Track – An area of town known for prostitution
I am writing this in response to going out on street outreach to meet with women working in prostitution. It has taken me three days to begin to process all that I saw and be able to get some of it out on paper.
It was early evening; a time when families are cleaning up from dinner, unwinding, filling each other in on the day, and relaxing in the safety and comfort of their homes. In my own home, the homework had gotten done, the kitchen was cleaned up, there was noise from the tv and from the chatter between my children and husband. My cat was sleeping on the back of the couch, and my dog watched me with sad eyes as I made my way to the back door. If I was staying in, I would soon be putting on my favorite sweat pants and oversized t-shirt. Instead, I hugged my kids and husband goodbye and left the safe haven of my home.
I live in the suburbs. The scenery on my drive towards downtown is beautiful. The road is winding and the trees that line both sides of the road form a canopy above me. Though the sun has begun its descent, rays of light find their way through the leaves to spotlight the beauty around me. The radio is playing my latest obsession of worship music, Nicole Nordeman’s “Every Mile Mattered” CD. Though I am nervous about the evening to come, I feel peace in knowing that all the miles of my own life that led me here mattered, too.
As I drive out from under the trees, all that is around me is different. The trees have been replaced by low income housing, tobacco and liquor stores, and businesses dealing in bail bonds. Without a word it screams that one can find shelter, fulfillment of addiction, and a false sense of freedom…at a cost, of course. The waning light no longer seems to spotlight beauty, but instead highlights the oppression of poverty. Bus stops, not trees, line the streets now. Tired and worn people surround the stops waiting to be taken somewhere else. I meet up with my group on the outskirts of the inner city and we continue on together.
The foot traffic increases as we near our destination. I see three people, two men and one woman, slumped over against the wall of a gas station. They are huddled together on the filthy ground and they are high. My thought is that they are probably on heroin, but I can’t be sure. As they sit there oblivious to their surroundings, a mother and her small children walk by. This is not my first trip to the inner city, and I wonder for the hundredth time how people stay safe in this environment. At the same time, I love it here. Because here is where Jesus is.
The driver takes a left turn and we arrive on the track. A “track” is an area of town known for prostitution . It can be an area around a group of strip clubs, pornography stores, or, like the track we are on, a particular stretch of street. We pull over to talk with a few women and we pass out food and hygiene kits. I am a little surprised to see that the women working the street seemingly blend in with the rest of people walking along the sidewalks. I see women in shorts and tee shirts, and others in tank tops and mini-skirts. I see a subtle difference, though, in the eyes of every woman I am privileged to meet.
It is in this first stop that I meet a woman who changes everything for me. She is grateful for the offering of food and toiletries. She smiles and she laughs. She is lovely. She is hurting. She is haunted. She is broken. She is strong. She is tired. She has perseverance. She is 58 years old. When asked if there is anything she wants to pray about, she turns her head and looks off in the distance. I wonder what she is seeing as she looks at nothing. She whispers, “My life. Just my life.” There are horrors she is seeing, I feel that as I watch her. A sadness comes over her and her shoulders seem to cave a little at the weight of it all. She looks back towards us and I grab her hand. I tell her that she is truly loved by God and she is not forgotten. As she stands there on the street I wonder if she even believes me. I believe this with all of my heart, but even to my own ears this sounds like a hollow promise.
In the midst of this life she is living, she is concerned for her friend who is very sick. She asks if we can give her an extra bag of food for her friend. She worries that we don’t believe her, and she tells us that we can check on her friend who is resting down the street in a van. We give her the food. Of course we believed her, but we would have given her more food regardless. We run into her friend later. She has kidney disease. Attached to her body is a port for dialysis. The tee shirt she is wearing says “Blessed.” She pulls the neck of her shirt down to show us the port. The area is not covered and I worry for her because I can’t imagine how it can stay clean. She hasn’t been to dialysis lately. She can’t get to her appointments. Still, she works. She walks away into the night, attached to something that can help her but isn’t.
We drive up and down the track several more times. Each time I see the 58 year old woman walking. How many miles has she walked up and down the streets tonight? She is all alone, blending in with everyone else but needing to be seen. I think how she may want to be noticed, because that means she will make money. The johns know what they are looking for. They will see her. But I bet she also wants to disappear. To hide. I used to feel that way. Each time I see her my heart breaks a little more.
The darkness is thick now, and we are on the final trip down the track. I happen to glance over to my left. I am actually searching for a woman who looked really young we have just seen. Could she have been picked up by a trick that quickly? I see instead this woman I have become so drawn to. She is coming out from behind a building and walking down an alley towards the street. I assume that she just finished a with a trick. The light behind her casts shadows of darkness all around her small frame. She walks into the light on the street and goes back to work. I feel like I just got punched in the gut.
Back in my own car now I head home. With each mile this horrifying world will become more distant. In my heart, though, it will remain. I am numb as I drive. I see none of the details on this trip home. I see the faces of women. I see shadows and pain. I am gripped by the busted up brokenness I have seen. God has taken me a lot of places, but never has my heart hurt as much as it does in this moment. I begin to cry. The tears pour out of my eyes and I don’t even know what to say. Sobbing now, I can only pray “Jesus, help these women.”
I feel the presence of Jesus so strong in this moment. I think He has shown me a little of His heart, and I am overcome. He is love. He is healing. He is comfort. He is peace. He is not just here with me, but He is on the streets with the women I left behind. I know to look for Him. I don’t think they do. This is my prayer now. That they will find Him wherever they are. He is in the shadows and the alleys. He is on the corners of the streets. He is in the van where someone is resting. He IS rest.
He is everywhere and all things to everyone. He is waiting for US to notice HIM. That lady’s port was there to bring life-giving medicine to her body. But it is useless unless it is hooked up to the source of healing. Jesus IS in every dark place most are afraid to go. But WE must go so people know to turn to Him. He is right there. Go. Find Him. And help others do the same.