“Freedom for the Sake of His Name” by Amanda Burgin

In June 2015, I went to Pattaya, Thailand for six weeks with 20 fellow students to take part in a Global Injustice Response Training called The Justice School. The Justice School is an intensive training course designed to equip students to eradicate the injustice of our world that is human trafficking. Pattaya is known to be the child sex tourism capital of the world. We spent time in the classroom being taught by experts in their respective fields, participated in various field works around the city, and experienced what sex trafficking looks like in that part of the world. The following works are the blogs I wrote leading up to, during, and following my trip to Thailand.

 

What’s Next?

As I sit here at work on this Friday afternoon, I am beginning to realize how close it all is. This time next week I will be finishing the last hour of my last shift as a student in the Nebraska Christian College library. Graduation is 8 days away.

8 days.

It all feels surreal. I can’t believe that I am almost done with college. It has gone so quickly. But in 8 days I will walk across that stage and get my diploma (I think—let’s hope I didn’t miss too many chapels!). I honestly couldn’t be more excited to graduate. I am glad that I had the experiences I did because they shaped whom I have become and what I plan on doing. There are people I will miss and things I will miss. However, I can’t pretend I’m not more than ready to be done here.

Mostly because I’m excited about what comes next.

Graduation is 8 days away, but the day I board a plane and fly halfway around the world is only 49 days away. And that seems less real than graduation.

As it gets closer, I have many thoughts and feelings about the summer to come. I am anxious, excited, curious, nervous, sober, passionate, and just plain dumbstruck.

I am anxious to see what those six weeks will be like.
I am excited to learn and to grow in ways that I couldn’t here in the States.
I am curious to see where God will take me from here.
I am nervous to come back (I think coming back will be harder than going).
I am sober about the stories I may hear and atrocities I may see.
I am passionate about seeing freedom and justice for these precious souls.
And I am just plain dumbstruck that God has chosen someone like me, someone thoroughly ordinary and unworthy, to take part in such an important task.

I don’t think it will all feel real until those wheels touch down in Thailand. When I was getting ready to graduate high school four years ago, I never expected to be where I am today. I never really expected much, to be honest. What do I have to offer?

But this crazy God that I serve had different plans. I am humbled and thrilled to be a worker in His Kingdom.

Six weeks feels like such a short time to me, but I know it will be one of the most life-changing experiences I could ever undergo. And I don’t know what life will look like when I come home. Because I’m a senior graduating college, people are asking (and I’m asking myself), “What’s next?” I can tell them (and myself) with utter certainty that I will be spending six weeks in Pattaya, Thailand as a student in The Justice School. But after that . . . I have no stinking clue.

And that’s ok.

It drives me crazy. But it’s ok.

Whatever God chooses to bring me to next, I can’t wait. If the last four years are any indicator, it’s going to be one wild ride.

And that’s ok.

 

Breathe

Check time.
1:10
Breathe in.
Breathe out.
Breathe in.
Breathe out.
Thailand.

Breathe in.
Breathe out.
Breathe in.
Breathe out.
Check time.
2:34
Breathe in.
Breathe out.
Breathe in.
Breathe out.
Thailand.

Breathe in.
Breathe out.
Breathe in.
Breathe out.
Check time.
3:57
Breathe in.
Breathe out.
Thailand.

This is about how the past 10 nights have gone for me. We are now under a month until I will be boarding a plane and flying halfway around the world. I have found myself completely unable to sleep. Sometimes I’m thinking about all the logistical details.

How much money do I need to bring with me?
Do I have the right clothes?
I sent my visa application, right?
I need to make a list of things to get at Walmart.
I can’t forget to get my other malaria pills.
Do I have enough money to get the things I need to get?
(Let’s be honest . . . half of the things I worry about are money things).

But other nights, I think about the bigger things.

What’s it going to be like to live in another country?
Can I handle the things I’m going to see and the emotions I’ll feel?
What kinds of things are we going to be doing?
What’s it going to be like in the classroom?
What’s it going to be like with my fellow students?
What if I am bad at this?
What if God didn’t really lead me here and I’m making it all up?
How is God going to use me in the lives of people there?
What is God going to use there to grow and refine me?
How am I going to handle coming home?

It seems like my mind is going a mile a minute all the time, but especially as I try to fall asleep. Some nights my stomach is in knots and my mind is nearly paralyzed by fear and doubt. Some nights my heart is bursting and there is deep joy there as I think about this amazing opportunity that I have been given. Some nights there is an intense anger burning in my soul, an anger against the injustice that warrants this trip (let’s be honest . . . that’s pretty much there all the time).

24 days.

We’re getting closer and closer. I am incredibly thankful for the people in my life who have been so supportive as this process is just beginning. They have loved me deeply, supported me fully, and prayed for me diligently. I couldn’t do this without them. And above all, I am incredibly thankful for my God. He allows broken and messed up people like me to serve Him and make Him known. There’s nothing I’d rather spend my life on.

 

Unchanging

I have two favorite places to sit and read and study and just be. One of them is my church, A2. The other is Noodles & Company.

I have no idea why I like it at Noodles so much (other than the carby, cheesy, chickeny goodness in the form of Wisconsin Mac and Cheese with parmesan-crusted chicken), but I love it. And that’s where I sit right now. I am such a creature of habit. I get the same thing every time I’m here and sit in the same booth, unless some unknowingly rude person has stolen it . . . I read a chapter of the book I am reading at the time (Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows today) while I eat my food. Then I might read from my Bible and journal for a while, while listening to music. All of those things have happened today. But there was one big difference.

This is the last time it will be like this.

I was hit with this realization today. Because in two days, I leave Omaha and head to Los Angeles, California. The next day, I leave LA and head to Taipei, Taiwan and then to Bangkok, Thailand, and then to Pattaya, Thailand. I find myself incredibly sober today. Because it’s my week of lasts.

I don’t say this to be melodramatic. Will I return to Omaha? Yes. Will I return to my friends and family that I have had to say “see you later” to this week? Yes. Will I return to my church? Yes. Will I return to my carby, cheesy, chickeny goodness and my booth at 120th and L? Yes (I hope!). I know that I will return in 6 weeks.

But I also know that I won’t return the same.

And that’s ok. It is just humbling to realize that never again will my life be the same. This is true of any major change in life, whether it be getting married or having a baby or moving or experiencing illness or loss or whatever it may be. How boring would life be if it never changed? But I will not return the same person.

I will miss things like soccer games and Sundays at A2 and birthdays and my friend’s baby’s “firsts” and movies coming out and a myriad of other things. Life will move on while I am gone. I will miss things. And I also may lose pieces of myself over the next couple of months. It may be painful and hard. This work I’m heading to do will not be easy. But it’s going to be so good, too.

This is the last time it will be like this. 

Because I am a creature of habit, sometimes change is hard for me. And, boy, has there been A LOT of change in my life the past month or so. As I grow more and more, though, I find myself dealing with changes better, for one simple reason.

The God that I serve doesn’t change.

He is the same as He was yesterday and will be tomorrow and has been since the beginning of time. It’s one of the reasons I can have faith in Him. He is the same as always. He is solid. He is my rock. Sometimes it feels like He changes, but it’s really just me changing. I learn new things about Him and experience Him in new ways. He hasn’t changed, but He certainly changes me. And I love that. He makes me strive to be more like Him every day. I find that as I continue in the process of sanctification, His desires for me become my desires for me. He empowers me and strengthens me. He carries me when I am weak and pushes me when I’m stubborn. He is faithful and good through it all. And He has brought me to this journey and I know He will see me through.

I don’t know what life will be like while I’m in Thailand, or when I get back. I don’t know what I’m going to do or where I’m going to work or where I’m going to stay or any of those questions people like to ask. But I do know what He will be like, even as He reveals new things about Himself to me daily. I am ready to embark on this journey to learn how to fight for freedom because of the freedom I have found in Christ Jesus. It’s a freedom for the sake of His name, as the words on my wrists continually remind me.

It’s hard to figure out how I’m feeling as it gets closer and closer. But today, I find myself resting in the peace of the unchanging steadfastness of my Savior and King.

 

Make a Way

I sit here in seat 52K on Korean Air Flight 12. I have been sitting in this seat for nearly 12 hours. We are only an hour away from landing in Seoul, South Korea. It still hasn’t really hit me yet. Despite the fact that my butt is asleep and leaving America on a plane is about the only thing that would cause that to happen, I still can’t really believe it. I just left the U.S. for 6 weeks. It’s just so bizarre to think about.

We had quite the journey leading up to boarding this plane. We were supposed to leave Los Angeles at 4:00 p.m. on Friday, but we didn’t end up leaving until 11:30 p.m. My group has seven people in it, and I have enjoyed getting to know them more in the many hours we were stuck in the airport. There are 5 more coming up in Seoul, before we board our plane to Bangkok. I’m not sure how long of a flight that is, but we are supposed to get to Bangkok at 12:30 p.m., Sunday, June 28th (12:30 a.m., Sunday, Central Time).

I have been struggling to put into words what I am feeling as we get nearer and nearer to Thailand. In the past few months, “nearer” has been a time measurement. But right now, it is a distance measurement. And to be honest, that scares me a little. I am excited, of course, to embark on this journey and follow what I think God has for me. But it is still a little scary for me.

But there’s this one thing that has my heart burning with love and joy and peace and comfort right now.

I’ve been listening to a new band called I Am They. I absolutely love their stuff (thanks, Ben!). They have this song called “Make a Way,” and the lyrics go like this:

You brought me to the desert so You could be my water
You brought me to the fire so You could be my shield
You brought me to the darkness so You could be my morning light
If You brought me this far, if You brought me this far
 
Wherever You lead me, I know You won’t leave me
Wherever You call me, You will make a way
Wherever we’re going, I will be holding
To the promise You have made
You will make a way
 
And when I’m in the valley, You will be my comfort
And when I’m at the end of me, I find You there
When I’m in the battle, You will be my present peace
’Cause You brought me this far, You brought me this far
If You brought me this far
 
Wherever You lead me, I know You won’t leave me
Wherever You call me, You will make a way
Wherever we’re going, I will be holding
To the promise You have made
You will make a way
 
My God will make a way

This song has my heart singing today as I sit on this plane, and soon sit in South Korea, and then make my way to Thailand. As scary as this is, for me, and also for my loved ones, I am reminded of this. He has brought me this far. Wherever He leads me, He won’t leave me. Wherever He calls me, He will make a way. Wherever we’re going, I’m going to hold on to this promise He has made. My God will make a way!

That way may not be my way or any way that I expected. But it is His way, and that makes it a good way. These next six weeks I will cling onto His promises. His promise to comfort and protect and lead and fight and so many other beautiful promises. When I’m at the end of me, that’s where I will find Him.

There have been so many prayers prayed for and over and with me the past few weeks. Some I was there for, and many more I wasn’t. And they have been bold prayers from bold people. I just keep coming back to the passage in Exodus 17. The Israelites were battling with Amalek and Moses stood on a hill with his staff. If his arms were raised, the Israelites prevailed, but when he lowered his arms, Amalek prevailed. Exodus 17:12 says this: “But Moses’ hands grew weary, so they took a stone and put it under him, and he sat on it, while Aaron and Hur held up his hands, one on one side, and the other on the other side. So his hands were steady until the going down of the sun.”

Family and friends: thank you. I’m not always good with expressing myself in the moment, and I don’t think I expressed it well while I was home. Thank you for holding my arms up. This journey already has been and will continue to be an epic battle. And God will prevail. But you are the ones who are holding my arms up. Words can’t describe how much that means to me. It gives me the strength needed for this season in my life. I’m certainly at the end of me, and God has been using YOU to show me Him. You have shown me His faithfulness. You have shown me His grace. You have shown me His power. You have shown me His might. You have shown me His beauty. You have shown me His love. Thank you. Thank you for loving me so well. And thank you to my God who will always make a way.

 

I Saw Her

come home – child
wind blown – by trial
rest your head – for a while

hold on – till dawn
dream of – freedom
while the war – rages on 

child – come away – come and take cover
by my side
come away come and take refuge
come and hide
i will be your shield
with fire on the battle field

This morning I lie on my bed listening to this song on repeat with tears streaming down my face. Last night we went into the red light district of Pattaya. This city is said to be the sex tourism capital of the world. And I don’t doubt it after the things I saw last night. I actually saw “sex tours” where tourists would follow a tour guide who was holding up a flag or a stuffed animal on a stick so the group could stick together. I saw a mom and dad take a picture of their ten-year-old son with a girl working in a bar. The boy had a blank look on his face. I saw menus thrust toward my hand that would sell me all sorts of sex acts and shows for very cheap. I saw the neon lights and flashing signs of clubs and brothels and karaoke bars and go-go bars. I saw girls dancing to the beat of pulsing songs. I saw girls in skimpy outfits with signs, smiling at me and enticing me into their establishments. If the boy’s expression was blank, I’m not sure how I could describe their faces. I saw families with young, young children walking through the red light district. I saw men of all ages and nationalities there to buy sex. I saw many of those men’s eyes rake my fully-clothed body. I saw many things last night. But out of everything I saw, there’s one image I can’t get out of my head.

I saw her.

child – come away – come and take cover
by my side
come away come and take refuge
come and hide
i will be your shield
with fire on the battlefield

She was about six years old. I saw her as our song taew ride was coming to an end at the beginning of Walking Street. She had on a flowy pink skirt, similar to many of the ones I brought for the Thrive girls. And she had on a white T-shirt with a big pink heart on the front. She was Thai. And her hand was being clutched by a white man that appeared to be around 60 years old.

It was a fleeting glance. I don’t know if she met my eyes or not, but I saw hers. I saw her. I saw the look in her eyes. It was . . . dead. Defeated. Hopeless. And as we drove past, my world changed before we even set foot in Walking Street. We got off the song taew and I couldn’t help turning around and trying to find her again. I can’t tell you that was definitely what was happening. That an old white man had bought this Thai child for sex. But I can’t tell you that’s not what was happening, either. And there’s something in my spirit that is telling me that’s exactly what was happening. And I’m quite certain I will never see that beautiful child again. But I will see her and remember her every day for the rest of my life.

oh – don’t let go
don’t you know
you’re not on your own
 
i love you so
so don’t let go
i’ll take you home
 
child – come away – come and take cover
child – come away – come and take cover
by my side
come away come and take refuge
come and hide
i will be your shield
with fire on the battlefield

At first I didn’t plan on talking about her. I didn’t want to share and I didn’t want anyone else to know. But she doesn’t deserve that. That little girl deserves for me to scream her story from the mountaintops. She deserves me to sing her song. She deserves me to carry her in my heart, even when that’s so incredibly painful for me. And that’s what I’m going to do.

Oh, don’t let go
Don’t you know
You’re not on your own
Oh, I love you so
So don’t let go
I’ll take you home

Oh, my precious little friend. Don’t let go. Don’t you know? You’re not on your own. Oh, I love you so. So don’t let go. I’ll take you home.

I can’t take you home physically. But you will go home with me in my heart. You will go home with me in my pen. You will go home with me in my mouth. I will sing your song to any who will listen. I will fight for you every day of my life.

I saw her.

(Song Lyrics: “Take Cover” by Remedy Drive)

 

I wrote this poem after we returned from our first night in the red light districts of Pattaya. It wasn’t always easy to find the hope that is displayed at the end of this piece . . . but it is essential to remember that there is always hope. Always.

Long Beach Road

Hopeless threatens to engulf
As the night assaults my being
The sights, the sounds, the smells
On that long beach road weaving

Who will tell their story?
Who will sing their song?
Who will fight for freedom?
Who will sound the gong?

Her face will never leave me
I’ll never be the same
Her story is a mystery
I just wish I knew her name

Who will tell her story?
Who will sing her song?
Who will fight for her freedom?
Who will sound her gong?

His Word says to claim liberty for the captives
And to set free the oppressed
So where are the freedom fighters?
Rise up, oh people of God!

Because Jesus is the Redeemer
His love flows over all
Jesus is the Savior
Even when we fall

I will tell His story
I will sing His song
I will claim His freedom
I will sound His gong

It’s a story of the King of kings
A song of majesty
A freedom from the chains
A gong of victory

 

The Johns

Sundays are our free days. They are the days set aside for us to do what we want and practice self-care. This Sunday I went exploring with two friends of mine, Amy and Brienna. It was a refreshing day adventuring at a slower pace. We set out to go to some gardens, but we didn’t end up finding them. We ate some comfort food (pizza, french fries, and a Coke for me!) at a place called The Beach Front. And it really was the beach front. It was beautiful.

After that, we walked along the beach hunting for shells, stopped at some shops along the way, and then caught another song taew back toward home. It was on this ride that we had an experience that solidified my desire to address a certain topic. As we learn more and more about trafficking and experience more and more about trafficking, this issue has been gnawing at me. I’m going to be really transparent here.

The johns.

“Johns” is the generic term used for men who buy sex. It is a nameless, faceless term that, in my opinion, makes it easier to dissociate. It breeds anonymity and acceptance. It makes individual men into a group engaging in “pleasurable” pastimes. I have always disliked the term “johns” because it seems to give these men an alter ego to hide behind. They are a respectable businessman at home, but here in Pattaya, they are a predator named John. It drives me crazy. Or I should say, drove me crazy.

Song Taew

This is a song taew. They only cost 10 baht to ride one way, which is basically the equivalent of 30 cents USD.

As we were riding the song taew home on Sunday, a man and woman got on with us. There were several Thai nationals as well. But this man and woman sat by our little group and started talking to us. He asked my friend Brienna were she was from and she replied, “The U.S.” They began talking, and the man told us he was from Australia. He was maybe in his fifties. And the woman with him was a Thai girl, maybe in her late twenties. She added, “He is here for holiday for a month.”

I didn’t want to make any assumptions, but honestly that’s one of the hardest parts. Every white man that I see, whether he is Australian or Russian or American or British or German or any other predominantly white nationality, I assume he is here to buy sex. That’s not exactly the most healthy way to view things, but it’s not as if it’s not realistic either, especially in Pattaya. Before, though, I had little to no sympathy. However, in this past week, I have begun to see things differently.

I tried to tell myself maybe he hadn’t bought her. But then, they started talking about how good the music was on Walking Street. “If you want some good rock music, you should go to Walking Street.” There’s only one reason people go to Walking Street. It’s kind of like Hooters. No one actually goes to Hooters for the wings. They go for the boobs. Similarly, no one actually goes to Walking Street for the music or the “scene.” They go for sex. This man bought this woman for sex. And while it still infuriates me, I am beginning to understand a bit, too.

See, this woman had on a pink shirt. And the shirt said “Australia” on it. Why would this Thai woman, who made it clear that she lives here and he lives in Australia, have an Australia shirt? Probably because he brought it as a gift. Which implies that it is possible that the man had been here before. And it is possible that this man had developed some feelings for her and returned to see her and brought a gift. This could all be my imagination, but I have heard similar stories.

What I am learning is that there are all sorts of reasons that johns buy women for sex. Some of them are unbearably lonely, and this is an option for “love.” Some of them have experienced recent heartbreak of some kind and think that sex will be the answer, not realizing it is only a band-aid. Some of them have unrealistic expectations of sex due to a porn-saturated life, and the only way their lustful desires can be fulfilled is through a woman with a price tag. These are just some of the stories that I have heard in this past week. Out of all the ways my heart has broken in the week and a half we’ve been here, this was perhaps the most surprising to me. My heart breaks for the johns. In the documentary “Nefarious,” a former trafficker says, “She was a slave to one thing, and I was a slave to another thing.” This issue is so much more complex than we initially give it credit for. In order to effectively fight sex trafficking, we have to be aware that there are so many more layers to this issue than a quick glance will show.

 

A Call to Prayer

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too. If we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation; and if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which you experience when you patiently endure the same sufferings that we suffer. Our hope for you is unshaken, for we know that as you share in our sufferings, you will also share in our comfort. For we do not want you to be ignorant, brothers, of the affliction we experienced in Asia. For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead. He delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us. On him we have set our hope that he will deliver us again. You also must help us by prayer, so that many will give thanks on our behalf for the blessing granted us through the prayers of many.” – 2 Corinthians 1:3-11

Please read this passage. I know I am guilty of skipping the Bible passages in blog posts or Facebook posts or whatever. But this one is really important, so please go back and read it if you skipped it.

Tonight, as I was sitting in our quiet prayer room, I was scouring Scripture for passages that would comfort my soul. Today was a hard day for me. Incredibly hard. There have been lots of those in the past two weeks. I read Psalm 86 (one of my two favorite Psalms), and then went searching. This passage in 2 Corinthians caught my eye.

There are 21 students here at The Justice School, including myself. There are also several amazing Thrive staff members and volunteers. And I am so thankful to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction. As I find myself yearning for comfort, I find Christ. And He comforts me. And when He comforts me, I know how to comfort others. Isn’t that amazing?

But then there’s the second part of that passage. If you know me, you know I’m all about context. So Paul is writing this letter to the Corinthians. Christians were being severely persecuted (as in killed) at the time. And Paul was telling the Christians at Corinth about the difficult things that they were going through, but first starts by reminding them that God is a God of comfort. But he also wants the people who are reading to understand the gravity of the situation. He wants them to understand how hard it is. He says, “For we do not want you to be ignorant, brothers, of the affliction we experienced in Asia.” (How ironic . . . I’m in Asia).

Now, my fellow students and workers and I are not experiencing external persecution to the point of death. But it is so hard to learn the things we learn and to do the work we are doing. And to those who are at home, I don’t want you to be ignorant of that. Brothers and sisters in America, I want you to know.

Then Paul writes, “For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself.” I find that this resonates deeply in my soul. Maybe I am the only one (I don’t think so), but this is probably the best description of my feelings here in Thailand to date. I am so utterly burdened beyond my strength that I despair of life itself. After seeing the things we’ve seen and hearing the things we’ve heard, it’s hard not to. It’s hard to find the hope and the joy and the light. Indeed, I feel like it’s a sentence of death. But this passage tells me this should make us not rely on ourselves but on God who raises the dead. He has delivered, and He will deliver us again. On Him we set our hope.

But we also need your help.

We need your help through prayer. Today I specifically write to those I have left behind at home. It is hard here. There are definitely good days and good things and good activities. Yesterday I went to a gorgeous temple called the Sanctuary of Truth. I got to ride a speedboat in the beautiful ocean and stroke majestic elephants and spend quality time with good friends. It was a great day. But there are so many hard days, too. I take things so seriously, and sometimes I dwell on the hard more than I do on the good. Maybe that’s where I’m at right now, and that’s why this passage hit me so hard. I just know we need your help.

I want you to know the reality of what is happening here. I don’t want to just post pictures with elephants and Starbucks and the beach and the fun rides in pickup trucks and song taews. I don’t even want to just tell you about the beautiful, amazing, wonderful Thrive children. I love them so dearly, and I DO want you to know about them and the hope and the joy and the light that their lives bring. But I also want you to know where they come from. I want you to know about all the things I’ve seen. I want you to know about the darkness. But more than I want you just to know, I want you to pray. For the women and children and men who are being sold right now as I type. For the fellow human beings who have been made into a commodity. For those who buy and sell these fellow humans. And I want you to pray for us. It is very difficult for me to ask for prayer, but tonight I am doing just that. Please pray. Pray for my team. Pray for our hearts to stay soft, but also be protected. Pray that we stay focused on Christ in everything we do. Pray for the staff, that they will have the strength to continue carrying out this difficult work. And please pray for me. I am so grateful for my God of comfort. But I find myself beaten down and broken tonight, in many different ways. Family and friends, I miss you so very much. And tonight I humbly ask you to pray.

 

Prostitutes

Prostitute.

What image just popped into your head? Be honest with yourself. What do you think of when you think of a prostitute?

Whore.
Hussy.
Tramp.
Hooker.
Hoe.
Dirty.
Unclean.

. . . Sinner.

Those are the words we use, right? Those are the things we think of, right? The skimpy outfits and the makeup and the heels. The flirtatious giggles and coy smiles. The boobs and the butts. That’s all a prostitute is.

I want to tell you a different story.

Tonight we bought 10 prostitutes.
And we took them to a dinner party.

Every week, the 21 TJS students divide up and have “field work.” This week, I was supposed to be in the bar. Essentially, we go to some bars, buy a girl a drink, and hopefully get to chat for a while. However, she is still on “work mode,” and last week’s bar team definitely experienced that. But this week, my team got the unique opportunity to be a part of this dinner party. A ministry here in Pattaya pays the girl’s bar fee, and she can leave for the night. Rather than having to stay until early in the morning, she is free to go with us, and then go home if she would like. She doesn’t have to entertain men. She doesn’t have to sleep with men.

She can be herself.

We pulled up and went into the bar. Our team leaders have been building a relationship with several of the girls, and they were enthusiastically greeted. Several of the girls were coming with us, but then my team member Brittany was talking to a girl that we hadn’t met before. We asked if she would like to come with, and she agreed. The girls went and changed out of their neon orange bar uniforms and into their own clothes. We stopped at two other bars, one of which was on a different street. There is a hierarchy in the red light districts. Soi 7, the second place, is not as “nice” and the girls’ bar fees were much less. I could see the difference in the demeanor of the girls from Soi 6 and the girls from Soi 7.

We all loaded up in a song taew and headed to the house for dinner. We got out of the song taew and were standing around waiting to head inside. There were two men outside of another house. They walked up to us and asked what we were doing. One of team leaders replied we were having a girls’ night, to which they replied, “Can we come, too?” while grinning. I was instantly irate and incredibly protective of my new friends. I wanted to hammerfist these two pigs. And I was reminded that these women were subjected to be degraded as sex objects every single night.

That’s when the convenient little picture of “prostitute” began to fracture.

We all went inside and I sat down with two women to paint their nails. Both of them spoke some English, so we were able to communicate back and forth. Their names were Bee* and Ba*. They told me about their kids as we were painting nails. Each of them had two children. They showed me pictures. We talked. We laughed. We shared.

Bee

Painting Bee’s nails.

Then Bee started showing me other pictures on her phone. She showed me pictures of her completing the Tamar hair training school. She showed me pictures of a team from YWAM who cleans Walking Street. She showed me pictures of her jamming out to “Hip Hop Jesus.” She told me she loved worship music. She told me about her cross necklace, and how an Australian customer had bought it for her. I showed her my cross necklace and we both exclaimed, “Same, same!” Then my friend asked her why she was still working in the bar if she went to hair training.

“I have two kids who stay with their father. My mom was shot 10 years ago. And my grandmother is very ill, on oxygen. I was working at the salon, but I needed more money, so I went back to the bar.”

That’s when the convenient little picture of “prostitute” completely broke apart.

This was Bee’s story. I didn’t ask many questions. She showed me pictures and I listened and nodded and tried to communicate my love for her through my presence. Even when she talked about worship music and her cross necklace, I didn’t grab onto that and strangle it to death. We weren’t there to evangelize and figure out if she knew Jesus.

We were there to show her Jesus.

How many times in Scripture do we see Jesus eating with tax collectors and sinners? With prostitutes and outcasts? Tonight I got to eat with a bunch of prostitutes. But they’re not just a bunch of prostitutes. 

They. Are. People.

I’ll tell you what I saw tonight.

Beauty.
Honor.
Commitment.
Dedication.
Service.
Joy.
Love.

. . . His.

Instead of calling them whores, how about we call them His? Instead of labeling these children of God, how about we love them instead? Instead of categorizing them, how about we call them by name? Instead of ostracizing them, how about we open our arms to them? Instead of acting like self-righteous Christians, how about we act like the selfless Christ?

I ate with a bunch of prostitutes tonight. I don’t know if they were “trafficked” or not. I’ll tell you what I do know, though. I know their names. I know their stories.

I know their worth.

*Names have been changed for privacy.

 

I Have Seen and I Will Fight

In just four days, I will be boarding a plane and flying halfway around the world. Only this time, that plane will be headed home.

It is unreal to realize that our time in Thailand is coming to a close. Last night I had my last field work in the safe home. I am grateful that this was my last field work, because the best thing I’ve seen here in Thailand is these children. The life and joy they have inside of them despite their pasts is staggering and absolutely beautiful.

Thrive

Meet one of Thrive’s newest children. They came a couple weeks ago from a dark past, but it has been incredible to watch her begin her healing journey. She is joy, she is light, and she loves to dance!

This past weekend, our team went to Krabi, Thailand for a much needed getaway weekend. After the intensity and difficulty of Pattaya, it was nice to take some breaths in Krabi. However, as we flew and drove back toward Pattaya, I found myself growing more and more somber. I couldn’t figure out what it was at first. But as we got back to our home, I finally nailed it down.

I hate Pattaya.

I hate this place. I hate the things that it is known for. I hate the things it stands for. I hate the reasons the majority of people come here. I absolutely loathe this place. There is so much darkness and so much sickness and so much brokenness.

There are children for sale in side streets and living rooms of homes and even in the front of bars. There are women lured here with false promises of making a better life for their families. There are abused boys who become abusing men. There are loan sharks and pimps and gangs and the mafia. There is poverty and squalor. There is trash and an abundance of stray dogs (although some of those stray dogs are very cute). There is so much mess in this city. And I rebelled against it.

But the Holy Spirit living inside of me grieved for it.

The things I see and the things He sees are so very different. Where I see brokenness, He sees beauty. Where I see sin, He sees salvable. Where I see lies, He sees life. Where I see pain, He sees potential.

I won’t lie and say it hasn’t been a hard six weeks. But I am so grateful for even the hard parts. I have grown and been challenged and stretched. I have been renewed and invigorated. I have been brought low and brought high. And in the moments when my eyes only see the bad, He has allowed my spirit to see the good.

I have seen redemption and life breathed into children. I have seen love and sacrifice reflected in a bar girl’s eyes. I have seen what one day in the care of rescue has done for a child, and I have seen what four years can do. I have seen Thai nationals stand up and say that they won’t allow their cultural norm to dictate their desire to see freedom. I have seen fellow students come from a variety of difficult circumstances and sacrifice much, just to become educated. I have seen compassionate men and women give up everything they had to be used in the fight.

I have seen Jesus over and over again.

In just four days, I will be boarding a plane and heading halfway around the world. I will be coming home. I’m still not sure what life will look like when I get there, perhaps less so than when I came to Thailand. But I do know that in whatever I do, I want to remember what I’ve seen and I want to share it with whoever will listen.

I want to keep fighting for freedom.

 

Déjà Vu

This is it.

My first blog post from back in the States. I’m not quite home yet, but I’m back in America. Just as it didn’t seem real on the front end that I was going to Thailand, right now it both doesn’t feel real that I went to Thailand, or that I’m back from Thailand.

The evidence is all around me.

One piece is that it’s 6:30 in the morning and I’ve been awake since before 5:00. I am not an early riser, so it’s not by choice. Jetlag on this side of the trip is more of a struggle. Also, my sister is asleep beside me, and that’s some evidence I’m really excited about! We’re staying in L.A. for a week for a little vacation.

It doesn’t seem real that just a couple days ago I was halfway around the world. It doesn’t seem real that I’m not now. Will you allow me to be vulnerable? Who am I kidding, it’s my blog . . . I can say what I want! But seriously. Writing is one of the best ways for me to process, so that’s what I’m going to be using this space for over the next few to many weeks. Maybe it’s just for me. But maybe you can get something out of it, too.

So, to be really honest, I have no idea what I’m supposed to do now. How am I supposed to process all of this? What am I supposed to feel? What am I supposed to think? What is life supposed to look like now? Because I can’t go back. There is no unseeing the things I’ve witnessed or unknowing the things I’ve been taught or unexperiencing the things I’ve been a part of.

At the end of the movie “The Hunger Games,” Katniss and Peeta are both on their way back to District 12 (spoiler alert). Peeta looks at Katniss and says, “So what happens when we get back?” to which Katniss replies, “I don’t know. I guess we try to forget.” There’s part of me that wants that. To forget.

But then things happen . . . like something that happened yesterday.

I was on my way back to LAX to get my sister. I took an Uber Pool car, which is basically like a private rideshare service. So I got picked up, and then we picked the second guy up, and he was being dropped off first. We pulled up to his destination, and I glanced up to see where we were. What did I see?

A strip club called Déjà Vu Showgirls.

Oh, the irony. In that moment, I didn’t even know what to do. I heard the two men conversing outside. The passenger was a DJ at this club and assured the driver he could get him in sometime. Then the manager (we would also call this a mamasan in Thailand) walked out of the club too, and the three men talked for a minute. I didn’t pay much attention.

As we drove away, I fought back tears. Here I am, sort of wanting to forget, even just for a week. Just the week I’m supposed to be on “vacation” in California, I wanted to forget. I deserve a week off, right?

But the reality is that human trafficking is happening everywhere, not just in Thailand. Not just in the third world countries. It’s happening in your cities. It’s happening in your towns. It might even be happening in your neighborhoods.

And what right do I have to forget? What right do I have to not remember the people I’ve personally seen enslaved? I don’t! I don’t have that right. Because as a Christian, I call myself a citizen of the Kingdom of the Most High King, and I count every single person as a brother and sister, a child of God, whether they know it or not.

Yesterday it was 3 years since I was baptized. On that day, I committed my life fully and completely Christ. I died to myself and was raised to walk a new life in Him. On that day, I gave up my rights of my little ‘k’ kingdom and embraced the right of His big ‘K’ Kingdom. I don’t have the right to forget.

I have the responsibility to remember.

In the parking lot of that strip club called Déjà Vu, I remembered. I remembered, I remembered, I remembered.

In the Old Testament, there’s a theme of God remembering His people. One example is Noah. In Genesis it says that “God remembered Noah” and caused the waters of the flood to subside. What’s interesting about this theme is that “God remembering” is not purely a mental action. It is an action phrase.

When God remembers, God moves.

So I remembered in that parking lot. There’s part of me that wants to forget everything I’ve seen, but I’ve remembered, and I have a responsibility to that. It’s not a responsibility of remembering in my head. It’s not a responsibility of blogging about it. It’s not a responsibility of talking about it, although these things are part of it.

I have a responsibility to move.

Copyright 2015 Amanda Burgin

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