STORIES FROM THAILAND
BY ALICIA HUGHES
These are the thoughts, feelings, and reflections of my six team members and I about our two months in Bangkok this summer. Our prayer is that through sharing our stories God would extend their impact and use them to change lives here too.
There is a man standing in front of the city of Bangkok, holding a sign that says “come home.” He is the Father, waiting for his children to come. As I walk the streets I see the faces of the beggars, the prostitutes, the university students, the refugees, the sex tourists, the working class, the slum kids, all of the people I have seen God touch in my time here. There is immense darkness in this city; it sits on my heart as a weight. The spiritual strongholds of evil are overwhelming, the idol worship on every corner is disheartening. There is so much darkness, but that makes the light shine so much brighter and makes it impossible to deny that God is present and He is working here. This summer God gave me the ability to see this city through His eyes, through His love for all of the people of all the world, waiting for them all to come home to Him.
Seven students from Resonate spent their summer spread out over Bangkok, loving and serving all the poor and powerless of the city. We all had one mission: to be faithful in serving God through the work He had called us to do, to glorify His name throughout the country of Thailand. During the day, we spent our time teaching English to Cambodian children who formerly worked on the streets to help support their families, teaching job skills and Bible studies to former prostitutes, running a school in the homes of Pakistani refugees for their children, building relationships with kids living in the slums, and visiting refugees in the Immigration Detention Center. We became friends with the homeless beggars on our streets, the local food vendors, and the security guards we passed on our way to work each day. At night we went out to the red light districts, starting conversations and forming friendships with ladyboy and male prostitutes and their Western customers.
These people are some of the least respected in Thailand, the ones nearly no one is looking out for. But our God has not forgotten them. To Him, they are as valuable and loved as we all are. The experiences I had this summer were often intense and uncomfortable, due to the nature of the work. However, they were also beautiful in a way I have never before experienced. I had the opportunity to see God redeem some of the most irredeemable places and most broken people that are on this earth. God is working amongst the immorality and exploitation of the red-light districts, and amongst the abuse and drunkenness and material poverty in the slums. He is comforting and strengthening the hearts of those in jail from fleeing their country due to persecution for their faith in Him. He is walking with the beggars and the prostitutes. He is giving hope to children who have never had any, He is fathering the fatherless. He changed my heart by letting me be part of all of this radical work.
The work I saw God do was all over the city, in every ministry I worked with, but it was also on the streets and with the people I interacted with every day. In Bangkok I can’t pretend the poor don’t exist. They are on every street corner, holding out their cups. They are selling me my lunch, they are taking me on a motorbike to my home, they were my neighbors when I spent time living in a slum. It feels like I am walking around in one of the parables of the gospel. In Jesus’ day, people carried their family members out on mats to see and hear Him. Here people are carried out on mats to beg in the streets. In the gospels Jesus ministered to the hidden, marginalized people: the poor, the prostitutes, the sinners. Here he does the same thing. I can see why God loves these people, I can see why he thinks they are beautiful. They are the first people to say hi to me when I smile at them. They are the ones who are sad to see me go. They have nothing but want relationships with people. They are so worth it, so much a part of the Kingdom of God.
There are so many people in the city who desperately need to experience the Kingdom of God, but we can’t reach everyone. Those we can, we are called to invest in deeply, to pour our lives and love into, to let Jesus change their hearts. Sometimes it feels like we aren’t doing anything because I see so few people affected by God’s love. I walk back into the red light districts, go into the slums, and all I see are the many who haven’t been loved. But God reminds me that our investment matters to those whose lives have been changed, and the numbers of people reached doesn’t. Through their stories of redemption, I see the power of the Gospel.
The gospel of Jesus Christ is what allows me to build a relationship with a twenty-four-year-old Buddhist ladyboy prostitute, despite having nothing in common. When I’m talking to a twenty-year-old refugee living in the Immigration Detention Center, it is what allows me to have hope for his family while he tells me they deserve freedom, that they don’t feel human. It is what allows me to connect with a nine-year-old girl who lives in a slum while she taught me to play checkers, despite having no common language, and it is what allows me to love her more than I have ever loved a child before.
These relationships are so different than those I typically have in the States, and God has taught me so much about His heart for all people through them. The God of upper class America is the same God found in a Church in the largest slum in Bangkok. The culture is different, the people are different, the language is different, but our God is not different. It sometimes feels like God has forgotten these people and I have to go across the ocean to make Him pay attention to them. But He has always been working in hearts and changing lives in Thailand and I merely got to step alongside Him in doing that. What an honor that was, to see God transform lives and redeem hearts, to see God work by circumstance of my presence.
The ability to walk into a red light district proclaiming the freedom and hope and good news of Jesus Christ by virtue of my presence is an incredible testament to the power of God’s truth. The Gospel is what has changed the students in the café who were once working in bars, struggling with addictions, who had no idea who God was, and now are in a place where they want to share the good news of Jesus Christ and the Kingdom of God with other people. The changes that happen in one person’s life move outward and affect more and more lives. This is the power of the Gospel.
No one is excluded from the Gospel. It is the good news to everyone who moves air in and out of their lungs. With grace as my filter, I can see people how God does. There is so much more to these people, to the ladyboys, to the gay prostitutes, to the Western customers. God doesn’t define these people by their sin; God views them with grace and grace and more grace. I was sent to simply love the people with God’s love, to love them where they’re at. The people of Bangkok need Jesus more than they need to change and God doesn’t expect them to change before they can know Him or be loved by Him. I was sent only to make the hope of Christ known, to love them like Jesus, not to save them. Jesus has already done the work of saving them and the love of God is what will change them. All I can do is tell them who He is because I love them so much that I want them to be brought into the life I live.
Thailand has taught me that the hope of Christ has an effect on every woman and man. I got to see how God relentlessly pursues us, all of us, how He works in crazy ways to bring the farthest people from Him to Him. The only significant things that remained when we left were the ones done by God, through our prayers. We didn’t see any obvious fruit, but we saw God’s power in people’s lives, we saw people move closer to Him. We left these people in the hands of the Creator of the universe, who loves them more than any of us can begin to comprehend. We were faithful in serving and He will be faithful to the relationships we made.
Please pray for all the relationships that were built this summer. Pray that God would continue to be faithful in working in the hearts of those we met, that He would bring people to water the seeds we were able to plant, and for support for all the missionaries we worked with.
God wants the ending of the story to come, wants all the nations to proclaim His name and sing His praises, wants all people redeemed and walking in His righteousness. One day, that will happen, but for now, God’s love must be spread through the world through mission and people sharing how God has affected their lives. God’s kingdom is so much broader than ourselves, or our town, or our country. God calls us to share His love, and He gives us so many opportunities to do that. When we accept God we write Him a blank check of our lives, and that entails proclaiming His name to those who don’t know it, whether it is in the States or overseas. The people of all nations need to be reached, and for some of you, God is calling you to go abroad, God is asking and letting you be part of the beautiful things He is doing around the world. America has so much prosperity, and it can be used to build relationships and show the love of Christ, or it can be used for self-satisfaction. For some of you, God is asking you to use these resources to support sending missionaries. God calls us to reach the ends of the Earth. This isn’t optional, this isn’t radical, it is just following God. God isn’t done by any means.