It’s been almost two years since I took my trip to Thailand to minister to women in the red light districts and learn more about human trafficking. That trip served as a launching pad for my ministry efforts around the world so thank you to all of you who contributed years ago. Being exposed firsthand to the injustice helped me to work through many realities these women face and also misconceptions I had going into it.
There are a couple of things I don’t think I’ll ever forget from that trip. I remember walking through the red light district mid-morning. The night market was no longer set-up and the street was quiet. We were walking through to simply pray and acknowledge the magnitude of work that goes into making it the flashy, tourist trap it becomes at night. Something caught my eye while we were walking through it though and I haven’t been able to shake it since.
As we walked, I looked across the street at a bar that was closed. I noticed the most precious little girl standing in front of the door. She was probably around 5 years old - wearing a pretty dress and tightly squeezing a teddy bear. She watched us as we walked by, intrigued. And then she was pulled inside of the bar by a woman, presumably her mother.
My heart ached. I wanted to go pull her from the bar and take her home with me. In that moment, all I wanted her to know is how loved and valuable she truly is. I wanted her to know that dancing in bars isn’t the norm and it’s not a life she has to live. It breaks my heart to think it very well could be her reality one day.
I’m not suggesting anything bad happened to her, but the innocence she portrayed in such a dark place was the reality I was seeing all around me. Young girls, older men. Beautiful faces with numbers attached to their bikinis. Innocence was being ignored, disrespected, and stolen.
Oh, how I wish these women and girls weren’t in that situation.
But, to my surprise, the biggest lesson I learned while walking those streets was how to have compassion for the men. Many were white. They looked like the men in my life. They were of all ages, but one thing was true of all of them: there was a void in their eyes. And that caused tension in my heart. I suddenly wanted to rescue everyone I saw - men and women alike.
I tried to make eye contact with them. While many would quickly look away, it only took a split second for me to recognize the emptiness in their eyes. They were dark and expressionless. After the first night of being there, I had to control myself from running up to them and asking them why they were there, in the midst of such darkness. Not to scold, but to understand what brokenness in their lives had led them to such a place.
As I looked at the men, my heart broke more and more. I began to wonder if they had lost a loved one, had recently gone through a divorce, were abused themselves, and or something else entirely. As these scenarios filled my heart and mind, Jesus filled my heart and mind with an overwhelming amount of love and compassion for them. Because the truth is that whether it’s the abused or the abuser, the trafficker or the victim, the “john” or the woman dancing in the bar - we all need the love of Jesus Christ. We need the renewal He brings to our lives.
And today, two years later, I still have compassion for the men who are painfully entangled in the injustice of sex trafficking. While they create the majority of the demand for the sex trade, they too are often victimized. It’s easy to demonize “the men” and not love them well. After all, they’re causing the pain. But, Jesus tells us to love our enemies. To love all people as we love ourselves. And if there’s something I know from personal experience, it’s that no one is too far gone or too messed up to receive the transformational love and grace of Jesus Christ.
I pray we won’t victimize men, but play a role in the redemption of manhood. I pray we won’t demonize them, but love them well. I pray that the men of the church will come alongside the men in the darkest places on earth so they can be rescued from the ploys of the enemy.
At the end of the day, we’re all sinners in need of a Savior. Let’s not deny this gift to those who desperately need it because we’re too busy pointing the finger at their faults. Don’t get me wrong, it’s terrible what men (and women) are doing to one another worldwide. I hate it, actually. But there’s only One Solution to overcoming the sin in their lives so let’s start engaging the hurting men of this world instead of adding insult to injury because it’s this deep love - which makes absolutely no sense - that allows men to shift from taking innocence to protecting it.
May we be a people who dare to love so deeply that no one, no matter what they've done or who they are, goes without knowing the powerful, life-changing Gospel of Jesus Christ. It's the only hope dark places like the red light districts in Bangkok, and the people in them, have.