Originally printed in the Dinuba Sentinel, November 20, 2008
Part one of two on Stephanie Seitz and her invovlement in the Extreme Love outreach in pattaya Thailand
By Brandi Nuse-Villegas
Nobody is beyond redemption,” Stephanie Seitz said, as smile revealed that her mind was on the very people with whom she experienced the reality of her statement.
Stephanie joined with over a hundred people from Thailand and around the world, including former Dinuba residents Tony, Connie, and Amy Willems, in a two week outreach called “Extreme Love,” in Pattaya, Thailand on September 14 through 26. The outreach took them to brothels, beaches, orphanages, slums, prisons, hospital, HIV homes, she said “Wherever there was a need people were going there and things were happening.”
She explained, “the purpose of the trip was to love extravagantly the Thai people and to show God’s love in a place that had a very twisted version of it; to kick out the counterfeit and bring some of the true stuff in.”
Pattaya is known for its sex tourism. “It is everywhere. They don’t even try to hide it.” While prostitution is illegal in Thailand, many brothels function under the name “bar,” and do not do much more to conceal their true operations. Within the industry are many who are trafficked in, mainly from Cambodia, and made to work against their will. Some work willingly at the bars in order to make money, many in hopes of attracting a foreigner to marry. “Then they will be set for life.” Others have found themselves in difficult situations and do not wish to work in prostitution, but have no other means of supporting themselves and family. Stephanie said that of these, which largely come from an area of Thailand with extreme poverty, some have been raped and are considered useless to their family or they or their spouse left due to their husband’s infidelity in an area where infidelity is high.
Stephanie visited the city last year and recalled how she was overwhelmed by the darkness in the city and angry at what was going on.
“Last year I felt hopeless. I didn’t even ask what I could do because it was beyond my wildest dreams I could have a part in redeeming this city. And I was just angry. I couldn’t see how the darkness in this place could be done away with…but God is really good.
She said that in this trip, she realized that “God is walking with me and is in me and what power there is in that.”
When there was an opportunity for her return, she took it.
This time, she and her team came with great hope and expectation that God was going to change lives and the community with His love. During the day, the teams were trained to do outreach and listened to missionaries working in Pattaya. Partnering with organizations and churches, the teams reached out in love to everyone, including the tourists, as they sought to show the people the value they had and the great love that God had for them.
Stephanie said that on their first day they met with women who had already been taken out of prostitution and are now being discipled by YWAM (Youth with a Mission) and being taught a different trade, being healed, and are finding a better life. “The thing I wanted to do all [this past] year was apologize to these women for what westerners, especially, are doing to them and their city and their destinies. We got to go and repent and ask God to forgive. We were bawling. They were bawling. I think that over the city as a whole, something shifted then.
Stephanie and her team got to be part of freeing many women from the brothels by giving them hope and connecting them with organizations who would help them find a better way to support themselves.
On one of these encounters, she said, one of the teams went on a ‘treasure hunt,’
“Basically what we do is before we go out we listen to God to what places where we should go, people’s names, location, or whatever.”
She noted that the words one team of women receive became like a crumb trail to a bar they had visited the day prior. One of these teammates wrote down the number 63.
Upon arrival, they noticed that the women working there had numbers affixed to their hips. “The ladies in this bar don’t have names, they just have numbers and are totally stripped of value.”
One of the ladies, who was pole dancing on stage, had the number 63 buttoned to her hip. The group bought her a drink, which bought them time to talk to her at their table. Stephanie commented that while they were there, the customers and several of the ladies shot dirty looks at them, wondering why the group of girls were there.
“They told her about Jesus and she said, ‘I’ve heard about Him’ and she said, ‘Yeah, when I’ve heard His story it was the most special I’ve felt in my whole life.’ And they told her, ‘You are special! You know how special you are? He’s sent us from 10,000 miles away to tell you. And she started weeping. Weeping is not a Thai thing; they don’t show emotion.”
They noticed a lady in the back who was giving them really dirty looks. So when this happened she ran to their table and asked, ‘what are you doing?’”
“They said, she just became a Christian and wants to leave the brothel,” Stephanie said, “Then her whole countenance changed and she asked ‘That’s what you are doing? Please take me with you!’ She had been brought to the brothel four days before and they were going to make her start ‘working’ the next day.”
She was angry becuase she did not want to be there. Both got out.
Stephanie shared that at one point of the trip, “We had a really nice dinner for women who were bought out of the bars for the night. We treated them with love and respect. We had a really nice buffet and talked about the Father’s heart, which for most of those women is a foreign concept.”
Many she said became Christian and many accepted the offer to leave the brothels.
She also got to talk to numerous tourists, whose lives where changed. She recalled one of several men from Iran who at first didn’t believe in God because of the suffering in the world, but later expressed that God revealed himself to him during their meeting. She said that she encouraged him that his heart for the hurting was good and she believed he was going to doing something big with that.
Stephanie shared that Pattaya is an ‘apostolic city,” a place where the world is influenced by what happens there. She said that in the past, what was taken out was evil, but that God is changing it to what it was meant to be, where people come and changed by His love and take that back to their countries.
One day, she shared, they met a Cambodian woman and her young children who were begging in the streets. For a couple days, they visited them and gave food and money, but couldn’t talk to her due to language barriers. Then they were joined by a Cambodian man name Chomonin who translated for them that the family had been brought into Thailand against their will, bought, and sold. They were made to beg in the street and whatever they earned was stripped from them. Women with children were most often used because they would get more from sympathetic tourists.
Stephanie said that Chominin was a survivor of the Khmer Rouge and, after finding out about human trafficking of Cambodians, had dedicated his life to rescuing them and helping them start a new life through his Cambodian Hunger Organization.
Stephanie’s team was able to get them off the street, contact the government to get their identification papers, which were destroyed by the traffickers, and provided the finances for them to return home. She added that Chominin would go with them to help them resettle.