Linnea Venhousen cuddles with a tiger at Tiger Kingdom in Thailand
Where are you?
Chiang Mai, Thailand.
Why are you there?
I came here with a nondenominational missions organization called Adventures in Missions (AIM) along with 20 other college-aged girls. Our primary mission is to build relationships with women being sold in the red light district. We are connected with an organization localized in Chiang Mai called Lighthouse in Action. The founder and our host, Emmi, has a passion for the men and women rejected by society. Her hope is that the missions teams who volunteer here are discipled in their personal walk with Christ first and foremost, and that the men and women in the bars may experience Jesus' love. We carry out that vision by going to bars in the afternoon and at night to play games with and talk to the prostitutes there. After building relationships with the girls, we will invite them to come to Emmi's cafe to have coffee or lunch and share the gospel with them. Eventually, our hope is to present the girls with the opportunity to leave the bars and work with Emmi at the cafe until they are able to find and sustain another job.
What's your typical day look like?
The hostel we are staying in is directly above Zion cafe so every morning we walk down the stairs for breakfast at 9:00. Following that we meet for team time where we talk as a group, pray and worship together. Until lunch we are encouraged to spend the remainder of the morning in personal quiet time with the Lord or going on prayer walks through the red light district. For lunch, we are provided with another delicious meal in the cafe at 1:00. The majority of my afternoons are spent doing one or two of the many ministries available. We are free to eat wherever we would like for dinner and then we meet together again as a team at 7:30. Our nights are spent worshipping or doing bar ministry.
What are you doing?
Our first weeks here were spent in a variety of ministries including conversations with Buddhist monks, playing with children in the slums, working in Zion cafe, and going on prayer walks through the red light district. We were asked to prepare spiritually and emotionally before entering the bars so up until last week we have not engaged in bar ministry. However, this past week we added night bar ministry to our schedule. It consists of half of our team staying at the hostel and interceding while the other half goes into the bars. Intercession is a time of worshipping and praying for the girls out doing ministry. When we go into the red light district, we enter bars and ask to play games such as pool, connect four, or jenga with the prostitutes, giving us a way to start conversations and develop relationships.
How has Calvin prepared you for this?
My education at Calvin has enhanced this trip for me in a lot of ways. My psychology classes gave me an understanding of the depth and severity of the emotional damage that the girls we are working with have undergone. This increased knowledge about psychological development strengthened my passion for healing in the lives of these girls. My international social work class was also tremendously helpful on this trip because it taught me the importance of cultural competency, opened my eyes to the root causes of prostitution and challenged me to question and reform my motives for coming here. We even read a book about a hill tribe from Thailand and heard missionaries speak, both of which prepared me for some of the things I have experienced here. My God fearing community at Calvin also shaped my spirituality prior to coming and allowed me to be ready for and expectant of the dedication here to prayer, worship and listening to the Holy Spirit.
What has surprised you so far?
I have been surprised and saddened by the amount of western men who frequent the bars. Every prostitute I have spoken to so far has been able to communicate well in English and the primary reason for that is because their customers tend to be American and European men. Not only that, but the age range of the men is anywhere from 18 to 70 years old.
How do you see this experience shaping your future?
This experience has increased my desire to help battered women find healing and I may try to continue in seeking that out in my future career. However, my intimacy with and dependence on God since being here will shape my future far more than anything else. Being out of my comfort zone and in a community of women passionate about God and loving his people has challenged me to reevaluate where I find my worth. It is not from the work I do, the relationships I have, or the progress I make, my identity is in Christ alone. That realization and being able to live it out has freed me from so many insecurities and I pray that when I return home I can continue to have genuine faith in the freedom Christ offers for all people, including myself.
Best food you've eaten?
All of the food here is incredible. My favorite so far is a dessert called rotee. It is basically a fried pancake with bananas inside, topped with honey and sweetened condensed milk.
Best picture you've taken?
The best picture I have taken was at a place called tiger kingdom where I was able to lay down next to a tiger and cuddle with it. It was pretty terrifying but worth the picture.
Met anybody memorable?
I have met many memorable people while being here but the first person to come to mind is a girl who works in the cafe. When we arrived in Thailand, she had been out of the bars for only eight days. A team similar to ours reached out to her several months ago while doing bar ministry and she finally decided right before we came that she no longer wanted to be working as a prostitute. It has been a joy getting to know her and watching her curiosity about Christianity grow. She is such a loving, joyful girl and knowing her story gives me hope for what God can do in our remaining time here.
What's gone wrong?
While we were being trained, Emmi informed us that only the girls 21 and older would be able to participate in bar ministry for our first month in Thailand. This was hard for a lot of girls to hear because we all came with the expectation of jumping right into the ministry we came here to do. It was a valuable lesson learned in surrendering our expectations and personal desires. But thankfully after a week or so, Emmi saw a lot of maturity in our team and gave permission for everyone to take part in bar ministry.