Over the last month I have become a familiar face amongst the hundreds of tourists who come for pleasure here in the bars Phuket, Thailand. Greeted by name by the women working my favorite bars, my drink is prepared as I make my rounds, making sure to say hello to everyone in the bar. Something as outrageous as this on a missions trip would have me sent home during the Outreach phase of my DTS, however this particular trip has it seen as a huge accomplishment and reason to praise God!
At our first bar we are called out to from across the street, welcomed in with hugs and greetings all around. The men at the bar wait as we check on how all of the ladies are doing, paying attention to each individually and with the care as if sisters. There are 8 women working in this bar, some speak good english, others can only talk with their eyes. Here we have met many customers from Germany, Sweden, Switzerland, United States, and Norway who come for a holiday to the warmer and "friendlier" climate of Thailand while the chill is over their native countries. After a time of meeting and greeting I make it a habit to search out the bar owner, Jubilee, a flashy older woman whom I have grown close to in the last few weeks. Some nights she is either bustling about, making sure the buffet attached to the bar is fully serviced, keeping the bar customers fully amused and thirsty at that, or down the road at a friends' bar partying it up. Other nights, when the streets are quieter and the previous night's drinks still hitting heavy, she and I talk about life and spend the time enjoying each other's company.
This woman has been through it all, and has the stories like most of the girls we've come to know. Coming down from her village as an 18 year old looking for a job to help support her family in the promising city of Phuket, finding none other than one serving drinks in a bar, not making enough to send the 6-8000฿ back to her family, taking on escorting and selling something that can be sold over and over again just to care for her parents. Decades later Jubilee now runs a bar and buffet where girls come to work and send money back to their families, customers come for drinks and leave with a beautiful Thai woman on their arm. Her parents have passed away but now she supports her 3 children (who are my age) as they pursue education. She serves me watermelon and dragon fruit as we talk and laughs at the young men who loudly protest when I decline their offers for drinks, "she's a good girl," she will tell them - a look of both pride and of wishful sorrow passed in the loving gaze we share. Only a few feet from each other, yet worlds apart. No longer does she think of her own wishes, now all she wants is a better life for her darling children that she hears from every other week. Whatever the cost.
At this bar we've given several of the girls information about what SHE is and how what they can look forward to here including English lessons, hotel/restaurant training, and job opportunities. Two girls we are praying for specifically - the first is Mia, a 31 year old woman, (photographed here between Gulya and myself) who has a 7 year old daughter who is cared for by the grandparents, and whom we have been actively pursuing. She used to be a very good dress maker, so she tells us, but it did not pay enough to send home so she came to the bar last year and has been working nearly every night since. The second, Tessa, (not photographed) is a young woman who has been working only 3 months and who latched onto us since day one, desperate for the friendship. We have given her information as well, but something seems to be blocking and we haven't gotten a positive response yet.
Please keep these women in your prayers as we will be spending our last 2 nights with them this week! We praise God for the ability to have faith in the unseen and hope for the future of these women in SHE, wether or not we ever get to hear about the fruit of our ministry or not, we pray that they come to know the Lord and find restoration in who He is!
*names changed for the protection and respect of these precious women*