Behind a mega-church, in a dingy, dark laneway there’s a door that most people would walk by and not notice.
“Thai massage,” it reads.
And today there’s a small red sign that attaches to that door that says, “open”
Last time we came it was locked up and looked abandoned.
The only thing we can do is knock.
It’s Thursday afternoon and I’m doing what I normally do on this day-brothel outreach. Since coming back from Zambia and India, I have rejoined the ministry in Perth that works with Human Trafficking and Prostitution. Our ministry has 5 objectives - Prevention, Advocacy, Research, Networking, and Direct Care.
Being in the brothels with the workingwomen is a way we can do both research and direct care.
So we knock on the door. It slightly opens and we are semi-greeted with a confused look from a small Asian woman. About that time some construction men walk by, giving each other equally confused glances but never making eye contact with us. That’s one thing I’ve noticed about the men who frequent these brothels. Often they keep their head down, as if that somehow makes them invisible to everyone who knows exactly what they are doing. They don’t say much but they exchange some type of familiar grumbling to the little Asian woman. This small interaction shows me that these men and this little woman have met before.
“We’ve brought you cookies,” I say as the men disappear into the alleyway. This is just one strategy we feel like the Lord has given us in order to get into these places. Because let’s face it- it’s a little peculiar when some Christian girls come knocking at a house where women are selling their bodies for sex.
How do you actually get in to the brothels? That’s a question that gets asked a lot and one we definitely had to take to God in prayer.
Food, especially baked goods is a way into most people’s hearts. So while it may be a feeble attempt, it’s one we have seen work pretty regularly.
Anyways. I think I caught her off guard with my baked goods.
“No. No. I don’t have no money,” she says in broken English.
Three times she refuses. Three times I insist. And just before she closes the door in our face, I remember the other strategy God has given us.
“English lessons, free English lessons, “ I say desperately as the door almost shuts.
Suddenly her whole demeanor changes.
“You have English lessons?”
The door flings opens.
“Come in, come in.” She motions to my coworker and me.
She offers for us to sit down and by the looks of the place, I hesitate but know I can’t refuse her hospitality.
There are nude paintings on the wall, but nothing too vulgar. I have certainly seen worse.
Lin is originally from Vietnam but spent most of her time in Thailand and came to Australia as a refugee. I don’t know much of her story, but I know her life hasn’t been easy. She barely speaks English and has lived in the country for 25 years.
She is lonely. She isn’t shy to open up and talk about that. She has no money and doesn’t see that there can be opportunity for her to work in a different industry. She is sitting alone in this place that says it’s supposed to be a massage parlor.
She doesn’t come straight out and say she’s a prostitute but with the rooms seductively decorated and adorned with a large bed and shower and some other insinuating paraphernalia- it doesn’t take much to see what’s going on here.
She’s doing what she can. So she thinks. She’s just trying to get by.
She tells us that she recently had breast cancer and is now in remission. We tell her about our faith and who we believe God to be and although she has never heard the Gospel before, she agrees that perhaps God is after her. Since she is “healed from cancer and some nice girls come to help me with English"
She pulls out some children’s English workbooks to show us she really has been trying to learn English.
My heart breaks for this woman. The only thing she has become familiar with since seeking refuge in Australia 25 years ago is poverty. I’m sad to know she spends her life locked up in a dingy, dark place where men come and go and she does what she thinks she needs to in order to get by.
Sometimes people just need to be told they are special. Worthwhile. Valued. Loved.
After working with so many prostitutes, I realize most of these women have no idea of these simple, yet revolutionary ideas.
They have a purpose.
While we may not immediately see them set free from the life they have chosen or been placed into- we can visit them. Love them. Converse with them. Show interest in them that isn’t self-gaining or self-seeking. We may be the only people they interact with that don’t take something from them.
Lin’s face has lightened and she repeatedly thanks us for coming to see her. It was a simple act from us, but it speaks volumes to her. We ask her if we can pray for her. We ask if we can pray to the God we have told her about. She is happy to receive prayer.
So there in that dingy, dark laneway, behind this suspicious looking door in what some people like to refer to as the “den of iniquity” we have the privilege of inviting the presence of God into the place. Into a brothel! After we finish praying Lin hugs us repeatedly. She connected with us and I think that just for a moment she has felt loved.