Bought by a Man, but for Love
There they sit on a bench in the black Chiang Mai night. Darkness has fallen, and the heat is oppressive. It suffocates, smothers with a cloying sensation. It’s more than the heat that bears down. On our way back from the night market, we pass them again on the bench where they wait. I feel the impression, so I stop. Turn around, and go back. Leaning forward, I look in her eyes, and I say three simple, plain words…
I grew up on the Kansas plains. In our religious community largely composed of white folks, I cut my teeth on hymns, acapella, and the Ten Commandments. We sewed our dresses and followed the rules. We didn’t drink, smoke, or dance, and we never, ever talked about sex.
It is hardly possible to grow up more sheltered, more religious and, thus, more burdened than I did. We learned how to work, and to work hard, and that blessing became a curse when the work turned right inward, and salvation and grace had to be earned. All the time. I count it, then, a severe mercy of God that He finally brought me to a place of complete crushing, absolute un-done-ness, and the utter inability to “work at” or “work on” any more.
In all of that, God has begun addressing what I was taught (or picked up) about shame, bodies, sexuality, and value, or worth. Believe me when I say that there is scarcely a more unlikely candidate that the Lord could have picked for bar ministry than this white girl. I’m not remotely kidding.
But He did, and we went, and all at once it was time. “Give me one.” That’s what I prayed. “Just one to love.” And we headed in.
We’re in an endless, darkened room. Forty-six bars line the walls. The neon lights are harsh. The music’s frenetic, and girls everywhere, they reach out.
The reports are true. Chiang Mai is a sex tourism destination. I see the older, Western men I’d read about, but there are a lot of younger ones here as well. We order drinks from our server, and we buy her one, too. Emmi has told us that the girls make a bit of money on the drinks they sell, so we’re doing what we can.
All around the room, racers and parents are starting to engage. Some of them are up, shooting pool with the girls. The language barrier is high. The music is furious. I’m nearly shouting to be heard, but my eyes and my heart laser in. On this one He has sent.
“Four boys.” That’s what I say, and her smile, it breaks out. Eyebrows shoot high. “Four!”
I show her my picture. And then she says this back, “Two.” And she shows me hers. A boy and a girl, and she’s 34. She’s a mom just like me.
Then our son steps up. She’s challenged him to a game. He takes his place at the table. And promptly gets his tail kicked. By this woman in a bar late at night, and we’re laughing uproariously with her, this lovely woman.
I hear whooping and hollering across the room. At another pool table, celebration. A jubilant racer jumps high in the air. Her team has won. Prostitutes and racers are high-fiving and laughing. Our girls are treating His girls like friends. At a summer camp, and the sight–well, it’s beautiful to behold. Lord, this generation!
“Lookin’ for love in all the wrong places.” All week long, this song’s in my head. Beside us, an old, white man sits alone. A girl joins him, sitting close. I watch the incoming stream; absorb interactions between prospective clients and the girls.
I know what these men are really seeking. It’s not here. It cannot be bought for any amount of baht. They’re starving; they’re dying for love, souls on empty.
All at once, at our son’s elbow here in the bowels of hell, she appears. a tiny, beautiful girl! In this bar. I’m shocked; disbelieving. What? Why? And who? Who would let this small lamb roam this floor?
She tells us her name (I’m calling her Lily). She tells us she’s seven, and she shows us the merchandise she’s selling. On one tiny arm, homemade necklaces with fresh flowers. We’re buying.
We take two, and then she offers to arm wrestle our son. “Twenty baht!” she chirps. What a girl.
Jamison is hooked. His heart is clean gone, captured by this sprite in this bar. She wrestles with both arms, hangs full weight on his one. Then it’s on to Connect Four. She’s playing to win, and once more, he gets his tail whipped. By a girl.
I see in her a ferocity of spirit, a native intelligence that I saw the other day. In an urchin from the slums, name of Arry. Lord, we need you.
“Mom,” says my racer. “I think she’s our ‘one.’” And then this, his voice heavy and broken. “I wish I could find her mother.”
It’s time to leave the bar. So much darkness. Our light seems so feeble. In the face of such evil, I feel small.
“Mom!” It’s the racer. “I found her; found her mother.” And we follow him into the night. Where another mother holds necklaces for her child to sell in the den of iniquity and despair.
Overwhelmed, I head back to the guest house. Jamison and his father stop to talk with a ladyboy. So much heartbreak, yet they offer their hope. “You have options.”
Alone in our room, I am wordless, weeping. Weeping for all the women who are trapped in this trade; who think they’re worthless. Who are purchased by men who are looking for love. They, too, all trapped, feeling worthless.
Today, I know this one, true thing; that I, too, have been bought for a price. By a Man.
That Man’s name is Jesus, and the blood that He spilled is the same, drop-for-drop, for us all. For me, for them. And for you.
That blood was my ransom. He bought my soul back, and now it’s His love that constrains me. I must share it.
On a black Chiang Mai night, we’re passing that bench. I feel it, and stop, and I turn. And say this to the one on the end: “You are beautiful.”