Mark & I consider ourselves fairly broad minded but the last couple of days here in Bangkok have been eye-openers! Last night we were taken out to supper and then wandered back through busy streets with bustling night markets which abutt other roads along which are hugely affluent office blocks and 5star hotels. Into this heady mix were added hundreds, maybe thousands, of sex workers, male and female, plying for trade. Minibus loads of men were being dropped off at the end of the street, apparently a reward from their companies for good work…
Whilst prostitution is officially illegal in Thailand its presence is largely denied and it is left free to operate unchecked and definitely unhidden. We have never seen such overt prostitution on offer, with Miriam being offered sexual services just as much as Mark! It is a large part of the culture here; the statistics are shocking, for example 70+% of Thai men regularly visit prostitutes even once married, and will take their sons to their favourite prostitute as a rite of passage. Foriegn sex tourists account for only 5% of the industry, yet it is estimated that 70% of men coming to Thailand are sex tourists.
Many of the prostitutes looked shockingly young, some dressed up as little girls. Many are trapped in the job by poverty and cultural expectations of providing for their families. There can seem no way of escaping. However this afternoon we visited a long-established ministry on one of the streets lined with strip-clubs, called Rahab (for obvious reasons!). This Christian work makes contact with the girls (there are other ministries for the boys) and offers them assistance and help. They build relationship, offer places to go to meet, to receive help and advice, alternative employment making jewellery (I’ll be bringing home a catalogue for whoever would like to do some Christmas shopping whilst supporting Rahab ministry), flats at no or low rent to get them away from the streets and support as they seek to make a new life, and they also offer Christian witness and teaching to those who want to hear.
Many girls have become Christians, though it often takes them a long time to leave prostitution after making a committment, and there are some wonderful stories of lives transformed and families reunited. But it seemed a little overwhelming; every time a girl is removed from the street another will take her place. It is clear that some fundamental issues of cultural attitudes and of poverty need addressing, but in the meantime we were reminded again that God will change a community or a nation one person at a time and that Rahab Ministries are being faithful to this calling, recognising the love of God for each of these girls and doing what they can where he has called them to be.