it has to end.

It was the tail end of a month long adventure and I had just finished exploring Bangkok with my friend Beth. Since she has lived in the city for nearly a year while working for an international high school, Beth’s logistical knowledge and broken Thai helped me flag down a taxi driver who knew enough English to take me to the Millennium Hilton.

Armed with turn-by-turn directions written in English and the roadways written in Thai, I parted from Beth and was left at the mercy of a cab driver I was barely capable of being conversational with.

After roughly thirty minutes, I found myself in front of the wrong hotel. Fortunately, I have always been good at charades. And after fifteen minutes of gesturing, he finally understood where I needed to be. He confirmed his understanding with his broken English, “Ah, five star hotel. On riverfront. Very tall!”

As he turned the car around, I prayed a prayer of thankfulness that I had not been dropped off on the roadside in Bangkok. However, my prayer was interrupted as the taxi driver asked me a question. At first I didn’t understand. I thought he was muttering something in Thai. So I pretended to laugh and nod my head. Then he repeated himself a second time. This time I heard him: “You want boom boom?”

Immediately, my eyes turned from my iPhone to the sidewalk. We were apparently driving through one of Bangkok’s red light districts. The street was lined with women willing to satisfy any man’s desires if he is willing to pay a few baht.

After a moment of shock and understanding, a string of “no’s” sprang from my mouth.

Apparently my assertion was comprehended by the taxi driver as if I did not believe the women to be pretty enough for my taste. So he proceeded to bring me to girl after girl until finally my “no” resounded powerfully and aggressively enough. So he gave up and brought me directly to the Hilton.

Once to my room, I was able to reflect and process more appropriately on my brief experience in the red light district. It is no secret that South East Asia is plagued with brothels, prostitutes and sex trafficking. I just never had personal exposure to the oppressive, degrading, and heartless industry. And it was this occurrence that has challenged me to become better educated on the issue of worldwide tyrannical reign as it relates to the horrendous treatment of women.

So I have partnered with two friends who are as enraged about the cause as I have become. We have decided to begin the educational process by reading, “Half the Sky,” by Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn. It has proved thus far to be a heavy and sobering read based on the personal stories of women who have been involved in the sex trade industry.

To get an idea, just a vague picture of this hell, I give to you an excerpt as to how millions of young girls are treated after they have been kidnapped with the intention of selling them as sex toys:

“An essential part of the brothel business model is to break the spirit of girls, through humiliation, rape, threats, and violence. We met a fifteen-year-old Thai girl whose initiation consisted of being forced to eat dog droppings so as to shatter her self-esteem. Once a girl is broken and terrified, all hope of escape squeezed out of her, force may no longer be necessary to control her. She may smile and laugh at passerby, and try to grab them and tug them into the brothel. Many a foreigner would assume that she is there voluntarily. But in that situation, complying with the will of the brothel owner does not signify consent.”

This is an exact picture of the horror I was introduced to in Bangkok. The harsh and unfair realities have broken my heart. Certainly this is not the world that God created.

So it is my hope, with this brief introduction, to become conscious of the oppression facing women worldwide and determine what kind of impact a layperson such as myself can have to end this hellish slavery. I plan to share what I learn and I hope a dialog can be started with those of you who are just as infuriated about how women, such as the aforementioned fifteen-year-old, are treated.

It has to end.

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let that be enough.

My excuse for ignoring this blog is that my life has been consumed with grad school. Now all that remains before graduation is one measly paper. But in an effort to ignore my remaining responsibilities, I return to this blog.  

To be honest, I should have continued blogging regularly, especially during this last month. It was not but a few days ago that I returned from another trip abroad. In summary, I traveled to 5 countries (bringing my official international tally to 31 countries visited), I was on 14 flights (for a total of 75 hours in the air), and I changed time zones 10 times (my body still hates me). Though I rarely slept, the journey was incredible. Between the people, the culture, and the challenges it was an adventure for the senses, and also for the soul. 

But tonight I have no desire to detail my experiences abroad. Instead I want to express a heart of discouragement, a heart asking the question of Psalm 42:11,  “Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me?”

There are many apparent responses I could give as to why it has been a discouraging period in life. For example, there has been a friend in my life who has been making poor decisions that are having hurtful and negative affects. Despite any advice or love I offer, or any consequences they face, I continue to witness a hardening heart.

Another example would be watching a friend struggle through major medical issues, which are a direct consequence of a former eating disorder. Months of my life were once dominated with hospital visits in support of this person I loved. Now life is hanging on a string.

Beyond these challenges, work has been a bit overwhelming. I have long consumed my life with what I do. Maybe partly to ignore shadows in my past, but mostly because I give everything within me to the commitments I make. I have certainly been increasingly successful, and my superiors would echo that sentiment with enthusiasm, but I am yet disheartened because the fruits of my labor have not been as ripe as I anticipated.

Though I could continue to bullet point item after item that is weighing on my soul, I feel that I am most disheartened by the lack of people around me continuing to follow Jesus and seeking righteousness. Don’t misunderstand me. I know that none of us is perfect. I know that I am far from perfection. And I think there is something beautiful about Jesus taking our imperfections and loving us still, loving me despite all of my inadequacies. But today the emotion overwhelmed me. I feel utterly saddened by a world so lost, by a world filling their empty void with girl after boy, a world that spits in the face of anything good. 

Though I do not have answers yet to the emotion welling inside me, I am thankful that Psalm 42:11 does not end with a question. Instead it concludes with a certainty: “Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God.” Let that be enough.

“He awoke each morning with the desire to do right, to be a good and meaningful person, to be, as simple as it sounded and as impossible as it actually was, happy. And during the course of each day his heart would descend from his chest into his stomach. By early afternoon he was overcome by the feeling that nothing was right, or nothing was right for him, and by the desire to be alone. By evening he was fulfilled: alone in the magnitude of his grief, alone in his aimless guilt, alone even in his loneliness. I am not sad, he would repeat to himself over and over, I am not sad. As if he might one day convince himself. Or fool himself. Or convince others–the only thing worse than being sad is for others to know that you are sad. I am not sad. I am not sad. Because his life had unlimited potential for happiness, insofar as it was an empty white room. He would fall asleep with his heart at the foot of his bed, like some domesticated animal that was no part of him at all. And each morning he would wake with it again in the cupboard of his rib cage, having become a little heavier, a little weaker, but still pumping. And by the midafternoon he was again overcome with the desire to be somewhere else, someone else, someone else somewhere else. I am not sad.
― Jonathan Safran Foer, Everything is Illuminated