Sunday, August 30, 2009

The Brothel as a Pulpit?!

I witnessed the most amazing conversation while I was on outreach with my partner from Scharlaken Koord a few weeks ago. (If you’d rather not read the back-story, you can scroll down to “The Conversation”, which in and of itself is quite an amazing story.)

I was so happy when my partner told me I could choose the area we would go in the Red Light District that evening. I’ve been volunteering with this organization for 9 months now, and I realized in my partner’s giving me the responsibility to choose our route for the evening, that I’ve earned the trust of my more seasoned colleagues. I knew exactly where I wanted to go – to an area on the outskirts of the district, the area where Ghaith used to work in a small hostel. He and I walked those streets many times during the 6 months he worked in the area. I would often pray silently over the women as we walked. I was even blessed to have developed trust and a friendship with Maria (of Bulgaria), who worked the day shift at the brothel next to Ghaith’s hostel. I have yet to write about that development, which was so inspiring to be a part of. So, choosing to go to that familiar area with my partner meant I’d have a chance to look for Maria, Rita, and a few other ladies I’d connected with earlier in the year. I have prayed for those women specifically over the months while I was back home in Portland, and then this summer while I took a month off for my mom’s visit to The Netherlands, my wedding, and honeymoon.

So my partner and I set out for the Spuistraat in hopes of finding a few familiar faces. We spoke with quite a few girls from Hungary, as well as Bulgaria, Poland, Holland, and Columbia. When we turned the corner of Rita’s street, I was hopeful to find her in her window and unoccupied. Sure enough, there she was, beautiful as ever. Rita is the Nigerian Christian I wrote about back in February. She has a strength and radiance about her that I don’t see in most of the women working the windows in Amsterdam. Her deep brown skin is flawless, her shoulders and arms strong, her teeth bright, and her eyes sparkle and shine – even when speaking of the pain and turmoil that is often her life.

Rita looked happy to open the door when my partner and I approached her. As my partner introduced us, and the organization we represent, it was obvious that Rita didn’t remember me… but I remembered her. I told Rita I’d met her before, asked how her son (7 yrs) is doing, and if they’d made the trip to Nigeria this summer as planned. She, looking pleasantly surprised, answered my questions and complimented my good memory. I told her there are a few people praying for her back in the U.S., and that I have continued to pray for her since we met earlier in the year. She thanked me deeply. I asked if she was doing o.k., and if there was anything she needed. She said, “Just keep prayin’ for me.”

As we continued our conversation, a man approached the three of us. He was average in height, almost bald on top, wearing wire-rimmed glasses, conservatively dressed in slacks, shirt and tie, carrying a briefcase, and speaking to my partner in Dutch. When he realized I didn’t understand Dutch, he switched to English and introduced himself as Mijael (Michael). The following conversation transpired that evening while standing in the doorway to Rita’s brothel room, mostly between Rita and Mijael.

The Conversation:

Mijael to my partner and I: Can I ask what you are doing here on this street, talking with this lady?

My partner: Well we’re here from the Scharlaken Koord. It’s an organization that helps the women in the Red Light District.

Mijael: And I supposed you’re a religious organization?

My partner: Yes we are. We’re a Christian organization and all of our volunteers and employees are Christian as well.

Mijael: Do you force your beliefs on others?

My partner: No, we don’t force anything on anyone.

Mijael: Well that’s good, because I’ve had things forced on me from girls like you before.

My partner: I’m sorry to hear that.

Mijael (in an annoyed tone): Yeah, this group of Christian girls approached me one night a few months ago, asking what I was doing on this street. I told them I walk these streets every day. They asked why, and I told them the truth. I like to look at the women.

Mijael (Looking at Rita): I must have walked this street 50 or 100 times over. I know every face. I know your face. I know your body, but I’ve only ever looked at you. I’m sorry I’ve never stopped by your window. I hope you’re not offended.

Rita: Please. Me? Offended? I don’t care if you visit me or not.

Mijael (looking surprised): Oh, o.k. So these girls that were questioning me asked if they could pray for me. I said sure, then they surrounded me. There were like 10 of them standing in a circle around me. It was strange and a little intimidating. Then they started to pray for me. They prayed things I didn’t ask them to pray, or want for my life. They prayed that I would stop visiting the women, that I would repent from my sin, that God would forgive me, and that I would turn to God for love. They said only God can fill my heart the way I need. I didn’t like that they prayed those things for me, things I don’t need – especially in front of so many people on the street. I was so embarrassed by the whole thing. I even felt angry with them. I don’t need what they say I need. I’m fine the way I am.

Rita: Well why are you still talking about it then? It must have meant something to you, what those girls said, otherwise you wouldn’t still be thinking and talking about it.

Mijael: Hmmm…

Rita: You need God.

Mijael: Excuse me?

Rita: That’s right. You need God! This place is nothing but a bunch of lies and emptiness. You won’t find what you’re looking for here. You look at the women, you do what you do with them, and you are still empty. It’s all B.S. No love, just emptiness.

Mijael (after a few moments in thought): You know, it’s like I can’t get enough. I come here because I’m hungry. I have hormones, you know? I can’t ignore that. I’m only human. But it’s so strange because when I come here, I get what I want, I feel satisfied, I go home and I feel hungry again an hour later. It’s like I can never get enough. I’m hungry all the time. It never goes away. My appetite is insatiable. It’s a vicious cycle. I just keep coming because I don’t know what else to do.

Rita: I’m telling you, you need to go to God! Only He can give you what you need, in your heart. These women can’t give you what you need.

Mijael: I can’t believe this. YOU, a prostitute, are telling me that I need God? Isn’t that a little bad for business? You provide a service I’m willing to pay for. You need to make money don’t you? You need my money. How can it be that YOU are telling ME to go somewhere else for what I would come to you for?

Rita: I don’t need your money! YOU need God. I’m telling you. You won’t find what you’re looking for here. Go to God. He can help you. He’s the only one that can help you. I see you. You are sad. You are lonely. We all are without God. You can come here and feel comfort for a few minutes, but if you go to God, you will never be lonely.

Mijael: And YOU believe this? I can’t believe that a woman on this street believes in God, and would turn away business if it meant turning someone toward Him. I just can’t believe it.

What an amazing conversation to witness! Mijael displayed such raw honesty and vulnerability... and Rita sounded like she could have been speaking from the pulpit! If you are moved, please lift up Rita and Mijael in prayer.

Rita is a believer who continues to work in prostitution. She says she prays every day on her way to work, for God’s protection and Jesus’ forgiveness. She doesn’t see another way to earn a living for herself and her little boy. I pray that she will truly trust in God, that she can leave this work that she hates every minute of, and that she comes to see that God will provide for her needs no matter what.

I pray for Mijael that he will continue to open his mind and heart toward God, and that he will in turn trust God to fill that aching, insatiable desire in his heart.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Update: concert on the water, praises and prayers for Ghaith's interview

I’ve really enjoyed this beautiful summer in Amsterdam. What an amazing and interesting city she is! Just yesterday, after our Saturday afternoon chores of grocery shopping, laundry and cleaning, we ventured out for some fresh air. As is often the case, we didn’t know exactly what we were looking for, but trusted that Amsterdam had plenty to offer. As we biked through streets and over canal bridges, we arrived at the widest canal, the Prinsengracht, to find hoards of people, bikes and strollers heading in the same direction. Ghaith and I joined in to see what could be drawing such a big crowd. A few bridges down, we arrived at the center of all the attention; a huge platform stage and lights set up, right on the water! The stage was completely surrounded by boats, for as far as they eye could see in either direction. The streets lining both sides were also covered with people sitting on the ground, in folding chairs, windows and rooftops. We asked around and found out there would be a classical concert that night on the water. We found a most perfect sitting spot between a full bike rack and the edge near the water, next to a boat full of friendly gay men who passed around tray after tray of tasty gourmet treats – each time finishing off the round by passing the tray to Ghaith and I. The concert started around 8 o’clock with a beautiful section played on piano and violin, followed by other sorts of instruments and composers. It was a lovely time. At 9 o’clock, I was surprised to see and hear an opera singer join in. Opera! I’ve wanted to go to the opera most of my life, and was overjoyed that my first chance was now! What an amazing way to spend a random evening out in the city.

As the days have passed by, some achingly slow, others zipping by in a blink, I have also been missing the summertime in Portland. Native Portlander that I am, I look forward to the wonderful Northwest summers all year. I’ve been aching for a hike in the Gorge, huckleberries picked ripe and fresh from the Mount Hood wilderness, a decent into the sacred _____ River for a cold dip (to protect the tranquility of it, I will not disclose the name of my favorite summer swimming place ;), Grandma’s blackberry cobbler served warm with vanilla ice cream, sprinkler parties with the girls, drum and guitar sessions on the porch with friends, cool evening walks through Laurelhurst Park with my father, a nice bike ride around the Esplanade. There is so much I’ve been missing, and telling Ghaith about as the memories and longings come. I can’t wait to share it all with him!

We’ve been waiting here in Amsterdam to receive Ghaith’s interview date at the U.S. Consulate. A few days ago, we received notification that his interview will be on September 14th. At this interview, a large piece of our fate as a married couple will be decided, as the consular officer will tell us if Ghaith will be given a visa to immigrate to the U.S. If they say yes (and they have no reason not to), we could be home in Portland within a few days after. My best friend’s wedding is just 4 days after Ghaith’s interview. It may be hopelessly optimistic of me, but I am praying the Lord will make it possible for us to be there, so I can stand next to my dear friend on her big day.

Please pray with Ghaith and I for his interview.
*We pray he will have favor in the eyes of those working on his case.
*We pray he will go in that room with confidence.
*We pray for fairness in the decisions made.
*We pray the Lord will make the path for us to come home.

Thank you so much for your prayers,
Tiffany & Ghaith
غيث يتفن

And a big praise and thanks to God, I have been offered a job for the month working with kids in an afterschool program. The director is able to pay me as a volunteer (to avoid paperwork and visa issues), and Ghaith can come too. They are a very difficult group of kids, but we thank God for the chance to earn some money. We’ve had so much fun working together. I do arts and crafts and Ghaith plays soccer with the kids. It is so nice to have a little money coming in. I got to splurge yesterday and buy myself some soy ice cream – expensive and difficult to find. NOW it feels like summer. ☺

Scarlet Cord Friday Night Update, Aug 14

Hello to all,

It was a beautiful Friday evening and I was full of confidence that it was going to be another amazing night! The volunteers for the evening were Cindy, Sandy, Vania, and Muna. As Sandy does every week she brought in delicious bread from Panera Bakery-thank you!

The meal was provided by our wonder women (as Raelene has appropriately named them) Carol, Caroline and Arlene-I should credit the husbands for the grilling also. I just need to take a moment to stop and say how much I appreciate their service to is such a ministry to cook for another and for that matter a whole group. I so look forward to coming in knowing that the food is prepared for us and not only prepared but thoughtfully put together to appeal to the eye as well as the stomacheThe The food was delicious....grilled chicken with Teriaki sauce or Sweet chili sauce from Trader Joe's (thanks for the tip on the sauce by the way-I had to go buy some the next day!), grilled veggie kabobs, rice, and fruit kabobs! For dessert it was homemade cheesecake topped with took me back to my childhood-tasted just like mom's-we all thoroughly enjoyed it!

As our dinner was arriving a car pulled up and I was wondering who could that be....out stepped beautiful Elisa! She brought gifts from her dad that had been saved to pass out to our SC guests! She told us she was headed back to WA to be with her mom for her parents 46th Anniversary. It was so good to see her....please continue to keep her in your thoughts/prayers as she heads back to teaching and life after her dad's tragic passing. We love you sister!

D arrived early and in good spirits. She brought magazine topics and Italian plums from her yard to share. She did express concern over her daughter D who was arrested for theft. As time passed H came! She is learning more and more English! She gladly took some hygiene and clothing items....we gave her a teddy bear and as she held it snuggled in her arms she asked Sandy..."Is this for me!? Thank I have something to hold at night." It just makes me smile to think of it! As we were winding down D & C came in full of hugs and love! C asked for an app for her mom who wants to be a part of SC in every way possible! She is so excited about what we are doing...and I just say thank you again ladies! It is grace and love that we desire to put into the neighborhood and this is one more confirmation that you are putting it out there!

Love to all,

Monday, August 17, 2009

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Scarlet Cord Friday Night Update, August 7

Hello to all. Tonight, of course was amazing. Is it ever not?!!! Let's start with the food. Raelene, bless her heart, brought in an AMAZING enchilada dish that really, truly was to die for. It was perfect! We also had some fabulous fruit and some scrumptious green beans cooked in butter, salt and pepper. mmmm. We also enjoyed some great homemade chocolate chip cookies as well as ice cream with strawberries. I think I eat better at Scarlet Cord than at any other time during the week!

Our lovely and wonderful volunteers for the night included Esther P., Katie, Elmelia, Christina and myself. We didn't end up having a street team because a few of us were late and as soon as our doors opened we immediately had guests waiting to come in! We didn't even have time to form a street team. But tonight we didn't need one, there were just as many guests as volunteers! For the first time, T and R came. T works at a local motel and heard about us through some of our other guests. Her and R came to "check it out to see what it's all about" and stayed most of the night! T seems like she's been in the neighborhood for a while but it seems that R is pretty new. Those two ladies are so sweet. They are very talkative and we had a great time with them. R is a hoot! We had a great time laughing together. A bit later, H came in to eat and to get some hygiene products. She was very friendly and everyone had a great time. She left shortly after eating. Just as T and R were leaving, D and her daughter D came in. It was really great to see D with her daughter. They have had a tumultuous past and her relationship with her is discussed often at SC. D's past came up and it was great to see her daughter join the discussion in such an endearing way. She spoke so kindly about her mother and defended her (against society) in such a sweet way. D (the daughter) didn't stay too long but told her mother she loved her and gave her a huge hug before she left and told us all she would probably be back next week. It was really great to see! From the moment we opened our doors to the moment we closed the walls of SC were filled with guests, love laughter and encouragement. Again, what a great night!!!

After we got all cleaned up I had a chance to talk with the rest of the volunteers for a few minutes. I shared with them something that's been weighing on my heart lately and it was so great to be supported by them. I truly feel that SC is my community and the women in SC are my sisters. I know they will be there for me and that they care about me. It is a fellowship of women with Christ in the center. It's beautiful!

Every moment of tonight is something to be thankful for. I am glad for the love, friendship, and grace that can only come through Christ.