2018 is nearly done, and I guess it’s only natural to feel more introspective these days. I’ve been thinking about the word “hate”. It’s a strong word, one that evokes strong emotions that can consume your heart and mind. It has consumed me in the past, and I think I am finally being released from it.
I used to hate the bar owners and managers in the sex industry. When I did outreach in the Philippines’ sex tourist bars, I hated the managers and the owners. When I went on prayer walks in red-light districts in South Korea, I hated the managers and owners there, too. I divided them from the women working in the bars, making a clear line between who I cared about and who I didn’t. I was even consumed by it, I think.
When I started The Flashlight Project, my feelings hadn’t changed. I still hadn’t learned what these past 1.5 years of outreach have taught me: that the owners and the managers are human beings.
I remember the first moment this hit me. I thought I knew the industry, and I thought I understood all of the people who work in it. God showed me that I was completely wrong and that I had so much to learn.
In the beginning of our nonprofit’s outreach to the parlors, my partner and I went to a parlor that was hostile to us. We decided that we would back off a little and just do a few anonymous drops: we would place the gift near the door, ring the doorbell, and leave quietly without talking to anyone. This would give them a chance to think about us and get used to the idea of our being there.
After a few months of doing this, we were ready to see if we could talk to someone. I was so nervous. All I could remember was how hostile this place had been, and I truly was bracing myself for rejection and disappointment.
God, apparently, had other plans.
I remember taking a deep breath as we entered the lobby. I felt a little foolish with my package of chocolate chip cookies, and the big, red bow on top seemed silly. But in for a penny, in for a pound, right? Or however that expression goes. I rang the doorbell and stepped back. My heart was just racing, and I steeled myself for the inevitable hostility.
Suddenly, the door flew open, and I was face-to-face with a Korean woman who was just beaming. There was no other word for it – the woman was deliriously happy to see us.
My jaw hit the floor. I really think if someone had touched me at that moment, I would have fallen over. I was shocked by how happy she was, and I just stared at her. My partner had to take over and speak for us because I was too stunned to think straight. From the moment she stepped through the door to the moment she went back inside, she never stopped smiling at us.
As I walked away from the parlor, talking nonstop with my partner, I knew God had just pulled the rug out from under me. I had thought I understood the people who work in the parlors, and I had been wrong.
That moment when I got to see the woman’s pure joy at meeting us has stayed with me ever since. Her reaction has a lot of implications for us and for anyone interested in outreach to the parlors.
First, hate kills. It burns bridges and slams doors shut. If we hate the owners and the managers, they will never listen to us or be interested in us at all. Why should they? Who wants to talk to someone who hates them? Who wants to open a door and talk to someone who is judging them? I wouldn’t.
As Christians, what right do we have to condemn them? We don’t have to agree with what they do, but we cannot judge them. We have to love the person as they are. Our ultimate inspiration is Christ Himself, who went to the most despised people of His day and ate dinner with them. How can we do any less?
Second, we must be willing to learn. We must leave behind what we think we know and instead be willing to let God show us the reality.
We must stop assuming we know the industry and the people who work in it. How can we know the people if we have never gone to them? How can we throw them aside and consider them uninterested in us if we have never even tried?
Third, we are no better than they are. We may think differently and have different viewpoints, but we are not better than them. If God sees all sin as being the same in His eyes, then we can’t put ourselves up on pedestals just because “they” work in the parlors and we don’t.
Fourth, nothing changes if we don’t go. If we don’t go, the gulf between “us” and “them” remains in place and grows bigger, if only in our minds. Our minds become fortresses of fear, and we are sure that the gulf is there for a reason and that it is insurmountable. The parlors, then, become even more isolated, and people – be they the owners, managers, or younger women – continue to hurt and to feel rejected by society and God.
Lastly, we are just servants. As the human founder of The Flashlight Project, I may have my secret hopes and dreams for what this nonprofit will do in Dallas’ erotic massage parlors. Ultimately, though, God has a bigger plan. Our job is to go. We are to show up and trust that God will be there with us as we walk up to the parlor, go into the lobby, and ring the doorbell. When God places a broken woman in front of us, whatever her role in the parlor may be, we will let Him use us to help her through whatever dark moment she may be in.
If we do that, if we let go of hate and of limiting ideas, I think we will see something extraordinary happen.
Will every woman accept us? Unfortunately, no. People are people, and there will always be some who reject us.
However, the times when we truly connect with a woman who is hurting, when we meet her where she is at in life and help her through it as best as we can, regardless of her role in the parlor, those are the times that drive every rejection from our memories. Letting go of hate makes the miraculous happen, again and again.
I'm busy working on my blog posts. Watch this space!