By Jamie Finch
This year, July brought a chill. And uncertainty. The weather, uncertain of itself. Me, uncertain of my heart.
Last year, July had heat. Bone-frying, soul-simmering. The kind that has a character of its own defined by certain smells and sounds. Baby powder, spices, and sweat. Motorbikes and industrial fans. Loud music. The louder laughing of children.
Last year, July had dancing. Last year, July taught me how to dance as I had never danced before. The most freeing and intoxicating dance I have ever known. A dance that taught me more about my own soul than anything else ever has. Last year, July taught me how to dance with abandon.
Out of all of my lesson-teaching nights in Thailand, there was one that has left such a deep impression on me, that it has changed the entire course of my life. But I wasn’t anywhere close to realizing it at the time. Shortly after I returned from that journey, I had a handful of sleepless nights remembering people, places, touches, and faces; but only once was I awakened with a start from a deep sleep because of the mystery a memory in a dream held. I dreamt of the night our group was invited to attend a party hosted by a parent of one of the students in one of the schools in which we were privileged to teach. In Thailand, they will find any excuse to have a party, it seems. And these parties aren’t like any we would experience in the West. Entire communities and villages attend. Birthdays, weddings, even funerals; the building of a new home. It was the latter that was the cause for celebration on this night.
For the earlier part of the evening, those of us that came together spent most of our time playing with the children that were in attendance. In a lot of ways, young children are the most neglected of people in Thailand – usually by their fathers. Very few fathers remain with their families in the rural villages, and the ones that do are usually drunk by ten in the morning. And there was no shortage of beer at this gathering. For us, though, the children were the only ones we really felt we knew. We spent good portions of our days and weeks with them – teaching, playing, laughing, learning. We never found it difficult to communicate with them even though language was limited. And on this night, it was no different than in the classroom.
A few of us gathered into a circle with the children (there were about 15) in the middle of the tent. We entertained each other with silly sounds, facial expressions, and hand signals. We took pictures and videos that they always wanted to see immediately after. This went on for quite a while, while the adults engaged in drunken karaoke and boisterous story-telling. But then, something changed.
Attention turned to the front of the tent and the karaoke music quieted down. That was when we saw a makeshift stage made from the bed of a truck, and 4 scantily-clad teenage girls climb onto it.
Different music began, and with it, different movements.
The girls began dancing and we were in shock. We weren’t aware that this was a regular occurrence at all types of Thai parties. We also weren’t aware that this was a regular act for these children to see, and we sat in a stupor for a good few minutes time.
At a certain point, it became clear to us that our men needed to get up and leave the tent area. Not to make a motion of any sort of cultural disrespect, but rather to make a statement that this was not something we were in support of. Also, it was necessary to do in order for them to set themselves apart from the other men who were now hooting and hollering towards the young women- some in front of their children and wives. So they rose and took their leave.
This was when I was left almost entirely alone in the middle of a group of 15 or so confused children – glancing back and forth between the stage and me. I tried to continue to entertain them and keep their attention, until one of our women told me that it was our time to get up and walk away now. It was our turn to make a statement in support of our men, as well as set ourselves apart too.
I was completely torn, knowing my obligation was to get up and leave, but feeling that my greater obligation was to these precious ones that sat before me. I loved them. I didn’t want them to see this. Not yet. Not while I had something to do with it. I waited and waited and waited until the last minute, when the other women were on their way out to finally, reluctantly, get up and join them. I hesitatingly looked back at my children- wishing I could stay- but to my surprise, they began to follow me. This isn’t surprising, considering we were the only ones really paying any attention to them the entire time at the party. They just wanted to be near us.
I led the group of them outside the tent and down a short path, still within earshot of the music and eyesight of the display. Once again, I tried so hard to keep their attention, but it was too big of a task for just myself. The rest of my group had gathered in a huddle to discuss how we were going to leave, and I just kept making weird noises to get the children to look at me, rather than turn their attention back to the tent. I would have a small handful focused on me at a time, and then I would lose them. So I would call them by name and they would look at me again, but whenever I did so, those whose names I did not call would turn back around. It was a vicious cycle. And an exhausting one at that. My mind began to go places that weren’t beneficial and I felt myself growing faint under the heat and the weight.
I was bombarded with so many lies about those children and that place. I was beginning to believe that death had already won here a long time ago, and that there was absolutely nothing I could do about it. Even if I hadn’t been there, this situation would have been the same. Even after I leave this village and this country, this situation will always be the same. This was their reality. This was their likely future. The girls: to become women and dance- at the least. The boys: to become men and watch- at the least. It just wasn’t right. It just wasn’t fair. I tried everything I could to block out the thoughts, but with every one that came to mind, I felt myself becoming more and more convinced of the pointlessness of what I was trying to do.
I was exhausted in every way and I was beginning to surrender. But at that moment, even without informing my mind, my soul cried out. I could feel it. I could hear it. I wasn’t sure what exactly it was crying for, but I knew Who it was crying to. For weeks prior, it had cried out so many times before- even audibly – with tears and screams in the middle of rice fields asking why these things must be so. Why this place and its realities must be so. Why the potential futures for these children must be so. I would cry to the point of physical exhaustion, until there was nothing left in me to say or think, and at those moments, I would feel it. Quietly, sweetly, gently, He would come. His spirit would come and tell me He was crying, too. My tears were his own- He understood. He would hush me and comfort me and tell me His Kingdom was on It’s way.
Be still, Child, the Kingdom is on It’s way. Work for it while you wait, and I will join you. I will always join you.
And in that moment, as my soul cried out within me, louder than the music blaring from those speakers, He kept His promise. He came. Only this time, there was nothing quiet about it.
All at once, something in me loosed itself and rose up with a fury, and I began to dance. Wildly. The very next instant after that moment of sheer and utter defeat, I felt inexpressible victory. And I danced in it with rapture and joy; unstructured, unplanned movements. It was incredibly ungraceful and I guarantee you, I could never do it again. I wouldn’t know how. I don’t even know how I did it then. My body just turned and twisted with som
e sort of violent, heavy purpose that I had no idea was in me at all. But it was the most natural thing I have ever felt because I could feel His spirit dancing with me. We danced with complete and total abandon together.
Every child turned their head and stared. Probably because they thought I had completely lost my mind. But if they had any inhibitions about my mental state, they didn’t last long because, almost immediately, each and every one of them began to dance with me. With Us. They completely forgot about the seedy entertainment going on in the tent behind them, focusing every ounce of attention on trying to imitate my exact wild movements. All they wanted to do was dance.
About this time, my companions noticed what was going on and I called to them to come and dance with us too. They come over to our circle and began dancing in the most ridiculous of ways and the children ate it up. We took their hands and spun them, twirled them, tossed them. We laughed together and our laughter drowned out the hollers from the men in that tent just a few yards away. We were a vision, an odd display in the open air. A fractured objection to everything that was considered normal in that place, but it all felt so right.
It is nearly impossible for me to fully express the power that was contained in those few minutes in the middle of nowhere in Eastern Thailand. We were small, but we felt like giants. The time was short, but it seemed like such a beautiful eternity. And it wasn’t until I sat up straight in my bed, in the dead of night months later, after dreaming this vision again, that I finally realized the Truth that experience held so delicately, yet powerfully inside of it.
It was proof, real and tangible proof, right then and there, that this is what all of humanity longs for – the dance of abandon that brings the promised, coming Kingdom of God. That dance – the dance of innocence – will always win out over the movements of darkness, if only we will believe it to be so. Innocent eyes will always look for it. Captives will always seek it. The imprisoned will always hunger for it in the midst of that darkness. They long to find it and in turn, find the courage to join in.
And, Children of the Kingdom, we must show them how. It is our lives that must become such a dance that fights for that innocence. In every step, in every sway we surrender ourselves to the rapture of being caught up in Something so much bigger than we are on our own! We must shout for joy and dance as citizens of the Kingdom of God! Paint our faces red and kick off our shoes! We must tell the hopeless that Hope is on it’s way! Proclaim liberty at the top of our lungs, from the depths of our souls! At all costs, we must fight for them- rush the darkness with the Spirit of God before us, grab their hands and bring them in! We must show them how to dance the dance of freedom that He has given us!
We must learn to dance with abandon!
Jamie has coffee in her veins and a rhythm in her bones. She is a writer with a nomadic heart that has recently found itself in New York City. She is passionate about setting captives free and is currently involved in developing a non-profit committed to eradicating human trafficking