I was in a brothel.
In front of me, girls danced on the stage. They swayed back and forth on their high heels, and watched themselves in the mirror as they gripped the poles.
Their faces said it all.
Flat affect. Emotionless. Vacant. Eyes far off.
Occasionally one would make eye contact with me. I'd say hello with a slight wai bow and a smile, and usually she would smile back before quickly looking away.
This one girl, though—marked on her armband as #37—kept my gaze. We smiled at each other until our smiles erupted into laughter. She looked away, but kept looking back over, a smile plastered on her face.
We asked the waiter to have her join us for a drink.
This is how it works, I learned. The patrons of these brothels request a girl by number, offering to buy her a drink. In exchange, she spends time with them... and, depending on the amount of money exchanged, provides certain "services".
Around the room, men were fondling girls' breasts. They were gripping their faces, keeping them from turning away as they forcefully kissed them. Men were thrusting their... parts... in women's faces, touching them in all manner of inappropriate ways, and often interacting with more than one girl at a time.
The men's faces also said it all.
Blank stares. Lifeless. Empty. Hollow.
These had to be some of the saddest people on the planet. Right? I mean, they're engaging in absolutely appalling and nauseating acts. What situations, what circumstances, could possibly have driven them to this point? What do their lives look like that this is where they turn for attention and affection and intimacy (a mere mirage which they are grasping for, but never quite lay hold of)?
So much heartache in that room, on both sides: victims and perpetrators alike.
That's a hard pill for me to swallow.
It's not easy to view these men with the same eyes of compassion that wants to wrap my arms around these girls and steal them away. It makes me uncomfortable to acknowledge that brokenness sometimes looks like a stripper, and other times it looks like a john.
But despite the tension, the discomfort, and the fact that I may not even like to admit it, I know this to be true:
If I say I love Christ, I have to love the johns as well as the girls.
My girl—#37—came and sat with me. Though she didn't know much English, we Forrest Gumped our way through a conversation, asking questions back and forth, sharing little bits of our lives with each other.
Her name is Ang.
She came to Pattaya 3 years ago.
She misses her family.
She does not like dancing in this club.
Sprinkled throughout our 30-minute conversation, she said the words "thank you" over a dozen times. It struck me as so remarkable that I kept count.
"Thank you for letting me sit with you."
I squeezed her hand (which had been holding mine). I smiled, and I told her I was so glad she was sitting with me.
At the end of the night, my mind wandered back to Ang—the very first girl I'd met hours prior. I knew I'd walked away from that brothel without making a life-altering impact on her. I didn't save her from the (possibly) abusive and awful position she finds herself in. Nothing about her circumstances changed because I had been there.
But I'd sat with her in the darkness.
I sat with her in her darkness.
And simply by doing that, she had a half-hour of being treated like a human rather than a commodity. For 30 minutes, she wasn't groped or fondled or sexualized. Instead, she was treated with the respect, dignity, kindness, and love she deserves.
Maybe that is Gospel work after all.
I went to sleep with Ang on my heart, with whispered prayers of grace for her...
...and for the johns.
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