The year was 2013. It’s December and I’m on a missionary encounter trip to Thailand and Myanmar. After 18 hours of flying we landed in Bangkok, Thailand in total darkness. I was traveling with 16 women I had just met in Los Angeles for the first time. I had applied and been accepted to be part of this group through an organization called International Ministries. The trip was from November 30 to December 16.
I had had an emotionally and spiritually challenging previous year and I had asked God to change me. When the day finally arrived for me to travel to Lax to meet the women I would be traveling to Thailand with, I had a very bad bout with laryngitis. When we landed in Bangkok I still couldn’t talk. I would try to whisper and start coughing until I would turn crimson red and wet myself (not a lot, but enough to keep me from whispering)
We arrived at the guest house (or hotel) around 2am. We were to sleep until 6. Breakfast was to be served at 7 and we were expected at our first stop at 10:30. I don’t remember being jet lagged. I do remember feeling the adrenaline rush from being in a new country. I was anxious to see what a missionary encounter was.
My roommate Bonnie was a sweetheart and we hit it off right from the start. Considering the fact that we had just met the day before I felt easy around her. (I’ve learned that you need to have one person in the group to keep you grounded. Bonnie was that person for me. She would be the soul that dissected with me all the experiences that we shared on this trip.) Thank God for Bonnie!
Breakfast was interesting. It was a buffet style meal. The selection wasn’t grand, but it was balanced and different. They even had passion fruit, something that many of us had never had. It was fun sitting at the table with grown women and giggling as they dared each other to taste it. As it turned out, it was delicious.
Afterwards we had the opportunity to exchange some currency. Sure, to most people that might not sound exciting, but this was a group of women. Women like to be prepared for anything, so exchanging money was first on our to-do list.
As it turned out there was a bank several blocks away and we welcomed the opportunity to stretch our legs. The bank was about 4 blocks away, but the little that we saw was amazing. We weren’t all allowed to be inside the bank at the same time for security reasons so we took turns going in to exchange money.
As I stood outside, I had the opportunity to meet Kim. She was two years older than me, which made us the youngest of the group. On the walk over from the guest house you couldn’t help but walk past street vendors that lined almost every inch of side walk. They sold everything from food to electronics to clothing to flowers. They were everywhere. We also noticed that there were a lot of people on mopeds. The mopeds seemed to dash everywhere quickly and would form clusters at red lights.
Kim and I would gasp and laugh at how the people drove, so many near misses and yet the drivers and passengers weren’t phased. We also couldn’t help but notice the foods that some of the vendors were cooking. Kim had traveled to Peru, Chile, South Africa and several other destinations and she had dared try food from street vendors. She said she had not gotten sick and we toyed with the idea of sneaking away from the group later to possibly try some waffle-on-sticks that smelled divine.
(Her mom was traveling with her and she over heard our plotting and playfully warned us about the hazards of being defiant and eating street food.) Thus a friendship was formed with these ladies and it was fun to be part of their mom and daughter interactions.
At 10, two shuttle vans arrived to take us to our first stop, Night Light ministry. The first missionary we would meet would be Annie Dieselberg (and her husband). I didn’t know what to expect. I had read about them on http://www.nightlightinternational.com, but reality is always different.
We arrived at a narrow 3 story building with a water tower next to it. We were asked to take our shoes off before entering the front room by one of Annie’s assistants. We sat down in a circle and and looked around. Annie was already there waiting for us. She was average sized, dressed in a pretty blouse and looked very feminine and soft. When she began to speak, her strength and drive to answer God’s calling for her life left most of us in awe.
She spoke about her work with passion and conviction. She never sugar coated any of the information or stories that she shared with us. She told of the realities that many of the young women and girls faced in the Thai culture, specifically young girls that came from villages looking for work in the city. She also told of young women that came from Africa, Europe and other countries and were either sold, kidnapped or beaten and raped into submission to work in brothels or as sex slaves.
She was currently working with a young woman from Africa who had been lured to work as a nurse in Thailand. Once she had paid for her passport and travel expenses, she had met up with a “recruiter” that would help her get the training to become a nurse. Instead he had taken her passport and belongings and taken her to a room where she was gang raped and beaten. She was then forced to sexually service men in a brothel that Annie did outreach at. She finally met Annie a year or so later. Annie offered help to get this young women out and back to her parents.
The woman escaped the brothel, but with no passport or id she couldn’t leave the country. That’s where Night Light helped to apply for papers to legally get her home. It was a long and expensive process.
Annie also educated us on some of the cultural norms of village life. She shared that there were mothers who sold their young daughter’s virginity to the highest bidder. It had become such a common practice in some villages that it wasn’t frowned upon. The mothers would sell their daughters so they could put food on the table. The families would become accustomed to the money and lifestyle that could be had. They would offer their daughters to the brothels so that they would support the families. The girls had no choice and would be forced into prostitution from as early as 10 to 12 years old.
Annie created an alternative. She began going into the red light district and facilitated outreach. One night she sat down to talk to a woman at one of the brothels and asked her if she would do something else to earn a living. The women said yes and the next night Annie returned to the brothel, paid for a night with the woman and taught her to make jewelry from beads. Annie returned several nights after and they began selling the jewelry they made.
Eventually through prayers, donations, and organization Annie and her husband have built the Night Light ministry that helps educate, train and provide medical and spiritual help to women who choose to get out of the sex industry. It was such a powerful testimony.
We sat there for over two hours trying to take everything in. Annie was a fountain of information. I must admit that I was at a loss for words. When it came to Q and A time I learned that some of the ladies and their churches directly supported the Dieselberg’s ministry. It was moving to watch how these relationships were moving from correspondence to being able to physically embrace a missionary who their home church sponsored.
Later we went to lunch with the Dieselbergs at a nearby restaurant. The food was amazing, and we were able to hear about Jeff’s work. We were joined by a young woman from the US that was visiting/working Annie. She worked here in the states helping victims of human trafficking. She asked us a question that we couldn’t easily answer;
“Traffickers can spot a damaged girl from a mile away, why can’t the church?”
That question became a seed to our hearts. The day had felt like information overload. After lunch we were able to visit the shop that sold many of the products these women made and sold to support their families. We also visited a neighboring building that Night Light worked out of.
On our drive back to the guest house we were taken through the red light district…we rode in silence as we witnessed men interacting with young women. After that morning’s meeting with Annie we had a very graphic idea of what these tourists were there for and what transpired up the stairs and behind closed doors. It was a sobering and helpless ride.
Back at the guest home, we rested. Every night we had a debriefing group session of the days event. We also had a devotional. Bonnie and I felt it would be fitting to end the night with ice cream. That first night we turned in relatively early. It had been quite an experience and it was a preview of what was to come.
The next day we would fly to Yangon, Myanmar for the 200th anniversary of the Judson’s arrival as missionaries.