In Thailand, there is a saying: Good guys go to Heaven. Bad guys go to Pattaya.
When walking through Walking Street, spotting hookers on every corner and dodgy ‘farangs’ drinking beer at the bars, at first glance, this image of Pattaya seems to be correct. There is, of course, more to the beach town area than sex, drugs, and STD’s.
But, despite the fact that Pattaya has become a popular place for Scandinavians to set up a home and start a family, the reputation is hard to shake off – probably because there is an element of truth to it. There are undoubtedly quite a number of these so-called ‘bad guys’ who have ended up in the area, simply because it was inevitable.
Jan Olav Johannessen has ended up in Pattaya too, but not because he is a bad guy. One look at him suggests that here is a genuinely good guy who was well on his way to Heaven, lost his way, and ended up in Pattaya by mistake. But that is not the case. Jan Olav is in Pattaya for a very good reason. He feels that he has a purpose there and that he has been given a chance to do some good.
Social network for Norwegian community
“My work here varies a lot,” says Jan Olav as he sits on one of the garden chairs in the cosy area surrounding the Norwegian Seaman’s Church in Pattaya.
He has been in the job for the past ten months and expects to be around for at least another couple of years. Working to serve the Scandinavian, and especially the Norwegian, community in the area is, for him, one of the most giving and rewarding things he can imagine.
“I feel I am needed here and that the work we do at the Church makes a difference to people,” he says.
Apart from being a religious institution where people come to get an element of God in their life, the Seaman’s Churches worldwide serve as social meeting points for the Norwegian communities abroad.
In Pattaya, there is a wide range of activities at the church throughout the whole week except Mondays, when the church is closed. Seeing that it is a church, there are weekly sermons on Wednesdays and Sundays where people come to hear about the word of God and to be inspired to think new thoughts. Some of the social events include Thursday night’s children’s play group, where they get a glimpse of Norwegian language and culture, trips to the beach, and Scandinavian movie nights.
As a more serious offer to the community, there are Alcoholics Anonymous meetings at the church two times every week, and this is just one of the initiatives by the Norwegian church to help out a part of the local community, whose lives have taken an unfortunate turn along the way.
Active in the environment
According to Jan Olav, these initiatives are the biggest differences between the Seaman’s churches and the ones in Norway.
“A large part of our work here happens out in the community. We go to them, whereas in Norway and in the rest of Scandinavia, the congregation comes to the church. Here, we do a lot for our members, and it is necessary in a place like Pattaya,” he says and adds that this is a place where many people are alone and go out to bars for drinks and other Pattaya night life activities.
“We actually go out at night and make ourselves visible at those bars. We talk to Scandinavians, tell them about our activities, and encourage them to pay us a visit. It is a way for us to create that contact to the people here that is so important.”
And the work is important. Jan Olav explains that he knows of several cases where people would have died if they had not come across the church.
“I know some of them would have died, if we hadn’t helped them,” the priest says with a pained expression on his face. He then makes a motion with his hand, which suggests that in many of those cases, alcohol was the problem and that the people would have drunk themselves to death.
Everyone deserves to be helped
To Jan Olav, that is the most worst part of his job – knowing that he is helping a lot of people but not all. Even in Pattaya, where the sex industry is thriving and where exploitation of under aged girls is not uncommon, Jan Olav and his staff still have a sincere desire to help and be something for everyone.
“The wish to help everyone is definitely there in me,” he says.
”But for me, the worst part of my job is knowing that I can’t help everyone. The most tiring part is thinking about the people I will never reach.”
Jan Olav is an exception to the saying: He is living proof that sometimes also good guys go to Pattaya. He is a compassionate person with a high tolerance for all people and a deep and genuine belief that all humans have equal value – no matter how much they have sinned and how many bad choices they have made in life.
Pattaya and the Scandinavian community are lucky to have him.