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Sharing the Gospel One Brothel at a Time

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By Tess Rivers

Their stories are hauntingly familiar. An HIV-infected Indian widow turns to prostitution to feed her small children. Because “business is slow,” a young Chinese mother considers offering sexual services in the massage parlor where she works. A Thai teenager moves to the city, accepting a lucrative job in the red-light district to provide for her mother in the province.

Exposed by poverty and vulnerable to exploiters, these stories are common among those who find themselves in the throes of Asia’s commercial sex industry.

Laghuri Kapoor* is an example. She and her friend, Darpana Rana*, give new meaning to the term “desperate housewives.”  These women are “fly prostitutes” in northern India — middle-class housewives who sell their bodies to pay the rent and feed their children. 

In a country where a woman’s daily wage for unskilled labor averages $1.25, Kapoor and her friends believe they have no other option. “No one goes into this business happily,” Kapoor says.

But in the face of abject poverty and desperation, Christian workers like Bonnie Swenson*, Belinda Baker* and Caroline Anderson* bring hope to women like Kapoor. Throughout Asia, Christian workers labor tirelessly to meet needs and share the Gospel with sexually exploited women. Slowly, they are chipping away at the mountain of emotional and spiritual debris caused by exploitation to bring restoration and healing to its victims.

“YOU HAVE TO CARE!”

Within the last year, 32-year-old Swenson led Kapoor and six other fly prostitutes in northeast India to faith in Christ. A mother of three, Swenson’s passion to reach out to exploited women stems from an acute awareness of the problem and a distinct understanding of her calling.

“There are women all over this country in situations like this,” Swenson says. “God said ‘You have to care!’”

Like Swenson, Belinda Baker*, a 40-year-old New Orleans native, works among the 35,000 exploited women in her Chinese city. She wants “every single girl” to hear and receive the Gospel because they are “worth it.”

“No child says, ‘I want to grow up and sell my body,” Baker says. Instead poverty, lack of opportunity and lack of education drive women to prostitution.

NO WAY OUT

Consider Chen Wei*. The 30-year-old Chinese Christian moved with her four sisters from a rural Chinese province to the city to open a massage parlor. Because business is slow, Wei and her sisters are considering offering sexual services to their customers.

“If I could hire a girl to provide sex, I would expand [our business] to offer more sex work,” Wei says.

Although Western Christians may be shocked by such an admission from a Chinese Christian, economic realities and customer demands pressure Wei and her sisters to consider providing sex for sale. By hiring another girl to provide sexual services, Wei explains, the shop would make more money and the sisters would not compromise their faith. Without more profits, the sisters will have to close their business.

IN IT FOR THE CASH

Like Wei, Tasanee Pridi* grew up in a mountain province of northern Thailand. By the time she was 18, she was working as a “bar girl” in a popular Thai tourist city, sending money home to her mother. Although prostitution is illegal in Thailand, consensual sex for pay is common, particularly in tourist areas. Bars hire young women to sit with customers, encouraging them to buy more drinks and providing “special services” on request.

Pridi, now 27, tells Christian worker Caroline Anderson* she earns between $80 and $100 per customer. These men, mostly Western tourists, also pay bar owners between $12 and $15 to take her for the night. Pridi admits she doesn’t like her job, but she needs the money to fulfill a dream.

“I want to make enough money to start my own restaurant,” Pridi says. “When I raise $2,000, my mother will provide the rest.”

Anderson works with a team of women reaching women like Pridi with the Good News. She and a co-worker regularly visit bars and massage parlors in an effort to build relationships with the women who work there.

“Every time I go to the red light district, it breaks my heart,” the 25-year-old Anderson says. “Every time.”

PLEAD, DEFEND, SUPPORT

In spite of the heartbreak, however, Anderson, Baker and Swenson continue to share the message of hope with exploited women. All agree that the factors driving women to prostitution — hunger, poverty and desperation — are also drawing them to the Gospel.

While the three believe this openness is the direct result of prayer, they agree that the task is impossible without the help of other Christians who will advocate on behalf of victims.

Defining an advocate as “one who pleads, defends and supports the cause of another,” Baker recently began promoting “OneBrothel” — an advocacy project through OneLife that connects U.S. college students to volunteer opportunities among China’s exploited women.

She offers a list of suggestions for those who want to become involved in reaching commercially exploited women.

PLEAD. Study Scripture to understand God’s heart for the exploited. Learn about today’s global sex trade and ways to combat it. Suggested reading includes: “Sex Trafficking: Inside the Business of Modern Slavery” by Siddarth Kara; “Not for Sale: The Return of the Global Salve Trade – and How We Can Fight It” by David Batstone and “Just Courage: God’s Great Expedition for the Restless Christian” by Gary Haugen.

 

DEFEND. Make a commitment to pray daily for victims of exploitation. Hold regular prayer meetings and events on their behalf. Prayerwalk or prayerdrive your city with a friend or small group. Ask God to open your eyes to the needs where you live.

SUPPORT. Give regular financial offerings to those who share the Gospel with commercially exploited women. Consider a short-term or summer international trip to work among the commercially exploited. Link to a ministry in your hometown or start your own to share the Gospel with the commercially exploited in your city.

As Baker, Swenson and Anderson pray and wait for workers, they continue to share the Gospel with exploited women at every opportunity.

“We’ve shed plenty of tears over this,” Swenson says. “But I know that God is opening up these doors. We just have to keep praying.”

Click here to give to this project.