Shambhala In Your Heart

Two years ago we visited friends of friends in the Northern Thailand town of Pai. Once there we discovered not only the beauty of a new place but also sincere friendship at Shekina Gardens. We kept in touch with our new friends and recently reached out to them for a return visit. They told us about a 10-day festival called Shambhala in Your Heart, hosted by a Japanese community, based in Thailand. They said that the festival happens every February and suggested we join them there. We contacted the festival to inquire about performing and they accepted our proposal. Our friend and fellow bus rider, Jeffrey, contacted us and asked to join as well. He met us in Australia and we all flew over together.

We arrived in the small town of Chiang Dao on a warm Thursday afternoon and found our way to the festival grounds. We were greeted by the mighty, mist-shrouded Doi Luang mountain. Teepees and tents sprinkled the grounds, prayer flags blew in the breeze and happy hippies from around the globe frolicked in the stream. We met a new friend named Totto and asked her what Shambhala actually meant. She explained that in Hindu and Tibetan Buddhist traditions, Shambhala; is a mythical kingdom and suggested it was like being safe in the palm of the Buddha’s hand.

The days were filled with workshops in the arts, history, crafts, every kind of yoga that exists, sound therapy, and meditation. In fact, our friends from Shekina Gardens hosted a gentle and exploratory “Christ-centered” meditation every day in one of the Teepees. This was the first year they were invited to lead and we found the gesture to be quite progressive and affirming to our faith practice. It complimented the intercultural nature of the festival and enhanced what seemed to be a core ideology of an open and simple life for all, free from greed, destruction, and war.

One favorite workshop was about the history of the indigenous people, or the Ainu people in Japan. (Ainu” means “human”.)  Some attention was given to the plight of the Ainu people in Japan and how in 1899 Japan created a law that restricted the Ainu from participating in their own cultural activities. In other words, the Ainu people were stripped of their land, customs, and language in hopes that they would assimilate to Japanese culture. It wasn’t until 1997 that this law was lifted and the Ainu people were allowed to practice their own customs again. It was both enlighting and disheartening to learn of this considering the plight of our own indigenous friends in both Australia and the US and stirred in us an advocates heart. Most of the class, however, was on the rituals and beliefs of the Ainu people. We learned that they regard things that are useful to them or beyond their control as “kamuy”(gods). In daily life, they pray to and perform various ceremonies for the gods. We learned about the ancient practice of “stitching”. In this practice, Ainu women weave and elaborately decorate the traditional ceremonial clothing with symbols of the of the gods including “nature” gods, such as of fire, water, wind and thunder and “animal” gods, such as the bear or crow. Then we were given opportunities to learn the craft of stitching ourselves. It was a fascinating and inspiring way to spend an afternoon.

Another fun activity was just a short walk down the road to the sulfur hot springs. It was free to the public and offered a variety of tubs varying in temperature. Our new (10yr old) friend, David, from Russia, joined us one afternoon and we had a lively discussion about how much he loves fire. When I suggested he become a fireman when he grows up, he looked at me and said with disgust “I do not want to kill fire! I want to make fire big! Very big! I want to be fire!” Haha!! Watch out world!

In the evenings there was music, fire twirling, and dancing. At some point during the night, there were announcements. Three speakers took the stage, one spoke Japanese, one Thai, and one English. It was fascinating to watch them translate for one another. Most of the announcements had to do with interacting with and respecting the local village and culture; things like respecting the village by putting on more clothes (not cool to run around in bikini’s or shirtless in Thailand) or quiet hours starting at midnight. It was refreshing to watch these leaders setting a tone of humility and harmony by offering us wisdom to better interact with the local culture.

There were two performance stages. The kitchen stage ran during the afternoon and featured open mics, poetry, and spoken word. The main stage was in the middle of the grounds and ran in the evening from 5:30pm-midnight. The bands varied from singer/songwriters to full-on rock/reggae bands and most were from Thailand or Japan. There were also a handful of performance art/dance acts.

The Hollands! performed a rollicking set on a Wednesday night just as the sun was setting. We shared six songs and invited our friends Ro and Aya to join us on Morning Star, our last song. The crowd was enchanting as they danced, sang and encouraged us with their smiles. It was most certainly one of our favorite performance interactions. Besides our official performance, we also spent quite a bit of the festival jamming old bluegrass and folk tunes with other muso’s. Jeffrey really stood out at the festival with his mad violin skills! He was even invited to play a haunting set during the fire spinning show. It was fire and violin, quite the beautiful combination.

On a side note: We stayed at Koko Home. (There was camping at the festival but the cost to buy all the gear was about the same as staying at Koko’s, so we opted for comfort). We rented out the family room for four people, with a queen and bunks for about $1000TBT a night (That’s about $30USD) The room was clean and air-conditioned, which was refreshing as some of the days it got up to 98f. We also rented one moped from Koko and used it to shuttle back and forth. Koko and his family were amazing hosts. Koko spoke English well and invited all the guest, including us, to a home cooked meal and jam one of the nights. His wife made Khao Soi, which is a soup-like dish made with a mix of deep-fried crispy egg noodles and boiled egg noodles, pickled mustard greens, shallots, lime, ground chilies fried in oil, and meat in a curry-like sauce containing coconut milk. It is our new favorite and we will be looking for it on every Thia menu we can find it on!

PS. If you are keen to go to Shambhala in Your Heart and want more information on logistics,  Joanna’s “Blond Travels” blog was very helpful.

And be sure to like the festival’s facebook page.

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The Flow of Pai, Thailand

IMG_9810We arrived in the northern mountain city of Pai, Thailand, on NYE just in time to join our kinfolk from Shekina Community at their NYE party.

As we pulled into town, after our 3 hour winding and rolling van ride from Chiang Mai, we made our way,  backpacks and instruments in tow, towards our little Thai hut, at Family House Riverside. We immediately felt a festive, laid back vibe and most everyone smiled at us as we wandered the city streets. We noticed backpackers from all corners of the world and the Thai people we met, obviously impacted by these visitors, sported a mix of traditional and world markings in both fashion, tattoos, dreadlocks and speech. It was foreign enough in Pai but there was also a familiarity in this unique place, a feeling of home.
IMG_9796The breeze was cool but the sun warm on our faces as we crossed over a bamboo bridge finally arriving at our little grass hut. We were greeted warmly by the owner, an Italian man named Johnathan, and his Thai friends/family. We settled our things into our huts and were soon greeted by our friend Leaf, from the Shekina Community. She welcomed us to Pai and shared a little bit about her family and community as we made our way back across the river towards a gathering at the Ford home. At the same time, a young lady, whom we had met at a backpacker hostel in Chiang Mai, happened to be in Pai at the same time, so we invited her along to the gathering.
IMG_9797After sharing a lovely dinner and music, a group of about 30 of us began to walk into town, towards the river where the NYE celebration was in full swing. It was late and dark and we were excited about what NYE might look like in this part of the world. As we strolled through the city, the streets were filled with vendors  selling all sorts of beautiful creations. The many colors, streamers, balloons, music and food elated our senses, building our anticipation.
IMG_9801When we finally reached the water, the city lights faded, we found a sky full of thousands of fire lanterns floating peacefully in the air. Soon though, the lights of sparklers came out and eventually a choir of fireworks began to pop and crackle, dancing around the docile lanterns. There really was no officiate shooting the fireworks, but rather a vendor set up with a table full of every sort of cracker you could desire and it was every group for themselves. Parties within parties, lighting their crackers at random intervals, some shooting straight to the sky, some actually launching lopsided, a little to close to the crowds, evoking a sense of excitement and panic. All of our senses were heightened and we were filled with amazement at the prospect of the sort of organized chaos echoing around us! We found a moment of solace within our group and gathering in a circle together with a number of the peaceful lanterns in hand, we released them all in a grand ceremonial launch, wishing for peace on earth and good will towards all. Needless to say, the night ended in sheer delight!
IMG_9816The next day we began to explore Pai, nestled by the surrounding mountain side, the little town boast about 2000 for it’s local population and on any given day can accommodate just the right amount of backpackers to still feel homey. We explored a few restaurants and found a healthy dose of vegan and veggie options. One of our favorite was Art in Chai, which we ended up frequenting daily for their delicious chai and near the end of the week, we ended up doing a little spontaneous concert at the venue. After the concert we met a few fellows from Argentina and Spain, we spent some time getting to know them and were delighted by their invitation to join them the next evening at their guesthouse for a BBQ.
IMG_9795The next morning we rose and spent the day riding mopeds up into the beautiful mountains, to the hot springs for a soak. We passed some of the crude elephant farms, which actually caught us off guard and elicited a sense of sadness, but finally wound our way up into the springs. There was a guard at the gate who stopped us to look over our gear and then charged us 20Baht each to get into the grounds. We rode another 5K deepening into the forest, finally coming to the springs. There were about 40 people there, mostly backpackers but a few local families taking a relaxing bath and an older, long-haired hippie, from France, who spent most of his time trying to recruit people to his Yoga class later that evening. After our swim, we decided to head back and get ready for the gathering with our new backpacker friends. On our final stretch home, we passed an open field, where a boxing ring was set up, just sitting there, out in the middle of the field. It was so hilariously out of  place that the unusual spectacle drew us in and we couldn’t help but to crawl into the ring and have a go.
1013332_10208234196716613_3277478518350916490_nThen later that evening we joined our new Spanish-speaking friends at their guesthouse. Their party was already underway and we met folks from all over South America including Chile, Columbia, Mexico, and Argentina, we also met folks from Canada, Australia, Spain, the US, Cambodia, and Finland. I wish I had more pictures from that evening because it was really quite special. We swapped songs, we told stories and encouraged these kinfolk to see life a little differently.
IMG_0067One thing that really struck me as we sat there swapping songs and story, was the openness that all of these young minds had towards each other, their desire to know and be known. They came from all corners of the earth, all different beliefs and struggles and probably in many of their homelands those, that they now sat with, would be considered less than or the enemy. And, yet, here in this place, there was an understanding and the deeper connectivity of humanity could be felt. As we all moved in unity, further into that connectivity, the “us and them” became “we” and for a still small moment, all felt right with the world.
As the night progressed, we began to break into smaller groups for more intimate conversation. I was encouraged to sit with a young woman from Cambodia, who was raised in California but travels back periodically to visit her homeland and people. She said her greatest struggle in going back is balancing the complexities of womanhood. I shared with her the stories of some of the strong and courageous young women whom I had met them in Phnom Penh at Alongsiders, women who were doing wonderful things to reshape the canvas of human rights, especially for young women in Cambodia. She was encouraged to hear about them and hoped to one day met them.  At the same time, Banjo was showing his Cajon to a few mates, teaching them some of the basics. Graciana was strumming along on her guitar, making music with a few of the friends who still wanted to sing and Craig was sitting with a group of about 7 young people from the US and Australia. I could hear him sharing intently with them, but couldn’t hear what they were talking about. When my conversation finished, I walked over to Craig and found out that the young people he was engaged with were from a religious organization called YWAM, and this was their first stop on their trek across SE Asia. It was a delight to hear their hearts desire for their generation to experience an awaking spiritually, to know the God of all gods. It was also an honor offer them encouragement by sharing stories from many our years on the road.
12509128_10153870150734028_8010103830305621202_nAround midnight, we felt it time to head home but Graciana wanted to stay out longer. We contemplated what “staying out later” might entail. So far, the group had been perfectly delightful, but they were all young loving, adventure seeking, and probably pleasure-seeking young adults and so with reluctance we obliged her. However, before we left her, we did make quite the speech, calling for all of those well chiseled and dynamic young men to gather around us and listen closely. Graciana cringed with embarrassment. None the less, with Craig and his manly mustache backing me, I instructed the young men to escort and protect Graciana through the rest of the evening. They all stood a little taller and Manuel who had taken charge for the group, concurred whole heartedly to honor her, with Jonatan, Ignacio and Dieguito nodding behind in agreement. I made it clear that no one was to touch her… including them, and that was when Manuel’s eyes went wide and he declared in his booming voice, all of their allegiance, proclaiming her virtue would be secure. Whew!
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We walked away, took a deep breath, went back to our little bungalow, crawled in bed and waited until we heard their jovial voices whispering through the air, finally settling into a deep sleep about 4am.
The next day at breakfast, Graciana shared a pleasant review of the evening and we all had a fine laugh about the dramatic speech, some of the jockeying that took place with a few of the fellas the night before but ultimately, she attested  to the good clean fun that was had, sitting around campfires, the light-hearted laughter and sharing music, including some old timey, hymns. Honestly, I am proud of my girl and these young people we met along the way, specially the young men who cared for and respected this mothers wishes. Well done young men! Your mother’s and father’s would be proud!
IMG_9811We only spent five days in Pai but fusing our fantastic time with all of the backpackers we met and the amazing sense of solace that came from being with all the kinfolk from Shekina Gardens, we’d have to say that Pai, Thailand was one of our favorite stops in SE Asia. The sense of community and connectivity we experienced in Pai during those five days are a true treasure and we do not take them for granted. Excited to see if more times will come, where we can meet our new companions from around the globe, out on the open road, or maybe even in their hometowns. We long to see them again, share a meal, story and song and be encouraged by the tie that binds us all in love.

The Heart of Pai; Shekina Gardens

We happened to be at a farm just outside of Lansing, MI last summer when we met a couple who heard our desire to visit SE Asia and India. They told us of a friend in India, whom we reached out to but found that our routing would not get us to India this time around. That friend in India, then suggested that we connect with her friends in Northern Thailand. When we heard about the kinfolk in Northern Thailand we wrote them a message and began a dialog about a potential visit. It was going to be some effort to get up to them as most of our contacts in Thailand were in the south. However, after our first conversation, learning about their community and meditation center, Shekina Gardens, for backpackers on the “Hippie Trail”, we felt deeply compelled to make every effort to visit them.

IMG_9803How we get where we go, and who we share in community with around a table never ceases to amazes us. And, so it was that we made our way 16 hours from Bangkok to Northern Thailand. We arrived in Pai, which sits three hours northwest of Chiang Mai, on Dec 31 just in time for a gathering at the Ford home. It’s a surreal thing to walk into a stranger’s home. There is a feeling of anticipation and a little bit of anxiety but time after time we find that it only takes the “hello’s” for us to feel at home.

IMG_0013We met many new friends that night, shared a meal and song and began to learn about this committed and creative bunch. The host of the NYE gathering was Rachel, a brilliant author and fantastic cook, her husband, Chinua, a fantastic musician, and their five amazing children, all of whom were an absolute delightful. We met a gentle soul named Naomi and her husband Josh, a self-described traveling monk and photographer and their darling children. We met Rowan, whom Banjo named my twin, and her husband Neil, both live performance artists in the circusy vain and our finally our initial hosts who we had been communicating with prior to our visit, the ever discerning Leaf, her husband, Brendan, a fantastic teacher, and their two beautiful children. There were many others there as well, and as the music flowed and we sunk gently into the night we knew that our time in Pai was surely going to be a refuge and delight.

IMG_9806Pai attracts people from all over the world both young and old who are looking for a chill environment to catch their breath and make deeper connections. The little town boasts about 2000 for it’s local population and on any given day can accommodate just the right amount of backpackers to still feel homey. As you stroll around Pai, there are signs out in front of businesses that lay claim to being the “Heart of Pai.” But, we reckon this committed group of four families and a few extra’s that have come together to create the sacred space/Christ centered ashram, Shekina Gardens, are the genuine “Heart of Pai.” These families have come from Australia, Canada and the US, via India, finding each other along the way. They have all exchanged their western cultural norms to live in community with one another, sharing resources, time and creative talents with each other and with those that cross their paths. Practically, the garden offers a sacred space for gatherings, meditations and meals which allows for breath and time for those who join them to genuinely connect with the Creator of the Universe.

Because of their tone of vulnerability and authentic faith we found freedom to let our hair down, so to speak, and feel things that we had been carrying since our first stop in the Philippines. We found solace and friendship in this safe haven and opportunities to belly laugh as well as cry our hearts out.

IMG_9820When we think of the experience we had with the Shekina Community, a beautiful letter written by the Apostle John to his friend Gaius comes to mind. In the letter he commends his friend and community for demonstrating a generous portion of hospitality towards others. The letter reads, “even when they are strangers to you, you treat them as family These friends tell the entire church how you have extended your hand to them in love. It’s good work you’re doing, helping these travelers on their way, hospitality worthy of God himself!” 

If there is one place that we think of going back to, it’s Shekina Gardens both for the serene canvas that Pai offers and mostly for the sincere friendship we found there with both the Saints and the Savior.

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Big Smiles in Northern Thailand

IMG_9622Most folks go to Chiang Mai, Thailand for the beauty, the many Eco Elephant safaris, the pagodas, the markets and the food but not us. No, we went to Chiang Mai to get our teeth cleaned.

2010 was our last dental appointment, so when we heard about the Chiang Mai Medical and Dental Polyclinic on Moonmuang Road from our friends and fellow travelers, Sammy and Kylie, we were stoked. We walked into the office on a Thursday and made our appointment for the following afternoon.

The next day we woke and went to our dental appointment. When we arrived we filled out a little info sheet and waited for our turns. The waiting room was packed with patients and we had to wait a bit but the facility was clean, modern and the staff was welcoming. One by one we all called in for a solid cleaning, top to bottom. At one point, I was asked into the room where our daughter was getting her cleaning and the Doctor asked if it was OK for him to replace her Mercury fillings. I had forgotten about them but was elated that he brought it up as we had wanted to get them replaced years ago but just couldn’t afford it. Of course, I said yes. All up three of us had full cleanings and Graciana had the extra work on her fillings and our total bill was $3500Tbt (98USD)! We left refreshed and so grateful for our new, fresh smiles.
Once the task at hand was complete, we were able to enjoy the rest of our time in Chiang Mai exploring the city and surrounding areas.

IMG_9615Chiang Mai is Thailand’s northern capital and the name means “Rose of the North.” The population is only 200,000 as compared to Bangkok’s 9 million, and so Chiang Mai offers escape from the whirlwind pace of life of its southern rival. The city was built in 1296 as a walled city surrounded by a moat. The old city was roughly 1.5km square. Whilst a good portion of the original city wall has collapsed the four corner bastions are still intact along with various other sections. The original moat is still in use to this day.

As Lonely Planet describes, “Chiang Mai is nestled amongst forested foothills and much older than it first appears. During the city’s medieval heyday, almost everything was made of teak hauled by elephant from the surrounding rainforest, with the notable exception of its towering wát. The monasteries still remain, centred on ancient brick chedi (stupas) in a remarkable range of shapes and styles, but the gaps between them have been filled in with modern Thai houses and traveller hotels.”

IMG_9619We stayed one night at the modest “Your House Guest House.” The price was great at $400Tbt (11UDS) but the family room we all hunkered down in, had a shared bathroom and by this point in our trip we were longing for a little bit more luxury. And honestly, Craig and I were needing a little alone time, if you know what I mean. 🙂  So we wondered the streets, poking our heads in and out of guest houses, asking for a price and availability. We were having sour luck and had resigned ourselves to the fact that we’d probably have to stay one more night at our current location. We grabbed a late dinner and while at the restaurant we struck up a conversation with our server and asked if she had and suggestions for places to stay. She sent us on to her friend’s at, Julie’s Guest House.

Julie’s was vibrant and full of life, with backpackers situated in ever little corner of the lounge room. There were folks from all over the world, playing pool, on media devices and chatting about what the next days adventures would bring. We were welcomed by the staff who showed us the rooms available and we were able to secure two room for a total of $650Tbt (18USD). Both rooms had their own bathroom, one of the rooms had two twin beds, which made our kids really happy and our room had a relatively comfortable double bed. It was worth a few dollars more for the autonomy and individual bathroom space. Plus we met a couple of lovely backpackers while there, which made the stay even more fulfilling.

Once our lodging was settled we rented two mopeds at $5 a day and began to explore the city. Craig mapped out a day trip that would take us up into the lush rainforest past waterfalls and end up at Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep.

IMG_9631We ended up stopping a few time along the way to enjoy local fare, swapping songs with some street performers, who ended up handing their guitar to Graciana so she could sing them a song. We stopped off at one point to take a short hike through the woods to a waterfall where we met and chatted with a few backpackers about what they’d discovered, sharing suggestions and local finds. Then, continued to wind our way up the mountain.

IMG_9633We made our way up to the Wat but once we arrived we were shocked by the number of venders in and around the Pagoda, as well as the amount of offering boxes scattered around the grounds. It’s just that we had in our heads that we were going to a place that was meant to be a sacred space and it seemed as if all that was really going on was commerce. We just weren’t expecting to be bombarded by high pressure sales people in such a fierce way and the constant stream of money being put into the offering boxes really was noticeable and made us curious as to where all that money was going, specially in light of the poverty all around us.

IMG_9630And, then to top it off, I aways get a little ornery when I’m told I can’t do something or go somewhere because I’m a woman, so when I saw a few signs that stated that women weren’t allowed in certain parts of the Pagoda’s, I just couldn’t bounce back and spent the rest of the afternoon a little sulky, specially after our stop just prior in Pattaya, where we learned about horrors of the sex trade industry in Thailand.

Anyway, it’s always easier to see the speck in someone else’s eye… So, I’ve worked through the immediate feelings and although I can’t say that I’ve come very far, I do see the obscene hypocrisy in my own culture, politics, religion, etc… But, that’s for another conversation, down the line.

IMG_9617The ride back into town was exhilarating, winding through the mountains, weaving in and out of traffic. I’m positive that the moped rides in SE Asia will always be some of our fondest memories.

We spent the evening at the night market looking for treasure, and found a few local vendors who design and make their own clothing. The items were beautiful and reflective of the mountain culture around us. The only bummer was that the sizing was all a bit small for all of us. Although, Craig did ended up getting a lovely linen shirt and fisherman shorts from a fella whose family has been making their own designs for over 40 years. The rest of us just looked but declared that if we ever came back to Chiang Mai, we’d seek out that designer to make a few items to order.

We finished off our last night in the city, visiting The Lost Book Shop and shared a lovely dinner at Bubble Live Restaurant (featuring an organic menu including, vegan and veggie options) and then topped it all off with a traditional Thai Massage. Yep, all four of us in one little parlor, you can imagine the laughs.

If there was a beach in Chiang Mai, it would probably have been pretty hard to get me to leave. The food, the people (both backpackers and locals), the sights and sounds, the rainforest, the medical resources, and the breath of fresh air that Chiang Mai offered was much-needed and we hope to get back to this part of the world again someday!

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.