The typical “human trafficking” tale is simple: a villain lures a girl with promises of a good job, but she ends up trapped and sold. We’ve all heard some version of that story – but we’ve never heard it from a woman at The Well.
The real-life stories are never simple. Instead of being tricked by a trafficker, girls meet tricksters like peer pressure, teenage romance, or illicit drugs. They’re often trapped by abuse, economic hardship, or a mental illness.
Most women at The Well are young single moms who ended up working “at night” to support their kids. These women are a key reason we focus on holistic family recovery, from keeping nursing babies next to mom to offering parenting classes and support.
We want you to understand what we do and why, but we also want to keep women’s’ stories private. This essay is a fictionalized day in the life of a young mother who is new to The Well.
A few months ago, a pickup truck turned in front of a motor scooter just 50 feet ahead of me on my own bike. The rider braked but slammed into the truck at maybe 5 to 10 miles an hour. He appeared a bit dazed but stayed on his feet, bystanders quickly coming to help.
Afterwards I noted that while it was only a minor accident, a picture was now indelibly painted into my memory: the rider, wearing a lime-green shirt, arms flying up to catch the impact, slamming into the white truck. Twenty years from now I will most likely not remember typing this article, but I will retain that image.
Recently I asked “Nan”, 25 and with a left forearm completely scarred from years of self-cutting, what some of her worst memories were. Nan had started out very guarded and to some, threatening: her income sources had been drug dealing and pimping other girls. But having spent a few years working to slowly earn Nan’s trust, I knew I could ask. “So many!” she exclaimed.
I walked into the jewelry room the other day to find only a few working–others were away at classes. Right away “Nan*”, a gregarious 18 year-old, with beautiful skin tone and features from her African-American father, said she wanted to be baptized. She pronounced the unfamiliar Thai word slowly, “baptisma”. I looked at her quizzically. Nan has a lovely personality to complement her gorgeous smile, but has never shown more than a casual interest in matters of faith.
We are very clear with everyone that our love for them and the benefits of The Well are in no way dependent on their changing to Christianity. The Thai desire to serve and please is such that many will gladly change to for our sakes-obviously not what we want.
I sat down with “Jang” today to let her know that she was out of work.
Jang, 43, is a yaba addict. Yaba, literally “crazy drug”, is a mix of mostly meth and caffeine that is pandemic in Southeast Asia, especially in the lower class. It is highly connected to risky behavior, including prostitution. It is relatively cheap, not as intense and harmful as homemade meth, but is still highly addictive, debilitating and potentially devastating. Jang has been incarcerated twice, for a total of 9 years.
Everyone likes Jang. She loves Jesus, is bright, gentle, good at making jewelry, and gets along with everyone. Sadly, it also means she hits it off with newcomers with a weakness for yaba. For the good of both Jang and others, we had to regrettably decide to ask her to step away and find a program for recovery.
Visitors to The Well often give compliments, such as “This is a tremendous ministry!” or “You’ve really accomplished a lot.” We’re indeed grateful for “success stories” and a growing base of change-agent leaders, but we are also quick to point out that we take no credit. We’re just muddling along, really, and have only done one thing well: we haven’t quit.
Anyone in ministry among broken people (and since we’re all broken, that’s really all of us) knows how messy it is. We also know how completely incapable we can be. I asked God many times over the last nine years why He couldn’t have picked someone better to lead this thing. Packing up and leaving has indeed come to mind a few times.
We can only imagine the plethora of obstacles and discouragements over some years that prompted Paul to write to his Galatian friends, “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.”
If we don’t give up. That’s the only ‘if’. For Paul the worst had to be not the beatings and jail (as if those weren’t so bad), but the unrelenting opposition from his own people. Imagine Paul’s chagrin each time he found a new synagogue, hoping, “Maybe this time,” only to be rebuffed once more. Then even when confident in his call to all nations, Paul found his own brothers wanting to squash that as well, prompting the Galatian letter. How many times do you think he asked, “Lord, what now?” And we all know that sometimes those “What now?” times can last a while.
The good news is that when we push through those times, however long we have to wait, we do find encouragement. In our case, runaway women came back, ready to change and grow. Some stuck in old habits finally began to break free. We saw children starting to grow up healthy. People unable to grasp the sin-grace dichotomy of salvation finally got it.
But more importantly, we have changed. Yes, we’ve made mistakes enough times to finally learn from them. We’ve also read books and received training on needed topics, from organizational management to brain science. But mostly we’ve learned to slow down, major on basics like praying and loving each other, and wait for God to do His work.
Many of you have stood by us since the beginning, giving faithfully to this work, trusting God along with us for an eventual great harvest. We are humbly grateful for your entrusting us with this ministry, and always do our best to spend wisely and carefully. We especially pray that our work can be an encouragement to you, that you will remain faithful and confident in His perfect plan for you and the work He has entrusted to you, in spite of obstacles and discouragements you face. Don’t quit. You will reap.
When we first began reaching out in red light areas, with our limited Thai, naturally we would ask basic questions such as, “How long have you worked here?” and “Why?” The length of time varied from days to years, but the reason was nearly always the same: “I want a Western husband.” Why a Western husband?
“Because Thai man no good.”
At first it seemed like a lame excuse. They must really be after money.
However after hearing enough stories, spending time in Bangkok and villages, and seeing the many hundreds of men’s entertainment venues throughout the city and suburbs, it became apparent that Thai women as a whole indeed have a problem.
Not that there aren’t some really good guys–there most certainly are, but far, far too many are blatantly unfaithful. And even though the culture has a long history of polygyny, we have yet to meet one woman who was ok with the idea of a two-timing husband.
The title of this song by a Thai pop group means “It’s time to listen,” and well depicts the cries of women that go unheard. Pray for them as you watch this, and for the guys to begin a full-time men’s leadership training program.