In South Korea, a pastor told me that I could not minister to women in prostitution if I hated the owners and managers of the parlors. The problem, though, was that I did hate them. I hated them a lot.
I despised every person who exploited women and profited from their enslavement. Night after night in the Philippines, I watched as women danced on stage in bikinis, numbers pinned to their costumes, while customers ogled them and decided which woman they would rent for the night. I was depressed by the lost potential of these women and disgusted by the men who simply did not care about them at all.
Night after night in South Korea, I went with a church group to a red-light district in Daegu and walked past women sitting in windows, waiting to be chosen for sex. Walking down narrow alleyways, I moved to the side as expensive cars rolled in, men talking on their phones or getting out excitedly to walk into a parlor.
In Guatemala, I walked past small, nondescript homes located strategically behind tourist hotels. Armed guards stood in the driveways, and security cameras were positioned right over the doorways. These houses were where children, many from other Central American countries, were sold for sex with rich clients. I heard stories of the Guatemalan/Mexican border that is overrun by brothels that ensnare women and children on their way to America. It is a cesspool that few victims ever escape.
Yes, I hated. I hated so much that I thought it would consume me.
I hated so much that at one point, I contemplated putting my fist through the windshield of a car I was passing as I took a walk one afternoon in South Korea.
I hated so much that saving these women was my obsession.
Then one day, I found myself face to face with a manager of a Dallas parlor and realized that I didn’t hate her at all.
There I was, standing nervously in the lobby of a parlor and waiting with my partner for someone to answer the doorbell. I was ready, or so I thought. As I heard footsteps and the door was unlocked, I steeled myself for my enemy to show herself.
The door opened, and a Korean woman stepped into the lobby to greet us.
She was beaming.
I was dumbfounded to realize that I was beaming right back at her. I felt absolutely no hatred at all. I was perfectly at ease.
She was delighted to see us, and I was just as delighted. My partner and I fumbled through our introduction, and I awkwardly offered her the chocolate chip cookies we had brought. The woman took our present, bowed, said thank you with a heavy accent, and retreated into the parlor, waving goodbye and smiling.
I walked away from that parlor, stunned by what had just happened. Why had everything been so different from what I had expected? Where had my hatred gone?
I have thought a lot about that moment in the months since then. I have searched my memory for anything that would explain how I went from feeling a virulent hatred of owners and managers to feeling no hatred for them at all. I have come up with nothing. I did not experience anything, read anything, hear anything, or meet anyone who changed my heart.
Perhaps, then, what happened was that God met me in that moment and said this: “Jeannine, they are just as human as you are. You don’t have to like what they do, but they are just as human as you are. They are lonely. They are forgotten. And they are important to me.”
Maybe that’s exactly what happened. If so, then that’s a lot to think about.
I am not naïve. I know what happens in the parlors, and I do not condone it. However, our outreach team does not judge. We are not there to judge the managers and the owners. Instead, we are there to love them. We are there to be the light and positivity in a day that is otherwise dark for them. We are there to remind them that they are intelligent, valued women with enormous potential and that they are worth far more than the price of their bodies. We are there to show the managers and the owners in particular that despite what they are doing, they are loved.
Some will say this cannot be done. They will say that it is impossible to love the owners and the managers. They will say it is impossible to form relationships with them and show them a love that surpasses all understanding. They will say that it is impossible to bring light into Dallas’ erotic massage parlors.
I say differently. Yes, it is not easy. The door will not always open. We will even be rejected. However, what is the alternative? Stay home? Leave the women inside these parlors to themselves? Let them believe they are not loved? Let them believe that they are worthless? Let them remain lonely?
Is this unconditional love that God offers truly for everyone? Or do we just tell ourselves that? And if it is indeed for everyone, why are we reluctant to go?
It is my belief that it is for everyone. We are told to go to those who are hurting and to tell them that they are loved.
The owners and managers of the parlors need us. They need us to be willing to give a few hours on a Saturday morning to ring their doorbells and risk rejection. We must risk failure because by doing so, we lay the groundwork for the moment when the door finally opens and we are face to face with another lonely women who is delighted to see us.
Those are the moments that make all the rejections worth it. Those are the moments when God says, “This one. I want you to comfort this one and be there for her.”
That is our mission: to bring positivity and unconditional love to every woman in Dallas’ erotic massage parlors, including the women in prostitution, the managers, and the owners.
We will show each woman, whatever her role in the parlor may be, a new way of looking at herself so that she will understand that she is loved exactly as she is.