Therefore you are inexcusable, O man, whoever you are who judge, for in whatever you judge another you condemn yourself; for you who judge practice the same things.1
When Peregrine and I were volunteering in the red light districts,2 I found my feelings towards the foreign men on the streets to be the most difficult issue to deal with on a daily basis. The audaciousness, the party atmosphere, the clear intentions of so many of them; it made it easy to make judgments. Having read several books on human trafficking and the abuses committed against women in this environment primed my thoughts.
The first two times I went into the red lights, I vacillated between maddogging these “johns” and demonstrating open sadness. Both approaches took for granted that every man I saw was looking for sex, and that every woman with them had been bought. I had difficulty holding back my anger when I saw middle-aged and older White men with apparently teenage Asian women. I would imagine scenarios that might give me an excuse to act out physically. Other times I envisioned setting up a website titled, “Do you know what he does in Bangkok?”, posting pictures of the guys I saw to be viewed by wives, girlfriends, coworkers and fellow churchgoers. These ideas were not Christ-like and they did not make me feel better. But I did not know how to deal with it all.
The issue came to a head on my third night on the streets, while we were waiting outside a partner NGO’s office while they held an event for women in prostitution. An intoxicated individual stumbled away from the adjacent bar, saw there was something going on, and ambled up to the window to have a look-see. The staff had foreseen such an issue and blocked the window with curtains, but there was enough of a gap that by pressing his face up against the glass the man could still get a gander at what was going on inside. I was incensed, some cumulative fury at the men of the scene having reached its limit.
I told him that he needed to leave. He looked at me dismissively and continued leaning over me, trying to look in.
I got really angry.
I stood up to my full height and said in the most intimidating voice I could muster, “You need to leave now.” He again refused, and it was clear that my attempt to intimidate him had only turned the situation into a battle of egos.
I was not going to have it. I wedged the man away from the window with my body.
“I said, you need to go.”
He stared up with fury in his eyes and pressed his chest into me. Each of us took the other’s measure. I was sober and at least six inches taller. He outweighed me by ten kilos and was built like a brawler. I’m guessing that we each were telling ourselves that we had the upper hand. And while I did not want to get into a fight, something inside me was repeating, “Can’t wait until he throws the first punch. Just dare him to.” From his eyes, I think he was thinking the same thing.
My team leader tried to get involved, but the man just spewed venomous language at her that was worse than anything he’d said to me. The stalemate didn’t end until the Thai woman who ran the bar next door came outside and gently coaxed the man back into her bar. And it was over. Nothing had been gained.
At that point I began seeking advice regarding my feelings towards the men I was encountering in those dark places. I spoke to workers who had served there longer than me, especially those who I knew must react passionately to the injustices and sin in their surroundings. I asked them how they dealt with it, how they kept it from destroying their heart.
The most significant words came from a friend of mine who had been serving women there for several years. She told me that her feelings had been much like mine in the beginning. The shift had occurred for her when she realized the pain the men themselves had been through in order to end up looking for relationship in a place like this. She saw that in many cases these men too had emotional scars, many of them also had a history that involved being a victim, and she began to be able to love them as more broken people who had found themselves in a broken place.
Through her I began to learn how to view the men with compassion and love rather than hate. It was not an easy transition, not one that fit into my ideas of “victim” and “perpetrator”. Even for those who were engaging in the abuses I hated, anger and desire for violent confrontation were not the solution. There was a brokenness in their lives that I only understood a little bit of, but God saw in full. He knows how those men are hurting, He knows the pain that drives them to seek love and acceptance and control in a place like that, and He desires for them to live a fuller life. If I could see them with His eyes, I would see wounded souls made in the image of God, and I would see the potential for so much more than what they are doing to themselves and others.
If I could look at these men through God’s eyes, I would also see more of myself than I realized. I have my own brokenness, and I’ve acted out my own sin in failed attempts to deal with those gaps. It is too easy for me to see other paths that could have led me to the red lights. Were I in their shoes, would I have been brought to God’s truth via hateful stares and verbal confrontations, or through the kind of compassion that envelops its target in love and can still say, “Go and sin no more”?
Lord, I know you love the men on these streets with every bit of the intensity that you love the children we spend time with, the suffering women we serve, and those of us who call you Savior. I know you desire to forgive them of every bit as much sin as you’ve forgiven me. Give me eyes to see and a heart to love in the same manner that you do, and through your love may they one day be able to see themselves as children of the most high God and the women in their lives as the same.
These pages are to tell you,
my brother, my sister,
not to run away from people who are in pain
or who are broken,
but to walk towards them,
to touch them.
Then you will find rising up within you the well of love,
springing from resurrection….
If you walk with Jesus along this path,
he will lead you
to the poor, the weak, the lonely and the oppressed,
not with fear and despair,
not with feelings of guilt and helplessness,
not with anger and revolt,
not with theories and preconceived solutions,
but with a new and deeper
peace and love and hope.
And he will reveal to you the new meaning
of pain and darkness;
how joy springs
from the wounds of brokenness.
He will reveal to you
that he is hidden in
the poor, the weak, the lonely and the oppressed.
He will reveal to you the way to refind,
rebuild, renew and receive
the relationship of gentle love and fidelity
that is at the origin of all existence.
It will be revealed as a tiny seed
but one from which can grow new life for the world.
Let us walk together along this path
with our sisters and brothers
in this broken world of ours.
Let us walk together along this path
and discover that it is a path of hope.3
 Romans 2:1
 This post was originally written soon after the events within, when Peregrine and I were still working with the agency in question. Many years have passed now, so I have switched some of the verb tenses but may have done so poorly.
 Introduction to the Broken Body, by Jean Vanier