FRIDAY NIGHT IN PHNOM PENH

Last night, MST went out into Phnom Penh and ministered to foreign men in different red light districts of the city.  We were blessed to have a large group of volunteers, as expatriates who regularly speak to sex customers were joined by short-term mission workers from Menlo Park Presbyterian Church (MPPC) in California.  All told, about 20 persons witnessed to men in three areas of the city.

We began the evening by meeting for an ice cream social, where those from Menlo Park met the expatriates who live in Phnom Penh and regularly volunteer with MST.  From there, we attended an introductory meeting.  Most of those from MPPC, including myself, had never worked with MST before, and we learned of its unique mission to address sex trafficking by speaking to foreign men in red light districts and encouraging them to turn towards Jesus and away from purchasing sex.  The leaders of MST emphasized that we should approach these men with love and not judge them, recognizing that we are all fallen and in need of grace. 

After our initial meeting, the male and female volunteers split into separate groups for a time of confession and prayer.  As the night wore on, I came to realize that this was perhaps the most important activity of the evening.  Confessing our sins provided a pointed reminder of our own flaws and the foolishness of sitting in judgment on the men we later met on the streets.  Moreover, prayer helped prepare us for the temptations that inevitably arise in a red light district.

After meeting separately, the male and female volunteers rejoined for a common prayer, and then many of the volunteers fanned out into three red light neighborhoods of Phnom Penh.  While each neighborhood differed, all three had their fair share of foreign men who headed in and out of bars and restaurants that offer prostitution.  As these men passed by, small groups of MST volunteers tried to strike up conversations with them and eventually shift the topic from small talk into a discussion of prostitution, sex trafficking, and Jesus.  Of course, holding such a conversation in the middle of a red light district is not easy, so as conversations developed, volunteers out on the street sent text-message prayer requests back to a prayer room.

In the prayer room, the MST volunteers who did not go out onto the streets continuously prayed for hours.  Their prayers gave strength to the other volunteers and asked God to intercede in the lives of the foreign men in red light districts.  Reflecting back on it, I realize that I never have worked with a Christian organization that relies on prayer to power its work as much as MST does.  The strength of their belief in prayer inspired me and made me realize that it can and should become a greater part of my own life whenever I am trying to seek God’s will or to accomplish his work.

After a few hours on the streets, the volunteers rejoined those in the prayer room for a debriefing and a closing prayer.  We learned that the volunteers on the streets received a wide array of reactions in their conversations that ranged from dismissiveness to a real openness about hearing the gospel and turning away from sex purchasing.  I was extremely heartened to hear and see conversations that ended with men exchanging their contact information so that they could talk more about Jesus and sex trafficking in the future.  By the end of the night, I felt that God is using MST to gradually reach men in Phnom Penh and help them realize that he can fill the voids in their lives in a way that sex never will.