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What We Want You to Know

I often have conversations with women who are skeptical of After Hours Ministry, simply because we are a Christian organization. Most of these women have been abused and mis-treated by the church and Christians. So many who have GREAT intentions, but without fully understanding the psychological and psychosocial implications of having been in the game for so long, they make harsh and rash comments and assumptions about these precious women and “if they would only try harder” and “how could they possibly be in love with a man that treats them that way!” – they are comments that are meant in love, but come across very condescending and judgmental.  When we make assumptions about someone else’s situation (thinking we know what they need, how they need it, or even that we fully understand their situation) we make them victims all over again and do not empower them to live their own story. We come across as someone only wanting relationship when they do things “our” way.

A few of these amazing women took the time to share with us a few things they wish people knew. Specifically, people who have a heart for the sexually exploited. If you have a heart to help women who are sexually exploited, and don’t want to do more harm than good, read this! It’ll help.

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We want people to know how thankful we are for their willingness to help.  We want them to know we are painfully aware we come with major trust issues! We are painfully aware we at times misunderstand what you are trying to say and how you are trying to help us.  To us, at times, it may come across as you being over-bearing, taking control, or making us your new project for the year.  We know we're blunt and most times come across uncaring, unresponsive, and extremely cold-hearted.  But nothing could be further from the truth!  

We listen to everything you say.  If you have been one of the few we have let in our lives an you have been consistent with us... we listen and rethink through what you say.  We do not just disregard your input in our lives. But there are some things we want you to know. "We" are NOT speaking on behalf of all woman an men in the sex worker community.  Some choose what we do.  I will let someone else tackle that subject.   We are speaking for us.  There are 7 of us sitting here pouring our hearts out in hopes that if you work with sex workers, become friends with them and let them in your lives or if you’re going to work with us in future, we want to help you understand some things about us.

First, most of us are not looking for “Captain Save-A-Ho” to save us.  For a few of us here, we never even thought we needed help or saving.  So the whole “let’s get them out!” “Let’s rescue them!” is not realistic.  If we come to a point where we decide we want and need to get out of the life, we don't need rescue.  Some of us sitting here have been "rescued" many times over only to have little to no support shortly after. Even when we go into the so called “Christian” safe houses/programs for help. Our experiences were not good.  We needed more than forced Bible reading an chores.  We needed life skills beyond GED.  Some of us, most of us, need help learning how to live in a square world. Learning how to keep regular job hours and complete basic skills like banking, writing checks, etc. Some of us do not even know how to manage money. If our pimps/daddy's kept all our money and bought our food, clothes etc., then we were never able to go through the process of growing up an learning life skills that you never probably even thought about. 

Speaking for two of us here, going to the doctor is traumatic in itsself.  We always had our daddy take us or he would have one of the P-partners (runners) take us. They do all the talking!  They make us look crazy.  We are so nervous we will say the wrong thing and be disciplined when we get home that we just watch silently and rely on our daddy to give us ques when to talk and when to be quiet.  They take over the appointment from the start.  Most times we do not even go to the ER or Doctor for things you would rush to the doctor for.  They also take us to many different hospitals in different counties under different names.   If we get away from our daddy it can take years of going to the doctor to take care of our health. And most of the time our daddy's take all our government ID’s. So that’s another issue we have to deal with. We need a support system where if WE choose to go to ER or doctor we have someone who can drive us and go in with us IF that is what we choose.  But if we don't we ask you to please be patient with us. We're trying.  We are scared and feel helpless most of the time. At times it's easier to go back into The Game because we feel like they know us so well and we can't do life without their help.

If you become a part of our life and we start confiding in you, asking questions about God, please do not take it personal that we might be angry at him. It just pushes us away.  Also, if you do answer questions please don't go into how we are being used and manipulated and how we need to be rescued from our horrible life.  Or bring it up in other conversations.  Some of us still love our daddy and it just makes us want to defend him.  It shuts down any future dialog we may have. Even if we at times realize we need help or may be coming to realize some things are not what we thought, this is extremely hurtful and painful to us. We just need your support in just being there.  And if and when we need to talk about some of this, please remember you may have seen and observed things all along that is all new to us. You don't have to have all the answers.  Just be honest when we ask you things.  We don't need you to fix us. 

And if you make a mistake like we all do and accidentally hurt us our we get mad at each other.  If you know your in the wrong. Say you’re sorry.  We are so tired of well-meaning people who are there for us out of true love in their hearts not saying sorry. Just brushing over it like it’s no big deal.  We know we misunderstand things. Some of us (well most of us here tonight!) are hot heads ready to fight!  But I can tell you this, if we hurt you on accident, or god forbid on purpose, we will say sorry and do what it takes to change our behavior. It feels sometimes like the people who help us the most feel like they do so much for us that it’s okay not to take responsibility for their actions. It’s as if they think they don’t need to because of all they do. It's not okay.  And please stop blaming our trust issues or other issues we may have from on-going mental, physical and sexual abuse on the break-down of the relationship. We know this is a factor in things but it's not always just us.  You may have things you need to work on too.  (and that's okay). When you don't take responsibility for what you do and brush us off or don’t say sorry. Or blame it all on our issues, it’s just like our daddies do! You end up doing to us the same damn thing as our pimps!

We need you to know that we have tried. And some of us here tonight are still trying and a few of us have given up and decided to go back to the life.  If you really love us and care as some have told us.  Just please don't take it personal as if it’s a failure on your part. We remember everything some of you have done and are doing for us. And it does not mean our minds may not change in future.  I wish I could tell you why we do what we do. Why we go back or why we still love and defend these men. We can't.. we don’t even get it.  It's a whole other level of pain we can't even put into words.

 

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Don't Leave Her Alone

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Most outreach nights, I have great interactions with women, and then find it a privilege to pray for them on my drive home and throughout the week. But this weekend my interaction with one woman, D*, really stuck with me. D* is expecting a baby girl in March, and although she is not the first pregnant woman I have ever met out on the track, something about her was different and special to me.

When we first approached her, there was a car with two men parked nearby who kept trying to get her attention. She seemed uninterested so we continued to approach her. As we got closer we could hear they were trying to talk with her, but she continued to ignore them. We gave her a gift bag and chatted with her for a bit and then asked her if she wanted prayer. She said she wanted prayer for her and her baby. As we began praying for her I got this strong feeling that we should not leave her alone. This is something I’ve never felt out on outreach before.

After chatting just a little bit longer, we started walking away and I noticed that the men were still parked near her. I told Amanda the feeling I had gotten during prayer and we turned around to go back and stand with D*. We wanted to offer to just be with her a bit longer, check with our team leader if she needed a ride somewhere or a bus ticket. I wanted to be sure we could safely get her away from those men in that car that would not leave her alone. Just a couple minutes after going back to stand with her the men left and she said a friend had called an Uber to come and pick her up. She felt safe.

As I walked away from her, her name and face and our conversation continued to lay heavy on my heart. I continue this week to prayerfully hope she reaches out to us and that she feels the overwhelming love of the Lord has for her. Will you pray with us for D*?

-Karen

 

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Just Be Held

There's a song that always gets me, the chorus says, "stop holding on and just be held." I feel like I'm always trying to hold on, to figure it out, to be ok, to be enough and yet Jesus tells us to come and rest. To let go, to quit striving, to allow him to hold us, heal us and restore us. 

We met Jo* three weeks ago. She smiled and graciously accepted a gift bag, she held her head up high and walked with confidence. Then I asked her how she was doing. She crumbled in my arms and began to tell me of the unfathomable losses she had incurred in the last few weeks. She was in so much pain and yet was holding it all together. But now, she had a safe place to fall apart, to just be held, so she let go. She let go of pride, of fear, of shame, and through a waterfall of tears, shared her story with us. 

She was several months pregnant with twins, a boy and a girl, that is until last week. Last week he beat her up. The violence her body experienced after that perhaps even worse than the initial beating. She lost her babies in a horrifying sequence of events that night, she was even able to see them as they left her body all too soon. Fingers, and toes, and eyes that would never look upon their loving mother. 

Her babies were gone and she was back on the street just days later. I guess I'm thankful that she was there, we never would have met her otherwise. She wept in my arms that night and the next day and again three days later. In the meantime, we named the twins and began to plan a memorial service. 

This weekend we gathered with her family to grieve the loss with her. We planted flowers ,"Dianthus" whose name means "heavenly flower," one for each twin. We talked about how Jesus wept and how that act in itself was a gift to us, because there is a time to mourn and Jesus mourns with us. How Jesus shows us compassion and identifies with us in our suffering and Jesus offers us hope of a life restored now and into eternity. We prayed for God to heal Jo's heart and talked about how God has so much he wants to give her, how he wants to heal her and set her free. 

I hope that Jo will take those steps toward healing and freedom, but for now, I'm so thankful she let go and let us hold her. I'm so grateful that Jesus offers us a place of rest, to come just as we are and lay it all down, and just be held. 

"Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest." Matthew 11:28

*Name and details changed to protect the identity of our friend

She Knew

It was the first time I had ever seen C on the blade, with her wide eyes and two cheap braids she said she wore to deceive her customers into thinking she closer to twenty instead of forty. I couldn’t blame her—like is hard on the track. From a distance down the other side of the block-

She knew: we were coming for her. We, the “church people,” were ready to give gifts and pray.

She knew: God was revealing options for her.

She knew: All this, drunk on a bottle or so of Tequila, which still graced the scent of her breath.

She knew: It was wrong.

But I was grateful for those wide eyes and cheap braids to come straight towards us and wait until we met her in the middle of the sidewalk. And that’s when C starting preaching to us. I mean, this woman knows her scriptures inside and out. Over the next hour, she shared about her family, the death of mom and the money she still owed a guy a couple blocks down. I couldn’t really get a word in edgewise, but it didn’t seem to matter. What she really needed was someone to listen to her important stories and understand. I was happy to meet C that night. And elated she decided to go right on home.

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April Training

If you are interested in learning more about reaching out to men and women involved in prostitution in Los Angeles or possibly coming out with us on outreach – join us for one of our training classes!

Our next class is Saturday, April 23rd at Los Angeles Christian School (1620 W 20th Street)

Class begins at 3:00p. There will be a chance for those who are interested to join us for a short drive down the track afterward to get a glimpse at what we do on a weekly basis (**You must be over 21 to join us on the track).

Comment here with any questions or join us in April (No need to RSVP – just show up!) Looking forward to seeing you.

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The Audacity to Dream

E was one of the first girls I met out on the track, and her face is ingrained in my memory. E had been so genuine and open with us, sharing about being in the game for the past two years. She had no form of income and the government was continually lessening her welfare benefits. She and her sister took turns babysitting her two-year-old and her sister’s one-year-old while the other was out working on the track, night after night.

But E is my age.

E has to care for herself and her son. E has to worry about having enough money for them to survive. E had wanted to be a secretary, but now those dreams were distant.

And there I stood, two feet from her, yet in an alternate reality.

I am her age, but I do not have to raise a child. I do not live in fear of next month’s electricity bill. I have aspirations and am able to actively work towards them. I have the audacity to dream.

I want so badly for E to be able to dream again. I want so badly for E to work towards her aspirations. I still think of her often and pray for God’s hand to work good in her life. I have not seen her since. I do not know where she is or how she is doing. But I ask God to give her a flickering hope for a brighter day.

“Life will be brighter than noonday, and darkness will become like morning”. –Job 11:17

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Ways to Get Involved

  1. LEARN. Start doing research to learn more of the reality of prostitution as trafficking and modern day slavery that exists in your own city and around the world. Read books, see films, hold discussions and talk about it afterwards.
  2. SHARE. Tell other people about After Hours Ministry and the men and women we are reaching out to. You can link to our Facebook Fan PageFacebook Cause PageTwitter, or this website! And be sure to come back here to check up on us and how our outreaches are going.
  3. NETWORK. Connect with other advocates in your area and with organizations that are also addressing this issue. Don’t start from scratch when you don’t have to! Together, we can make a change.
  4. PRAY. Join our network of prayer partners from around the world. We cannot do what we are doing without your prayer support sustaining us. And be sure to let us KNOW you are praying for us!
  5. INVEST. Make a one-time contribution or become a monthly partner with After Hours to support the relationships we are seeking to build on the streets of LA.
  6. CONSCIOUS. Be a conscious consumer. Hold businesses accountable and ask corporations to join the fight against human trafficking. Keep an eye out and don’t look away! If you are suspicious of slavery of exploitation, call the national trafficking hotline: 888.3737.888. Find out what to look for HERE.
  7. VOLUNTEER. Come to a training and then come out with us on an outreach. Or let us know in what other areas you are gifted – we are always in need of help in other areas like administration, marketing, graphics, etc. If you aren’t in the area, volunteer with a local anti-trafficking organization. They need your help!
  8. COLLECT. Gather brand-new cosmetics, jewelry, travel size lotion, mouthwash, hand sanitizer, baby wipes, kleenex, nail polish, lip gloss, candy and hair bands to donate to the After Hours gift bags used for outreach.
  9. INVITE. Invite a member of our After Hours staff to speak at your church or organization.
  10. MAKE HELP AVAILABLE. Place coasters at bars and sleeves for coffee cups to promote the national trafficking hotline 888.3737.888. In public places, disseminate posters, brochures and other materials about trafficking. Download them from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
  11. CYBERVENTION. Make sure trafficking does not happen on the internet. Keep an eye on Craigslist, Backpage and advertising spaces. Report and suspicious ads.
  12. CARE. Volunteer at a local shelter for survivors. Help survivors access medical care and counseling, legal services, housing, a new job and companionship. Do a drive for supplies and donations to care for victims of slavery. Sometimes the rescue part is sexy, but we need to be in it for the long haul.
  13. DO WHAT YOU LOVE. Use your talents to fight slavery. Do an art project and display it in a public place. Use a sports event to raise awareness and funds for the issue. Talk about the issue at a concert, or make it a benefit for survivors. Film a movie on the state of modern-day slavery. Write about the issue and post it on blogs. Hold a huge yard or bake sale to raise funds. Make your cleaning or yard work services available for a day to raise money. Do a car wash.

This list adapted from Call and Response.

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You Can’t Love the Sinner if You Spend All Your Time Hating the Sin

I would have loved for Subway to make a statement that went something like “We are heartbroken over this devastating news. Our thoughts and prayers are with the children enslaved in the pornographic industry that they find healing and justice. But our prayers are also with Jared, that he find healing and redemption now that this has all been brought to light. Sexual addiction is a serious and debilitating disease that no one should face alone.”

But that’s not politically correct. You can’t side with a monster. And that’s what he is now, right? A monster? Because if you side with him at all, if you choose to try and see a glimpse of his hurt, shame and humanity – that means that you aren’t on the side of the children – the victims.

I refuse to believe in this dichotomy. What he’s done is horrific. Nauseating. Terrible in every sense of the word. I won’t deny that. So many children in this country are taken advantage of; abused, tormented and neglected. They need a safe haven. They need advocates. They need justice.

But what saddens me is how our response, I think, perpetuates the system. Perpetuates the darkness, shame and hiddenness of sexual sin and addiction. When we KNOW that what we struggle with most in the hiddenness of our lives would make others abandon and disown us – it is no wonder we just keep it to ourselves. And daily battle between a struggle to fight or just give in.

I think this is why I hate the phrase “love the sinner, hate the sin” because we never actually do that. We’re so focused on our righteous responsibility to hate the sin we don’t actually get around to loving the sinner.

Never ever ever ever ever should this happen to children. But it does – and when it does – I think punishment should follow. I think the Jared’s of the world should serve time in prison and should pay fines. But I also think we should stand beside those who solicit prostitution and look at pornography…even child pornography. I think it is important we take a moment and consider their pain and brokenness and the life circumstances that perhaps brought them to this moment in time. Not to excuse it, hear me on that, not EVER to excuse it, but to love, heal and walk with them through it.

If we continue to abandon and disown those who disgust and confuse us most with their sinful behavior, the world will never heal.

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Vision

 A brief testimony I gave in Fuller Chapel today. Thought I'd post it here (since I am terrible at being a regular blogger!)

Today’s topic is VISION.

And I think a lot of times it is hard to catch a vision - especially God’s vision. Or perhaps it’s not hard to catch it, it’s hard to keep it for the long haul - over all the ups and downs and obstacles and through the darkness. At least that’s my experience. We’ve come so far in After Hours. A lot of girls have been impacted - but there is still so much darkness and defeat. It’s easy in the harder moments to turn to God and say this is impossible. We're not really doing ANYTHING. I can’t even truly relate to these men and women. When are YOU going to step in and do something? Can't you just end all this pain and darkness? And time and time again He says - do what you can. Care for them. Listen to them. Walk with them and tend to their brokenness. And sometimes I feel like all I can do is laugh at the insignificance of it all. 

But I think at times the men and women I get to minister to feel the same way. One courageous, strong, feisty woman I have had the privilege of walking alongside for about seven years now is one of my heroes. She’s overcome SO much. And the fact that she loves God after going through all the trauma and neglect and sadistic abuse she has is mind-boggling to me. And yet, she doesn’t see it! She can’t see past all her pain and medical issues and fall backs and anger and psychological issues to see HOW MUCH she’s grown and how far she’s come. So many people in her life have let her down that she thinks it is her fault and that somehow she’s would be more healed now and farther along if she was better at this life thing - and had her shit together better. 

And that’s when the pieces fit together better for me. When I can see her with the eyes of Christ it allows me to give myself a little bit of grace at the same time. She blows me away every day by just being her. By brining her perspectives and artistic eye and smile and laughter and street smarts to the table. By just getting up out of bed every morning and being brave enough to face the darkness. By bringing who she is and what she has to the table, to God, and saying “okay - let’s do this - I trust you” 

 

And that’s all God is asking me to do. Why should I think what I have to offer is any less sufficient of an offering? 

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Somebody's Daughter: Book Review

This book is a raw and honest look at the truth of prostitution in the United States. It is not for the faint of heart and does not hold back in describing in detail the underbelly of one of the worlds most controlled and vulgar criminal organizations. You will read the true story descriptions of physical and emotional violence that will force you to put the book down and weep for these women and the oppression they’re slaves to.

Author Julian Sher takes you through a journeyed look at two particular women – how they got caught up in the game, how they got caught up in the juvenile system, and how hard it was for them to attempt to get away from their pimps. It gives you a detailed look at the brainwashing, manipulation and isolation that takes place in The Game of prostitution. Sher also look at some of the difficulties facing organizations like After Hours, and some of the other wonderful organizations we work with like Dream Center and Walter Hoving Home as well as the LAPD in seeking to assist these women or provide them protection.

But the book also gives you hope. Hope that one person within a system who cares enough to push for changes can make a difference. Hope that these women really can turn their lives around if they get the resources they need. And hope that the tides are turning and something can be done.

Although difficult to read, I recommend this book to anyone wanting to learn the language of the game, the detailed intricacies of running various circuits across the country, and the brutal details of abuse and violence that takes place behind closed doors. For anyone interested in becoming more aware and educated about prostitution and the truly devastating impact it is having on women across America as well as some of the reasons it is so difficult for these women to get out and how they get caught up in it to begin with. Sher has written a book to educate, challenge and motivate you to action.

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What do You Really Need?

Last Friday, four of us met at the gas station at midnight before heading out to the track. We ate tacos, naturally, while catching up on one another’s lives, then sat in the car and prayed for a while for the night ahead. I was praying that God would bring the right people across our paths to talk to, and in that next moment a woman’s voice alerted us that she was approaching the car. She introduced herself to us – we’ll call her “T” – saying, “I didn’t mean to scare ya’ll, I would just appreciate any way you can bless me”. T went on to explain through the half rolled down car windows that she normally worked as a prostitute, but was unable to work because of sores on her body. She lifted the leg of her pants to show us the blistering skin underneath. “Any way you can bless me, I would be so grateful”.

We stepped out of the car to talk with her properly. T went on to share that it was her daughter’s birthday but she hadn’t seen her that day, because she didn’t want her daughter to see her in the state she was in. Her own daughter. Again she asked us to bless her in any way we could, naming “food”, “water”, “change” as some ideas.

Sometimes, the needs seem clear; other times they don’t. So we did what we knew we needed to do; we prayed for T, asking God for healing from her physical pain, for protection and freedom. Bryan gave her a pack from his car, complete with socks, toothpaste, and other essentials; Amanda went into the gas station and bought T some water. T thanked us, saying our smiles and us giving her the time of day meant more than anything we had given her. Yet, she lingered a little longer, asking if there was anything else we might bless her with (“any spare change, coins?”). We told her if she ever wanted more resources, she could call us and we would connect her to them, we hugged her, and she thanked us again, going on on her way.

As she walked away, gifts in hand, I thought to myself, “what is it that T really needed in that moment?” This question has come up in my mind repeatedly this week. Did she need those physical gifts, that water, those socks? Did she need a couple of dollars to take care of herself for the next day? Or did she need social interaction, a smile, the physical touch of a hug, prayer? We gave her the small tangible gifts we felt we could, the offer of ongoing help if she wanted to reach out. More importantly, I think, we treated her as worthy of love, of time. In her vulnerable and dejected state, we told her that she was valuable (Matthew 8:17). I’m so thankful to be a part of a ministry that is focused on loving the one in front of us as best as we know how and prayerfully committing them, their ongoing needs, the larger issues at hand to a God who is all-knowing, all-seeing, and all-powerful.

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John School

 I had the privilege of attending the “john school” or Prostitution Diversion Program at the 77th precinct in Los Angeles this last Saturday. The program began in 2008 by two retired LAPD detectives under the belief that education is more powerful than punishment. That if these men who have been arrested for soliciting prostitution only knew what was really going on and all the dangers involved – they would make better choices in the future. Since the program began in July of 2008, 1,533 men have gone through the program and only 4 have been repeat offenders.

I didn’t know what to expect when I walked into the training. To be honest, my fear was that the school was going to be very shame-based. But it was delightfully refreshing. I walked away with such hope, inspiration and encouragement for what this program is doing and what more we can be doing to help the men of Los Angeles.

This program educated, challenged, encouraged and inspired (at least me! But I think the men that were there as well). The men were treated as decent humans who would make better decisions if only they had the information to make those decisions. On one of the breaks we were talking to a detective who was telling us about some of the past men they have come through the program. One man was in a moment of extreme loneliness and depression after his wife of 40 years had just passed away a couple weeks before and he got caught. I think we often jump to the conclusion that these men are gross and misogynistic. But I think you’d find that a lot of these men have a much larger and tragic story that we most often don’t consider. 

Throughout the day the johns ask questions, they answer questions, they’re involved and even engaged in laughter at different parts of various lectures and presentations. The presenters really know their stuff – and they don’t pull their punches – but they also treat the johns as intelligent men who are capable of thinking through the consequences next time to make better decisions since they now have the information.

I go through the whole day below, each speaker that came and what they talked about. If you care to read in more detail – keep going!

On Saturday’s training there were 23 men present, of various ethnicities. I counted 8 wedding rings in the room and guessed the ages ranged from early 20’s to early 50’s. Their current situation was explained to them. You were ARRESTED for prostitution, but not CONVICTED – and that’s how it’ll stay on your record if you complete this program and successfully stay clean for one year of probation after completing this program.

“We’re not here to discuss if prostitution should be legalized. We’re not here to point fingers. We’re here to help you make better decisions. You’re risking your life, health, reputation and your family’s life and health. If you go back out on the street, you WILL be arrested.”

Not everyone is eligible for john school. A man cannot have prior arrests for prostitution, drugs or violent crimes on his rap sheet and must be willing to submit to an HIV blood test. Each john shells out $600 to cover the cost of the class. And if they keep clean for their one-year probation, no conviction goes on their permanent record. IF, however, they are to solicit a prostitute again and get caught – they would go to jail immediately.

The day was packed full of highly qualified, entertaining and informative speakers on a variety of topics. The day starts with an explanation of HIV testing which is required of each man that goes through this program. Throughout the day, each man is asked to leave the room one by one and go out to a mobile station parked outside to get tested. They will get their results immediately.

The first speaker was Lt. Rick Shields to give the police perspective. He explained that years ago there were hundreds of prostitutes out on the street corners, but those numbers are declined due to the internet, out call and in call services, backpage, newspapers, etc. The game is changing and how we must respond is changing. He discussed some of the sting operations that the police have going which most likely resulted in these men getting caught and sitting in this room! He framed it all as an overarching community problem – prostitution impacts our churches, schools and neighborhoods in ways we don’t think about. Represented by the simple fact that many of these women are FORCED in this and what we don’t see are the killings, fights and rapes that place. He also reminded these men that a majority of the women they are soliciting are actually under aged although they might tell you they are 18. And if you get caught with a girl under 18, even if you claim you didn’t know – that’s an automatic felony!

The youngest girl arrested (for LT Shields) on the streets in Hollywood for prostitution was 11 years old. The oldest was 69 years old.

Next a city attorney representative, Sonja Dawson spoke. She started by making it clear that her job was to prosecute them! But at the same time, they were supportive of this program because they realized that they could not arrest their way out of this problem. She explained the specifics behind getting arrested for prostitution, the penal codes. She also took the time to explain what would happen if they violated probation or had a second (or third!) offense.

Next was Jason Dawson from the Public Health Administration to talk about HIV and AIDS awareness. Let me tell you – THIS is the sex education we need in high schools! Terrifying. He explained all the science behind what HIV and AIDS actually are as well as many of the statistics from LA, giving many different gender and ethnic statistics.

Then Heather Northover came and gave a presentation of STDs….with pictures. Again, if this was incorporated into more of our sex education, I can’t help but think more teens would stay away from sex…FOREVER! (just kidding…only kind of). STDs cost $16 billion in health care each year. And HIV can run up to $40k annual to treat. At one point she asked each man to look around the room and then asked “how comfortable would you be having sex with someone after they’ve had sex with everyone in this room?” That’s basically what’s going on when you have sex with a streetwalker, you just don't think about it because it’s their job. Sex workers are 10x more likely to have STDs and inconsistent condom use.

Then we had a lunch break, which was really ill-timed since we had just looked at a ton of penises with STD’s.

The afternoon, to me, was the most powerful part of the training. I know not everyone who solicits prostitution is a sex addict. And the training is not implying that either – but bringing in several men from sex addicts anonymous was really powerful. I think it gave freedom to relate to the stories of those who suffer from addiction to find yourself in their stories and be able to get the help you need. I won’t share any of the details of the stories that were shared, but know that they were raw, vulnerable, gut wrenching and powerful. There were lost jobs, divorces, revoking of professional licenses, loss of property, lost children, having to register as a sex offender, and many more. Their truth telling was so powerful, it really conveyed the human experience: fear of mortality, fear of failure and a deep seeded desire to be loved, wanted and needed.

Their biggest suggestions:

1.     Go to meetings

2.     Meet with a sponsor

3.     Have a support group you meet with (out of SAA) that you talk to about life and challenges

4.     Cold call others within SAA so you can ask how they are

5.     Share your story: it is only through authenticity and vigorous honesty that you can get freedom.

They then had Dr. Barbara Pavlo come in and talk about some of the brain science behind addiction and specifically sex addiction. After that they had an ex-prostitute from the area (she had worked one of the tracks After Hours works on for 15 years!) speak to the men about a prostitutes perspective. And the day ended with a community member talking about the impact prostitution has on the neighborhood. She brought up many things I had never thought of before! It was really moving.  

I was encouraged by humanity on Saturday! Those that came together to present this amazing program, retired LAPD officers Art and Bill who have put this program together and continually improved it over the years. Their belief that the men of Los Angeles can make better decisions. The passion of the community members, the vulnerability of the men from SAA who came to share their stories and let those in the training who may also suffer from addiction know that they are not alone.

 

Everyone deserves a second chance. Thank God for grace. Thank God for community members that do what they can to educate, challenge and love those who had a moment of weakness. And for those it wasn’t a moment of weakness for, who dare to repeat – they’ll pay the consequences! The dark underbelly of prostitution in Los Angeles is a difficult thing to get your mind around – but this program is doing a great job getting the word out there.

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Why Hasn't She Left?

There have been a handful of occasions in my years on the street where I'm listening to the story of a woman and wishing I could record her words because she is saying EVERYTHING I want people to know about the realities of the Game and prostitution. Last weekend we met S and I found myself in the same position.

S recently left her pimp and has a three old daughter. She is still working to support herself and her child and many of us would wonder why? If she is free of her violent and controlling pimp why can't she get off the street? As her story unfolds it carries all of the potential roadblocks and triggers that lead someone into this life and keep them there.

Somewhere along the way she mentioned foster care, my heart sank. Not that I didn't suspect it, but sometimes I find myself hoping it won't be so consistent. The abandonment and rejection, the constantly being left and discarded. A child is given no tools to care for themselves and they have nowhere to turn, nowhere that they belong.

In a search for belonging she finds her pimp, who is often her boyfriend. He meets the need for belonging even if it's the worst kind. If she ever gains a moment of clarity and realizes that he has been using her for his own gain (just as surely as many of her foster families did) he has made it so that she has little to no chance to survive on her own.

He took her ID. That's ok, it's not hard to get a new one. She's been arrested. He kept her from her court dates. With warrants for her arrest that she couldn't avoid she cannot get a new drivers license, a job, a place to live...

He told her that she was worthless. He told her no one would believe her, they would put her in jail instead. He told her he would kill her. Others have disappeared before.

She left him because she has a daughter, a daughter who she grieves for and simultaneously dares to dream for. Grieving because of the years that have already been given over to something less than, grieving because what if she can't get out? What if she can't move on? What if she tries to and they take her daughter away? But dreaming, dreaming of a what it would be like to give her daughter a future that she herself never had a chance to know. Dreaming of being home when her daughter comes home from school, to tuck her in at a night and hold her when she has a bad dream.

The fear is almost paralyzing. The unknowns insurmountable. The road before her is long and hard and there is no way to make it easy. But she sees with more clarity than ever before, anything is better than this. Anything is better than wondering if you are going to survive another night, if you will be robbed or raped or killed. Anything is better than someone telling you they love you and turning around and selling you to anyone and everyone.

You can hear this story and feel overwhelmed and defeated, sometimes I do. But you can also hear this and with gratitude and hope in your heart, lean into the pain and dare to dream with her. It will cost you too. I don't know what, we're all called in different ways. It might cost you in empathy, or time. It might cost you financially or in dashed dreams, and the cost may not outweigh the results in this lifetime. You and she and I are in this together, whether we see it or not, my freedom and healing are wrapped up in hers and vice versa.

I don't know how you'll respond to this story, but I pray that you'll hear it. I pray that you will see the realities faced by men and women caught in this life are in no way simple or easy to overcome. That the pain and loss is beyond measure. At the same time I pray that you will hope with me for a restoration that only God can bring, for a miraculous redemption of what was lost, sold and given away, for a heart that willingly bears the burdens of others knowing that we are in this thing called humanity together and together with God, we find hope and healing.

 

 

"Then they cried out to the Lord in their trouble, and He saved them out of their distresses. He brought them out of darkness and the shadow of death, and broke their chains in pieces." 

Psalm 107:13,14

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I Hate Feeling Helpless

A couple of weeks ago, as we were in conversation with a couple of girls, a car pulled up. “Is that the cops?” one of the girls asked, “I don’t recognize that guy.” The other was pretty sure it wasn’t so our conversation continued, but the car turned the corner and parked right next to us. We all looked again at the car and one of the girls said, “That’s definitely the cops. I’m gonna run”. Immediately, two undercover cops jumped out of the vehicle, one yelling, “Don’t make me come after you. If you run it’s going to be worse for you”.

We stepped back reluctantly as the policemen stepped in and immediately starting questioning the girls, making them stand against the wall. In that moment, my blood began to rise. I knew that I could not step in. I knew that the police were just trying to do their jobs. But as I watched the girls get handcuffed, put in a car, and taken to the police station, I also knew that treating them as criminals was not just.

I hate feeling helpless to act. Ten feet from the girls, but unable to interfere with the police. Ten feet from the girls, but unable to help them in any way. Ten feet from the girls, but still ten feet from them, just a bystander looking on.

It is difficult to not feel dejected at my inability to help and angered by the injustice of the situation. But moments like this make me thankful for Jesus who is not just a bystander, Jesus who intercedes for us, the Holy Spirit who dwells in us, and God whose ways are all just. I am reminded of our feeble human state and our desperate need for an all-powerful Savior.

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One Step Closer

The appointment was scheduled for 4pm. Pick up time was 3pm. She was supposed to call me with the address so I could leave my office by 2pm. As the hour approached, my heart began to sink, she wasn't going to call, we weren't going to make the appointment and she would continue on in the life.

Discouragement is peering around the door, waiting for the right moment to strike. Seeking the perfect time to tell me that nothing ever changes, that I should just give up. But then I remember... I remember the last two years of knowing her. I remember that at first we had short conversations on the street, which led to text messages, which led to phone calls, which led to long talks at McDonalds in the middle of the week, which led to making appointments to get the help she needed. And though she isn't there yet, she is one step closer and that is the miracle. Yes, the miracle is in the end result of finding freedom but the miracle is also every step along the way.

God has been encouraging my heart with this verse lately, "Therefore the Lord will wait, that He may be gracious to you; and therefore He will be exalted, that He may have mercy on you. For the Lord is a God of justice; blessed are all those who wait for Him." Isaiah 30:18 As believers we think a lot about waiting on the Lord, it's all over the scriptures and we all have seasons where we are called to wait. But what we think about less often, is how God is waiting for us. The beginning of this verse tells us that God is waiting for us, to show us grace and mercy. It gives the picture that there are gifts of grace waiting for us if we will just come to Him in humility, with empty and open hands, ready to receive.

You can imagine that after suffering abuse from family, from strangers, being taken from her home, being trafficked and exploited, her perceptions of God would be skewed. She would see Him as punishing or distant, as withholding or unloving. As I praise God that she is in fact one step closer, I pray that she will begin to see God for who He is; a God of justice, who longs to be gracious to her. That in learning who He is and believing, she will be able to take another step, and another, and another... 

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I Know I'm Going to Hell

What have we as a church been teaching theologically that makes women in prostitution believe they can’t talk to God? That makes them believe they can’t ask for help in the midst of a rough situation? What is the theology we’re communicating that makes these women believe they have to have their lives cleaned up in order to earn God’s ear and grace and forgiveness before he’d intervene in their lives and situations?

Just last month I was sitting across the table from a woman in her early 20’s. She sat nervously pushing her food around her plate, avoiding eye contact and bouncing her leg up and down. She asked me repeatedly “do you think I am going to Hell?”

I met a young woman out on the track the other night, she couldn’t have been older than 17. She was terrified of her situation, hopeless and wanting help but felt too far gone. When we offered prayer she responded with nervous laughter and told us that she didn’t want to be a hypocrite.

I was talking to a lovely woman who has become a very dear friend to me over the last few years the other day and she began recounting a very dangerous situation she had managed to break free from – with many scrapes, bruises and a couple broken ribs to tell the tale. A john had grown increasingly violent and started to strangle and beat her. And in that moment, she told me, “I wanted to cry out to God to help me, to save my life. I wanted to pray, God just don’t let me die like this! But I knew he would never hear me. After the life I’ve lived…there is no way God would still hear my prayers or let me into Heaven.”

What have we as a church been teaching that makes each of them so convinced they are going to hell – that they are beyond redemption? That they don’t even deserve the ear of God anymore, that he is so far removed from them, he no longer desires to hear their voice?

Last time I checked, I was told each time I cheated, or lied or had lust in my heart or was gluttonous – I was free to turn back to God again and again and again. So why do we make certain sins unredeemable and DIRTY. I think that’s the difference. A life of prostitution, and those who are trapped in it whether it is their choice or not, is so taboo, something we can’t even really address or talk about from a pulpit so they are alienated. If their sin is so dirty we can’t even TALK about it in church, no wonder they think it’s too severe for God’s ears.

But Christ, by his death and resurrection – and even before that by his life on earth as a human – has redeemed these women – they are made in his very image, the imagio Dei. The baptism of Jesus paints a picture of our identity in God. Christ’s worth was not based on his merits, work, miracles or anything he did during his ministry on earth. God declared him “my son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased” (Mark 1:11) before he had a chance to do anything, good or bad, to base the formation of his identity on. The fact that Jesus got baptized at all shows incredible solidarity with us as sinners. Baptism signifies repentance, and Jesus, the only human being who did not need to repent, identifies with humanity in its brokenness. He is not ashamed of us and is proud our identity is in him

Jürgen Moltmann in his book “God in Creation” says it well when he says, “What is evil only emerges in the light of what is good, in the same way sin can merely pervert something which God has created, but cannot destroy it. Sin is the perversion of the human being’s relationship to God, not its loss” (p. 233).

So the next time you talk to someone about the accessibility of God and their possibility of going to Hell (which may or may not exist – but that’s a conversion for another day :)) think about the implications you are having. I realize that most who have this conversation or make this accusation are doing this out of a deep deep love for God and desire to see someone living their life in a way that is evident of no sin. But there is a bigger picture at play: addictions, systemic abuse, oppression, manipulation, violence, etc. And we would do well to show grace in the face of all of these things, to show love above anything else and to leave eternal damnation to God. For we would not want to prohibit any attempt these men and women make to reach God by intimidating them that he’d never hear them in the first place. The church should be the place that radically loves.

And for anyone reading who may think that they’ve fallen too far and no longer have a right to the ear of God: no matter what you do, ever, you remain in the image of God. Nothing can take that away. Into God’s image you were created, and sin can only pervert that not take it away as long as God continues to adhere to it. And I believe in a mighty faithful and loving God that won’t let go of you, no matter how unloved and unredeemable you may feel you are. Just reach out – he’s there.

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You're Not That Important

Sabbath is a strange thing, and I’m not sure why.

The 10 commandments are something we as Christians generally think are really important. But somehow we think we can ignore Exodus 20:8-10 “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy.  Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your male or female servant, nor your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns.”

Somehow we as a society have equated being overworked and having no boundaries as being successful and dedicated. We are slowing killing ourselves with our work ethic.

And to make matters even worse, we think those that have healthy boundaries are doing something wrong. The ministry I work with, After Hours, makes it mandatory that all our volunteers and employees take one weekend a month off and one month a year – so we are sure that we are getting the rest and rejuvenation that we need. When the director of our program took her first month of sabbatical off it was amazing the number of people that privately asked us if she was being disciplined or was having trouble and that was why she was stepping away from ministry for a month.

How did we get to this place where rest is seen as weakness? How is it that we feel if we take time away we are signifying LESS of a commitment to something than if we were to come back at it rested and with new perspective?

Jesus often lead by example in this area – when ministry was really heating up, just when the disciples were seeing results, Christ would say, stop – rest. Mark 6:30-31: “The apostles gathered around Jesus and reported to him all they had done and taught. Then, because so many people were coming and going that they did not eve have a chance to eat, he said to them, come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.”

How counter-intuitive! NOW is the time to keep pressing on. The people were hungry for the message. Whatever they were doing was working! They were in a rhythm! But Jesus called for rest knowing that our worth is not in what we do, but in who we are – and who we are cannot be strengthened when we never stop to feed, reflect and nourish our souls.

And I love the picture of Luke 23 of the women who had come to the tomb to wrap Christ’s body and prepare it for burial. Christ, their leader, their beloved had just DIED. Don’t you think they would drop everything to see that he was properly taken care of and buried? Verses 55-56 say: “The women who had come with Jesus from Galilee followed Joseph and saw the tomb and how his body was laid in it. Then they went home and prepared spices and perfumes. But they rested on the Sabbath in obedience to the commandment.

Not even the burial of our Lord and Savior was enough of a reason to get these women to break the Sabbath commandment. Surely that impatient client isn’t one either.

Kurt Fredrickson says: “[A Sabbath] lifestyle is confession and declaration that we are not necessary. It is hard to admit, but we are dispensable. We are worthwhile and we do good work. We are loved and cherished, but we are not necessary. The work will go on without me. Paul said in 1 Corinthians 3, I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God made it grow. We need a more sobered attitude about our work and ourselves. Too much of what we do is wrapped up in us proving to ourselves, and others and God how valuable and necessary we are. Sabbath living declares my worth is not in what I do.”

So what about you? What are the things that keep you from investing in Sabbath? What do you fear you’ll miss out on or lose if you take the time to break away?

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thankful

we are overwhelmed. and overjoyed. and awe-struck.

God is so good. so so very good.

it is impossible for me to describe how much i love what i do. what god has called me to do. the redemption and grace god allows me to be part of.

this week we’ve worked with a family from the midwest that lost track of their daughter. they were fearful that she had perhaps been trafficked. we networked with lots of other ministries and police departments and eventually FOUND HER!

today we were able to reunite her with her dad and she is on her way home.

sometimes you are able to see God’s grace and mercy in such a tangible way it overwhelms you physically, emotionally, intellectually and spiritually. and that’s what happened today. i can’t BELIEVE that God allows me to be part of bringing reconciliation and restoration to someone he loves SO much.

i wish i could share more of the story with you – more of the unbelievable and impossible details. but the most important details remains that God is good. and God is gracious. and God never ceases to amaze me – that just when i think the burden to rescue someone lays on me alone – God puts me in my place by letting me know that only he alone could orchestrate something so amazing.

 

i am thankful for the body of Christ that works together in times of stress and need. i am thankful for Jen Cecil who is the most supportive person in the world – and keeps me calm and collected and focused in the midst of high stress situations. and i am thankful that God is bigger than me and bigger than the lost daughter who has now come home. 

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Even though you might not see it...

"Even though you might not see my life changing what you are doing is changing me. Just to know that someone cares enough to come out here for us, nobody does that, not even our own families."

It's not a word for word quote but it's as close as I can remember. I've met N several times before and we always have a good connection with her. She told us last night that she'd been out there three years and that we had been with her all those years. She was grateful.

N is addicted to drugs and alcohol. She has given up everything to feed her addiction. She feeds her addiction so she can stay in the game. She is scared, desperate and heart broken. She knows the Lord and cries out to Him. She was in tears almost immediately and asked us to pray for her. She knew facing the truth was hard and our presence was causing her to do that but she wasn't afraid, she was comforted, because God called her worthy, beloved and was relentlessly pursuing her. And in that moment I'm reminded of the same truth, and comforted with her.

I don't know if N will ever be completely free this side of heaven. I pray that she will and won't give up hope but honestly, I don't know. But I do believe she'll be in heaven with me. If anyone grasps the gospel, it's N. She knows that she is undeserving and ensnared by sin. She knows that the only way she can stand in the presence of God is through Jesus, that she herself has nothing to offer. This, is the message of the gospel. And it's slow and sometimes unseen but the Lord is working, drawing her in and changing her heart.

It's easy to grow tired and weary, to focus on our own circumstances and want to give up and then we run into N and others like her and I'm reminded how incredibly privileged we are to do what we do. To walk the same streets week after week, to be the one to celebrate with God's beloved, to mourn with God's beloved. God intertwines each of our lives with many others and every relationship is an incredible gift. Some take longer than others to form and require more effort but all of them are a gift.

As you go through your days, look for God in the midst of your interactions with others. He is there, longing to reveal Himself to you. He's there in the extraordinary and the ordinary. He's there in the darkness and the light. He's there in times of faith and times of doubt. Everything around you will change, but God's love and pursuit of you will always remain. Even though you might not see it, He is there.

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Consistancy

She just stood there and wept. Tears running down her cheeks. She’d reach up to gently wipe them off only to have more instantly reappeared.

She began sharing about her addiction. Drugs and alcohol. And the insurmountable obstacles she faces in her life.

It's not so easy to just enter a rehab program, she tells us. Addictions are dark and heavy - so dark that she was willing to leave her three children. "WHO does that," she cries. She hates herself and the choices she has made. But she has to have the drugs and alcohol to turn the tricks and feels trapped. She feels like every car she gets into might be her last - she never knows which john might be dangerous and hurt her, or even kill her.

But at the same time, she knows the Lord and cries out to him. While other girls simply took a gift bag and walked away quickly from us, she stayed and chatted for almost a half hour. “If humiliating myself and humbling myself by crying and being a fool is what it takes for God to get my attention, then I am going to sit here and cry and receive prayer.” She believes God is real and every time she runs into us feels he is calling to her, pursuing her, but she just lacks the strength to make the changes she needs to in her life and face the obstacles holding her back. She prayed with us that one day the Lord would make the taste of alcohol horrible to her lips.

We prayed with her. We cried with her. We embraced her. We let her know that being a slave to your addictions is powerful and horrible and difficult. And we don't want her to deal with it alone. We want to walk with her - even before she's ready to go into a rehab program.

“Even though you might not see my life changing what you are doing is changing me. Just to know that someone cares enough to come out here for us, nobody does that, not even our families.”

It’s not a word for word quote, but it’s close. She told us last night that she’d been out on that track for three years and that we’d been there with her all those years. And she was grateful.

Consistency. Sometimes it’s the most powerful thing you can do – more powerful than any statement you could make or advice you could give. It is a really long road to recovery. These women have learned not to trust people in their life, so we have learned to be consistent in building a relationship with them week after week and week and year after year.

I pray consistency for you in 2014. In whatever area of your life you need it. May you be faithful, even in the smallest of things, and trust the Lord to do his good work.

Christ with us, Christ before us, Christ in us.

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