Feb 28, 2021
Updated: Mar 14
I sometimes (as in a lot of times) am judgmental. You want to cut in front of me in line or in traffic. You win the selfish designation. Cuss a lot? You win the ignorant designation. Are you rude to your waitress/waiter? You win the rude/no empathy designation. Have a big luxury car you like to showcase? You win the prideful designation. I could go on and on but I have a lot of designations I give to people between traffic, lines and interactions.
Ashley and I were planning on going down to the bars on Thursday night to hand out 60 bags of food in partnership with Bread for Life. 2 days before, I was walking through the area looking for bars needing food. As you walk, you get used to the "want massage?" question so you generally have a polite response essentially in que saying "no thank you" in Thai. It is not common that women are forward on the street as many massage places only do legitimate massage. One women, however, was different.
As I walked by she asked, "You want massage?" I responded in English, "no". She replied,"You want boom-boom?" I was shocked as this was not normal. Maybe in Bangkok, but in Chiang Mai, people just are not this blatant? My judgement immediately started to rear its head. I had seen her many times but without knowing her I immediately made assumptions. She preys on young women to work at her bar. She's dirty. She's definitely not someone who we can disciple to. I'll call her "Jane".
I did go ahead and talk to "Jane" letting her know I was not interested. You usually get something along the lines of "girlfriend won't know" but I just repeated no. I was actually intending to sign up the bars who had not received food from other participants in our bar ministry collective. Many of the main collection of bars already had been given food however many of the bars 1km down the street had not received anything. "Jane's" bar actually has a new employee we know well from another bar that recently had to close so we did talk and I told her we would bring food on Thursday. "Jane" was excited but maybe a little skeptical we would show.
Fast forward 2 days, and Ashley has spent the morning shopping for 60 bags of food and 3 hours in the the afternoon putting the bags together. Each bag contained canned fish, mama noodles, snacks, cooking oil, soap, plus 12 eggs and 5 kilograms of rice. It was a pretty simple bag of food intended to supplement their diet along with the fruit and meat they bought fresh.
We started at the top of the street and immediately it becomes clear this is going to be viral within minutes. One bar sees another getting food and asks, "What about us?" Across the street, the Akka migrant workers who sell flowers are very interested as are the massage workers who sit outside calling for patrons. The first 30 bags go quickly and we have to move down the street before everyone starts calling their friends because we have reserved some for bars we promised to bring food.
We move the car down the street to prevent being overrun at the top of the street, and start unpacking in front of "Jane's" bar. She is the only one of the 5 employees we see present. She is overjoyed and I am starting to regret my judgement already. As Ashley goes back to the car, she speaks English well enough to ask me "why", "why do you give food to my bar?" I took this to mean not just her bar, but why me, what have we done that you would take the time to package this up and reserve food specifically for us? This is where Thai language and having some basic responses help. In Thai I said, "Prajow rak pom leowgo pom rak khun" ("God loves me, therefore, I love you"). There is no mention of worth, sin or expectations of a response, just love. As Ashley walks back from the car with 3 bags of food, she added in Thai "God loves you and that is why we are here". At this, the woman broke down and sobbed on Ashley's shoulder. She kept saying thank you, thank you.
As we continued to bring food, only 5 bags really, she stopped me and said I didn't realize you were "Jai Dee" which translates into kind heart or compassionate. This would have been a good place to talk about all the mistakes I have made and how I am unworthy, but it seemed a little to early for that depth of conversation. I didn't ask, but I assumed she'd seen her fair share of disdain for what she does to make money. "We have had no customers today and this is so good," she continued in English.
I learned a simple lesson. You don't know the hardships people face and their past. Judgement is easy, whereas sometimes fighting judgmentalism using compassion is hard. Thoughts like "undeserving, and ill fitted" come to mind. I had written off this women before getting to know her as someone unworthy of much efforts. She was OF COURSE important to God, but I probably wanted to spend my time more efficiently which meant elsewhere. My eyes were opened to see this women - who employs 3-4 others in the sex trade and likely has spent the last 30 years doing the same - as a recipient of a lot of judgement and little love, a lot of money changing hands for quick satisfaction but little empathy.
I am reminded that Jesus, in his ministry did not come and start his ministry with those who already looked the best from the outside. He loved them where ever they were, without judgement, turning the hearts of some of the men who society would have called outcasts. Going forward, I'll let God decide who is and is not a person of peace. It's not easily seen until the shroud of judgement and years of behavior are stripped away. God please give us your eyes and ears without our own pre-conceived notions of who we should disciple to. I'm not a gambling man but if I was, I'm putting my money on the 30 year bar owner as our next person of peace.