Sunday, January 25, 2009

Monday Night

There have been so many amazing experiences, conversations and prayers with the women this past week. I could write a story about each of them, but for time’s sake I’ll just tell you a few.

Monday Night
Monday night I hit the streets with a young but experienced volunteer, just a few years older than me. After preparing our bags and praying, we saw that the rain had let up, so she decided we should take a longer walk and reach the quieter part of the Red Light District. When I heard “quieter”, I immediately thought of the area where Ghaith recently got a job at a small hotel. I’ve been walking those particular streets a lot these past few weeks, praying, thinking and wondering if I’d get the chance to speak with the women there. It’s on the outskirts of the RLD, away from the hoards of tourists who gawk at the women and delight in the “coffee”shops, shroom shops, and sex shops. We walked past all of those, and kept going in the direction of the hotel, eventually turning on the very street I’ve been walking and praying over. This area is indeed quieter and a bit more upscale. The women here seem demur, distinguished and classy in comparison to the younger girls you see on the main strip.

The first lady we visited was timid, but willing to let us in and closed the curtain so we could talk for a few minutes. She is from Spain, so I lead most of the conversation in Spanish, and even prayed for her before we left. I was a bit apprehensive, as I’ve not spoken much Spanish in this country, haven’t spoken it on a daily basis in over six months, and rarely if ever say prayers in Spanish. But as you may well know, the Holy Spirit is there in those moments when we don’t have the words. I was led rather eloquently through a beautiful prayer for Cristina in which I prayed for her 4-yr-old son, her desire to leave prostitution, find new work, and start her life fresh. I spoke of how deeply the Lord knows her, how he made her in the womb and knows even today her most secret hopes and dreams. She took our card, which has contact information and a list of the ways we can help her in the process of leaving prostitution. I pray she will listen to her heart and trust God with a new step in her life.

Later, a Nigerian woman named Rita let us in and talked with us for probably twenty minutes. Rita was a prostitute here in Amsterdam for several years in the 80’s, returned to Nigeria and away from prostitution for ten years, then went back after she had a child. The father left when her son was just a baby, and Rita saw no other way to make enough money to survive as a uneducated foreigner in Amsterdam. Rita was raised in a Christian family and community and is still a believer today. She told us she knows what she’s doing is wrong, but she also knows that Jesus is in her heart and is protecting her every day when she goes to the window. She hates the “dirty, sweaty men” that come to her for services and wants to return to her Nigerian home but she stays for her son. He’s accustomed to the European way of life and does not want to live in Africa. Before leaving, my partner, Rita and I held hands in a circle and I prayed over her. Lord, please show Rita her way out!

We later found ourselves in the room of a beautiful Hungarian woman. She’s been working here for three months, and hopes to make enough money to pay for her sister’s eye surgery before she looses her eyesight. Vivian’s sister and family back in Hungary are aware of how she’s earning the money, but have not a clue of the horrors and disgust Vivian is experiencing in the process. Vivian is also Christian. She prays each day on her way to work that God will protect her, keep her from abusive clients, and forgive her for what she’s doing. We spoke with her for a while, then asked if we could pray for her. Her eyes lit up at the thought of prayer, but then, looking around the room she said she’d rather not pray in such an evil and filthy place. She thanked us from the depth of her heart, and we promised to keep her in prayer as we left.

If it is on your heart, please keep Cristina, Rita and Vivian in prayer this week.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Obama in the Netherlands

I spent the hours of President Obama’s inauguration in the confines of my lovely Dutch home in Smalltown, Netherlands. I started watching the inauguration on CNN Live here at 5:00pm, while getting in a good cardio workout on the exercise bike in my quarters. With great anticipation, and regret at not having made better plans to watch with a fellow American or two, I watched and waited as the many important people were presented… Obama’s children, The Clintons, Mr. & Mrs. George H.W. Bush, Laura & Mr. Bush… until finally, just before 6:00pm our president elect, Mr. Barack Hussein Obama was introduced. The crowded sea of faces roared before him as he stepped out into view. In my excitement, my eyes filled with tears of joy, and the RPMs on the exercise bike I was riding rose far above the safety zone. ☺

I watched and listened to the prayers, songs and poetry, all the while sending text messages back and forth with my one American au pair friend in The Hague. She and I lamented the fact that we weren’t together, but resolved to keep in touch via text messages throughout the event. I wanted to give my full attention as Obama began his inauguration speech, so I ended my workout and sat to stretch on the floor in front of the TV set. A few minutes into his speech, my host father sent word via Yoeri (the 7-yr-old) that dinner was ready.

“Ok Yoeri, thanks. I’ll be down in a minute.”

Yoeri looked at me in disgust at the thought of my making the family wait for dinner, then turned to the little television and raised his pointer finger to the power button.

“Don’t you dare!” I threatened urgently. Yoeri looked at me, confused and surprised. I regained my composure, pointed to the face on the TV screen and asked, “Is that man on the TV downstairs too?”

“Yes,” he said, matter-of-factly.

“Ok then, you can turn it off. I’m coming now.”

I got up and ran down the three flights of stairs to find the children seated, not at the dining room table, but at the coffee table in front of the big-screen TV in the living room. How sweet, my host father had set the table in front of the television so we could all watch the inauguration together! We sat there with our plates full of food, the children and Maartien eating, and I with my face glued to the screen, hardly able to take a bite. Carmen (5-yrs-old) asked her papa constant questions.

“Why are we eating in front of the TV tonight? Who’s that man? What’s he talking about? Why are those people crying? Where’s Queen Beatrix?” (Queen of Holland) And my favorite question of all, “Why doesn’t Queen Beatrix want to be president of the United States anymore?”

The day after President Obama’s inauguration, I was on the train to Amsterdam. I sat down next to two classy older women of African decent, deep in conversation about none other than Mr. Obama. One spoke of her relatives in the U.S. who had gone to Washington for the momentous event. The other spoke of the enormous expectations the world has for our new president. She spoke as a doting and protective grandma, “He betta do good. He betta do right. He betta keep his face up!”

In Amsterdam that day, I saw that Obama was on the cover of many newspapers, and heard that he was the topic of many conversations. I did my outreach with the Scharlaken Koord that day, and my partner of Dominican-African decent spoke of Obama with admiration and inspired remarks. Most of the prostituted women we spoke with that day were from the Dominican Republic, friends of the woman I was out with that day. Several of the women spoke of the new hope they have as a result of Obama’s being elected as president of the United States.

And so, Mr. Obama… you betta do good, you betta do right. You betta keep yo face up! Many are counting on you, and we are praying for you.

Scarlet Cord Friday Night Update, Fri Jan 16

The beef stew was gone! And, that is how I describe our night at Scarlet Cord! D and S, our sisters, were there to partake in the amazing beef stew Glenn prepared. D stopped by to chat and eat before she was off to her graveyard shift at the airport. She will soon be able to request daytimes and is looking forward to a more "normal" schedule. She continues to speak about her strained relationship with one of her daughters -- definitely a prayer concern. S came later and livened the evening with jokes and smiles. She seems to be getting back on feet slowly but surely. Please continue to pray for her situation. She was pretty intoxicated on Friday, but had good conversations with many of our volunteers.

Bailey, Sandy, and Bekah headed to the streets and had meaningful connections with several women. Sandy noted that she met up with a "queen bee" type who was being watched closely by a man. Our volunteers spoke with her and invited her to dinner and before turning away she asked Sandy if she could have a hug. Sounds like it was a beautiful moment! The area around SC has been quiet for the past several months since the "Clean up 82nd" campaign began, however "action" seems to be picking up around the area again. The street team also met up with a woman living in one of the motels along Sandy Blvd with her four children. And...she came!

D entered with her four kids and our volunteers sprang to action serving the rest of the food to the hungry family. We were able to give her many hygiene supplies and warm clothes for her and her family. D took a lot of the information from our resource guide! She agreed to come back and see us next week and was over-the-top grateful for all the food, attention, and love we gave to her and her family. She didn't elaborate on her situation, but I encourage everyone to be in prayer for her and her precious children. (They were all very, very polite and great conversationalists!)

The home team (Jen, Hilary, Carrie, and Sara) enjoyed warmth and fun during a cold evening, and I believe everyone felt a true sense of community! Thank you to everyone who continues to be faithful to the vision of Scarlet Cord and Christ's example "to serve the least of these." It is a pleasure to work with and know all of you!


Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Prayer Request

Tomorrow night I will head out for my second shift in the Red Light District with the Scharlaken Koord in Amsterdam. Please pray for me:
*I would be annointed and protected
*I would be open and aware of whatever the Lord wants me to see, hear, learn
*The Lord would give me the strength I need to walk those streets and bring His light and hope in prayers and written messages for the girls in the windows

Thank you so much for your prayers. They are so very important.


Friday January 9th Scarlet Cord Update

Our volunteers tonight were Carol, Sandy, Elisa, Melanie, Ellisha, and Emily. Our group was blessed by another women's group that Elisa is acquainted with, they stopped by with the entire meal and joined us for prayer. They brought us a Chicken Mexican style casserole, along with a Caesar salad, lots of fresh fruit and veggies, as well as some brownies and cookies! Most importantly they got a glimpse into our ministry and assured us that Scarlet Cord would be in their prayers. We were also overloaded with sweets that Abundant Life left for us donated by Panera bakery, Yum!

It was kind of a quiet night, but it felt really good for me to be back after a long holiday hiatus, and some of the other women expressed similar sentiments. Ellisha shared with us some of her experiences from her recent trip to Europe, where she also went to Amsterdam and met up with our Scarlet Cord Ally abroad Tiffany. Our street team went out in hopes of spotting a young lady that Carol has been informed is working somewhere near the McDonalds on 82nd. Carol met the mother of C at a benefit night, and the mother was frantic to find her daughter who is 18, mildly cognitively disabled, and has run away from home. Her mother found out about Scarlet Cord and begged Carol for us to keep our eyes out for her daughter, who has been spotted near our friday night location. She has never been away from home this long, and her mother is desperate to find her. Since she is over 18 she is not getting any help from local authorities. Please keep C and her mother L in your prayers. The streets were pretty quiet tonight, so our street team came in early from the cold and we all enjoyed the wonderful meal together. Soon after, D came in to join us for dinner sporting her new work uniform and was proudly showing off her I.D.badges. Things seem to be improving for her, and her relationship with her daughter seems to be improved as well.

Elisa gave us a hands on work out demonstration, and I can't say that I wasn't motivated by her demonstration of some new work out techniques called "cross-fit". Finally we heard the familiar "Heeeey" that announced S's arrival. It was really good to see S, and it was also good to see how comfortable she has gotten with our group. She is finally eating the meals with us, and has seemed to let her guard down enough to really be herself and share a little bit about herself openly with the group. I know that S has always been outspoken and the loudest voice in the room, talking or singing. But I feel like the fact that she is letting us see her softer side, and does not feel the need to win approval with jokes and constant humor, is really a testimony to how close and safe she now feels at Scarlet Cord. The night ended quietly, as it began.

Please keep D and S in your prayers this week, as well as C, I know that her poor mother appreciates our prayers and let's really pray that she is found soon, and safe at home with her mother.


Friday, Jan. 2nd Scarlet Cord Update

Hello All,

Last night was a wonderful night! Muna, Misty, Christina, Vania, Cheryl and myself volunteered, and I think I can speak for us all when I say that it was a 'warm' night. First of all, the food was AMAZING or as S puts it Kickin'! Greg made an incredible Thai curry that was to die for, thank you so much Greg! We also had some really great fruit that reminded everyone of the summer time after so much snow and Misty also brought in some Chai tea that was very yummy!

Muna and Christina went out as our street team and passed out some fliers and ran into S fixing a heater at a motel. It looks like she's been able to pick up some work doing some maintenance at the motel, similar to what she's done in the past. She's also still working at the bar down the way, picking up shifts whenever she can. She told Muna and Christina that she would be over shortly, and she was! S has only missed one friday night in the last 5 months! She didn't come last friday because she was able to go to a friends cabin in Washington and said she had a fabulous Christmas! Her smile always lights up the room and we are so happy to have her at SC, she truly is a gem! She mentioned that she saw P around and even gave her as scarf that she got from SC. She says it makes her happy to spread goodness :-)

D also came! She stopped by between home and work and we were very happy to see her! It seems that she is enjoying her co-worker's company quite a bit and I can see that it's good for her to be able to talk with people during the week. She often talks about the struggles she has with her daughters, she doesn't feel loved by them and I pray so much for their relationship. I can see so much that it hurts her the way they speak to her and I hope that things can turn around for them soon.

All in all, it was a fantastic night! I am so thankful for all of our volunteers that give so much of themselves every Friday, thank you so much! I hope your weeks are wonderful and we'll see you next week!


Thursday, January 8, 2009

New Year's Eve

Christmas time photos

What a Christmas!

Ghaith and I got it upon our hearts to create a family for our Christmas time, since neither of us have family here. We invited all of our friends that are here in Amsterdam alone; African, Burmese and Iraqi refugees (some Muslim, some Christian), a lonely displaced American traveler, a Hungarian au pair, and a Scottish ex-prostitute. It was a great time spent with family-less friends from all over the world, the warmth of conversation, candles, love and laughter...and a delicious Iraqi-Dutch-American cuisine. Low-stress, much joy, and simple gifts of love, food and personalized stalkings filled with good chocolates.

As we were preparing during the week leading up to Christmas, Ghaith and I prayed that everyone would feel welcome, loved and happy. We got so many compliments and expressions of gratitude that evening. We gave it all to God, and thanked him together in private the next day as we reflected. Our Scottish friend said it was the first time in her life when she felt at home and accepted just the way she is on Christmas. What a beautiful and fulfilling day of day celebration!

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

My First Shift

My first “evangelism” volunteer shift with the Scharlaken Koord was a few weeks ago. The night was amazing! I was a little nervous on the way there. I said prayers on the train for the entire 40-minute ride. I wrote some of them down:

• protect me this evening, physically and spiritually
• let my joy be complete in you, so that I may exude your love
• give me strength to stomp out my fears (and the resounding echoes of the fears of those who love and worry for me)
• help me to be completely awake, alive, alert and attentive tonight
• let me be a vessel of your peace (this one’s been on my prayer list for a while now)

The Volunteers
God answered all of the above, and much more! I just cannot believe how faithful, powerful, and amazing our God is. The evening started at 6:00. I met with all of the volunteers (all female) from the SK and another ministry in the Red Light District. We ate a Christmas celebration dinner together, which was a good opportunity for me to chat with some of the volunteers. I must have been one of the youngest in the room, and one of only two non-Dutch. What a privilege to be working with such a group! After the meal we finished the preparations of Christmas gifts to be handed out that evening, sang a few hymns together, prayed over each volunteer, and then took to the streets, alleys and windows in teams of two.

My Partner
I was paired up with Audette, woman in her 60’s, and very experienced in the field. She was a most excellent teacher for me on my first time out. She pointed out many important things to me as we walked. My role was simply to be present, to pray, and to hand a candle (Christmas gift) to each girl as my experienced teammate spoke with her.

On the Street
We spent our evening walking the streets and alleyway windows amongst very young, very beautiful Eastern European girls and their eager clients. Though I had reason to worry or fear for my safety, I felt completely protected, anointed, and covered over. It was as if I were walking in a bubble – a bubble blown by the winds of the breath of the Lord. I didn’t have to choose my way, the Holy Spirit chose it for me. I didn’t have to choose my words, for all I was expected to do was be present and to pray.

Our Interactions
Most of the girls were pleasantly surprised to see that we had a gift for them. Many of them replied, “For me? Really?” in confused, surprised, skeptical, or thankful expressions. As I handed the candle with a smile, Audette would ask the girl her language, then proceed to hand out CDs, tracts, and information about our organization, including a card explaining how to contact us, written in the girl’s own language. Most of the girls were from Romania, Bulgaria, and Hungary.

Our interactions at the doors were brief, unless the girl was interested and asking questions. Of the more than 50 girls we spoke with that night, I would say 4 or 5 showed interest in hearing more. One Hungarian girl said she’d only just started this work. She’s been a prostitute for a week. She looked scared, overwhelmed, and in need of hope. Another girl respectfully stated she’s been here for 3 weeks, that she made the decision to come here on her own, and she did not want to talk with us for fear she’d change her mind.

By the end of the night, my heart was broken. I saw so many beautiful girls, scantily clad young bodies, faces painted with glamorous make-up and fake smiles. They spend hours on end, day after day, week after week behind the window. The older ones see the weeks turn into months, into years, into a lifetime wasted away in those tiny rooms.

I thank God for the opportunity to bring a bit of hope, or the potential for future hope to these girls. What an amazing experience, and that was just the first night!

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

The Listening Bridge

Days and weeks can go by before I realize how much fret and worry I’ve allowed myself to endure in this crazy place, before I come to the Lord, exhausted and out of breath to declare,

"I can’t do it Lord, I can’t do this on my own. It’s too much for me. I don’t want to live here anymore. I want to give up. I want to go home."

And then the Lord says to me,

You want to give up, do you? Do you want to give up on all that I have begun here for you? The life journey you are embarking upon at this very moment?

"No Lord, I just can’t keep going in this way. Things are so difficult here. I don’t have the strength to do it, to persevere, to keep on, to endure, to persist, to fight the good fight, to see so many women lost in the snare of the sex industry. So many men hungry for something that can never satisfy the deep longing of their soul So many refugee friends without a home, money, citizenship, belonging or family. So many druggies lost in addiction, broken and useless in the eyes of the rest of the city."

Sometimes I feel as if I’m just roaming this place with no purpose, like a tiny sponge in an immense and dirty swamp, soaking in the polluted water, unable to clean anything up. What’s my role amongst all this dark sadness? I don’t have the strength to endure it all.

There’s a certain canal bridge I like to stop on. It’s become one of the places I feel closest to the Lord. On my bike ride home from the train station last night, I stopped at my usual stopping place to take in the view and talk with God. The moon wasn’t hung in it’s usual spot above the two stretching towers of the cathedral near the town square. I searched the sky for it, and found an almost half-moon further up, and more to the left. I felt relieved as my eyes fixed that glowing sign of comfort. The tension in my body loosed a little, and I took in the deepest breath of the day. With my exhale I thought, “Ahh, there you are”. And the Lord, the one I was so relieved to find there in the moon, told me this…

Tiffany, I made the moon.

"Yes, I know."

And the moon’s light is made by the sun.

"Yes Lord, I know."

And I made the sun.

"Yes Lord."

I am God, the creator of the universe. The sun, moon, Earth and stars, I set them all in place long ago.

"Yes, I know."

Do you see how the pond beneath you is frozen, and the air around you so cold? I make that happen. The changing of the seasons, the tilt of the Earth, the heat of the sun, the light of the moon are all my creation. I am the God of the Universe, powerful and in control of all.

"Yes Lord."

Sweet Tiffany, I know your worries, I see your difficulties, but do you not think that I, the God of the Universe am also in control of your life? Do you not believe that I see all that you see, feel all that you feel, and weep where you weep? Tiffany, I know your heart, for I made it. I planted the seeds of desire and hope in your heart, which are now growing and coming to fruition. Hold onto me Sweetness, for this is only the beginning of the journey of your lifetime.

Just as the sun lights the moon, which illuminates the darkness of night, dear child, so I give light to you. You have the strength to light the darkness around you, daughter of the Most High. Listen to me, follow my ways. I will not lead you astray. You are my daughter and in Me you will never be lost.

Friday, January 2, 2009

Friday, Dec. 26th Scarlet Cord Update

Hello Friends,

I hope this letter finds you all well, safe, and sound wherever you may be. This last week in Portland was in a nutshell…eventful. I am a native Portlandian and so this winter storm was rather impressive for us here in the PacNW and one of the biggest I've seen in my lifetime. I imagine those of you from places that see big winter storms thought this one here was the equivalent of a sniffle…but for us who are accustomed to mild winters, this definitely was a reminder that something greater than us is in control.

And that's kind of the whole point…something greater than us is in control, and for that reason Scarlet Cord continued despite the snow drifts and icy roads. God wasn't about to let her snowy blanket get in the way, and so this last Friday Muna, Carrie, Emily, and I (Carol) were able to make it in safely. It wasn't without some struggle: Emily's husband in an attempt to get up that little hill on 116th to the church to drop her off had to put on chains just for that one block…dear Melanie texted from La Center, Washington saying they were desperately trying to make it in after a million obstacles but it was slow, slow going. We reassured her just to be safe and just try and make it home, we were planning on shutting down early that night anyway.

We had a wonderful green bean casserole made from home canned green beans (compliments of Emily's mom or mom-in-law) made by Emily, Carrie brought a spinach salad with carrot and mango, and Muna brought drinks and a big tray of desserts she made that included banana bread, cream cheese/chocolate bars, cookies, and this insane caramel, oat, chocolate chip bar.

We didn't expect any visitors that night…the streets were dead. There wasn't much point to taking a street team out since we were just a small group and because there were no sidewalks and no side streets safe enough to walk/drive on (hmmm, could the 3-5ft plowed snow drifts have anything to do with that?). We stayed in and me being the anal compulsive freak that I am, took one look at that closet and felt the calling to clean up…and so I roped the others into my madness. We re-organized boxes and hygiene supplies, put together packs to hand out to the ladies, etc, etc. And now it looks so pretty! We then ate together, and decided to wrap it up for the night…it was about 8pm.

We were just beginning to pack everything up when…….D arrived! We didn't think she was coming back since she got her new job, but there she was. She had just come from a training and was so proud to show us her picture ID for her new job! We sat with her while she was able to finished the last little bit of food and she talked about her Christmas with her daughters, and her new job. And then here's where the tables turned…D brought us gifts! She had printed out an excerpt from a book she was reading, and made just enough copies for those of us that were there. The copies were too light on the 2nd page, so she hand wrote (!) part of page 2 on each of our copies. The excerpt was about developing a year-end ritual by writing answers to questions such as: what has inspired you this year, what are you grateful for this year, etc, etc. After answering the questions in a journal or whatever format, you're supposed to put it away until next year at this time.

D then shared with us that she had 2 goals for this last year: 1) to get a new job, and 2) to make some new friends. And when she said this last one, she looked right at us with a smile on her face…..

So, I'm thinking about some of those questions. What has inspired me this year and what am I grateful for? Literally the first thing that comes to my mind is all of you volunteers. Amanda, Jen, Tiff, and I keep saying that you have all been hand picked by God…you have all brought so much to the ministry. I'm so glad God brought all you amazing women (and 2 men!) who have SO MUCH to give. But also to answer those questions I can't help think some of our "regular women" who come to SC like D, S, and R. Just think about how much has happened to them in just a few short months…I wonder what God will bring in the next year? Where will they be one year from now? Where will we be? One thing for sure, I know that God is going to bring many more women into our lives like "our girls", and that this is only the beginning.

You all have got down in the pit with the least of these…literally. You all saw into the empty eyes of those walking the streets. You all have been walking alongside S as she developed trust and friendship with females for the first time in her life…answering her seeking questions, praying for her, loving and accepting her just as she is…broken and beautiful. You all have supported D during this hard time of the past creeping into her present keeping her from self-sufficiency, and showing love to her when her family seems to disregard her. You all were there listening to R as she began to open up her painful past, one sad story after another slowly unfolding…but there's grace and joy waiting for her, and we were there to share that with her. There are many others…you all know who I'm talking about…some have names, some don't (at least not yet!).

So, whatever ritual you practice if any at the end of a year, at least in the next few days take some time to thank God (if that is something you practice) for the last 6 mos. For those who have served directly on Friday nights, remember the faces you've seen…pray for them. Think of each other…the friends you've made, the new sisters you have…and pray for each other. Think about this next year…and pray that our hearts will continue to break, pray for continued direction, pray for even stronger connections with one another. And more than anything for all us whether serving directly or indirectly, pray that love turns this city upside down, that light illuminates the darkness, that all can know true freedom.

I love you all…Happy New Year…