It was one of those surreal moments…. The kind that makes life worth living.
“Am I in a movie?” I asked myself as I climbed up the narrow, dark stairway. The stairs weren’t the only thing that was dark. As I passed through one room (or “house”) lined with even tinier rooms with just enough space for a bed, I shuddered. It felt dark here.
A man squeezed past me. I shuddered. “God, help him,” I prayed.
“Don’t be afraid,” I whispered to myself. “God is with me.”
Finally we reached the top floor. The low-ceilinged room we entered had no walls. I stared down at the market place below us. Many women sat on the doorsteps of the building…. Waiting for business.
I could only see a tiny part of the 15,000 women who worked as prostitutes in this city.
“Most of these women are sold here from the villages,” Jon whispered. “I would guess about 80% are here against their will.”
I couldn’t believe it. I’d always had a heart for prostitutes, but had never dreamed that this many women were enslaved. And here I was actually inside their brothel.
A young woman gripped my hand. And then another came in. One after another, they poured into our room, until the room was packed.
The women were young and beautiful. But their faces were overdone and their clothing was far too revealing.
We all sat together in a circle as our team shared testimonies of the incredible value these women had to God.
“What do I have to offer in this dark, ugly place?” I whispered to God as Hattie spoke.
The girls were getting fidgety. Night was coming and soon their business would begin.
“Is there anything you would like to do?” Jon asked me.
Suddenly, I remembered the perfume, make–up and nail supplies I had thrown in my bag just before we left.
“Uuuummm,” I hesitated. “We could have a beauty time.”
Jon nodded. “Good idea. But we only have ten minutes before we must leave.”
Ten minutes turned into thirty as the air filled with sweet smells. The jewels and painted nails put smiles on the girls faces. And for a short time, these women were no longer prostitutes, nor did we feel like missionaries. Instead, it felt like we were all little girls, laughing as we played dress up.
All too quickly, it was time to go. The girls clung to us as we rose to our feet. They clung to us all the way out the door.
I’ve often identified with a passage in Isaiah 61 that speaks of freeing the captives and bringing beauty to ashes. But today, my life’s work took on the faces of a hundred women… women who’d always been on God’s heart. And today, they were branded on mine.