Eyes Wide Open in Pattaya

imageOver the Christmas holiday we longed for quiet beaches and hammocks swaying in the breeze, but instead we ended up in Pattaya, Thailand. Sure it’s a town with plenty of beaches and hammocks but little did we know that it’s also Thailand’s main center for buying sex. Why didn’t we know ahead of time you ask? Well, we travel based on connections and community and so when we were sharing our routing with family/friends and found out our kinfolk and fellow muso’s, Sammy & Kylie Horner were going to be in Pattaya over Christmas we were thrilled to have the familiarity of friendship over the holiday. So, that was that, we planned our routing and booked our guesthouse.

We spent five long and emotional days in this place, learning about how historically prostitution has been regarded as a norm in Thai culture from its Kings on down. Among many Thai people, there is a general nonchalant attitude that prostitution has always been, and will always be, a part of the social fabric of Thailand. And, although illegal, it continues to be practiced by the majority of Thai men. Intertwined with this social norm is a distortion in Thai Buddhism, that says women are “impure, carnal, and corrupting.” And although the current Dalai Lama has repeatedly asserted that women can attain enlightenment and function as equals to men in spiritual matters, his branch of Buddhism is not the one practiced in Thailand. In present day Thailand rather, sex with a prostitute and the suffering a woman might experience from it, is viewed by many as a result of karma.

imageWe learned about how US soldiers came to Bangkok and Pattaya for R&R during the Vietnam war and capitalized on that Thai trait, creating a western market place for prostitution. And, Pattaya’s reputation as a sex capital is well deserved, with hundreds of beer bars, go-go clubs and massage parlors. Pattaya boast about 10,000 “Lady Boys.” These are young men who over a seven year period transform into women, specifically for the purpose of selling their bodies. There are an equal amount or more women and young girls available as well. The city of 100,000 residents, doesn’t have just one red light district like Amsterdam or Vegas but rather the whole city is a red light district, catering to every form of sexual perversion you can think of from ‘rent a girlfriend/ladyboy’ for a week to the newest offerings being a menu of acts from the book “Fifty Shades of Grey.” About 10 million tourists come every year with about 80% being there for that one purpose. The other 20% are families who didn’t get the memo on the cities main industry and have come because of the beaches, which are quite lovely. Of those who come to buy sex, most are white males between 45-90, although there is a growing number of couples and there are also clubs that cater specifically to women buyers.

At the end of the day, however, for the westerner the issue isn’t just about sex, it’s about the effects of war, consumerism and taking advantage of an warped internal cultural norm. It’s about those with wealth imposing their ‘user’ mentality on others by exploiting poverty stricken citizens into fulfilling their unhealthy habitual need for power and pleasure. As a result, one of Thailand’s most honorable qualities of caring for their elders has become warped and distorted with many of the girls returning to their home villages with a foreign patrons support. Thus, the dream to find the same luck continues to spread through the nation. A once beautiful ideology of community has now been replaced with a demanding spirit that has taken the young people of Thailand and told them that their value is based on their ability to make an income & that by allowing others to use their bodies they can fulfill this obligatory cultural/religious practice and thus honor their parents. It has reduced these precious humans to mere animals used for a single purpose rather than developing as the dynamic, spiritual, creative persons of worship that they were created to be.

In many of our circles the topic of “sex trafficking” has become a buzz word, a hot topic but usually the conversation only goes as far as an agreed disgust, specifically about the men buying the sex and maybe an idealistic thought or two about how the government should crack down on he issue or maybe a heart warming story about a friend who works with girls who have been ‘rescued.’ However, that’s about as far as we’ve gotten and we know it’s not far enough. So, what can we do about it?

Firstly, were singing to the choir here but we must understand the Sex trade is a bi-product of Empire and driven by a consumerist model of hierarchal, thus those with wealth have power over those who need wealth and subsequently responsible for how they wield their power. So, in our everyday lives we can begin to make a difference by admitting and renouncing any ownership attitudes we might have because of our wealth. Secondly, know that every interaction has a purpose, paying attention to our impact on others when participating in any sort of sales exchange, seeking to understand who we will be exchanging dollars for services with and seeing the greater experience is about a human connection and deeper than that it’s about a spiritual connection. Ask questions and let owners of businesses know you care about how employees are treated and paid at your local restaurants, nail salons, shopping malls, stores, mechanic shops, etc… And, when looking for “me” time make efforts to seek healthy alternatives that don’t involve exploiting other human beings. But mostly, we can push through from conversation, reading articles and developing opinions to understanding that this issue truly is bigger than we can handle alone. We need to seek the heart of God for justice on this one, asking for understanding, conviction and direction. For instance, when your friend tells you about a friend who is working to stop sex trafficking ask more questions. Find out if a commitment to prayer or resources, time or talents is being called for.

imageSpeaking of… one such group is the Tamar Center in Pattaya. Dutch Founder Nella Davidse, told us her inspiring story of coming to Thailand with a sense of purpose, finally landing in Pattaya 16 years ago. She shared how for the first years she quieted her heart and spent hours and hours in prayer (which honestly, must have taken an immense amount of discipline as Pattaya evokes a number of deep emotions and thoughts). She said that prayer and building relationships with those who were already doing things into the area to make a difference were the foundational building blocks to Tamar Center. From intense and consistent prayer and worship came an open door to buy a building outright in the heart of Pattaya, where she set up a drop in prayer/meditation room and an ESL school. And, later a salon, restaurant trade school, creative arts program and spiritual/counseling center for those who decided to leave the sex trade to heal and learn a new skills to support their families. Nella, and her tribe, spend day after day immersed in this toxic place, consistently offering a cup of cold water to any who desire. By being present on a consistent basis, Tamar Center has been a lifeline to many of those longing for more to life and we heard amazing stories from those impacted by the beacon of light that Tamar Center has been. Nella said the key Tamar centers success in Pattaya has been and continues to be on total reliance on God to move in the hearts of those they are surrounded by and a patience to wait for His faithfulness to bring them through the doors.‭‭

We joined Nella and her community down on Soi 6 on Christmas Eve. We sang songs of peace and love and blessings over those on the streets and in the open air bars. We called out for the living God to soften hearts and break bond’s. We were fighting back tears as an older single white male sat on a stool, in the bar directly to our right, young person on his lap, eyes glazed over, as we sang our final song longing for liberation. We listened intently as a few of the “lady boys”, shared their spiritual transformation stories and how they were no longer slaves to the sex trade industry but free and because of that freedom they experienced the beauty of worship and connection with a God who loves them no matter what. And, how that has impacted and empowered their identity as a child of God.

We were encouraged and reminded of a moment in the ancient text where Jesus walks down to Jacobs well and sits down. When a woman comes to draw water, Jesus said to her, “Will you give me a drink?” The woman is surprised that Jesus would even talk to her and she points out their obvious differences. Jesus answers her, “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.” She replies saying, “you have nothing to draw with and the well is deep. Where can you get this living water?” Jesus answered, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” The woman is in awe and asks for this living water but first Jesus deals with her heart and gives her an opportunity to see herself a new. Then he tells her what she’s really created for; freedom to truly be loved and in response to that unconditional love, to be able to worship the God of all gods.

imageAnd, this is what we saw in Pattaya, those once in bondage released and genuinely offering thanks for their freedom, daily drinking in that living water and in turn offering it to others. In this dark and deprived place we saw a glimpse of heaven and if nothing else, it was worth coming all the way around the world to see.

One of our last nights in Pattaya, we along with our Tamar Center friends and Sammy & Kylie all went down to the beach to swap story and song with the sunset as our audience. Our spirits were encouraged and calmed after a week of high emotions as we cared for each other and those around us. We were able to leave with open eyes and open hearts.

PS; We are always learning and in no way think we know the whole story. We are open to correction and even though this was a highly emotional place to be we tried to weed through our emotions to understand and see a bigger picture. This is just a glimpse of what we’ve gleaned and our hope in sharing our insights is to start a conversation. If you’ve felt any sort of nudge while reading this entry, please share your heart, send me a note, reach out to Nella at the Tamar Center or others who might be waiting for you to encourage them by sending support or joining them in this amazing work of restoration.



Global/Local Holiday Gifts

There is much rhetoric about buying “local.”  The idea is to support our neighbors in order to keep our corner of the world thriving. I agree with this to the extent that it is important to support our neighbors, I just think our neighbors can be farther away than our postal code. We have connected with wonderful folks all over the country who are sharing their creative talents and striving to support their families in small business. So, this holiday season if you are looking to support the local market I have a few ideas to send your way.

I spent about three hours gathering all of their links. So, CLICK AWAY! 🙂

Art, Craft & Photography: There is nothing quite like an original piece of artwork. Commissioning an artist to take the sketch of your mind and make it 3D is a beautiful process. These folks all have fantastic skills, creative minds and most of all they are good listeners.  Bloom Photography, Out/Back Design,  Heidi Keys, Jason Seiler Illustration, Josh Kufahl,  Little Lace Lady, Off the Wheel Pottery, Photos by Beth Ann, Popelka Trenchard Glass, Richard Steinberger Photography, Nik Arnoldi Fine Art

Clothing & Accessories: These friends don’t shy away from a market driven by the mass desire for generic design. They are gifted and talented seamstress, treasure hunters and fine crafted jewelers, you want unique and beautiful check out these sites…  VillageBaby, The Brass Owl, ShoveIt Design, Refab, Larky Park, Gracie Designs, CityMade, Billy & Co., Wild Prairie Silver, If you are looking for name brand, check our our friends at Altrec

Food & Drink: Yum!  Authentic Feather FarmKabumParallel 44 WineryLa JavaDos ChilesGreen Plow Roasters, Kavarna

Body & Healing Arts: Great resources for body, mind and soul. Good Earth SoapTerry Naturally,  Kristie Lee GunsMardi Halvorsen YogaPeninsula ChiropracticMore MarriedShaping HerJerry Price CounselingMazzara Midwifery

Support non-profits & servant minded folks: These projects are both spiritual and practical, they are all run by individuals who have a desire to make this world a better place. They are trustworthy and supporting them would bring great joy this Christmas season.  Cornerstone Community Outreach, Timberline Lodge, Hungry Hearts United, Of Scars, Seven Loaves Project, The Suitcase Sideshow, Operation Elf Box, Bethany Erickson, Leadership Lab, YoungLife, Foundation Skate Ministry, Vapor Sports, The Fall Out Creative Community, Tribe of Judah School

Music: If you are looking for some great tunes try ordering directly from the musician. We have lots of favorites but these are some of our dearest friends. They are professional and creative musicians and I think you’ll love them.

Folk: Sammy Horner,  John Statz,  Patchouli,  Bill and Kate Isles,  Seth MartinGalynne Goodwill,  The Brothers Burn Mountain,  Beki Hemingway

Folk/Punk: Hillfolk Noir,  Men as Trees Walking,  Insomniac Folklore,  Destroy Nate Allen                                                                                                                                          

Indie: Nick JainaSoil and the SunRick Beerhorst

Electronic: Optimus PromWreckless Music,  Cloudburst

Jazz: Jana Nyberg GroupThe Unfortunate

Metal: The EternalSouthside Stranglers

Funtimes: Magic MamaCanon Ball

If you have other ideas to add, please feel free to comment.

Merry Christmas and Happy 2012!!

Faith For Real

Tour is in full swing. We just finished 10 fantastic days with our dear friend, Sammy Horner. We had seven hours to pack and now find ourselves in Bushnell, IL at Cornerstone Music Festival.

I’m not much of a camper. In fact, I’m probably a level -2 camper (if there is a scale). It’s hot and sticky. Long days of loud music, thousand’s of people and offering more that any one person can do in day. I have felt oppressed lately and uneasy about the future, so my surrounding aren’t helping. For so long we have been focused on the vision of our call. The vision of sharing family, song and encouraging community and connection through reconciliation. That is all still there but I find myself totally absorbed in my mind, trying to control the details and it’s not working out very well.

Yesterday, I was so overrun with weariness and desperate to leave the festival. My family was having a lovely time and didn’t want to leave. I knew I was being a downer and a bit selfish as my reasonings were all based on fear. “I need to get back to our home so we can have our garage sale, so I can book shows for our future, so I can bla bla bla.” It all sounded so responsible but what I really needed was to stay and be open. I talked myself into just taking a deep breath and seeing what comes. And it came!

I meet three families. All of them servant minded, “kinfolks” as I like to call them. All of them gifted in their craft and all of them focused and moving forward. They told me their stories about how they found themselves as travelers and faith and the mystical ways that God worked out the details. My skeptical mind listened but kept a distance.

Grace, a wife and mother of three darling little girls, is a leader along with her husband of the “Tribe of Judah,” a school out of Iron Mountain, MI. They weren’t planning on traveling except for a few times a year with the students from their school. But last year, just before Cornerstone Festival, a bus was provided and they have been on the road since. She told me a story of a time in New Orleans where they only had a bit of change left, (mind you there are more than a handful of students plus her family on the bus) It was one of those nick of time, testing of the faith stories. I listened but probably squirmed a little.

Later I meet Tony. He was standing by a wagon full of sweet little children in the back of the Chelsea Cafe’ Tent. He was watching his grandchildren while his wife, two beautiful daughters and son set up for their show. I’m not even sure how it happened but in the course of about 20 min. I learned about his 20 + years on the road, traveling with his children and now grandchildren. When I began to ask him questions about the logistics of finances and where they traveled. He just answered, “No, no we didn’t book ahead really. We just did the faith thing.” Hmmm. The Faith thing.

Then there’s Alan Aguirre and his band Men As Trees Walking. He has quite a presence at the festival. He rolls in on his big ol red bus with a fierce lion on both sides. I heard a bit of a buzz about who he is and what he has accomplished. The camp site is busy with movement and I don’t usually approach folks with this sort of presence because of pride, I’m sure. I fear they will think I’m needy… I’m laughing because I am needy. Anyway, I walk past several times and then my feet just start moving in and all of a sudden I’m by his side introducing myself. Craig is with me and we start asking questions about logistics, busses verses RV’s, traveling with family. (He also travels with wife, daughters/son-in-laws, a new baby grandson. About 11 total) He talks of obedience and working through trials. He shares a story about the bus. It’s a disheartening story about the cost of the journey with this bus. He is convinced that God wants him to be in this bus and I’m not going to argue with that but I do ask him if he ever get frustrated with God and question why God would have wanted him to by such a burdensome bus? To paraphrase, he answers, “No where in scripture do I read that if I obey God, he will…. I just read obey because I love God.” I start to tear up. I ask him how he and his family get through. He doesn’t answer in material terms talking of marketing and networking (although, he does that well) but he says two simple words, “prayer and fasting.” He encourages our family to stay in unity with one another spiritually. My defenses are down now and the tears rush out. He hit the nail on the head. We have been so focused on the material issues of selling our home and what we’ll live in next, booking and getting life organized that we’ve lost our vision. The ultimate vision of loving and obeying God. Really it doesn’t matter where we live, what we do or become. My deepest longing is to know God and be open.

Then this morning as I sat down to reflect this came to me…

“Living then, as every one of you does, in pure grace, it’s important that you not misinterpret yourselves as people who are bringing this goodness to God. No, God brings it all to you. The only accurate way to understand ourselves is by what God is and by what he does for us, not by what we are and what we do for him.” Rom. 12:3

I rest in the encouragement and advice that comes from such wise souls. Allowing the waves of faith to wash over me and laying my pride down. Today I look forward to gleaning more of the goodness will come my way.