“My story is every ladyboy’s story,” the tall, slender man called Journey said in a higher falsetto voice.
“But I’m new here. I don’t know this story. Will you tell me anyway?” Though I was surrounded by many other ladyboys at a non-profit housed in a small storefront off of a narrow street in Pattaya, Thailand, I was sensing that there was something special about this one. Somehow hearing his story was quite important.
“I always felt like I was supposed to be a woman,” Journey explained, and then paused, as if leaving details out. “I’ve experienced many broken hearts. You see, the love of a woman starts off very small and it grows over time. But the love of a man starts off very big and it shrinks. So when a man breaks up with a woman, it hurts her even more.”
My friend Amy and I nodded. Journey let his story hang in the air. As I stood on the other side of the counter from him, I paused, listening to the Voice of Another: “Speak into this. Provoke him to jealousy.”
“Can I tell you my story, Journey?” Upon receiving an affirmative reply, I continued. “I know a Man whose love isn’t that way. His love is so big and it makes me so happy. Each day I wake to find that His love is bigger than I thought it was the day before. His love is so big I can’t find the end of it….” I continued sharing about the love of Jesus in this way until I saw jealousy well up in Journey’s eyes. “He’s my boyfriend,” I said, trying to explain the kind of love I know God feel towards weak humans to a man seeking to experience that kind of true love. “We’re engaged to be married.”
Journey turned to Amy, “Do you know this man?”
I quickly answered for her, “Yeah, she does. We have the same boyfriend.”
Journey looked at us, quite perplexed. “Same boyfriend?”
Amy and I looked at each other and nodded. “You see,” I continued, “this is our God, and He wants this with you, too.”
Clearly taken aback, Journey asked for more information. Smiling, I reached into my bag and pulled out my Bible. “I came to Thailand six years ago. I met a ladyboy who was fifteen named Bang. After I went back to America, Jesus would not let me forget him. I have been praying for ladyboys in Thailand ever since. Jesus gave me a verse for ladyboys when I was praying for Thailand. Can I show you?” Journey looked at my Bible with me. I had opened to Hosea 2:19-20. “It says, ‘I will betroth’– that means marry– “you to me forever. I will betroth you to me in righteousness and justice, in love and compassion. I will betroth you in faithfulness and you will acknowledge’– or know– ‘the Lord.’ When Jesus told me that this was for ladyboys, I didn’t know that ladyboys want a husband. But Jesus knew. He said this verse is for all the ladyboys. It is for you. He wants to meet the desires of your heart for a husband. He says that everyone who believes in Him is His bride. He loves the people who believe in Him like a man loves his wife.”
Journey looked at me, still stunned. “The love of God is like this?”
“Yes, it really is. You can ask any of my friends here with me. His love is like this.” I excused myself to say hello to a friend who had come to see me. Journey walked out front and sat down at the blue table on the patio where one of my teammates, Joseph, was sitting with some of the other ladyboys. After chatting with my friend for a few minutes, I joined Joseph and the others outside. I was surprised to hear Journey talking with Joseph about Jesus. To hear Joseph tell this story later, “This ladyboy just came up to me and asked me to tell him the story of Jesus.”
We sat around for quite a while telling Journey about Jesus. At one point Journey excused himself. When he returned, he sat next to me saying, “I am having such a good time talking with you about God. I called two of my friends to come listen. You will stay and talk to them, right?”
We agreed and continued chatting with Journey. At one point, he asked us about going to church. I reached for my bag and began digging for the invitations to True Friends Church that I had in there somewhere, placing my small, travel-sized Bible on the table next to me. I pulled the invitation out from the bottom of my bag and handed it to him. Journey asked if I would be there on Sunday and when I told him that we were leaving Pattaya the next day to go to Bangkok, he seemed crestfallen. I told him that there were other people at Sister’s who he could go to church with, as a couple of them had come to know Jesus while we were in Pattaya. One of them said that Journey could go to church with him.
I noticed Journey looking at my Bible with longing. “You can look at it if you want.” Journey picked up the small book and unsnapped the cover and began thumbing through the pages. “In fact, if you want, you can have it.” Journey said his English was not good enough, to which I replied that we could get him a Thai Bible if he wanted one. He nodded that he had heard and I let the invitation hang. Joseph walked around the table to stand next to Journey and began telling him about the Bible and how to read it.
Mandi and Ai, two of Journey’s ladyboy “sisters”, arrived and joined us at the table, pulling out their pet puppy and parrot for us to play with as we chatted. Ai had a lot of questions that his limited English would not let him express, but Mandi’s English was perfect, so he served as our translator to ensure that everyone was able to understand each other.
Of all the questions that Ai had, the biggest by far was expressed when he said, “I thought God hated ladyboys.” He told us of how Christians had judged him, often without caring enough to get to know him. In that moment, all I desired to do was speak love over this one who had experienced so much brokenness at the hands of a church that does not understand the love of our God. Joseph was the first to speak into Ai’s question: “God loves everyone. He says in the Bible that there is no race or man or woman in His eyes. He loves everyone the same. And any Christian who tells you otherwise does not really understand His love.”
Nodding, I added, “God hates anything that keeps you from receiving His love. He says that sin keeps people from receiving His love. So if I lie, that keeps me from receiving God’s love because I feel like I can’t come to Him. He hates sin. But He loves you.” I am not sure if Ai grasped this fully. It seemed so much for him to take in.
Journey came and sat beside me at one point, “I think I do want a Thai Bible. Can you get me one?”
I smiled at him, “Sure. I don’t have one right now, but I can get you one. Can you meet me tomorrow for coffee?” We arranged to meet the next morning at Starbucks so I could get him a Bible. When I got back to the meeting room at the hotel for that evening’s meeting, I was happy to see that there were still two Thai Bibles.
The next morning, Pearl, one of the Thai students of the school, walked with me to Starbucks where over coffee, Journey opened up more of his story to us. “I grew up in a Christian family. I went to Sunday School from second to fifth grade, but I never heard that the love of God was like you said it was.”
Pearl told him that God loves us enough that He does not want us to be like robots, and so He gives us the freedom to choose Him. I felt Abba prompting my heart at that point to restate that in terms of an arranged marriage verses a marriage that is chosen by both parties. “When Jesus came to earth, he bought the most expensive ring that could ever be purchased when He gave up His life for us. And then He humbled Himself and got down on one knee, and asked if we would choose Him. I see Him coming to you now, and getting down on one knee and asking if you will be His.” Before I knew it, Journey was bowing his head and telling Jesus, “Yes.” We stayed with Journey for a bit, praying the blessings of heaven over our new brother. Pearl had to leave a bit before I did to get ready for the trip to Bangkok. Journey and I stayed and prayed for a bit longer, with some protests from Journey about how he didn’t want me to walk back to the hotel alone. It was beautiful seeing God begin pulling out Journey’s masculinity in this way. As I prayed with Journey, I prayed that he would be rooted and grounded in God’s unending love for him.