A few weeks back, we stopped in to say happy birthday to our friend that sings at a bar and bring her a cake. There are customers and bargirls like any other spot, so the lightness our friend’s cover band brings to this place is welcomed. We were sitting up front, singing along to the usual set when a girl sitting a few stools down with an older man looked over and smiled – leaning over to engage my coworker/roommate Meagan and I in conversation and ask us our names. We exchanged the usual small talk and I spent all my Thai as she offered broken English. We told her we were there to celebrate our friend’s birthday and showed her the tiny cake we had hidden away under the counter. She lit up and started sharing about a friend that had recently given her a birthday card and gift – and how it was the first birthday party anyone had thrown her. I’m not exaggerating when I say she got giddy telling us about this precious moment. I shared with her our jobs as teachers from America and she exclaimed, “I have a friend who is a teacher in America! Same as you! Except she teaches little kids.” My brain instantly connected dots… “Wait, Valerie??” I asked. “YES! And Angela!!” We pulled out Facebook and confirmed our mutual friends… amazing women who had just recently come to build relationships with women in Pattaya on the Not Abandoned Red Light outreach trip.
She continued to share about the time “Angela and Valerie” brought her a gift and made her feel so valued and loved, her eyes got teary and in that moment I saw a woman who truly cherished what it felt like to be loved with no strings attached. She then looked at me, and to Meagan, and points to Meagan’s face and says, “As soon as I saw you I knew you were same same as Angela, because you have the same smile! I can just tell you are same same as Angela!” Meagan and I exchanged looks and tried to hold it together. “There is something about you, I can just tell, as soon as I saw you…” she went, on and on.
Zoom out for a second – we later learned our beautiful new friend was here with this older man ‘just to party.’ She was going back home to her family in a day or so, but had been in Pattaya on holiday and ended up at this bar with this man. Apparently he frequents this bar to buy out a handful of girls to go to his hotel/condo for pool parties and drinking. He had been buying her drinks and she was feeling the affects as she talked to us – repeating herself constantly.
In a moment where annoyance would have normally settled in for the way the night would end for this woman, and the 30 times we heard the same thing repeated, and the man who kept trying to interrupt our conversation, and the fact that she was supposedly on holiday but spending time with an individual she clearly had no interest in … In that moment everything evaporated. She was a woman who had experienced the light and love of Jesus through two of my friends from America so tangibly, she RECOGNIZED it in a smile at the bar that night. In talking with us for only a few minutes, she saw something that connected dots back to a maker she may or may not know exists who loves her INFINITELY and PERFECTLY and BEYOND anything she could find through human interaction on this earth.
We took selfies to send to Angela and Valerie. We exchanged information and I invited her to our classes at Not Abandoned – and I haven’t seen her since. That part always stings. Probably always will. But that night – I was reminded of the power we carry INSIDE of us. The power to literally shine a light through our words, actions, and smiles. By showing up. By bringing a card and a cake. By celebrating. By starting a conversation. By listening. By loving.
I recently read a devotional that struck me as we so regularly fight for energy and joy to serve in this city:
“When all of cultures says, ‘Fill yourself,’ God tells us to fill others… Serving isn’t something we DO. A servant is who we’re called to BE. Because when we serve, we become like Christ.” (Craig Groeschel)
I do this FAR from perfectly. As I said – it can be a fight. The enemy has a hold on this city, but. But. BUT. We serve anyways. Because we are called to. Because our God’s hold is stronger. His love is brighter than the darkness that envelops these streets. His truth brings hope and healing. And He can shine into a life even through a smile across the bar.