Before we had kids we would spend usually two nights a week out on “the loop”, the name we have given to the 2-block figure-eight area that free-lancing young men wait for customers late at night. Since Izayla was born close to two years ago God has shifted our focus from the men specifically to our local neighborhood as a community, which of course includes the young men involved in prostitution but also women and our homeless neighbors. As time has gone by our daughter has needed more of a schedule and bedtime routine and now with two kids it is incredibly difficult for us to take any “late night shifts” like we used to on a regular basis. Going out to work at 10 pm with little people that are usually heading to bed by 8 o’clock just doesn’t work out so well. All of that to say, our late-night work life has been mostly in hibernation for the past year. Sometimes we feel troubled by this and at the same time we know it is a reality we have to face and limitations we need to be willing to work with. We have confidence that those streets and the men that are out on them late at night are part of our calling and inheritance here, but during this season we need to focus our energies mostly on other parts of our community. That said, I have a strong impression from the Lord that any little bit of time that we are able to squeeze in some time on the Loop is a sweet offering to the Lord and in a funny way our personal parents-of-young-children widow’s mite. Last week one of our teammates was able to come over and sit with Izayla after she was asleep, giving us an opportunity to take Elian out in a front pack (he’s still entirely portable and for that matter never knew he left his bed or was out at all, wonderful sleeper that he is…sometimes…) for his first Loop outreach shift. We started out on the circle and both felt very quiet and at peace. It was one of those evenings where we could really feel God’s presence with us. I love late night outreach – we both really do. No one is out on the streets except us, men waiting for customers, and the occasional teenage gangsters on motorcycles looking to make trouble. The view really is stunning, circumnavigating the Grand Palace.
There were lots of guys out on the first section, but nobody seemed interested in engaging, which was just fine with us, we’ve learned by now that it isn’t about how many conversations you have but about having the right conversations at the right times. Walking along, quietly praying and humming a worship song we were startled to hear a clear voice call from the shadows in English, “Hey, where have you guys been?” It was a young man we first met probably almost three years ago and immediately recognized. But his shout out to us was completely bizarre for several reasons. First of all it was in English – virtually all of our conversations on the streets are in Thai and we don’t remember this man ever revealing he was fluent in and comfortable with English. Even more bizarre, though, was his apparent complete shift in posture towards us. A little history – the first time we talked with this man he was somewhat forthcoming, sharing that he was a college student at a nearby university and a little about his life. After that we saw him most nights we were out, over the course of the last 3 years, and pretty much every night he was completely cold and closed with us – would nod his head, but wouldn’t even return our greetings. I think we kind of weirded him out, and the truth is we are pretty weird. I can say with confidence that we are still the only foreign couple who walk these streets late at night, talking and praying with young men who are “working”. Anyhow, we greeted him joyfully, introduced Elian (who was strapped to Iven’s chest), and caught up on each of our lives a bit. After a few minutes of friendly conversation he motioned to a waiting car and explained he had a customer. As he was turning to leave, Iven called out, “Hey, before you go, I want to tell you that the God who made the world made you and He loves you so much and is so delighted with you no matter what.” He paused and considered that. “Really?” “Yes, its true.” The man thanked us and got into the waiting car with some other guys. Iven and I sat there quietly and then Iven explained to me that as we were heading out that night God had really put that particular guy on his heart and he had been praying for him all evening. Before we saw him God had given Iven that particular phrase to pass on to him. It was a beautiful moment, and we both felt Jesus so near to us on that street that night, and in the conversation and prayers. It is such a privilege to be part of His body here on these streets.