Bangkok had very few Christmas decorations when Jeff and I first arrived twenty years ago. A department store was decorated with tinsel and played carols for shoppers and a hotel had a display of reindeer and a sleigh out front. The bars caught on quickly and bar girls wore Santa caps to entice their international customers. Christmas was just another excuse for a party and a marketing opportunity. Today, Christmas decorations are much more visible in Bangkok and Christmas parties more common, but it is still really just Christmas wrapping; most in Bangkok have no idea of the true meaning of Christmas.
NightLight chose to demonstrate the meaning of Christmas by showing love to our neighbors. On the 17th, we held a Christmas party in our outreach center and invited women from the streets to come in for food and fun. That night, the outreach teams distributed 775 gift bags to women in prostitution. Our outreach team sang Christmas carols in the lobby of a brothel where international women are prostituted. The women, pimps, and even the manager stopped their activities to listen to the Christmas carols. The women in the bars, brothels, and the streets were surprised and touched by gifts, which asked nothing in return.
The joy of giving continued on the 18th, when NightLight went out in 5 teams to visit the sick in 4 different hospitals and a slum community. Each team donated their own money to buy the gifts they would give. The women prayed for many and helped some lonely hurting people feel valued for a day. The women of NightLight have received so much from so many. This year was a financially difficult one for NightLight and we were not able to buy gifts for the employees, but this time they discovered the joy of giving at Christmas. The teams gave over 170 gifts that day.
On the 19th, all of NightLight gathered together in our building, in the heart of the red light area. Everyone teamed up to bring food to share and the staff planned fun Christmas activities on all 6 floors of the building. The children joined in the activities and then received presents given by the Evangelical Church of Bangkok. At the end of the day we gathered in the coffee shop for one last time of worship together in 2014.
As we sang “Christmas Is The Time for Love,” my eyes took in the beauty of the scene in front of me. One of the women was leading us with the guitar. Another was leading the children with hand motions to the song. The women and their children, along with staff and volunteers, filled the coffee shop’s two floors and joined in the song and motions. It struck me that we were not just celebrating Christmas, but that the true meaning of Christmas was demonstrated among us.
I turned and looked behind me into the street of the red light area. I recognized streetwalkers, and foreign women who are trafficked and in prostitution. Men walked past with girls they had picked up at the bars. Most of the women worshiping Jesus inside had once walked these streets. They know the harsh reality of sin’s abuse. They know the feeling of desperation and hitting bottom with no sign of hope. They know what it is like to walk in darkness. Now these women know what it means to walk in the light.
On this special day the women of NightLight returned to the red light area, but this time they came in freedom and confidence. To these women, Christmas is the celebration of the birth of their Savior who came to the very streets they once walked, rescued them from darkness, and brought them into the kingdom of light.
“The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned…for unto us a child is born, unto us a Son is given … And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” Isaiah 9:2,6 (NIV)
CEO, NightLight International