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 amissions 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!
Bar 2: we were called in from far the very first night! Not by name, but rather in a 'sexy lady! hallo! welcome!" kind of way. Entering the first night on the streets it was an entirely new experience as we were "cat called" into the bar and then given our drinks in glasses the shape of naked women. Here there are about 10 "ladies" working, including at least one ladyboy. [For those who don't understand the term ladyboy let me explain by saying that it describes a beautiful woman who at one point, was a man. These people pepper the streets of Phuket and flamboyantly sell themselves amidst the women on the street and in bars.] This bar, while at first very difficult to stay in has some of the sweetest connections I have. The first night the girls actually left us alone, choosing to sit up a front table where they could call in more customers, and leaving those in the bar without company (very rare).
After a couple minutes of sitting awkwardly at the bar I chose to make a place for myself at their table and since then have become very good friends with several of them. Lydia, pictured to the left, is one of my closest friends there and I think she is the manager as she seems to call most of the shots. Not only sharing much about her own life, she has told me more about the bar and the girls then even they will tell. From her I have learned that the boss never comes in, but he only "accepts" girls from a certain city in Thailand. While all of the girls will say that they are at least 20, the newest young girl is only 17. Lydia has has taken me more as a little sister, always reminding me to be careful.
Allysha and I have taken to the older woman working as cashier named Ruth. This woman is different than most, sometimes I feel that she has one of the thickest facades of all of them, other times I am puzzled by her open affection for us. We haven't learned much from her, or any of the girls working there really, but she doesn't want to be there and that's apparent. Also one of the women I have come to connect with is Hannah. She and I both have something in common and that is that the first night I visited that bar, was also her first night in the bar. The Thai culture is very conservative in how they dress: not showing shoulders, nothing above the knees, if your married your hair is up in a bun. This is the attire of a "respectful" Thai woman, and this is how I met Hannah. Now she straightens her long black hair every night, slips on her tight fitting, revealing dress that is covered in sequins, and sits amongst men who only care to pay her for what she is, not caring who she is.In the last month of watching her adjust to this profession my heart has been broken for her. It's just not right that anyone should be so bound by their poverty that they have to be so humiliated with themselves. Hannah speaks no english so most of our communication has been through simply sitting with her and praying over her softly to myself.
The last time we visited bar 2 we found it shut down with no trace of service. Later walking by another street, the girls called out to us and we learned that the bar owner (who owns several bars in the area) had decided to shut it down and move them to another bar. Nevertheless, Praise God for answering our prayers and closing down that bar!!!
This bar has a very different set-up as the front is an open picnic table area, then you can enter into the second area behind which has a stage with live music, bar, and pool table. We spent a couple hours hanging out with Ruth, Lydia, and Hannah hearing horror stories (ex: of a handsome man who murdered his "girlfriend" from the neighboring bar just 3 months prior, because she wouldn't have sex with him), playing pool together, and simply being encouraged by each other's friendship over drinks. During this time Hannah had Lydia translate for her as she told me how much she loved seeing me and how it made her so happy when I came and just sat with her, even though we couldn't speak to each other. At that moment as we sat hand in hand, with Lydia translating, I was nearly brought to tears as the Lord gave me a glimpse of the difference we are making to these women.
This ministry has been difficult if not just because we don't see "results" right away, instead seeing the deep pit of complications these women have stumbled into. It is a struggle, that we are constantly battling, to remember the hope, opportunity, and the possibility of a way out for these women. And if it wasn't for the hope and love God has for them, we would fall into the same despair and oppression of the circumstances. Praise God that our prayer have authority, and that through them His hand is moved! Praise God that we can confidently proclaim hope, change and that God's vision for these places will in fact become a reality!
I love Hannah. And wish, with all that I am, that I could take her away from this city, from this bar, from this job. She deserves more. She needs Jesus.
*names changed for the protection and respect of these precious women*