Sunday, November 12, 2006

On a mission to save souls – in pubs


Hands gripping a Bible, and with beads of sweat dripping from his clean-shaven head, the 22-year-old American shouted “Repent!”
Looking clearly unrepentant was an elderly tourist who was holding a bottle of Singha beer while chatting with a slinky Thai girl at Big Dogs pub.

Also looking unrepentant was a crowd of bemused and intoxicated tourists who had gathered around the American.

Unperturbed, Henry Thompson continued preaching. To him, the crowds were souls who required salvation.

It was 9.30pm on a Monday and Thompson was facing the entrance to what he perceived as Sodom and Gomorrah.

In fact, it was the Nana Plaza Entertainment Complex on Sukhumvit Soi 4 in Bangkok. The entrance led to the courtyard of an inverted U-shaped, three-storey, terraced building that hosted go-go bars. It was one of Bangkok’s main tourist attractions.

At Nana Plaza, according to the man whose name-card noted his job title as “Servant of the Most High”, every kind of sin (from prostitution to child trafficking and drug dealing to witchcraft) was committed.

And the preacher wanted the sinners at the plaza to repent.

“I want them to go to heaven when they die. I love them. I don’t hate them for what they are doing. I hate the sin. But I love their souls,” explained Thompson earnestly during a break from one of his 10-minute sermons.

Tony Webb took over to continue the 90-minute non-stop preaching session. Webb, an American, moralised in Thai.

“How are you doing? Are you okay?” asked Thompson while approaching a burly black man.

“Man, I hope you are okay,” replied Anthony Alexander, a 27-year-old from Florida who was at Nana Plaza to hang out and rent girls. He, however, understood why the preachers perceived Nana Plaza as an evil place.

“But all involved are adults,” he said while a 25-year-old Thai girl named Jiap waited for her regular.

Alexander said he found the preachers “cocky”. “Preaching won’t be effective here,” he said.

But don’t tell that to Thompson, who has a testimony to relate.

Six months ago, at the same place and same time, Thompson was preaching for 30 minutes when a man opened a bathroom window at the second floor and shouted, “Hey, come up here!”

Webb rushed to the man, who was a 50-something European.

Crying, the man told Webb that 30 minutes earlier he had intended to shoot himself with a Colt 45 as he was facing financial problems.

Before squeezing the trigger, the man said, he had prayed, asking God: “If you are real, show yourself to me.”

And at that very moment he heard Thompson. The man thanked them for saving his life.

Most of the time, though, preaching was a thankless job, Thompson admitted.

At Nana Plaza, Thompson has been yelled at, mocked, laughed, cursed, punched, threatened with a butcher’s knife, and kissed.

“Prostitutes would come to me, grab my arms, press their breasts on me and try to kiss me. But I’m not attracted to them,” he related.

Thompson has been evangelising in Thailand for two-and-a-half years but the authorities have not harassed him at all.

“Sometimes people do complain. But the police usually shake our hands and say very good, as they know what we are doing would eventually stop crime,” said the preacher who lives in Thailand with his 21-year-old American wife Amy and their baby.

But it was different in Minneapolis, United States. “Two weeks ago, two policewomen rudely told us to stop preaching,” said the American who runs

When Thompson and Webb refused, they ended up in jail.

“Praise the Lord,” he said, “as in jail we got to tell the prisoners to repent.”

Thompson occasionally evangelised in Penang, where he observed that “there were some transvestites and prostitutes” in Georgetown. “But it (flesh trade) was looked down upon, unlike in Bangkok,” he noted.

What’s next for him?

“Next is heaven. I’m going to continue this until I die,” he said.

(Published in The Star on Nov 12, 2006)