Imagine a culture where sons are expected to spend time in a monastery after each family death so that he can “make merit” and earn a life cycle in heaven for the deceased. Those same sons are not expected to be loyal fathers or husbands and the law does not protect the wives and children that they frequently, with little or no excuse, walk out on.
What about the daughters? They are expected to be the responsible ones, to provide for their parents as mom and dad age. They can either bring the family prestige by fulfilling their familial duty, or they can bring the family shame by failing to provide. No pressure!
Imagine this – a man decides he’s bored with marriage and walks out, leaving a wife and children behind. If she’s lucky, the jilted wife has a 12th grade education. It’s more likely that her education is 9th grade or lower and she has absolutely no marketable skills so a job is going to be difficult to find. In desperation, she and her children return to the village of her youth and move in with her parents. Not only is she not providing for them, they are now having to take care of her and her offspring. This is the ultimate in shame.
Now let’s imagine in that same village that there is a family who has a home with cement walls instead of wood and a tin roof instead of thatch, all of it provided by their daughter who is away in the big city. This responsible young woman sends money and gifts home on a regular basis – even things like household appliances! – and has even come to visit once bringing with her a handsome, wealthy foreign man who was seen in the bar buying rounds for everyone. This is a family that takes great pride in how well their daughter is providing for them. She is a good daughter and brings honor to her parents.
The abandoned young woman is desperate to provide for her family so lavishly and turn their shame to pride. So she does what the other dutiful daughter did and heads to the big city to get a job in the bar. Her work responsibilities are simple and she knows exactly what she is getting into. She needs to convince the men at the bar to buy her drinks (she has a monthly quota to fill) and she must convince a few of them to pay a $20 fee to the bar so that they can enjoy her company after hours (another monthly quota). During her shift, she dances on a stage in a string bikini. This is a woman from a culture that values modesty and she’s probably never even worn shorts in public before this and now she is displaying her body in a string bikini. At an appointed time each night, she is ordered to remove her top. The customers are supposed to tip her $40 after she has rendered the expected services. If she makes her quotas and her customers tip her appropriately, a woman can make as much as $3,000 a month, most of which she sends home to her family who can then hold their heads up high because they have a “good” daughter.
I wish this was fiction, believe me. I wish that I wasn’t telling you about the actual cultural situation in Thailand. This weekend, while attending a women’s conference, I had the honor of hearing Annie Dieselberg speak. She and her husband Jeff and their kids are missionaries with the American Baptist Churches to Bangkok, Thailand. Their focus is getting the women out of these deplorable working situations. But merely getting these women out of prostitution isn’t enough. After all, they need to provide for their parents, remember?
NightLight ministries provides jobs, benefits, free child care, job training classes, leadership classes, Bible classes and a chance to make more than minimum wage and provide for their families. No, it isn’t the $3,000 a month they would make prostituting themselves. But it provides far more dignity and self-respect!
Lest you think this is a problem in another part of the world, NightLight has two branches here in the states – Los Angeles, California and Atlanta, Georgia. The fact that they are here in the states screams a truth that breaks my heart because their mission is the nearly the same as the NightLight “branch” in Thailand – rescuing women from sexual slavery. True, the women here in the U.S. don’t usually walk into the situation with their eyes wide open like their counterparts in Bangkok. But the degradation and hopelessness is every bit as real.
Yes, human beings are being trafficked right here in the U.S. And I can’t simply sit back and feign ignorance. I can’t “unlearn” what I learned this weekend and I have to get involved somehow. Relocating to one of the cities where NightLight is currently working is simply not realistic. But I have to find a way to get involved. In my heart, it would be absolutely unacceptable to know what I know and do nothing.