Emily Chalke spent over five years living in the heart of Bangkok on the edge of one of its notorious red-light districts. She worked for NightLight, an organisation committed to seeing transformation in the lives of women who have been exploited by the sex industry. The majority of the women working in the sex industry in Bangkok have come from the rural rice farming communities in the Northeast of Thailand. Women from poor, rural backgrounds are drawn to the city by the prospect of making money to send home to their families.
Aye* contracted HIV through her work as a prostitute. Shortly after arriving at NightLight she became very ill and was close to death. Friends from NightLight went to visit her in the hospital and to pray for her. She began to show signs of recovery and it was at this time that she moved in with me for a short time, to be closer to NightLight.
A few years on, you wouldn't know to look at her that she had ever been so close to death, she looks so healthy. She is full of life and loves being at NightLight and contributing to the community there. She is also a leader at the church begun by NightLight. Seeing how Aye's life has changed has, in part, led to both her younger brother and sister discovering the way of Jesus, and that he still changes lives.
Lives from all around the world collide
You just never know who you might meet. On any number of visits to the red-light district, we’d often find ourselves having conversations with people from different backgrounds and countries. This was one reason that I so loved living in Bangkok. There were so many people to meet from all over the world. I’d even sometimes end up having conversations with other people from the UK. On one occasion I met four British men. Each one of these men, for varying reasons, had found themselves homeless on the streets of Bangkok.
The first time I met Phil,* he described how all he wanted was a good cup of tea. The love of a good cuppa is something most of us Brits can identify with, and being an avid tea drinker myself, I definitely could. So, I let Phil know that I would return later with some tea. When my friend and I came back with flasks of tea, milk, sugar, mugs and cake he was overcome with gratitude and described it as tea from heaven which had helped him feel human once again.
One Friday during lunchtime, I noticed a woman sitting on her own near a place where Central Asian and Russian women often work in the sex industry. I went over to speak to the woman, assuming that she too was prostituting.
However, different from many situations we’ve faced in the past, she was neither trafficked, nor working as a sex worker. Rather, due to a series of events she had found herself stuck in Thailand for two months. When I met her she had no money left and had nowhere to stay. She had also incurred the maximum fee, 20,000 Baht (£400) for overstaying her visa.
We called her embassy and they said they were pleased to know she was alive and asked for her to visit. At the Russian embassy, she called her mother who had been worried by not having heard from her. My housemate and I hosted her and found her accommodation in a lovely Lutheran shelter. In one week her mother had sent her the money needed to get home and it was great to be able to accompany her to the airport at the start of her return journey.
These are just a few examples of life in the great city of Bangkok. The journey that takes people to the city is often a search for something, whether it’s money, love, or community. Unfortunately, too often people make wrong choices on that journey and it leads them into difficult and damaging situations. Being part of life in the city continuously gives opportunities to help and guide people on their way, sometimes journeying with them at length in friendship and community or sometimes just to help out a little on the way. It was a great privilege to be a part of the community of NightLight and see women come to freedom. If you’d like to know more and to support the work by purchasing jewellery made by the women, please visit www.nightlightinternational.com