|Photo by my roommate Trish Dagle of her experience at a pole bar. The dots represent how people become invisible unless we help them.|
Monday, February 22, 2016
Out reach to a bar
One of the main things on this trip was to walk into the darkest place on earth that I have been and show love. I know me, I know how I was raised, and I knew this was going to be very, very difficult. I want to start by saying that I don't believe anyone should just walk into a bar with the purpose of evangelizing for Jesus or rescuing a woman. There needs to be so much in place around that one event for it to work and not damage the girls, the people working for rescue and yourself. From the day I signed up for this trip 9 months ago, I began a conversation with God. I chose women from each stage of my life and country I lived in to be praying for me.
Our leader began preparing us for this night during the orientation and then when we arrived. In a way, it felt like too much preparation, but I was as ready as possible for what I was going to see. We spent a few hours praying as a group before we left. We divided into three smaller groups and went to three separate, well known, red light districts of the city where each group met up with partnering safe house staff. It was so important that we did not try to navigate this mission on our own without the guidence and wisdom of women who understand what is going on.
My group was sent to the "Fish Bowl". Unlike the other groups, my van ran into multiple problems getting to our destination. We spent about two hours in that van, driving around. We finally just began to pray and sing songs. You can just feel it when there is more going on than just the physical you can see around you. We prayed for the girls we would meet. We prayed for ourselves and we began to pray for the other groups that we knew were already in the bars.
When we finally arrived, we met our safe house staff in the parking lot and got a few instructions. When you walk into the Fish Bowl, there is a rounded piece of glass on the left, giving the impression of a huge fish bowl. There are steps inside with girls sitting on them. What happens is that a man walks in, stares through the the glass, picks his girl, pays and takes her to someplace else in the bar. The women behind the glass were wearing long, Thai wrap around skirts and tight tops. They were clustered in groups, talking and looking a bit miserable about being there. We didn't linger long in the lobby area but went to the next room which was a karaoke room with couches, and tables. The whole thing had an old bowling alley feel and smell to it - old vinal chairs, wood paneled walls, Formica table tops. Our group had paid for 4 girls. Don't even ask me how we did that - I don't want to know. They came in and began to mingle with us, obviously having no idea what a group of women's intentions were. It sickens me to think of the fear they probably had when they saw the situation. The waitresses took our drink orders. We had been told that if the girls wanted to order alcohol, let them. The bill was on us. I can't even begin to describe how incredibly awkward those first few moments were. I really tried to take my lead from the safe house leaders. The music was so loud and the lyrics were simply filthy. There were a few men in the room who were also customers (how can I even call myself a customer, yet I guess that's what we were as we paid money for time with girls). The girls were obviously bored and two hours looked like it was going to stretch into eternity. One lady in our group finally broke the ice and commented to one of the girls how amazing it was that she could walk on some of the tallest heels I have seen. Soon shoes were coming off and we had our women parading around in glitzy stilettos and the girls were bouncing up and down in flip-flops. A few laughs broke the tension in the air and we began dancing with the girls. They seemed to love that. We did a congo line then began settling into the seats. Several of the women in our group did a great job of asking question, learning about who these girls are, what they love and what makes them tick. They did an amazing job of seeing the girl outside of the bar, peeling back the layers of make-up and fake smiles, looking into their hearts to the hurt and vulnerable, precious women that God created. Honestly, for me that was really hard. There was so much going on around me that I was sort of frozen in my ability to act like a compassionate human being.
I watched the girls. I noticed how they had a large bottle of hard liquor. Over and over they drank a glass of half liquor and half water. By the end of two hours, their eyes had visibly glazed over. The night was young and they knew what was ahead of them.
About 1/2 way through, I bottomed out. I really did. I was so overwhelmed. I sat back a bit and observed and prayed in my heart. I probably should have just started screaming out my pleas to God because no one would have been able to hear me anyway.
Don't forget that there were other customers in this room watching our chaos. They weren't particularly happy that our four hired girls had turned into nine. Now that I'm able to think back on that night, I see this amazing, physical picture of a circle of women creating protection around the hurt, and vulnerable. We did tend to stay on the outside and the girls came to the center. Our circle would break, as another girl came near, to swallow her into our love. The men began to try to get the girls' attention. They leaned over the chair to offer a drink. Our women would shoo them away as a mother hen protecting her chicks.
We could protect our four, but we had no control or right over the other five. When a man paid, she had no choice. So we watched the girls get up, plaster a smile on their face and walk out with a man, only for her to return 10 minutes later. He would follow in, still zipping up his pants. These women may have to service up to 17 men in one night. It is something that rips her apart both emotionally and physically.
One moment stands out in my mind. After one of these exits and arrivals, the girl ran over to our couch. She didn't wait for us to get up and let her sit among us, rather she lept onto the chair and walked over two of us and just wedged herself in. She barried her face in the bosom of one of our women. My friend wrapped her arms around this girls of 16 years, and held her shivering body. This is a picture I saw repeated around the room throughout the evening.
At last, it was time for us to go. The women followed us out to the parking lot, hugging us over and over. It was hard to leave them behind, but I was so exhausted and honestly a bit traumatized, that I had no problem getting in the van and driving away.
Sleep did not come easily, but at last, I drifted off. The next morning I stood in the bathroom with a vile of medicine in my hand. I have to give myself a shot every day for my MS. I couldn't do it. There was a complete break-down in my emotions where I absolutely couldn't push a needle through my skin.
During our debrief time, stories from the various bars were told. Woman after woman in our group told how wonderful it was to go into the bars and spend time with the girls; how difficult it was to leave. This is not how I was feeling. I really wanted to scream out "That was the worst night of my life." I think our leader realized the spectrum of emotions going on in the room at that time. "Don't beat yourself up if you did not feel comfortable with this outreach." God has created each of us uniquely to minister in different ways and at different times during the process of healing women.
I really struggled with "Is this worth it?" Later in the week, we visited the safe house that I had worked with. The leader, who was with us, told us she had gotten nine names and facebook contacts. I needed to hear that. I absolutely could not ever, ever, ever, do that again if I didn't know there were people with a specific strategy to gain contacts and follow-up on them.
I don't regret going into the bar and seeing with my own two eyes what happens in the dark shadows of the night. I pray I won't forget this experience and it will compel me to love all women with the fiercest love I can manage.