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WHO IS MY NEIGHBOR?




This article was written by a NightLight Board Member.


As I step out of our hotel on the edge of the Nana red light district in the heart of Bangkok, the maintenance man and tuk-tuk driver motions to ask if we need a ride. “No ride today, thanks!” He waves again, and our group begins the walk down “8th Street” on our way to the main NightLight Foundation building for morning chapel service. We pass faces that are now becoming familiar to me after just a few days: the street vendors setting up for the day, a local NightLight volunteer who joins us for the walk in, the wait staff at Monsoon restaurant washing the patio, and the ladies who work at Lolita’s bar, who greet Annie with smiles as they have breakfast together in their pink and white plaid uniforms.


Like many of us, I live in the suburbs in the United States. I know several neighbors after seven years in the same neighborhood, and I recognize familiar faces at the local businesses I frequent most. The interactions I have with neighbors are mostly in passing, and not at all frequent or regular – a quick greeting on the walking trail, a shallow conversation about the new grocery store, or a few-times-a-year backyard get-together where we catch up more deeply on each others’ lives. In some ways, the relationships reflect the layout of the neighborhood itself with yards and fences that create barriers and individual spaces.


A few months ago, I had the awesome privilege to visit NightLight Bangkok and be immersed in a vastly different neighborhood experience. Bangkok is a city of over 11.2 million people – nearly twice the population of my home state of Colorado. The red light district isn’t exactly what comes to mind for me when I think of a “neighborhood,” but in my week-long stay there I was struck by the connectedness of the community that bustles with life, activity, and movement in rhythmic patterns, 24-hours a day. Neighborly interactions happen every day, all day, and NightLight is right in the heart of the action, shining God’s love where it’s needed most.


In the daily chapel service, women who have left the sex industry (and even some who are still in it) fill in the seats around us, along with NightLight staff and volunteers. We spend an hour centering our hearts on the Lord, worshiping and learning from a mini lesson for the day. The feeling of connection is real as the women greet us before starting their days – change is happening here! 


We continue our walk to the Outreach Center: down the alley, then hang a right on “4th Street” where the gang of motorcycle and tuk-tuk drivers who seemed scary to me days ago now wave and say hello as we pass. More street vendors, the ladies working at the massage parlor, even the 7-eleven attendant all feel as familiar as the faces of neighbors I recognize on the walking trail at home. They’ve seen the love of God through NightLight, received food bags during the pandemic, watched the staff take in drunk and battered women, and more.


Once at CityLight Coffee, our group begins planning how to best use the day ahead while a mingling of tourists and locals come in and out for their daily dose of caffeine. A couple women from the bar across the street even stop in for a latte before heading to work. We head upstairs to set up for the Beauty Salon, and soon a diverse group of ladies begins to arrive, each one a part of the redemptive story God is writing through NightLight. Lamai* arrives in bright pink and wants her nails to match, Malee* makes her favorite cup of tea and sits at the coffee table to have a snack. Boonsri* gets in line quickly for hair washing and grabs her favorite nail polish color from the table – she’s usually in a rush to get back to her job at the massage parlor. Others come and go, and a new woman walks in – Uzbek, here to earn money for her family. They laugh and are filled with joy to be there, catching up with the NightLight staff in a safe and loving space before heading back out to the streets that evening. 


When the beauty salon winds down and the women stream back out into the city, I find myself feeling melancholy. It’s that same feeling you get when you’ve had a wonderful time with friends but now it’s time to say goodbye. You would think that in a city the size of Bangkok, it would be easier to live an anonymous life – to not be seen, or even noticed – but NightLight is bringing the kingdom of God to the city, where we are all neighbors. They update us about women in need, watch over us as we come and go, and share in the daily, life changing work God is doing each day through the relationships that are being cultivated.


I’d like to invite you this month to give to NightLight Bangkok to enable the team there to just “be there.” That might not sound compelling, but we’re blessed at NightLight to have so many touchpoints with our community – from the chapel to the coffee shop and the many activities that are hosted at the Outreach Center. Your gift opens the doors for building relationships and bringing meaningful, long-term change, allowing the team to love our many neighbors in the red light area. Will you join us?





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