Working in the Red-light district

I’ve used this blog for many things over the years – to post stories, devotional thoughts, photos, etc. And the truth is, I don’t post very often, choosing instead to post short status updates on FB or dash off a quick email when things are happening or need prayer support. But I have so much to share about how God has been moving over the last few months that I’m not even sure where to begin – and a short facebook status won’t do it justice. So let me start at the beginning …

In June 2010, as part of a meeting with my colleagues in this city, we took a prayer-drive up a nearby mountain, gathered at an overlook and prayed for the city. I was convicted. At that point, we had lived in the city for 10 months and I had never been to that place. I had never prayed for my city. I was too busy missing the city I had left behind and wallowing in the “woe is me” of another transition. But in that moment, I felt stirred not only to pray for my new city but to pray a radical, outrageous, audacious prayer:

“God, please close down the sex industry in my town.”

Most of you know that Thailand is well-known for its sex industry. My city is no exception. And while local authorities work hard to address child trafficking and pedophilia, prostitution is legal and very much alive. I really didn’t personally want to become involved in this issue. I just wanted God to close it down … because He can … if we ask Him to.

After that initial trip up the mountain, I began making an intentional effort to prayer drive various parts of the city – sometimes alone and sometimes with two friends and colleagues. We prayed in several places – not just red-light districts – seeking areas where we might minister to the people. I continued to pray that God would bring an end to the sex industry in my city. Crazy, I know.

Then in late November I traveled on assignment as a writer to northeast India. I initially thought that I was covering the work of medical volunteers since health strategies have been a focus of mine for the last year. I learned, instead, that the volunteers were providing basic health checkups in a red-light district and that we would be working with prostitutes. The assignment morphed from a health strategies focus to a human trafficking focus. Ok. Sounds interesting.

But it turned out to be more than an interesting story coverage. That trip, quite literally, changed my life. I’ve never wanted to work with prostitutes. It isn’t that I don’t care about their salvation … I do. But I come from a very safe, protected, emotionally fulfilled environment. I simply thought I had nothing to say to them. No way to relate.

What I learned on that trip – as I learn so often – is that it isn’t about me. It’s true that have nothing in common with exploited women and girls. But I do have Jesus Christ living in me. And He is enough to break their chains and set them free. I don’t need to identify. I don’t need to understand. I just need to share the Gospel. Jesus is enough.

So, I realized that all this prayer for the sex industry in my city really meant that I needed to get involved. But I just wasn’t sure. Prostitutes? Really?

From the city in northeast India we traveled to Kolkata. Our first night in Kolkata, we walked down to Mother Teresa’s home. As I read the stories about her life in the small museum, I noticed that it was on a train to Darjeeling (near the city we’d just visited) that God impressed on Mother Teresa his will for her to work with “the poorest of the poor.”

Standing there, I knew that God wanted me to find a way to share the Gospel with bar girls and prostitutes in our city. I had no idea how to go about it, but I’d just had a “real-life lab experience” with my new friend and colleague involved in the work. I had learned some things. So I prayed, “God, I’m not sure how to do this. I’m not even sure I want to do this. But ok, God. Just show me the next step.”

I returned to my city rarin’ to go. I knew that I only wanted to share the Gospel – not start a livelihood project, not build a safe house, etc. One of the things I’ve learned this year as I’ve traveled and written about social justice issues (e.g., homelessness, health and human trafficking) is that the most effective approach is simply to start by sharing the Gospel. Social justice issues have a lesser priority and can be addressed later as needs arise.

So, of course, I decided I’d look at teaching English in one of the red-light districts. (Insert ironic smile here). My prayer partner, Jamie, and I prayed about that for a few weeks and constantly ran into one brick wall after another. Ok, so it isn’t about teaching English. It’s about sharing the Gospel. I get it.

As a Holy Spirit-induced aside, on the trip to India, I learned about an effort by FBC Inola, Oklahoma to deliver gift bags to strip club workers in Tulsa. This is a new ministry that came about after my co-worker in India challenged her home church to take action. I did not mention this to Jamie. I knew there was no way the two of us – as introverted as we are – would ever attempt something so bold and foolish. But …

A couple of weeks ago, we met to pray again. We talked about different ways of gaining access to the women. Then, Jamie said, “Why don’t we just walk up the street and talk to them.”

“That’s very dangerous,” I said.

“Yes, but we can go to one out in the open. We won’t be in the brothels, just the bars,” she said.

“Oh, ok,” I said.

“Should we take something?” she said.

“How about a gift bag?” I said.

“That’s perfect!” she said.

“Really? Ok. ” I said. “Had you thought of this before we met?”

“No,” Jamie said. “It just came to me as we were praying.”

Of course it did.

So, there you have it. Last Friday, February 11, Jamie and I along with an extroverted friend and co-worker named Patti, delivered 8 gift bags to a bar across from a hotel where our company frequently has meetings. We shared with them that God had put them on our hearts, that we
loved them and that we had a gift for them. The gift bags included lotion, lipstick, tissues, a facial mask and a copy of “The Hope” DVD. We also gave them a card with our first names and cell phone numbers, inviting them to visit us for coffee and conversation. The girls were very friendly. They accepted the gifts. No “bad guys” ran us off. It was a great experience.

A few days later, on Tuesday, the three of us attended a seminar called “Red Lights and Redemption” held by a colleague who works in the brothels in another nearby country. We learned a lot. One of her suggestions is that we take a gift every time we go to the red-light district. That was my plan, but I also realized that we have no “real” budget for this outreach. I didn’t know where the funds would come from. After all, there are a LOT of prostitutes in my city.

That night on our walk around our neighborhood, my husband, Joe and I were talking about what to do. I told him, “I’m just going to be George Mueller about this and trust that if God wants us to deliver gift bags then He will provide the funds. If he doesn’t, maybe He just wants us to talk to them.” (George Mueller was a missionary in England who set up orphanages. Rather than asking for donations, he simply prayed every time he had a need … and God provided funds … every single time).

The next morning I woke up at 5:00 a.m. with this ministry on my mind. I prayed that if God wanted us to continue providing gift bags that He provide the funds.

Later, just before lunch, Joe walked over to my office. With a funny look on his face, he told me that we had received a special gift from a donor that we don’t know and have never met. It was a substantial amount of money to “address exploitation of children in Thailand.” My jaw dropped. ‘That’s a LOT of gift bags.’ I thought.

So, now we know that God has opened a door big enough to drive a truck through. I’m in conversations with our leadership about developing a comprehensive plan to reach exploited women and children in northern Thailand. I hope to help coordinate the efforts of all of our personnel working with exploited women and children – from an orphanage in our city to work in the girls’ and women’s prisons to human trafficking and prostitution. So far, I’ve gotten nothing but support to pursue this.

Our small team is also planning to meet next week with a potential partner – a woman with another organization who just moved to our city to work with prostitutes. Interesting coincidence, isn’t it?

We have several prayer requests:
– Pray that God will give us wisdom as we move forward.
– Pray for the salvation of the girls’ in the red-light district
– Pray that our ministry will continue to be focused first on sharing the Gospel
– Pray that as we seek guidance, counsel and accountability with our leadership that we will continue in lock-step obedience to God’s direction
– Pray for local Thai believers to step out and join us in this ministry
– Pray that God will guide us as we seek to develop an overall plan for reaching exploited women and children in northern Thailand with the Gospel

This is SO big and I am SO inadequate in my own strength. Still, I know that while we can do nothing apart from Christ, with Him we can do everything. I know that God is with us. I can’t wait to see what’s next. Thanks for your prayers!



3 thoughts on “Working in the Red-light district

  1. Dear Ann,What a challenge! What an adventure! What an opportunity to invest in lives worth not much in the world's view, but worth the death of Christ! I will pray for you, and urge you to “be as wise as a serpent and as harmless as a dove”. I believe that God will take care of you, but I believe you should exercise caution also.In Christ,Don Jones


  2. AnnI need to hook you up with a friend of mine here in New Zealand who is running a stunning ministry with prostitutes … she has been doing it for quite a long time now and they have teams … they run a pamper night for the girls … all sorts of stuff … basically have been building relationships and sharing the love of Jesus! If you want me to hook you up, let me know and I will drop her a line … she is pretty passionate about this work!


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