“Let’s go this way,” she said as we walked down the street lit by bar signs and flickering light posts. We were headed to the party scene of Phuket, better known as Bangla street. Bangla is a kind of hellish Disney World, where anything you want for your pleasure can be yours, for a price. Women dance on top of bars on poles, men shove pictures of naked women in your face, and ladyboys dressed in sparkling dresses stand on sidewalks posing for pictures.
We go almost every night, but the scene before us is less enticing and more like a nightmare in our eyes. While others come and see a party, I see thousands of people who are so broken, so hurt, so deep in their own sorrow, they have come to believe that they will find happiness in this place of darkness. They have come looking for light in the deepest and darkest of pits.
There is nothing glorious about a woman going home with a man to feed her children. I see no happiness in paying for something that will provide pleasure for a moment but will leave him feeling more empty and alone than he did before in the end. I also don’t enjoy the smell of vomit, but that’s just an added bonus.
It was to this place we were headed when our host stopped at a street and said, “Let’s go this way.”
“What’s that way?” I asked.
“I don’t know,” she replied with a chuckle. “I’ve never gone down here before, but I want to see what’s down here.”
It seemed a bit random but I was up for a bit of an adventure. I looked up and saw a huge, lit up sign that said Soi Paradise, or Paradise Street. I then saw a tragically misspelled sign being waved around by an enthusiastic man. It said “Shoe Times 9:30, 10:30, 11:30 and 12:30.” I was confused because the only thing I could see was a hotel at the end of a dead end street lined with what looked like normal restaurants and massage parlors.
We entered the street past the man with the sign and I began to look around curiously. At first glance, it all seemed very normal, serene even. Then I glanced inside one of the fancy looking restaurants and my heart dropped. “No,” I thought. “Not them too.” Tears began to form in my eyes and I looked at Shannon, my teammate, unable to speak.
Unfortunately, I’ve become pretty used to seeing mostly naked women dancing on poles and on stages and on bars. It breaks my heart, don’t get me wrong, but the shock factor has certainly worn off at this point. However, I have not yet become accustomed to seeing mostly naked men dancing on a pole.
This was new territory.
I stood there in disbelief for a moment as I looked around and saw that each of the once innocent-looking restaurants displayed a similar scene. I honestly can’t explain why I was so taken aback by what I was seeing. I knew places like this existed. They had to. But to see that there were men who were being exploited as people gawked at them, just like the girls and ladyboys of Bangla, suddenly hit me like a ton of bricks. I was broken by everything I was seeing. I was hurt. I have no desire to see men in a state less than the dignity he deserves.
Men catch a lot of flack in our society these days. They are painted as the treacherous villains who are responsible for every evil committed on the planet, it can seem like. They are often depicted as apathetic, callous, and heartless and it has become acceptable to dismiss their emotions as irrelevant because “look what they’ve done to women!” It has become normal to “put down the man.”
My dad is a firefighter and I have never heard him come home from a training in firefighting and say, “Guess what Chels! Today, we learned to fight fire with fire!” That just isn’t a thing. Fire cannot put out a fire. I am not denying that women have been treated prejudicially and unfairly in our world. I cannot say that I have not felt lesser simply because I was a girl. Those thoughts and feelings are valid and these things do happen. But to say that if the same thing happened to a man, this evens out the playing field, so to speak, is to say that we want to fight fire with fire.
I have a lot of respect for men. I have spent quite a bit of time with the men on our squad these past ten months of being on the Race, and let me tell you something; they are mighty men of valor. I have spent time in their presence, hearing their prayers and seeing their heart for the poor and the broken and it inspires me. I have told portions of my story to some of these men, and where I was sure to meet judgement and criticism, I was met with compassion, grace, and love. They have held me as I’ve wept, they have celebrated victories with me, and they have never held a grudge against me (that I know of). The men on our squad have told me over and over that they long to restore our hearts and show us our value as women. Their hearts are truly lovely and I am grateful for them.
I have spent time with the men of the countries we have visited as they have hosted us in different capacities. I have had the opportunity to hear their stories and to get to know their passions and it is inspiring. I met a man from Sudan who swam across an ocean to escape war and death. I met another man who has fled his country with his wife and children in order to protect them from the dangers and destruction of war. I have sat with a man who told me about his passion for Jesus who had saved his soul and set him free and my heart burned within me as I heard his love for his Savior. I have met so many men throughout my life who are standing up to fight for others and it is a sight to behold. Men who are passionate and filled with the Holy Spirit are a force to be reckoned with.
Men are not the enemy, friends. Men are our brothers, and as I saw my brothers dancing naked for a few dollars, my heart broke with a longing to show him his value. I wanted to run into those bars and hug each of them as I spoke love and identity over these men who had been so degraded.
Gentlemen, I just want to say this: I am sorry. I am sorry that you have not felt that your emotions were valid because of a society that tells you “men don’t cry.” I am sorry that you have been taken advantage of by women who have used you to get their emotional needs met and have treated you unfairly and even left you when you couldn’t. I hate that the enemy has told you lies that have held you down and made you feel like less than a man. I’m sorry that so many people have chosen to take up those lies and speak them over you.
You are made in the likeness and image of a living God who saw you before you were born and chose you then. Because you are made in His image, you are valiant, you are strong, you are brave and courageous. Your tears have not made you weak, but have shown the strength within you to be broken and yet not crushed. You have been pushed down but not destroyed. Men, you are inherently valuable because the God who created you said so. You are amazing. You are worthy of love and respect. You are no more an object to be gawked at lustfully than I am.
My heart for you, men, is that you would see you worth in Christ. When you know who you are in Him, it becomes easier for you to bring identity to those around you. When you are free to be you, you give permission to those around you to be themselves as well. So men and women, let’s work together to restore one another to the dignity we were created to have. Let’s fight for one another rather than against, and let’s see freedom come.