One of the core ministries our team engages in is a weekly late-night outreach to young men involved in freelance male prostitution. That is, Thai guys who wait on the side of the street at night for customers to come and “pick them up” in order to engage in sexual activities in exchange for money. Many of the men that we meet communicate a nonchalance about what they do. Very few would say they enjoy it, but (at least at face value) many communicate that they are willing to trade the money they receive for the personal toll it takes on them to do their work. This last Friday evening, just the day after an unusual gift from a US based church was passed on to us, we approached a young man at about midnight, offered him a homemade cookie, and said hello. “Tan”, who was visibly agitated, opened up immediately telling us that he hates this, he doesn’t want to be selling on the streets, but he needs the money because he lives with his sick grandmother and two siblings and they need money to buy food, to make rent, and pay for grandmother’s medicine. A few more questions revealed that at 17, “Tan” had already dropped out of school, and didn’t really know what to do with himself other than try to help his grandmother by being out on these streets at night. In more than 6 years of street outreach to this community we think this was the first time a young man was asking us for direct and immediate help to take care of family obligations so that he wouldn’t have to be involved in sex-work. So we made an appointment to meet “Tan” near his home the next morning, and gave him bus-fare home. At 7:30am “Tan” called us to confirm that he really did want help and could we please come meet his grandmother as discussed the night before. So several of the adults and all of the kids on our team made a trek to the end of the bus line where they live in order to see how we might serve this family.
Meeting with them near their home, hearing more of “Tan” and his grandmother’s story (the kids were orphaned when both parents died in an automobile accident), and seeing that he really did need some help, we felt led to give this family what they were asking for – some money to pay for medicine, rent, food, and a small investment towards re-starting their normal work of selling second-hand goods. Through the extended Christian community here in Bangkok we also set up a job-interview with a partner ministry for “Tan” (that he very expectedly has not followed-up on yet) and made some connections between this family and a trusted Thai church within a kilometer of their home. We don’t have any illusions – the money we shared with this family hasn’t solved their deeper challenges – especially the grandmother’s failing health – but we do know that we received an unexpected gift, the day before we discovered an unexpected need, affording us the freedom to respond in an unexpected way – through sharing enough cash with a family to get them through a crisis and have some options on the other side. As a general rule, our ministry doesn’t tend to give money to individuals who ask us, but as we prayed through this situation it seemed like the most honoring and helpful response we could provide.