Courage for today can be found in the past. A year or so ago, I read John Lewis’ book, Walking with the Wind. Lewis, of course, is a civil rights giant, and his book about the fight to bring justice to African Americans in the 1950s and 60s is riveting. I personally found it to be one of the most inspiring books I’ve ever read. It’s impossible to read it without wanting to use your own life to better the lives of others.
In his book, Lewis describes the training he and other activists underwent before they started the sit-ins at lunch counters in Tennessee and before they went on the Freedom Rides. Volunteers were understandably nervous about advocating for their civil rights when surrounded by violent white supremacists. People wanted change and yearned to be the ones who made a difference, yet they were still understandably uneasy about the path forward.
To counter that trepidation, civil rights leaders led volunteers through training sessions. They explored what it meant to love people who are difficult, to say the least. Throughout the training, leaders emphasized that you can only live a nonviolent life and make change when you have absolutely no desire to retaliate even though your oppressor is spitting on you, mocking you, or otherwise assaulting you.
We all know the truly amazing things these heroes went on to accomplish for both African Americans and our country in general.
Even though our missions and times in history are drastically different, I still see some parallels between then and what The Flashlight Project is working to do. I think we can learn from these greats from our past and be strengthened by their example and wisdom.
We are on a mission to increase the self-esteem of the owners, managers, and younger women in Dallas’ erotic massage parlors. We aim to transform how all women inside the parlors see themselves. Part of how we do this is by letting Jesus work through us. He does not judge these women, and neither do we. We meet them in the parlors and relate to them as fellow human beings. As we do this, we often visit with women who are hostile to us for different reasons.
This reality requires our volunteers to have a specific mindset. We ask them to love these women unconditionally even though they may at times be hostile to us. We ask our volunteers to step outside their comfort zones and go where they are needed most: the erotic massage parlors of Dallas, something no nonprofit has been able to do until The Flashlight Project began going.
To do this requires revolutionary love. Outreach volunteers must love these women unconditionally and believe in their value. We ask our volunteers to love the parlors’ owners. We ask our volunteers to love the managers. We ask our volunteers to love the younger women. This can seem like a lot to ask when most people have never even seen an erotic massage parlor, much less stepped foot in one. For the volunteer who has not seen how truly happy many women are to see us, it can be daunting.
Our new volunteer program, Revolutionary Love, is inspired by the civil rights icons in American history. Starting at the SMU campus this month, we will begin holding workshops where people who are interested in volunteering but are nervous about it can discuss their fears and ways to overcome them. We will discuss how to love difficult people and how to go despite our fears. We will look to our ultimate inspiration – Jesus – for guidance and encouragement. We will talk about other people, such as John Lewis and Martin Luther King Jr., who have shown us a way to love unconditionally and without hesitation. We will learn from them and become stronger so that we can go boldly to the parlors despite any nervousness we might feel.
Revolutionary Love is the beginning of The Flashlight Project leading the Dallas community to the people who have been ignored for far too long – the women inside Dallas’ erotic massage parlors.