The Common Good

Shining a Ray of Light on Thailand's Sex Trade

Sojomail - June 21, 2006

Quote of the Week : Episcopal bishop pledges to build bridges
Batteries Not Included : David Batstone: Shining a ray of light on Thailand's sex trade
Building a Movement : Hurry - Online Registration for Pentecost 2006 Closes Today!
Culture Watch : Wrestling with faith and reason: An interview with Bill Moyers
Sojourners in the News : This week's media round-up
Boomerang : Readers write
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"Alienation is often a function of not knowing another human being. I have good relations with almost all the other bishops, those who agree and those who don't agree with me. I will bend over backwards to build good relations with those who don't agree with me."

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Source: The New York Times

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Shining a ray of light on Thailand's sex trade
by David Batstone

My ongoing investigation of the slave trade - 27 million people around the globe are trapped in forced labor at this moment - took me to Southeast Asia this past week. Prior to the trip, I had poured over a considerable amount of research about the trafficking of women and children for the sex trade in the region. Reading about the practice is disturbing enough; seeing it first hand proved to be overwhelming.

In Cambodia and Thailand I visited several projects that care for individuals lucky enough to escape - or be rescued - from the bars and brothels that exploit them. I cannot get out of my head the sight of the 50 girls between the ages of 7 and 12 who found safe haven in one rescue center in Cambodia. To think that grown men used these innocent, slight girls for their sexual pleasures numbs the mind. Thanks to the efforts of faith-based activists, these girls are now in a safe environment where they can imagine a better life.

A growing movement of abolitionists offer a glimmer of hope in the human trafficking story. In the spirit of William Wilberforce and his 19th century contemporaries who felt called by God to bring an end to the African slave trade, they act with faith and conviction to "bring release to the captives."

Annie Dieselberg, who operates a refuge in Bangkok, Thailand, views abolition as her Christian vocation. She calls her project NightLight Ministry, playing off the image of a light that leads to safety in moments of darkness. The creativity behind her project matches the compassion that brought it into existence.

When she launched NightLight in 2005, Annie aimed to offer an alternative for young girls who work in bars that operate as brothels. Annie and her husband had worked in various ministries in Thailand for more than a decade. Witnessing so many women in Bangkok forced to engage in demeaning sex work stirred her to pray for the chance to help them. In early 2005 she took a visiting U.S. church group to a brothel bar. While the men in the church group stayed outside praying, Annie led the women went inside to make a caring connection.

"One of the young prostitutes told me that she hated being at the bar," says Annie. The woman was 22 years old, with two children. "When I asked her where she would like to be in her life," Annie continued, "She told me that she would like to be home with her kids."

So Annie and her sisters in the faith paid the bar owner 600 baht (roughly $15) to take the woman out of the bar for the night -- the normal price for a customer. This night, however, the price transformed into a redemption. Annie decided to turn this one-night reprieve into a life-changing opportunity. She had spent the last year teaching herself to make jewelry, and she spontaneously offered the young women a job to work alongside her.

Programs that encourage girls to escape the sex trade but leave them poor and jobless do not lead to long-term success stories. In short, the girls remain vulnerable to being trafficked once again.

Annie designed the project to equip young women for life beyond the brothel. Like a prism, NightLight can be viewed from a number of angles. To start, it is a for-profit business that trains women how to make and sell jewelry. The products are made in NightLight's humble factory in central Bangkok, and sold through church networks in Thailand and the United States. The jewelry is high-quality and the design ranges from classic to trendy - my 15-year-old daughter was thrilled with the NightLight pearl-string necklace with a cross that I brought back for her.

NightLight pays the mostly young women a salary twice the minimum wage established by Thai law. Obviously, the workers will not become rich quick off this pay, but the compensation does offer a sustainable livelihood. To pay the women a salary rather than a piecework scheme (per produced item) also enables NightLight's underlying mission to develop healthy women. During the course of a work day, women engage in workshops on health care and HIV/AIDS prevention, managing personal finances, and take English classes. The workforce also is invited to daily worship services to kick off the work day, and a weekly spiritual formation class. Participation in religious activities is not a requirement for employment.

NightLight now employs 32 women in its jewelry business and several more women are on a list pending employment. The biggest hurdle for expansion: financial resources. Truth be known, Annie never intended to grow this fast. The project took on a life of its own as word spread through the brothel bars that escape was possible. And Annie understandably finds it hard to put on the brakes. "At one point early on I felt like we had to halt our progress," she said. "But then one young women whom I had been praying for over six years called me and asked if I would help her leave the brothel where she was working. I took it as a sign from God to move forward," she said. As she says this last statement, she raises her arms as if to add, "And who am I to stop God's work?"

The mixed demographic of the women who find their way to NightLight reflects the international scope of human trafficking. The 32 escaped prostitutes come from nine distinct countries: Burma, Cambodia, Vietnam, Bangladesh, Thailand, China, Laos, Ukraine, and India. These girls did not plan to come to Bangkok in most cases to work in a brothel. They were deceived, kidnapped, trafficked, and exploited.

Annie makes it clear that resisting the criminal networks that make money off the trade of human beings must go beyond the humble efforts of NightLight. "We badly need a movement of the Spirit in the global church," she tells me. When I ask what that will take, she remarks with a laugh that more Christians need to read Sojourners. "What I mean by that," she explains, "is that Christians need to understand that their faith has to take specific action for justice in the world."

When I press Annie whether churches can actually impact the global slave trade, she becomes resolute: "I grew up in the mission field in Zaire for most of my childhood, along with a couple years in Thailand, and I saw a great deal of injustice. But when I watch the darkness that destroys the lives of young children in the sex trade, I feel that I am confronting a profoundly evil spiritual force."

For that reason, Annie looks to churches to deploy prayer and action against human trafficking in their own local region, and link those efforts to international movements. "The world badly needs the love for family and bonds of community that the church teaches," she said. "Now we have to go out into the society and live it."

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Changing the Face of Hunger

As a member of Congress, Tony Hall was reluctant to wear his faith on his sleeve. But if he was to be true to his faith, he had to find a way to bring God into his political world.

He found his answer in Ethiopia. After visiting, he realized he would travel among the hungry and bring their needs to the attention of Washington.

In Changing the Face of Hunger Tony shares his travels and the issue of hunger worldwide. From the dark corners of a political prison in Romania to barren, famine-stricken Africa, people are suffering and we can help.


Hurry - Online Registration for Pentecost 2006 Closes Today!

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Wrestling with faith and reason: An interview with Bill Moyers
by Molly Marsh

What is prayer? Why do some kill in the name of religion? How should we talk about religion in public life? Journalist Bill Moyers put these and other questions to writers Salman Rushdie, Martin Amis, Margaret Atwood, Mary Gordon, Jeanette Winterson, Richard Rodriguez, and others for his latest PBS series, Faith & Reason. The topics are diverse, the writers even more so. He spoke with Sojourners associate editor Molly Marsh about the seven-part series, which begins Friday, June 23.

Sojourners: How did you choose this particular set of writers to interview for the series?

Bill Moyers: These were people invited to the recent PEN World Voices festival of writers. PEN is the international literary and human rights organization of poets, essayists, and novelists, an international consortium of independent writers who come together every year to talk about hot-button issues. Salman Rushdie, the former president of the PEN American Center, gathered these writers to see if they could imagine a different conversation about faith and reason than the one going on right now, which is driven by passionate fervor, fundamentalism - what he calls a "political religion." All over the world, the consequence of that collision between faith and reason is tragic.

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This week's media round-up

Top story:

God's Army The American Prospect
Jim Wallis, who is the founder and editor of Sojourners, a progressive Christian magazine, spends much of his time traveling the country talking to students and meeting with evangelical leaders. Wallis believes the future of the country is in the hands of moderate evangelical voters. He estimates, based on polls and personal experience, that about half of evangelicals are the immovable Religious Right but the other half are open to, if not hungry for, progressive leadership.

More Sojourners in the news:

Some Democrats looking to build faith-based message The Dallas Morning News

DIVIDED: Leading evangelicals differ on AIDS policy Winston-Salem Journal

New Movement in US: The Religious Left Zaman Daily News

"Sojourners in the news" articles are from our archive of news clippings that mention Sojourners in any way - whether favorably or unfavorably. Though we provide the text on our site for your convenience, we do not necessarily endorse the views of these articles or their source publications.

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Engage your congregation in the pursuit of social, political, and economic justice, along with community faith-building, through congregation-based organizing. Christians Supporting Community Organizing.

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Readers write

Rev. Carla Golden writes from Hollywood, Florida:

I read the message from the attorney who did all that he could to keep his family from having to pay the estate tax [Boomerang, SojoMail 6/14/2006]. I remember my father telling me that he was happy and proud to pay his taxes. It meant that he was making money and had assets. He wrote checks out with gratitude for all that he had. Today, the richest of the rich complain about taxes and try to avoid them. What is wrong with paying taxes? Are we getting so greedy that we want to keep all of our money and do away with the services that this country provides through its taxes? We pay less in taxes than many other countries. If that attorney has enough money that he is worried about estate taxes, then he is a rich man. Even Jesus paid taxes and said, "Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar's." He didn't say hide your assets and consult an attorney to keep from paying your fair share.


Rev. Bob Lemoine writes from Rochester, New Hampshire:

Bill Yaccino's article cut me to the heart ["Pastor, will you help us?" SojoMail 6/7/2006]. After being a pastor in a right-wing traditional denomination, I have been a pastor of "wrong answers." Couples who would seek me out to marry them would give me the "wrong answers" to questions like, "Do you go to church?" "Do you live together?" etc. So, I have done so few weddings. I have been ingrained with the ideas that fewer weddings are better because we are accountable to God for them. That is certainly true, but now I shudder when I think about the opportunites I have missed because I was more caught up with those self-righteous "wrong answers." I now realize to minister in a post-modern world, I have to look outside the small box I've been living in and engage this culture with hope ... for marriages.


Lisa Milam-Perez writes from Chicago, Illinois:

I enjoyed reading the piece on the high school's cancellation of prom due to excessive wealth-flaunting - as well as Stephen Colbert's response ["The prom, camels, and Stephen Colbert,"SojoMail 5/19/2006]. Sojourners readers may be interested in knowing that Colbert himself is a very devout Catholic. Those ashes on his forehead on Ash Wednesday were not for comedic effect. Though it's clear he has a healthy skepticism for the way the expression of faith is used and misused in our contemporary political climate.


Want to make your voice heard? Click here to respond to SojoMail articles Boomerang is an open forum for all kinds of views, though we reserve the right to edit published responses for length and clarity.

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Following Aslan - A Book of Devotions for Children

Following Aslan - A Book of Devotions for Children guides young readers through the fantastic world of Narnia, clearly illustrating the many ways lessons from Narnia can be applied to everyday life. Thoughtfully written, yet simple and easy to understand, the book is a wonderful way to initiate discussions with children about their own spiritual beliefs and values. We wholeheartedly recommend Following Aslan for use in Sunday School classes, Vacation Bible Schools, book discussion groups, young-teen groups, and of course, for the reading pleasure of Christian families in their homes.

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