Alright, I’m finally writing about Thailand. This was our last stop around the world. We arrived in Bangkok after flying from Calcutta, India to Dhaka, Bangladesh. From the airport in Bangkok we took a taxi of sorts (from YWAM Thailand) to the bus station where we hopped a bus to Chiang Mai in northern Thailand. It was like a 13 hour overnight bus ride. A really nice bus too. I slept most of the way. Once in Chiang Mai, we went to a transition home. It’s a house that’s a part of YWAM Thailand that acts as a place for teams to come, rest, and get used to the culture of Thailand. We stayed here for a couple of days. It was a nice break before we headed to our ministry location.
While at the transition home, we took those couple of days to catch up on some Bible study stuff and to get a taste of the culture. Literally. We got to go to some local restaurants and get some good food. Ok, well, it wasn’t actually Thai food that we ate. We found a pizza place that we ate at like three times and an Italian place. So not really a “taste of the culture,” but it sounded cool when I typed it. haha The Friday that we were there, we went to downtown Chiang Mai. Around the center of the town, they have an old moat; strangely, its 4 miles exactly around the inside of the moat. I don’t think we knew that before we started. We ate at a real Thai place and I fell in love. Real Thai food is so stinking good!! We started walking around the city center from there. We prayed over the city as we went, stopping at places that were significant to pray over them as well. It took a couple of hours, but it was an awesome thing to do. We went back to the transition home and had our orientation with the staff there. They explained different things about the culture. For example, in Thai culture, the smile is very important. They don’t like confrontation so they communicate negative feeling and emotions through smiles as well. There is something like 21 different smiles. They are very friendly, but you never speak against the king. You can actually get imprisoned or deported for speaking or doing anything against the king. You can actually get in trouble if you step on a coin because it has the king’s face on it. We also were instructed on how to use a squatty potty, but we already knew that from being in India haha. We left the transition home on Saturday and headed to the Abba house.
The Abba House is a place that houses boys and girls that have been involved in sex trafficking. The boys there have been rescued from the sex trade and the girls were rescued from at risk situation. Due to the nature of the Abba House, I am not going to write too much or upload many pictures relating to the Abba House. I’m not sure what the policy is on that, but I am just going to be cautious. While at the Abba House we got to teach the boys and girls English and do Bible studies with them. We also got to preach at the church that was on the campus for the two Sundays that we were there. Monday thru Friday and the following Monday we broke up into different groups with different ages of the boys and girls. The group of guys that Caleb, Jenny, Kaso, and myself taught English to wanted to learn more about the tenses in English. At first we were like, “Crap, we don’t even know those.” haha But we started to teach what we knew to them and then we looked up more info on the tenses and we put together a plan to teach it to them. It worked out well and by the next week, we got to tell them how well they did and that most English-speaking people don’t even know this stuff. We spent six days with them. We also took turns having Bible studies with the guys and teaching a group of the girls vocabulary.
During the days that we got to teach the kids, we also did some stuff around the area. When one group of us wasn’t teaching, the other would go out and hand out tracts in Thai. Normally, I don’t really like tracts because they have such a bad connotation in the US, but in Thailand, they don’t have that. The Thai people love comic type stuff and so some of the tracts are in that format. They find them interesting and they seem to read them and actually get good stuff out of it. So that was really neat to see. We also went out to eat for every lunch and dinner. In Thailand, most people don’t even have a kitchen because its cheaper to just go out to eat. Which is great when you love Thai food so much! So we found some great restaurants around the area that we went to. We even made friends at one and they actually found Carmen on Facebook, somehow. One day we went to a Korean BBQ place where we got to cook our own food. It was a buffet of raw foods and each table had a little “grill” of sorts. We couldn’t figure out how to use it correctly. It was fun though.
That Thursday night, we got to do something that really touched each of our hearts. We went to the red light district in downtown Chiang Mai. If you don’t know what that is, it’s basically the area of town set apart for prostitution, strip clubs, and commercial sex. Thailand is a country where sex trafficking is very prevalent. We spent time in prayer and worship before going out. We broke into two teams; each team had two guys and two girls. We kind of kept our distance so it looked like we were groups of two instead of four. The guys were told to keep an eye on the girls and not let them out of our sight. We took that very seriously. The first night we didn’t really know what to do other than pray. So we walked and prayed. I was with Franco, Carmen, and Kaso. My heart broke as we saw all those woman. A girl at one of the bars started talking with Kaso and Carmen and they sat down and chatted with her. Franco and I stayed in that area and just basically walked back and forth praying. It got increasingly more difficult the longer we stayed because the girls would try to get us to sit and have a drink with them. We contemplated getting out of that “hall” (it was like a covered pavilion that had a lot of bars in it that were open on the inside and outside); we didn’t want to lose sight of our girls even for a second, but we also didn’t want to stay there. So Franco just simply asked me, “Do you trust me?” I said “Yes.” and I followed him. We literally ran around to the outside of the bar that they were in so we could still keep an eye on them but not have to be in the middle of everything. Once we were out there, one of the girls working at a bar came out near us to get some food at a street vender. I had noticed her earlier and my heart had broken for her; she was with a jon when I first saw her. I took the opportunity while she was away from the jon to quickly talk to her. I said hi and asked if she knew who Jesus was. She said no and I told her that Jesus loves her very much no matter what (or something like that, I don’t really remember exactly what I said) and I handed her a tract in Thai. I told her that this tract would tell her about Him and I walked away. I knew that was an opportunity set up by the Father. My heart went out to her and as I walked away I felt a great sense of awe at what God had just down. He had sent us on this journey around the world to five different counties. He sent us to Chiang Mai and to this red light district. He had highlighted that specific woman to me and He provided the perfect moment for her to encounter His amazing love. This woman who had never even heard of Jesus. Had Franco and I not run outside when we did, had we not even been in there, had she not come out for food, she would not have heard that Jesus loves her. I was filled with awe of the Father as I thought about it. Not necessarily all those thought went through my mind, but the premise of God’s love did, and now that I reflect on that, I am all the more filled with awe at His sovereignty. A little bit later, Carmen and Kaso finished talking with the girl and they walked out; we met up with them as they did. They told us later that they were talking with the same girl the whole time. They told her that Creator God loves her , but she didn’t know what Creator meant so she asked a friend. When she understood she began to cry and (if I remember correctly) she asked “Why?” It was the first of our two nights in the red light district, but it had already set a new passion and love in some of our hearts.
We went back to the Abba House and we continued to teach the next day (Friday). Saturday was actually my 22nd birthday and our free day! We got to do some pretty incredible stuff! We started by hopping in a taxi and driving to an elephant park. We got there and got to see and touch and play with some elephants while we waited for the show to start. It was so cool! They would reach out with their trunks and we would be able to touch them and hold their trunks. I even picked up some straw off the ground and gave it to one who reached out and grabbed it with his trunk. It was so cool I did it again. This time he grabbed my hand and the straw and pulled, almost knocking me to the ground in front of his feet. I decided that wasn’t a really good idea so I didn’t do it again. We went down to the elephant show which was amazing. The elephants played soccer (and they were good), painted a picture (again they were good), and did some other tricks. We even got to take pictures with them. From there we went out and got in an ox cart that took us about half a mile where we got off, went through a little market, and got in line to ride an elephant. We got to ride the elephant to the river, through it, up the hillside, into the jungle, back through the river, and then back to the park. It was sooooo cool! When we got back to the park, we got to eat at a great buffet. That was really cool too. After we ate, we got in line for a bamboo raft ride. All eight of us piled onto this raft made up of only bamboo and rope. The “driver” even let Caleb “steer” for a little bit. It started to rain a little as we floated down the river. Our taxi driver was a friend and he stayed with us the whole time. He met us with the taxi where we ended our raft ride. We got off the river and discussed whether we wanted to go see the tiger place or not. We figured why not. We got there and we originally didn’t plan on paying to pet the tigers, but when we saw that it was only like $15, we really considered it. Again we were like why not. This time with a little more nervousness though. So Andy, Franco, Kaso, Jenny, and I decided to pet the tigers. When it was our turn they let us in the enclosure and told us not to touch their head, to approach from behind, and to watch out for the electric fence. They mentioned the electric fence the most, like that was the most dangerous thing! haha That made us laugh. So we each got to pet multiple tigers, hold their tales, and even lay down next to them! I will admit, it was a little nerve wracking when one would be just pacing around and just walk right by you. We had so much fun though! It started to rain while we were in there before our time was up so they did the most reasonable thing: they put us in the covered, maybe 15 foot by 15 foot, cage. Oh, ok, we thought. And then they did what we didn’t expect. They brought the tiger into the cage with us! So we were in this little cage with a tiger and the handler who kept poking it with a stick! We got some pretty good pics and videos and more than our 15 minutes and then the trainer told us it was time to go and we were ok with that. haha It was amazing! So we get back to the Abba House and Kaso had set up a scavenger hunt for me which was a ton of fun too! Later they all surprised me with a cake! It was a cake made of different colored crepes stacked on each other with cream in between. Carmen even surprised me with something else. She went and got her iPad and had my family in Arizona on Skype! Sarah, my sister, had been working with Carmen to set that up! That was such a cool surprise! I think it was like 6 am or something there too (13 or so hour time difference). It was by far the best birthday I have ever had. I was in a beautiful country, in the middle of a missions trip, having a ton of fun, all the while surrounded by people that I love and that love me.
The next day, Sunday, we again did the church service. Later that night we went back out to the red light district. This time, it was a little bit different, but we actually went back to the same pavilion area. We sat down and had some Cokes at one of the bars. Franco and a guy that came with us talked with a couple of the girls while Kaso and I just observed the place and prayed. Franco and him were asking questions to try to determine if any of the girls were trafficked and then if not, if they knew of any that were. There is an organization that he was connected with that we would have been able to report to, had we found anyone trafficked, and they would have been able to investigate. As we sat there, we saw the girl who Kaso and Carmen spoke with last time. She walked by with, presumably, a jon. Our heart sank; we saw someone we considered a friend being taken away. We saw her a some other point that night (I don’t remember if it was before or after) and I got to meet her. She totally remembered Kaso. Franco and the other guy went off to speak with some other people and Kaso and I walked around and prayed. I was stirring on the inside and I wanted to do something, but I didn’t know what. I saw a man walk into the area and I watched as he went to one end and then back to where we were. I stopped him as he was going by and I told him, “Hey, I know this is strange, but just want to tell you that you are a man of courage and integrity.” (or something like that.) He said, “Thanks…. I assume your religious and this is part of your spiel?” I told him, “Well not really. I was just gonna let you go after I said that. I am a Christian. I just love Jesus and I believe He loves everyone and I just wanted to encourage you tonight.” “Oh. Well thank you, I needed to hear that.” And then he walked off. That was such a neat experience for me because it’s not just the girls that are hurting and broken. The men that come in there are in a lot of pain and brokenness too. I absolutely do not condone what they do and I certainly wont diminish the pain the girls go through, but it’s very easy to see the men as the devil himself sometimes and that is not something I want to do either. Later, Kaso and I ended up playing pool with a couple of the girls in a different bar. We just talked with them and asked about their families and just showed them that we cared. We went back to the Abba house having a good taste of what human trafficking can look like. I would love to go back one day.
Monday, was our last full day at Abba House. We wrapped up our English lessons with the boys and we spent some time playing some games with the girls. It was a great last day with those precious children. The next morning we got up and got ready to go back to the transition house so that we could have a couple of days to rest and debrief the entire trip around the world. We said our goodbyes and left. As we rode along in the taxi, we didn’t really realize where we were going. The driver pulled into a big hotel right next to the red light district. Carmen had secretly arranged for us to stay in this nice hotel for the last couple days of our trip! When she booked it, she didn’t realize exactly where it was located, but we actually had a great view of the very same pavilion that we had been in several night prior. You can see it in the pictures below. At the end of the red light district, there was a nightly market. This was by far the largest market out of all the countries that we had been to. We actually ended up going to the market that night and the next. That was a ton of fun, we spent several hours walking around there. Kaso, Jenny, Andy, and I all got pedicures. We were all able to get some cool souvenirs and other cool stuff. During the couple of days at that hotel, we spent plenty of time at the pool, we had individual debriefs with Carmen, and we had like a 4 or 5 hour group debrief where we talk about all that we had done and seen in all the counties. Most of all, we talked about all that God did in and through us.
We got up early the morning of August 7 and made our way to the train station there in Chiang Mai and started our 13 hour train ride back to Bangkok. Before the train left though, we were just sitting on the train, waiting, and like 4 or 5 police officers walked on board and walked toward us. They asked if they could take a picture with us. Of course we said yes and we had them get a picture with one of our cameras too! When we got off the train (13 hours later) we were met by a lady from YWAM Thailand who would give us a ride to the airport. First though, she handed Carmen a package and Carmen handed it to me. It was a birthday present from my sister!! She had found out from Carmen where to send it to in Thailand so that I would get. It was so amazing to get such a cool gift. Sarah had sent a giant bag of Sour Patch Kids, my favorite candy! It was such a thoughtful gift and it really made me feel loved. We headed to the airport and boarded our flight to Hong Kong. From there we flew across the International Date Line and landed in Los Angeles, CA. Crossing the date line meant that our flight took off at 9 am August 8 and it landed at 7 am August 8. We time traveled! Well not really of course, but when you experience a 36 hour day, I feel like your allowed to say that! haha We flew from Los Angeles to Denver and made our way back to the YWAM base. Our journey around the world was complete!