Commercial sexual exploitation is both a local and a global tragedy today. Drive down North Avenue, Roosevelt Road, or to O’Hare, and you’ll likely pass a sign for “girls, girls, girls”, a so-called spa or massage parlor, or a billboard photo of a woman with pouty lips advertising a local “gentlemen’s club.”
As Christians, do we just drive by? I did for years until a ministry leader suggested practicing “drive by prayer shootings.” So, I started shooting up a prayer for the women inside the clubs, and even the men, that they’d know how much their Creator loves them.
Thankfully, today believers from multiple churches in DuPage County are making a difference. Volunteers with New Name, a local multi-church outreach, bear gift bags to 16 different local clubs, spas, escort services, etc., The bags contain chocolates, handmade cards, homemade cookies, jewelry or lotion, and serve as a token of Christ’s love for the women inside, plus a means to start conversation. Pairs of women hope to share Christ’s compassion by offering a word of hope, a prayer, or hug during a short visit.
It’s not a ministry with instant results. Often customers occupy the women’s attention, or they just aren’t interested in chatting. In some places, the women don’t speak English.
“God’s in charge of the outcome,” says Anne, a former software engineer, who leads New Name. “It takes a lot of pressure off us. We just show up, maybe share a kind word.”
One week Anne and her outreach partner met Debbie, a twenty-something brunette at a local topless bar. “I’m seven months pregnant,” she confided. “I’ve got to get out of this lifestyle.” After Anne left, Debbie went outside and prayed, “God, if you’re real, please help me.” It was a plea after years of despair.
Debbie’s childhood was marked by sexual abuse since age five, plus homelessness, beatings, verbal abuse and days of forced hunger. At age nine, Debbie was placed in foster care after she showed up at school swollen, black and blue from violent beatings and abuse. She was shuffled in and out 20 foster care placements into her teen years.
The wounded girl became a broken woman who numbed her pain with alcohol and drugs and began exotic dancing.
Debbie’s traumatic background is not unusual for women working in strip bars or clubs, the majority of whom have experienced significant abuse. More than 95 percent of women who’ve lived at Refuge for Women were sexually abused as children.
Anne agrees their horrific pasts can be overwhelming. “But God is a healer of wounds and He has a plan for them,” she says. “We just have to show up and share His compassion.”
The following week Anne returned with a flier for Refuge for Women, a Christian residential program for women choosing to leave a life of exploitation. The Kentucky home usually had a wait list, but one spot had just opened.
Within a week, Debbie turned her back on despair and boarded a bus for Lexington. At Refuge for Women she found family in seven other women like her, Christian mentors who listened, prayed and encouraged her, and a church community.
“I’ve learned to look toward God for everything and anything,” Debbie says. “My heart seems whole again now that the Lord is in it and good people are too.”
Before graduating from the one-year program, Debbie gave birth to a healthy baby girl, accepted Christ and was baptized. She’s now a worship leader at her church and mentors junior high and high school kids in the youth group. She holds a job, is raising her 2 year-old daughter, and volunteers with Refuge for Women, hoping to help other women who were once living with invisible chains.
“Jesus would want us to look at these women as our sisters,” says Ked Frank, director and co-founder of Refuge for Women. “They’re living out of pain and trauma, and our hearts should be broken for them.”
To learn more about the problem of human trafficking, join us at Church of the Resurrection from 1:00-2:30 p.m. on Sunday, June 1st in the St. Gregory Room. You’ll hear learn from Dawn Jewell, Anne, and Ked Frank about how you can make a difference. A free lunch will be served. Please bring a small gift bag item for New Name’s local outreach: a nice chocolate bar, small lotion, Caribou or Starbucks gift card ($5 or $10), lip gloss, or trendy jewelry item. Items are used in New Name’s gift bags for outreach to locally exploited women.