Saturday, July 5, 2014

My Heart: Part 1

People are passionate about different things. Some campaign for climate change, GMO labeling, and an end to the slaughter of animals, while others focus on politics, evangelism, vaccination and numerous other causes. I love how people bring awareness to these issues and help educate those around them.

While there are many issues and causes that tug at my heart, today I will share with you my heart for  ministering to women who have chosen to work in the sex industry and rescuing women and children who have been trafficked for the purpose of sexual exploitation. 

I don't remember when I learned that women and children were still sold as sexual slaves against their will, but I do remember feeling sick to my stomach at the knowledge. It wasn't until much later, when I was working with YWAM (youth with a mission) that I had the opportunity to spend time with some youth who had been rescued from the trade. All of the girls were younger than I was and  could not imagine what they had gone through. Prior to heading to South East Asia, our team had delivered roses and care packages to working girls on the downtown east side. I remember how TERRIFIED I was the first time I approached my first working girl, but somehow I collected myself enough to say hello and tell her how much Jesus loves and values her. I handed her a perfect long stemmed rose and then said goodbye. I still remember what she was wearing and how beautiful she was. I understand that there is a very good chance that she had "chosen" to work in the sex industry, as many women do, but I will never know for certain. I believe that Christ gave us freedom to choose how we want to live our lives and some women choose the sex industry willingly. I am not against prostitution, I am, however, against women and children being sold against their will for sex. I also have a problem with a society that makes women feel as though their bodies and sexuality are where their worth lies, but that is a blog post in and of itself.

In any case, after I returned to Canada, I started doing some volunteer work with a Catholic Organization called Covenant Ministries. This ministry's focus was the broken and drug addicted women on the downtown east side. While their situation was somewhat different from that of the the young girls in Taiwan, they still needed someone looking out for them. We regularly brought the girls simple things like socks, umbrellas, food,and information on detox centers. Because of the relationship this ministry had with the girls, they allowed them to take their photo and gave them their name, birth date and a contact number in the event that they went missing. The walls of the small room we operated out of was plastered of photos of working girls. It was haunting sight and one that I will never forget. My favorite part of seeing those girls was being able to bring them a special care package on their birthdays, that is, if we could find them. My least favorite part was catching a bus home from Hastings at midnight. 

A couple of years later I met a really neat young woman at a birthday party and we connected over our shared passion for women in the sex trade. After a great deal of prayer and contemplation we decided to visit a strip joint in Richmond. Oh man, that was nerve wracking and eye opening. Each and every girl I spoke with was beautiful. articulate and often well educated but they all expressed some level of embarrassment and often said they they never wanted their boyfriend or family members to know what they did. They shared their experience of being touched inappropriately, being propositioned for sex, and  nearly being raped. While strip joints are often a front for prostitution in other countries, Canada is not one of them and these girls were very clear on the fact that they were not prostitutes. They all admitted that the money was addicting but only planned to dance until they had graduated from University or paid off various loans. Some admitted that they had provided sexual favors for customers for money but that hated themselves for it. I still remember their names and faces and I wonder what they are up to now. The beautiful thing about their situation is that they HAVE the choice to stay or go. That is the not the reality for hundreds and thousands of women and children who are forced to dance naked for the enjoyment of others  under the threat of bodily harm. There is a BIG difference. While a call girl and high end prostitute have a say in who they choose to service, a sexual slave does not.

A couple of days ago I was reading a blog about an organization that rescues children from the sex trade in India and Thailand. This particular organization had invited bloggers from many different platforms to come and witness what they were doing and how they were doing it. Each blogger wrote about their experience and as I read their accounts, my heart ached with the memory of what I witnessed all those years ago.

Rewind about eight years and I find myself in Bangkok,Thailand, surrounded by more prostitution that I have ever witnessed before. While of the women lounging against pot bellied foreigners have "chosen" the trade out of financial desperation, the vast majority were modern day slaves. I still remember how heavy my heart felt, and how tangible the oppression felt. It was sickening. Numerous tuk tuk drivers asked us if we wanted to go to the sex district to watch women perform degrading acts. More than once I saw a terribly young girls being led into hotels by much older men . Every book store was dominated by books for foreigners on dealing with prostitutes. At night, girls lined the streets and every bar was filled with men groping them.. By the time Nathaniel and I had arrived in Thailand we had been traveling through third world countries for seven months, and while my husband  had "Delhi belly" and vomited on more than one occasion,  my "cast iron stomach", as we often jokingly called it, had withstood everything. This was something I couldn't withstand and it left me hovering over a toilet for the better part of a day.  Little did I know that I would  witness child prostitution in Cambodia a few weeks later.

Tears pour down my cheeks even as I contemplate the plight of these women and children. Here I am, a privileged  woman and mother in a suburban neighborhood  with two children, living a fairy tale by comparison. I find myself asking "what can I do"? How can I make a difference? I can't just pull up stakes and head to South East Asia, but I realize that I can support organizations and ministries that are actively involved in rescuing and helping these women and children. One such organization is Exodus Road. Check out their web page to see what they do. I have included a short video clip from their web page.

No comments: