As I walked the dark streets of Pattaya, I was bombarded by obscene images and words in the windows of the bars. I passed scores of empty barstools that would soon be occupied by half-clothed women desperate to make a sale to survive. And what they would sell was themselves.
When I stepped foot in the Tamar Center, though, I felt infused with hope, more than I’ve ever felt before. Perhaps it’s because the contrast was so great between the darkest area of Pattaya and the bright, clean outreach center. The Tamar Center, located in one of Thailand’s main areas for sex tourism, offers hope where there is none. They offer women job and skill training as well as English lessons–all to give them ways to support themselves that don’t involve selling their bodies. But most of all, they freely give the love of Jesus.
I sat down with the others on my team a few minutes before the English class began. I continued to have that strong sense that God’s hope really was here. We prayed together, asking that God would speak to the women in our class, that he would meet them in their darkest places. We asked that God would connect us with the right girls to minister to.
Then I took a deep breath and waited.
The women walked into the classroom and my eyes were immediately drawn to one. I learned her name was Ann and I invited her to sit by me. The other women were laughing and smiling, but Ann didn’t join in. She was disengaged and seemed cut off from everything around her.
“She seems really hardened,” I thought. I wondered about her life and how she got to this point. I wondered if anything I could say or do today would make a difference for her. She seemed like she was going to be the most difficult one to engage.
But as soon as we started our English lesson and as I smiled and talked with her, her hardness started to melt. As I worked with her, I felt like God told me to “touch her in kindness, touch her with love.”
As our lesson went on, we laughed together and I put my arms around her as often as I could. At the end of class, I decided to sing and play a song called “Safe Place.”
“God is our safe place,” I said, gently playing some soft chords on my guitar. “He wants us to find our safety in Him.”
After I sang, one of my teammates told her story and shared about getting our value from God. As she talked, I watched Ann. All the hardness that I thought I had seen in her melted. Tears streamed down her face. In that instant, God spoke to me and I knew I needed to share this with Ann. As soon as my friend finished her testimony, I called over a translator.
“Ann,” I said. “God wants me to tell you that he longs to share his heart for you. He is searching for you. He is knocking on the door of your heart. He wants to hold you like a baby and comfort you. He longs for you to trust him.”
Ann started to cry more and more. As I comforted her, the story of her life came out.
“I never wanted to be here doing this,” she said. “My sister—.”
Ann’s face crumpled. She could hardly speak through her tears.
“My sister was in a terrible accident. She is in a wheel chair. My mother is dead and my father is not in good health. I have a 14-year-old son. I am uneducated.”
“My family doesn’t know what I am doing, they think I work in a factory. I need to send 8,000 Baht ($250) home for my family to survive,” she cried. “I can’t make that money at Tamar Center. I hate the bars!”
Ann, like most women in Pattaya, was forced into prostitution because of extreme poverty and because of love for her family. Most of the women are farm girls from northern Thailand. They move to the large city of Pattaya to get jobs to feed their families. They go to find some kind of work, but end up working in the last place they would ever imagine: in a bar as a prostitute. But in my eyes, Ann was no longer a prostitute, she was my friend, my sister. I cried with her. She was the bravest women I ever met, a victim of unbearable poverty supporting her family, loving her family at the highest cost possible. My heart broke for my friend. I couldn’t even begin to understand her courage.
“Ann,” I said. “I see a picture of you walking down the street, lighthearted, and God is carrying all your cares, worries, and needs, and he is caring for your family.”
She cried more and more and clung to me in a hug. “I think I can accept this,” she said.
I encouraged Ann to keep coming to the Tamar center, to continue to ask questions about this wonderful God who was searching for her.
I don’t think Ann or I will be the same after our English lesson. I saw into a life that has endured extreme pain and abuse. My friend Ann is a brave woman, and I pray and believe God every day that he will make a way and deliver her from her circumstances.
I made a friend, and I am not willing to see her and women like her raped for money.
It’s because of women like Ann that I want to be a part of the answer to poverty.
Kate, now in her 20’s, has been involved with YWAM since she was a young teenager. She recently moved to Seattle to pursue a degree in small business and entrepreneurship for the purpose of creating jobs and sharing God’s love with the poor. Kate says, “My time in YWAM inspired this idea that God longs to redeem all areas of society back to himself–not just people. This started a quest, to hear what God would speak to me about business! I plan on using the knowledge that I have gained in areas of the world where they are most needed! I hope to work with women who are caught in prostitution–to give them tangible hope and a new life!”