By Kaleigh Ward
I thought “saving a prostitute” would be easy. I did. When we showed up to our ministry here in Thailand and spent a few days being educated on sex trafficking, I couldn’t wait to get out in the bars and start offering these girls hope, love, and a way out of the hell they were living.
As a Sociology/Women and Gender Studies student, I was very aware of the social conditions that lead many women into prostitution. I knew that many of them didn’t actually have a true choice in the matter.
Therefore, I believed that as soon as one of these women was given a real choice, an opportunity to leave the bars for a better life, they would jump at the chance! All I had to do was get out there and let them know that they did, indeed, have a choice, that there was a better life waiting for them and then... Presto!… they would start leaving the bars in droves.
My first night in bar ministry was quite a wake-up call.
It’s true that social conditions lead many women to prostitution, but these girls are bound by so much more than limited options.
The chains that bind these women are not just social; they are physical, mental, emotional, relational, and spiritual. This captivity reaches every aspect of who they are.
I met one young girl who, as she played pool with me, constantly looked over her shoulder at the bar mom to see if she was allowed to continue talking to me. She is physically bound. She lives above the bar and isn’t allowed to leave, even for a lunch date with me.
I met another woman who has the physical freedom to come and go as she pleases but, after years in the industry, is so mentally bound that the only “dream job” she can fathom is owning a bar of her own.
Some girls are emotionally bound, caught up in dreams of falling in love and being whisked away by a foreigner who will buy them everything their heart desires.
Others are in relationships with bar owners or clients and those ties are invisible chains that keep them in the bar night after night.
The oppression is spiritual as well. Satan has blinded the men and women in the red light district to the Truth. He has lured them into darkness with heady promises that are flashy but empty.
The problem is huge. The captivity is all-encompassing. The deception runs deep.
Even if I spent my entire life here in Chiang Mai, I wouldn’t have the power to free even one girl from her captivity. To free a woman on every single level (physical, mental, emotional, relational, and spiritual) would be impossible for me.
It was a humbling realization that slapped me in the face pretty hard after my first night in the bars, but it was followed by a beautiful revelation.
I can’t save these girls… but God can.
He knit them together in their mother’s womb. He has counted the hairs upon their head. He knows their strengths, weaknesses, fears and dreams. He offers unlimited power, grace, patience, mercy, and love. He can reach into their deepest places and break every chain, one by one. He can open their eyes and soften their hearts and infuse them with the strength to shake off the chains and walk into new life with Him.
As I realized that I can’t save these girls, but God can, I discovered where my true power lies, and it’s not in what I can buy for them or say to them. No, my true power lies in worshipping and praying to the only One who can set them free.
For a moment, it was discouraging to realize that I couldn’t set these girls free, but now I’m seeing the beauty and freedom in inviting God to do what only He can do.
As we go on our daily prayer walks, I listen to worship music and declare the Lord’s goodness, joy, mercy, grace, hope, and love again and again throughout the red light district. When I intercede as my team goes out, I worship God for His power and love and invite Him to do His work in this city, in the hearts of the girls we meet.
I am beginning to see just how powerful prayer and worship truly are, for they are our means of connecting with the only Solution to the problem, the only Light that can shine in this darkness, the only Freedom that can break every last chain.
I am letting go of what I thought I could do or say to change the world and instead spending hours sitting in the presence of the One who already has. As I worship and pray, I have faith that He is going to respond.
He is going to pursue these girls’ hearts long after I’m gone. He is going to bring light and life to the dark and dying. And when the chains fall off and lives are changed and Hell is shaken, God will get every bit of the glory, for it will be so clear that He is the Power at work.
God is writing a beautiful story here in Chiang Mai, a story of victory and redemption. He is the Author and the Hero, and I– like the many girls He is going to save in this city– am simply a recipient of His love and grace.
He has called me to love Him and obey Him. I’m going to focus on that and leave the rest to Him.
He is God. He is Good. And I am just honored to be invited to love Him.
Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” Matthew 19:26
“The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” Luke 4:18-19