I promised myself that before I left for Ecuador I would write about Thailand. Well here I am, leaving the country tomorrow, and I’m still don’t feel like I have the right words…
Maybe it’s the Midwesterner in me. Every winter we wait. Through long, cold, dark days. And every spring it comes. Budding trees, grass shooting through barren ground, the sun once again shows its face. A yearly resurrection.
Redemption. It never gets old. I think that’s why House of Grace holds such a special place in my heart. In the mountains of northern Thailand, you can see it playing out before your eyes; this beautiful redemption story.
My first time at House of Grace we focused on telling their story. And what a grand story it is. That trip we spent nearly all of our time in Thailand inside the secure boundaries of House of Grace.
This time was different. Our purpose in going back was to show people what the girls at House of Grace are being saved from. Less than 24 hours after landing in Thailand, I found myself walking the streets of Bangkok’s red light district. It is a sensory barrage. Noisy, humid, flashing lights, club managers approaching the guys in our group trying to sell services. If you were a casual observer strolling through, you might think that everyone there was having a good time. The girls lined up outside the clubs were friendly, smiling, flirting with the scores of men walking by. But we weren’t there to casually observe. We sat down at a table outside one of the clubs and watched carefully. I saw how the girls would engage men walking by. How they would giggle, and grab their arms. And then I saw their faces after they were done interacting. I watched the smile immediately fade. I saw hurt, despair, and rejection. I saw fourteen or fifteen year old girls sitting at tables with old men. I saw a little girl, no more than seven or eight years old begging right around the corner from the red light district. I wanted to scoop them up and run away as far and fast as possible. But I couldn’t. I could only bear witness to their stories. We spent three nights walking those streets, and what I saw was haunting. I can’t imagine living it day in and day out, with no hope of anything changing.
Our team was exhausted when we left Bangkok. Emotionally, physically, mentally spent. Someone asked me how I dealt with seeing the darkness of the red light district. To be honest, I don’t know that it’s something you “get over” seeing. I wrote a little bit about that side of things here, but truthfully, I don’t know how I would have coped with what I saw in Bangkok if we hadn’t gone to House of Grace right after. Sometimes it takes the darkness to realize just how beautiful the light is.
Grace. Redemption. Love. Beauty. Light. Laughter. Life. When I think of House of Grace, that’s what I think of. You see it on the faces of the girls as they worship. You hear it in their giggles as they play games in the courtyard. You see it in quiet moments when an older girl takes a little girl by the hand. It’s as refreshing as the clean mountain air. Ask anyone who has been there. I can guarantee you that they won’t stop using the words “love” and “joy”. It’s one of those rare places that you can walk into for the first time and immediately feel at home. These girls will take all the love that you can give them, but you don’t leave feeling drained. You leave filled, because love is brimming to the top in this place, and if you stick around for just a little while, it will spill over, and your life will be changed.
My Thailand adventure could be summed up a hundred different ways. I could talk about driving to mountain villages in the back of a pick up truck or racing (literally) through Bangkok on tuk tuks. I could talk about the amazing food we ate there – believe me, there was load of it – from mango sticky rice to Pad Thai, to milkshakes from Chus, to cheese nan, and just about everything in-between. There were rooftop pools, and $12 massages. There were team brain storm sessions, times we all wanted to pull our hair out, bubble tea breaks, and so, so much more.
But I think that for our team, Thailand will always be about the little girls. The ones that don’t have to beg on street corners, or engage men outside of nightclubs. The ones who are safe and loved. The ones who are free to be little girls. Who can throw their heads back and laugh, because they are care-free and innocent. Those little girls who are growing up with big destinies.
And finally, to the team I was lucky enough to call mine, there are no words. I can’t thank you enough for the hours of hard work you put into this project. Each of you poured your souls into your work, and it was a beautiful thing to watch. For the sweat, the tears, the laughter. The inside jokes and photoshop jobs. For the deep conversations and knowing when to keep things light – thank you guys. There’s nobody else I’d ask to go halfway around the world to tackle a project like this with. Keep being crazy enough to think you can change the world – because you can.