“This bar is weird!” exclaimed a Japanese sex tourist. He had been walking through the red light area when the activity inside our outreach center caught his attention. A room full of people joyfully singing and dancing didn’t fit the usual bar scene and he couldn’t quite figure us out. In partnership with Iris Ministries, NightLight has been hosting monthly worship nights in our red light outreach center. Initially our goal was simply to join together in worship and welcome God’s presence to the area but as people stopped to watch we began to chat with them outside or to welcome them in. Some from the streets have joined us for the fun (“this is the best party on the street!” said one couple) and at other times, some have come in to sit and listen, enjoying a moment of peace.
When Georgian and Winnie Banov recently came to Bangkok with a group of 31, an explosion of joy hit the red light area. Georgian is well known in some circles for his excellent violin skills and both he and his wife Winnie for their abundant joy. I didn’t really know what to expect when they said they wanted to join NightLight and Iris together for some street outreach in the red light area.
Worship began with one of our NL women leading, followed by a group from another church. Inside the center we were having a good time but other than the three intoxicated streetwalkers, the room was full of Christians. Georgian began to play his violin and many began to dance to the joyful music. Then Georgian said, “Let’s take this to the streets!” Still playing, Georgian went outside and everyone followed and formed a human tunnel on the sidewalk in front of our building. As people came down the sidewalk we invited them to run through the tunnel while we cheered and blessed them. The people were hesitant to begin with but by the time they got to the end of the tunnel they were smiling and laughing. Many of the men went through again and again enjoying all the attention. The joy was spilling out to the street and people were gathering to watch.
I glanced at the crowd across the street and noticed two trafficked Uzbek women watching us. These women had come to our medical clinic the week before and so we had gained some trust. We waved at each other and they gestured to ask, “What is going on?” I ran over to them and tried to explain using broken English but finally just settled with, “It’s happy, happy, happy! Come!” I grabbed their hands and they ran with me to go through the tunnel. They were smiling as they went through and when they went through again they were laughing. Then they left and headed back to the brothel.
A few minutes later, Beng said, “Annie, look! It’s Lionel!” Lionel is the manager of a brothel of Central Asian women. The two Uzbek women were pulling Lionel to come join us in this tunnel of joy. He looked a little hesitant so Beng ran over and invited him. Then together, Beng, Lionel, and two Uzbek women ran through the tunnel and back. Lionel had a big smile on his face and as he turned to leave, he thanked us. The trafficked women lingered for a long time watching us before going back to the brothel. The rest of the night they would be exploited and sold as commodities but for a few moments they were recognized and affirmed as human beings with great value.
That night an explosion of joy burst through the red light neighborhood and pushed back the curtain of darkness. Its impact was felt by sex tourists, by prostitutes, by passersby and all the way into the heart of a trafficking ring to the manager and the women in his brothel. The tunnel of joy may have been an unusual activity in the area, it may even have looked weird to some, but for a few hours the darkness trembled and loosened its grip from its victims. As each person walked through the tunnel, they were no longer victim or exploited, they were no longer predator or exploiter, they were no longer lonely, invisible, or forgotten. An explosion of joy hit the red light area and in the light each one was seen, blessed and affirmed as valuable and loved by God.