This is the third year in a row that we have helped facilitate Inter Varsity’s Global Urban Trek Asia summer teams Bangkok red-light district prayer walk. It is just one night during a long week of preparation and team building activities for the 80-or-so college students that will spend their summer living with national families in an Asian slum, discerning whether God may have a long-term call on their lives to work with people in poverty. Our part is to give some teaching, break some stereotypes, and help students to spiritually prepare for on-site prayer in one of the several red-light districts of Bangkok. Our heart and hope is that these students are able to catch a bit of God’s heart of love and embrace for the women and men who work in those areas, whether they be selling services themselves, managing establishments where sex is sold, or coming as customers. This year, we felt led to take one of the teams to an area in the northern part of Bangkok that has a collection of karaoke and strip clubs, but caters only to Thai clients. As far as we know, there is no current Christian response in that neighborhood, and though it is less obviously flashy and loud than the neighborhood catering to foreigners, there is no shortage of heartache and darkness. We ourselves have only been to that neighborhood a handful of times, and then only years ago while we were first getting our bearings and surveying areas where men worked, so we knew we needed to visit and get a sense of the scene before taking a group of a dozen or more students with us. We had childcare arranged for the time we would be with the students, but we decided it was simplest to go ahead and bring our tired kids with us for our initial exploring. It wasn’t very late – maybe 8 pm or so – and the bars and clubs were just beginning to think about opening. We slowly walked the street with our stroller, asking God to open our eyes and hearts, and help us to ask the right questions of the doormen and women who were trickling in for their shifts. A couple of especially friendly doormen were delighted with our kids and unhelpfully held the front door open as Izayla ran towards it. She quickly slipped into the darkness of loud club music. Iven and I looked at each other, unsure of what to do next – “You need to follow her,” he said to me. We are both committed to protecting his eyes from any unnecessary female nudity. So, I trudged after my toddler and was quickly also swallowed up by darkness and dance music. My eyes adjusted and I looked around to find less than a half dozen people inside, all workers, and my little lady just a bit in front of me jumping up and down and laughing to the music. I looked past her and saw one women on stage practicing a pole dance, in something like a bikini. Izayla suddenly saw her and stopped dancing, watching her closely she turned to me and declared in a way only a two-year-old could, “No clothes on…dancing…that’s fun!” And it hit me. Here I am, in a strip club, with my two-year-old, and she has just observed what is happening and categorized it as “fun”. Hmmm. What to do now. This is one of those moments, as a missionary mom, when I wonder if we are foolish and wrong to let our kids slip in to scenes like this, or if it is indeed good to let them have little doses of reality and be able to have the conversations about what is actually fun, and what just seems like fun, and more importantly what is good and not good, healthy and honoring, and not. She is just barely two. We can’t really have those conversations with her yet. And though we are not eager to bring her into strip clubs and brothels, it is a reality of our life and of the world, and our kids are just simply going to have to deal with those realities at an earlier age than most kids (coming from America, at least). My hope and prayer is that as they are exposed, they will also see the very real consequences of sin and broken relationships in the lives of our neighbors. They won’t just taste alcohol as teenagers, they will see countless neighbors passed out drunk all throughout their childhood, and see friends and “uncles” wasting away, literally, from the poison of whiskey as their primary food. They won’t just hear about people having “unwanted pregnancies”, they will see the many swollen bellies of women who are working our streets, and see the hardships of those children as they are raised in contexts that simply don’t have the emotional and physical resources to provide for secure childhoods. I don’t think God sees the woman dancing on the stage and calls it “fun”, as our little daughter does, but I do know that He sees that woman and calls HER “precious!” without any of the baggage and judgments that we grown-ups have a hard time letting go of. That is one thing our little ones are great at. In that sense, they do see like God does, and at least that can be called “very good”.
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