The city of Singapore is clean. Thin paper lanterns swing along the disheveled outdoor cafes that line the sidewalks of the red-light district. It comes alive at night, baring its soul.
We were walking in a line to the subway station when he spoke to me. He was an older, gray-haired man sitting at one of the sidewalk cafes; his two words silenced the noisy street.
“Young lady,” he beckoned, four fingers silently stroking the stillness.
I looked up and made eye contact with him for a second. His eyes were hungry, dark and desiring.
I was 16 years old, serving in Singapore on a mission trip. This is not what I came for. I ran.
I saw Chinese girls in tiny skirts gathered around a truck outside a brothel one bright morning a week later. The man’s eyes were still burning mine, and my heart was starting to break. But unlike so many other girls who are solicited, I was able to walk away.
The Journal of Trauma Practice reported that when asked, 89% of women in prostitution want to escape the life but don’t know where to go for help. St. Paul-based nonprofit Breaking Free reports that on average, domestic sex workers are forced to service 10 men per day, while international prostitutes service as many as 40 men per day. According to UNICEF, the average age of entry into prostitution is 12-14 years old. These girls aren’t able to walk away from humanity’s propositions. Helpless, dehumanized and sold, they are unfulfilled.
Nonprofit organizations that fight to abolish prostitution and the sex trade are working to meet the needs of victims who are caught in this cycle of abuse, addiction and incarceration we know to be the sex trade. These organizations provide resources to meet survivors’ needs, including job skills, housing, health care, therapy for depression, rape and childhood sexual abuse. However, many girls receiving this care often relapse back into their old lifestyles. Sometimes, they relapse because their old life is the only life they know, or because they believe they aren’t worthy of anything else but to be sold. Often they have no community or support outside of their industry. They are addicted to the drugs which numb them to pain, and despite unmentionable abuse and sexual exploitation, they may be in love with or emotionally attached to their pimp and are unable to leave him. In the sex trade, humanity’s bondage manifests itself. Antidotes like housing, education and secure jobs cannot save victims from their emotional, physical and spiritual captivity. There’s a need for a greater salvation.
When sin entered the world in the Garden of Eden, our hearts were disconnected from the source of love that was meant to define and satisfy us. Because of this, our bondage to sin highlights our continual need for salvation. Sin exposes itself in the sex industry—in pimps, johns and even in people like you and me.
We’re all searching for meaning in a broken world. As Jesus said to the Samaritan woman at the well, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life” (John 4:13-14). This is salvation and this is the Gospel: defending the helpless, bringing life to the numbness of dehumanization and restoring identity and self-worth to the sold, to the least of these. Seeking God to bring healing forges people out of a fire of sin and brokenness. “For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive” (1 Corinthians 15:22).
The thirst of the unfulfilled will not relent until salvation is taken to them. There must be a greater urgency in the church to bring the Gospel to the girls who are hidden behind massage parlor doors, the girls who walk the streets of U.S. cities, the girls who don’t wait at bus stops for buses, the girls who look just like any other girl you know —they are unfulfilled. Their purpose is unfulfilled, their needs are unfulfilled, their dreams are unfulfilled and their justice is unfulfilled.
For the girls who weren’t able to walk away, there is salvation. The Gospel is able to break all chains of addiction, unhealthy relationships, self-loathing, abuse and exploitation in the sex trade. The blood of Jesus washes away all scars and bathes us in redemption, ushering in complete and beautiful restoration. The Church is called to the least of these; we are called to bring hope to a hopeless world. All other remedies to the sex trade and prostitution fade in comparison to the Gospel that meets all physical, emotional and spiritual needs with water that satisfies our souls. The church has the power to bring hope of restoration to a broken people desperate for fulfillment, for purpose and for hope of healing.
For the least of these, there is salvation. For those girls who couldn’t walk away, Jesus came to heal the broken and set the captives free. The Gospel is our remedy; this is our weapon against our bondage and heartache in this life. Yet the broken will remain unfulfilled until we take action to proclaim that there is salvation for even the least of these.
May we stand up and act justly, so that we can rightly “Say to your brethren, ‘My people,’ and to your sisters, ‘Mercy is shown” (Hosea 2:1).
Nicola Losik is a journalism student and Minneapolis-based photographer who wants to use her voice to speak for those who cannot speak for themselves. Her photo blog is found at www.nicolalosikphoto.wordpress.com or you can follow her on Twitter @nicolalosik.”