Before we moved to Thailand last June, I had been here once before. After my Freshman year of college, I went on a Discovery trip to India with Wycliffe Bible Translators. The eight member team met (as in, literally, met for the very first time) at the LAX airport and then got on a plan together to Seoul, Korea and then onto Bangkok, Thailand.
We spent three days in Bangkok doing orientation and then headed out to India for a seven week whirlwind trip meeting people, teaching people and sweating like pigs. I enjoyed my time in India immensely. When we arrived in the state of Shillong, I told them to just leave me at the children’s home there. I loved being with the kids, and the beautiful surrounding countryside took my breath away.
Afterwards, however, I was very drained emotionally. We encountered people living in poverty; we struggled with culture shock; and we lived in extremely close quarters with strangers for seven weeks. So I was very happy when our team leader decided to take us all to the little beach town of Hua Hin three hours south of Bangkok to do our debriefing. After our time in India, the beach resort town of Hua Hin seemed like paradise.
However, we quickly began to notice a bewildering phenomenon. We kept seeing much older Western men, some of whom were a little worse for the wear, accompanied by young, beautiful Thai women. Our team leader had a friend visiting from somewhere else in SE Asia, and he explained that some of them were probably paid escorts. He then went on to explain that the sex-industry was rampant in SE Asia, and some women and young girls did not enter into it of their own free will. It was the first time I heard the term trafficking.
This sent me reeling. It seems very naive now, but as far as I knew, I had never seen a man accompanied by an escort before, let alone had I heard of sex slaves. The idea horrified me and nearly crushed my sheltered little soul.
When we returned home and I began my sophomore year of college, I started researching the sex industry and trafficking. This was 2001, so there wasn’t nearly as much information available as there is now. But I consumed whatever I could on the subject.
I was especially interested in what I could do to make this atrocity stop. Again, this was 2001, and although information was beginning to spread about “modern-day slavery,” as it was being called, there did not seem to be many organizations doing anything about it yet. And if there was, there certainly weren’t any that I, an undergrad living in California, could contribute to.
By my senior year, I had done so much research on this subject that I had gotten stuck in a dark place of feeling overwhelmed and powerless. One of my roommates told me that I had to stop doing those internet searches because they were just taking me deeper into the darkness.
That year, I got to be part of the first justice task force that Intervarsity started at UCSD. I learned the word advocacy but quickly learned that speaking to people about controversial topics wasn’t exactly my gifting. Although I had read much on the subject, whenever faced with questions and disbelief, I would get tongue-tied and extremely ineloquent.
Fast forward a couple years, and I started dating my first boyfriend, married him, and then got pregnant with our first child (by a couple, I mean three, because we are overachievers like that). Our church hosted a liaison from the non-profit love146. At a small meeting after the service, she said they were looking for people to start task-forces to help the organization advocate and fund raise state-side. I really wanted to see one get started at our church, but I wasn’t sure what to expect with having my first baby and starting a new group.
However, no one else seemed to be available to make it happen, so I jumped in (“if not you, then who?” right?). Those first few years leading that task-force were challenging. I never felt that I could give it the time and energy it deserved because I was so consumed trying to figure out being at home with our bab(ies). However, we made some money and raised some awareness, and eight years later, thanks to the two amazing women who took over the leadership, the group is still active, raising money and engaging in the abolitionist movement in SD.
Which brings me to today. Tomorrow our family is getting on a bus to Bangkok. After that, we head down to Hua Hin for a family beach vacation. It is the first time that I have been back since that trip in ’01. I am a little nervous. Whatever I may think about short term mission trips now, we may not even be here if it hadn’t been for that first trip.
I have come a long way from the young woman who knew very little about the atrocities people suffer in this world, but I may surprise myself. The anger, sadness and helplessness that I felt when I first discovered sex trafficking may still be there, bottled up, ready to surface. It is an interesting emotion to be experiencing alongside the excitement and anticipation that I feel looking forward to relaxing on the beach with my family. It seems that this has become our new norm. In the midst of the wrestling with weighty topics, with poverty, with abuse, with privilege, that’s where we seem to have found the good life.