NOTE: This is the 99th [Subversive Underground] article. I need to think of something awesome to do for our next one, I guess.
Mary's Prayer by Keith Giles
"I've started to notice that there are a lot of prostitutes walking up and down Harbor boulevard," she said. "It would be great if we could find a way to help them escape that lifestyle," Kristin said.
At first I didn't know what to say. There were fifteen college students in our little circle and all of them were silently looking at Kristin, internally processing her words and slowly coming to terms with the magnitude of her suggestion.
Then everyone's eyes turned to me. I was leading a brand-new compassion ministry group in this small church for twenty-somethings. As part of our first meeting I had opened things up by asking those around me what needs they saw as they went through their day. My philosophy for compassion ministry has always been to start with what you see, and then responding with what you have. So, I threw out the question to this fledgling group of college students, "What needs do you see in this community?" That's when Kristin's response stopped the show.
Prostitutes? I had no idea what to do when it came to reaching out to prostitutes. All of my previous experience with serving those in need revolved around children, families living in motels, visiting senior homes and passing out free groceries to low income residents of a local apartment complex. Nothing in my experience had ever come close to ministering to prostitutes. Nothing.
As soon as I caught my breath I acknowledged Kristin's observation. I knew that since she was the one who had really seen these girls and been touched with compassion that it was probably Kristin who would drive the vision for this ministry. Almost immediately three other girls in our circle voiced a desire to serve these girls on Harbor boulevard. Before the meeting was over we had a team of four girls and three guys, one of whom was myself.
I encouraged everyone to be in prayer about this new ministry and I promised to do some research on the issue in the meantime. Surely, I supposed, there must already be some church or non-profit organization responding to the needs of these girls on the streets in Anaheim. I was wrong.
At first I called my friends at the local rescue mission, and then started researching materials on the statistics concerning prostitution here in Orange County, California. What I found was disheartening.
First of all, there was not one single church or ministry with an ongoing ministry to these girls. Not one. The best we could find was one small church where the pastor, a former police officer, randomly took a few people from his church out to pray for the girls. His expertise was invaluable, although we found his methods to be nothing more than "drive-by evangelism". It made everyone from his church feel good, but the girls themselves remained untouched and indifferent to the anonymous prayers of the saints.
I ended up doing a lot of research on my own and what I discovered was frightening.
Most girls who enter this lifestyle never leave it alive. If they don't leave this life of prostitution in the first six months, most of them won't try to leave until they've been in it so long that their lives are completely destroyed. The most successful programs boasted an 8% success rate, and this only after years of back-and-forth returns to the lifestyle, and to drugs. Most who tried working with these girls quickly discovered that removing a girl from this lifestyle can be nearly impossible, even when the girl wants to quit. Usually their pimps keep them hooked on heroin or other highly-addictive drugs to maintain control. Some of the pimps will even profess love for the girl and string her along for years with promises of "just one more month" before the wedding or the fairy-tale escape to the good life that never comes.
The most difficult situation to navigate involves the Russian Mafia. There are hundreds of girls in Southern California, and around the United States, who are brought here against their will, or under false promises of fame as a model or an actress, only to be forced into a life of prostitution. These girls are usually told that their families will be put to death if they try to escape, so even if they wanted to leave, and most of them desperately do want to escape this life, they are compelled to continue in slavery to their captors.
I don't know about you, but going up against the Russian Mafia, or some other Human Trafficking ring, isn't my idea of a service project. It's more like a terrifying adventure into a world that I should have better sense to avoid, especially as a husband and a father of two elementary-age boys.
So our little group of volunteers eventually took to the streets of Anaheim on a mission to meet some of these girls and build relationships with them, in hopes that one or two of them might be ready to leave their world of pain.
We prayed for a few girls, but most of them didn't want to give us more than thirty seconds of their time. I came home feeling like I had fired BB's at a Nuclear Submarine, and was less effective. We hadn't even scratched the paint on this one.
After a few feeble attempts like this one we eventually gave up the ministry, and I stepped away from that church in order to pursue a more stable employment and to lead our house church.
Last Sunday God re-opened this box. One of our newest families at "The Mission" wanted to know if I would be interested in leading a team out to serve the prostitutes we see out on Harbor. What could I say?
Isn't this exactly where Jesus, our Lord, would be if He were walking the streets of Orange County today? I know it is, and yet I feel so insignificant when it comes to serving these girls and helping them get off the streets and out of this lifestyle. I am only one person. I have a family I can barely provide for each month. I am pastoring a small house church and trying to love and serve the families on our street as an incarnational missionary. For over four years now I have been serving a local motel where families live in poverty. There are several individuals and families that I am committed to serving and helping and loving into the Kingdom of God already. How could I possibly add a ministry to prostitutes to my schedule?
This is not a part-time, weekend ministry. This ministry could easily consume my life and monopolize every hour of my day. I almost feel like the only way to really offer any lasting assistance to these girls would be to start a non-profit ministry aimed specifically at meeting their needs for counseling, shelter, job-assistance, day care services, drug and alcohol dependency, and self-esteem. I am not ready to start a non-profit ministry out of my house.
At the same time, I constantly feel a tension between being a writer who spurs others on to action and being a practitioner of compassion and justice myself. I never want to be someone who writes about issues but never gets involved. Maybe that's why this issue concerns me so much. I know that God's people should be doing something to help these girls. I am ashamed to realize that no one is doing anything to help these girls escape this lifestyle. How can I be disgusted at the lack of compassion in others when I have actually seen these girls, and prayed for some of them, and yet I have also done little to model the love of Jesus to them.
For now I continue to pray and ask the Lord to show me what He is calling me to do about this. Our house church group is praying now about how to step back into this ministry. We have a few ideas, but I want to make sure the Holy Spirit is really leading us.
Incidentally, if I were to start a non-profit ministry to prostitutes, and I'm not saying I ever would, but if I did...I'd call it "Mary's Prayer".
PREACH IT- I'll be preaching at Soul Survivor Church on Oct. 21st at 11am in Costa Mesa.
Come join us at:
Soul Survivor Church
1870 Harbor Blvd.
Costa Mesa, CA 92627
*Directly underneath the Edwards Cinema, on the corner of Harbor and 19th
MISSION HOUSE CHURCH UPDATE:
If you're curious about what's new with "The Mission" we've got some photos from our most recent Motel Ministry and more at