hot week when the temperatures neared 100°F, and most of the leaves withered and turned brown. I realized my mistake and (apologetically) began watering it almost every night. A few weeks later, I saw new leaves begin to form. And then a bud. And another. And now the bush is in full bloom with bright pink roses. A month ago, the bush was mostly dead—or rather, slightly alive. And slightly alive means there’s still time for Miracle Max to do his work.
The rose bush and a few other plants needed extra care for revitalization, and I have had to learn more about plants in order to care for them properly. In the process, I have learned about caring for myself. Here are a few lessons I’ve learned from my adventures in gardening:
1. Change with your circumstances. The rose bush I bought advertised itself as easy maintenance and came with instructions to water it once a week. I followed the instructions but didn’t think to depart from the standard and water it more than once a week when the weather got hotter and the temperatures consistently reached the upper 90s. In the heat, the plant wasn’t receiving as much hydration as it needed for its systems to function properly. The leaves turned brown, starting at the tips and slowly creeping toward the stem until the whole leaf withered and fell. We risk a similar burnout when we do not care for ourselves adequately during times of additional stress. What may typically be “enough” can be far from sufficient under different and more difficult circumstances. For example, this summer has been especially busy at my office, and while I am usually content to eat lunch at my desk, I have had to be more intentional about taking an actual lunch break. I need the time away from my computer and outside the office to get some mental rest and regain the energy I need to return to my work and do it well. A walk outside was a necessary departure from the standard. For others, this adjustment might look like an earlier bedtime to give rest to a tired body or more time with God to revive a weary spirit.
2. Cut away what is dead. When caring for an orchid, it is important to cut down the bud spike (the stem on which the flowers bloom) after the buds fall off. Otherwise, the plant will continue sending nutrients to the empty stem when it could be redirecting that energy to growing new leaves or roots. Or as Jesus says in John 15:2, “He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful.” Likewise, it is important to cut away from our lives what is taking energy but not producing fruit; it is only stealing from areas where growth is waiting to occur. Perhaps this dead branch is a toxic relationship or yet another activity to which you have committed your last hour of free time. If you are like me, saying “no” is a learned skill but one that is necessary in order to dedicate our time and energy to the areas that are developing fruit.
3. Continue nourishing what is alive. My orchid has been pretty sad looking recently and was thought to be “all dead.” When I sent a picture of the plant to the company that sold the orchid, they told me it had been dead for quite some time. The plant was only “mostly dead,” though. It had been growing new roots before the leaves started to dry up, so something was happening. I trimmed the dry bud spike down even further and cut the leaves back to where it was still a vibrant green. And I kept watering the plant. I recently took a closer look at the plant and discovered new growth developing at the base of the orchid. I’m not sure if this is a new bud spike or a new leaf forming, but it’s a sign of life. In a broader sense, it may be an easy solution to throw everything away and start over when something seems “all dead,” but nourishing what is still alive—investing your energy into what works and what is eager to receive your efforts—eventually reveals growth and new life.
Ever since I started caring for the new plants at my house, others have claimed I am a “green thumb,” but I am just a first-time gardener learning as I go along and trying to keep plants alive. (There are plants that have not been as fortunate as the rose bush and orchid.) In the same sense, I am also still learning to care for myself and understand what it takes to experience growth and new life.
My close friends know that I cry easily. Toll House cookie commercials. Episodes of Criminal Minds. YouTube videos of people saying “thank you” to their moms. I cry all the time – but never in front of other people. So I will remember this day of the trip as the day I cried in front of everybody. Our team met in John and Kathy’s room after breakfast to debrief from the previous evening. The women shared our insights about our experience in the clubs, and the guys talked about some of the conversations they had with people at the cafe. There was a brief pause after everyone shared, and then John turned to me to ask if I had anything else to say. I had been reflecting internally on my experience as an Asian woman on this team, and so I began to share aloud. This was something I had blogged about and spoke briefly about with a few individuals, but it was not something I had spoken publicly about with the whole team. I talked about the difficulty of being a part of the group, how (at least for me) my being an Asian woman seemed to complicate the dynamic. I know what goes through my head when I see an Asian woman and a white man walking down the street in Bangkok, so I was concerned how people perceived our group or whoever was walking beside me. An unfortunate consequence of my looking like everyone else in Thailand. I silently carried this burden of protecting the image of everyone else in the group, particularly the guys, and consciously separated myself from everyone else. Maybe if people don’t see us walking together, they won’t assume the worst about them. It was a heavy burden, one I placed upon myself – and probably unnecessarily so. I anticipated some issues being Asian on a trip to Thailand, like Thai people assuming I know the language and local customs, but I was unprepared for this particular struggle and how emotionally difficult it would be. I cried as I shared, and Kathy said they would not have known what I was going through had I not said anything. Sophie prayed for me on behalf of the team, praying that I would experience freedom to be a part of the group without concern for what other people were thinking. I really appreciated her prayer and also the people who shared comforting words and hugs with me afterward. I was also very thankful for those who (even before I shared this with the group) made conscious efforts to catch up to me when I walked by myself in the red light district (sorry, Mom). That simple gesture meant so much.
After such an intense Friday, we tried to make Saturday a little less demanding. We started our day at the Chatuchak weekend market, which was overwhelmingly extensive and busy. I don’t think it’s possible to see every booth in one day. There are rows and rows of vendors selling everything from clothes and handicrafts to food, housewares, and antiques. We also saw a cat with a live mouse in its mouth and an Asian man with dreads. All in a span of one or two minutes.
After a morning of shopping, we joined Silk’s brother Hunk for lunch. (The restaurant where we had lunch asks its guests where they are from and then stick a flag of their home country in the dishes. The image at the top of this post is our American-claimed pad thai.) We were unsure if we would be able to connect with Hunk during our trip, because he had been sick and because he was facing opposition from his wife, who is not a Christian. Over lunch he spoke about the struggle of remaining faithful to both God and his wife when she sometimes forbids him from going to church or meeting with fellow Christians like us. However, he says, “Don’t feel sorry for me. I am not a victim. I am a victor in Christ.” Pray for Hunk, his wife, and his dream for the two of them to take the gospel to China.
Upon returning to the hotel, we began packing our luggage for trip home. It was hard to believe that we would soon be leaving Thailand. After packing, Sophie and I went on our own excursion to one of the malls to experience the fish spa, where you put your feet into a pool of water and have small fish nibble the dead skin off your feet and legs. It was the most bizarre sensation that tickled almost unbearably at first and grew more comfortable after time. We were glad we decided to go for 15 minutes instead of the full 30, because we would not have been able to last that long! Before going back to the hotel, we swung by the food court for some Thai iced tea and informal debriefing about the trip. Once we got back to the hotel from the mall, it was time to head out again for dinner at another mall. While most of the group went for pizza and fancy desserts (I’m really going to miss spending so much time with people so willing to share food with me!), I decided to go for one last order of pad thai. It will definitely be interesting going back to the pad thai in America… We also went to the gourmet market within the mall, where I picked up some snacks to take home as gifts and for myself.
As we walked through the market, a few of us talked about wanting a time for the whole team to debrief about the entire trip. When we got back from the market, we all changed into our pajamas and met in John and Kathy’s room to talk about what we had experienced over the last week. We shared our “High Five” – the top five moments from the trip. We all mentioned worship at the YWCA on Sunday morning – our first encounter with the incredible power of God and a morning that set the tone for the rest of the trip. Other highlights included Loy Krathong, worship with the Nightlight staff and volunteers, and seeing how each of the members of our team have grown throughout the trip. During our debriefing time, we also reviewed the words of knowledge received by and for us prior to the trip, and it was great to see how God had fulfilled those over the last week.
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.
Happy belated Thanksgiving! It was definitely different than how we traditionally celebrate the holiday, but some of our team members are looking forward to the Thanksgiving meal that their families or significant others have waiting for them at home. I had a Hungry Man frozen turkey dinner a night or two before we left for Thailand, so I suppose that will suffice until Christmas.
We started our Thanksgiving day at Rahab ministries in the heart of (one of) Bangkok’s red light districts. It wasn’t far from the Christian guest house where we stayed at the beginning of our trip, and we had to walk past a block of strip clubs and bars to reach the ministry headquarters. At Rahab, we met with their staff and volunteers, leading them in a time of worship and taking some time to pray over them. We prayed for their ministry and for the girls who work in the clubs across the street. Some of the volunteers used to work in the clubs, but through Rahab found new work and came to have faith in Jesus. Part of Rahab ministry’s mission is to teach girls new skills that would allow them to find work in other neighborhoods. They also learn how to create items like crocheted stuffed animals and jewelry, the sales of which support the ministry. We ended our time with Rahab in their gift shop picking out some souvenirs for friends and family back home.
Following our morning with Rahab, our team went out to lunch for a special Thanksgiving meal with Silk, Kris, and Kris’s mother, who is in Thailand for the next month. We went to a steakhouse where they served American-style beef steak. While T-bone steaks aren’t the traditional Thanksgiving meal, it was a nice taste of home. Kris said that having something familiar but not exactly the same keeps us from getting too homesick. It was also great to have a potato instead of rice or noodles for a change :)
After lunch and a brief time of rest (during which I treated myself to a Thai aromatherapy massage in the hotel and our team treated Silk and Kris to an afternoon at the hotel spa), our team joined Silk and Kris for a time of worship and prayer for Kris and her ministry. We broadcast the time of worship on Periscope and were excited to see so many of you joining with us from home as you began preparing your Thanksgiving meals. During our time of worship, Mitch offered a prayer over our team and ministry. We learned afterward that Mitch did not remember praying. Like, at all. He didn’t even know it had happened! Prior to our trip, two people prophesied that he would open his mouth and God would fill it with His words – I guess they were talking about this very moment!
After worship, Sophie and I went to dinner at a restaurant across the street. Earlier in the week, I had heard live music coming from the restaurant and wanted to check it out. Looking back at the evening now, I think this was God’s way of leading us into the restaurant. Looking around, there were several tables of an Asian woman with at least one white man. Considering the neighborhood, this wasn’t unexpected but still a little shocking to see. One woman at the table behind Sophie was seated with two men. They all looked somewhat bored, perhaps waiting for the appropriate amount of time to pass before going home together.
At the table behind me was a woman sitting alone. She looked like she was working but didn’t have a customer yet. I asked her if she was sitting with anyone and invited her to join us. She said no, but continued to smile at us for the next few minutes. After placing our orders, Sophie went over to talk with her, and we eventually moved our table over to hers. She said that her name was Candle, pointing to the candle on our table to help us understand what she was trying to say. She spoke English, but it wasn’t always clear what she was saying. We bought her a drink and invited her to share the pizza and cashew chicken we had ordered for ourselves. She said thank you but did not help herself to the food.
Sophie could tell Candle was distracted and asked if she were worried about finding a customer that evening. When Candle said yes, Sophie asked if we could give her a financial gift so that she didn’t have to worry about finding work and could just join us as friends over dinner. Candle resisted the gift at first, but then relented, allowing herself to sit back and enjoy the evening with us. She slowly began to pick at the food before her but still did not really eat any. I saw tears begin to form in her eyes as she realized we were there just to love her in ways she probably has not experienced in a while. Sophie and I began speaking hope and truth into her life, assuring her that God loves her deeply, wants so much more for her than the life she is currently living, and has created a wonderful plan for her life. Candle’s tears flowed more freely, especially as the house band began playing “Can You Feel the Love Tonight” from The Lion King. Sophie and I asked each other if we should sing a worship song over Candle, but we weren’t sure what song to sing or if we would know all the words. At that moment, the band was performing “Wind Beneath My Wings,” singing the words, “I want you to know I know the truth.” Sophie and I began to cry, realizing that we didn’t need worship songs to worship God in that moment. We started praying out loud, thanking God for his presence in that place, asking for more of his spirit to come over our table and Candle’s heart.
Candle’s emotions would come in waves. Sometimes she would be overcome by whatever God was stirring in her heart, sitting back in her chair and struggling to hold back her tears. Then she would revert back to “working,” trying to dance with us, calling us “baby,” and acting as if she needed to offer us services in exchange for the gift we had given her. And each time she would ask us to dance, we would remind her that we just wanted to sit and talk and enjoy giving her an evening off. She began to relax and eat, but sometimes her thoughts caught up to her or God stirred something in her heart, and she stopped to wipe away tears.
As we sat with Candle, a server came up to us and asked Sophie and me if we were missionaries. She saw us sitting with Candle and praying for her, and she knew that we were different from the usual customers. We asked if we could pray for her, and she was eager to receive prayer but was busy. She said that she could come back when the next band came on stage. A few minutes later, another server came by and asked us what our religion was. She also noticed us with Candle and said she had never seen anything like that in the restaurant before. She was also a Christian and invited us to join her for church. She was excited to connect and kept coming back to our table throughout the night. (She was also excited to discover we were both Filipino. The other server was Filipino, too!)
The first server came back, and she and Sophie went inside to pray. As Sophie got up from the table, Candle grabbed my hand and asked me not to leave. “I don’t want to think,” she said. She noticed that her friend who was also in the restaurant now had a customer. I couldn’t tell if her tears were because she was jealous of her friend or sad that her friend now had to go home with a man. I prayed for her friend and told Candle that she should share these words of hope and life with her. I said, “You don’t need a customer. God loves you and will provide for you in another way.” Candle said, “I need a customer, but I don’t want one.” That essentially summed up her situation. She was desperate and was willing to do whatever she had to do to get by.
When Sophie came back, we told Candle that we had to go and assured her we would never forget her, our new friend and sister. As we walked home, Sophie filled me in on the conversation and prayer she shared with the server. Candle visits the restaurant often. Because she does drugs (I think she sniffs or huffs), she is not always coherent and does not always understand. That explains why we could not always understand her responses to what we said, but God broke through the haze to speak to her heart that night. Even when the band was so loud we couldn’t hear ourselves, we spoke life and truth to Candle, and she responded deeply as we prayed over her. It had nothing to do with the words we said and whether or not they made sense to Candle. God’s presence was there in that restaurant and was at work in Candle’s heart. Pray that He continues this work within her. Pray that Candle would not return to this line of work but instead would turn to Christ. Pray that the two servers would be representatives of hope and truth for Candle and all the other girls who are waiting for their customers in that restaurant. Pray that one day Candle would shine brightly with the light of Christ within her.