I hate living for myself. It looks very appealing sometimes, but when I really think about what it would be like to just make the big bucks and spend them on me and my family, I get sick. This blog is about where I'm putting my time and money. If it gives you any ideas for your own situation, please let me know.

Tuesday, October 26, 2004

My Congregation

Let's get it over with and call me weird. I'm officially a Christian pastor, but if you read my previous posts (ok, I started strong and took a long break), you can figure that I can't imagine myself in a traditional role in a church of several hundred people, most of whom I barely know. For right now, the walls of what I like to think of as my "church" are lit up with neon signs advertising go-go bars. My church "members" are Thai prostitutes.

I never go there alone, but am always either with my wife or a male partner. It's not to avoid temptation, because I'd just as soon jump off a bridge as buy a prostitute. This rule does keep the guard rails on the bridge, but it also helps to prevent confusion in the women who know me there as "Ajarn Jim". "Ajarn" means "teacher" or "pastor".

Last night I took my friend John Walton to visit my "congregation". John was in town for a conference and wanted a few photos of the scene for a story he was working on. We stopped to see Plah and her cousin Ka in front of their bar. Ka was upset because her brother had wrecked the family motorbike that day, driving while drinking. Pastoral note to self: Ka is ready to learn about aloholic family systems, and how the money she gives to her family may be doing more harm than good.

That's me with outreach team members last March.

We went over to a bar called "Shark", where I ran into Meaw, sitting at their outdoor bar. Pat, a Swiss guy who had moved her in with him and led her to believe that he loved her, was off looking for another. Meaw likes to call Judy and I "Mama" and "Papa". "Why, Papa, Why?" she asked through tears. I put her on the phone to Khio, our main Thai partner, prayed for her in English and gave her some money to get home and come over tomorrow.

I didn't see Toi at the bar next door, so went over to ask about her. Turns out she didn't work there anymore. Pastoral note: tell Judy to call Toi. I met for the first time Tik, 30, and An, 23, both with excellent English. I explained what I was doing there, and Ae seemed especially interested. I offered her a New Testament, and she was interested in that too. Turns out she's from Khio's province. Pastoral note: bring Khio with Judy to meet Tik and An. I also gave Tik an NT, as well as Tu, who came up very curious.

We went back down the street. Plah happened to be outside again, and Malee peeked out the door and she came out to greet us. Malee wants to study music and dance at a university but doesn't imagine that could ever happen. I reminded her of my standing invite to come over one day with Plah so we could hear her sing. "No problem" she laughed. I gave her a NT, told her to talk to Plah about it.

We walked back to John's hotel and ran into Ae, a freelancer that we met a year ago. Ae is always at the same spot, just sitting and hoping for a customer. She speaks almost no English. The last few times I had seen her she seemed angry or annoyed at my attempts to be nice to her without ever paying. This time she gave a big smile and appeared genuinely happy to see me. I asked if I could pray for her and she agreed. Pastoral note: bring Judy and spend time with Ae, maybe pay her for a couple of hours' time.

Sunday, October 10, 2004

Christianity vs. Jesus

Here are some interesting tidbits I found at

"Christianity started out in Palestine as a fellowship. Then it moved to Greece and became a philosophy, then it went to Rome and became an institution, and then it went to Europe and became a government. Finally it came to America where we made it an enterprise." Richard Halverson

Excerpt from Houses That Change the World, by Wolfgang Simson:

American veteran missionary and author Bill Beckham, in his book ”The Second Reformation,” describes a congregation- or, what he calls ”cathedral-type” church like this: ”Since the time of Constantine in the Fourth Century the church has functioned primarily as a ‘Cathedral’. At least five important elements are identified with this ”Cathedral” way of being the church:

1. A Building (a ‘Cathedral’ or ‘Church’);

2. A Special Day (Sunday);

3. A professional leadership (priest, clergyman, holy man);

4. A special service, performed for the people (ceremonies, services, interpretation of dogma, motivation) and

5. A way to maintain itself (tithes and offerings).

Some comments on the above:

Here's the fascinating point: each of those 5 points is considered pretty vital to the typical modern church, yet none of them were either explicitly taught nor exemplified in New Testament churches!

I have often wondered what would happen if Jesus visited an average church. Would he remain quietly backstage and ushered in for a message? Would he wear a nice suit? Would he start his message with a joke? Would he be whisked away immediately afterwards to catch a flight?

It's funny, but the thought of Jesus preaching at the typical church seems totally incongruous. I can however picture him showing up at a church, maybe a looking a bit unkempt, sitting quietly unnoticed in the back row. The thought of him at Soi Cowboy, talking with a group of bar girls, mamasans and sex addicts makes perfect sense.

Don't get me wrong--I'm not suggesting that churches are bad. There's just something about the way we do church that seems odds with how Jesus did his living and ministry.

Thursday, October 07, 2004

Just Jesus

In my first post I said that our mission was to live like Jesus. Officially that makes us "Christian". Unofficially, we'd just as soon avoid that title altogether. Simply because what passes for Christian is often far from Jesus.

Steve Turner, a British self-proclaimed "rock and roll poet" in the 70's, wrote this:

How to Hide Jesus

There are people after Jesus.
They have seen the signs.
Quick, let's hide Him.
Let's think; carpenter,
fishermen's friend,
disturber of religious comfort.
Let's award Him a degree in theology,
a purple cassock
and a position of respect.
They'll never think of looking here.
Let's think;
His dialect may betray Him,
His tongue is of the masses.
Let's teach Him Latin
and seventeenth century English,
they'll never think of listening in.
Let's think;
Man of Sorrows,
nowhere to lay His head.
We'll build a house for Him,
somewhere away from the poor.
We'll fill it with brass and silence.
It's sure to throw them off.

There are people after Jesus.
Quick, let's hide Him.

In coming posts we'll look at more specifics of how Christians have hidden Jesus, and how we need to bring the real one back. Stay tuned.

Wednesday, October 06, 2004

Here we go...

Thanks to Scott Hodge ( for bugging me for months to start a blog. I kept putting it off, unsure if I'd have either the discipline, time or creativity to keep something like this up in a way that would actually be useful to others. But I'll try.

Two months ago I moved with my wife and 4 youngest kids (of 5) from Aurora, Illinois, USA to Bangkok. We're here primarily to help bar girls find a different life, but our purpose goes deeper and broader than that. I'll try to outline that in later posts.

Last night Mam* called at 2:30am. For reasons she couldn't explain in English, Mam's barmate Noi had a problem getting in her one-room apartment. Could she come sleep at our house? We had met Noi a few times, in fact a group had just been to visit that day.

I woke up Judy, thoughts streaming through the thick sleepy night air. Boundary alert! What's appropriate? What's the truth? What are they up to? Why can't she stay with Mam? Mam tried to explain that she couldn't but her English is weak and my Thai is worse. On top of it all, we didn't really have a place for a guest to sleep, and would have to figure something out. Mam did repeat several times that it would be fine if we said no.

It took a while for us to make a quick decision. Mam's phone dropped the call, or she hung up. I called her back, said Noi could use the couch. "It's ok," Mam reported. "Noi can go stay with her sister. I'm very sorry to bother you."

Welcome to the world of Thai bar girls. In their teens and twenties, they come from towns and villages in mostly northeast Thailand to the big city, and learn to sell themselves and their integrity for far more money than they can earn in a "regular" job. They can be childish, irresponsible and seductive, or they can be mature , thoughtful and boundary-appropriate. In all cases they are vulnerable and lovable.

Our mission is to live like Jesus. That's no small task if you study his life. We are here to offer ourselves, small as that may be, so that others can know a new life. Practically, we intend to work within the Thai Christian community to encourage and equip them to reach out to these young women and their families. We hope to build a network, called "Women of the Well", that offers alternatives to bar work.

Stay tuned.

*Names are changed.