I don’t remember when, as a young woman, I first understood what it meant to be a prostitute.  I’m guessing I was in my upper teenage years before I really focused on it . . . because, why would it otherwise come up?  I do recall thinking that it didn’t make any sense to sell your body and . . .  ewww.  Who would do that?

In my late 20s, I participated in a leadership program that took me on month long travels through Europe.  As a part of this program, I spent some time in Amsterdam where one evening, we walked through the so-called “red light” district.  I was stunned.  In what appear to be store front windows, woman after woman stands, looking out, with blank eyes and few clothes, waiting for someone to “choose her” for the next however-long-it-takes so she can get paid.  Or rather, her pimp can get paid.

I distinctly remember feeling ill after that short walk in Amsterdam and also recall that I had little if anything to say for the rest of the night.  I felt sick to see sex sold in such a commercial way.  I was nauseated by the faces of the women who would sell themselves all day long.  I felt judgmental about the “choices” they had made to live their lives like that.  I was angry at the men who frequented this district and made this sort of abuse possible.

It’s comfy in glass houses, isn’t it?

IMG_3074Last week, I visited Uganda and met with women we hope to serve through Pure & Faultless.  Our in-country director, Moreen, had arranged for some of the women to meet with us and talk about our program.  As I approached the meeting site, I noticed two pre-teen girls sitting with the women who were waiting for us.  I assumed that the girls were the children of the other, older women who had come.  I was wrong.  These two girls, at just twelve years old, are being sold to men for sex.  By my weak definition, these girls are “prostitutes.”  I watched as my nine year old son took my phone over to the girls and showed them how to play “Angry Birds.”  The girls giggled and watched, their eyes wide at the game.  Then they played themselves, and I watched in awe, realizing these girls . . . these children . . . just need to be children.  They need to go to school and laugh and learn and feel the pitter patter of their hearts over their first crushes and excel at a sport.  These girls need normal.

And then we sat down next to the women who had come.  One was 17 years old.  She left her home in Western Uganda to come to Kampala for work.  Housekeeping work.  When she got here, that job fell apart and she found herself on the street, desperate to survive.  She turned to prostitution.  We asked her, “What was your dream before you found yourself here?”  “To be a teacher,” she flatly responded.  “It’s not too late.  Please, Lord don’t let it be too late,” I found myself whispering.

Another woman, her hair dyed a beautiful deep red, and her face gently smiling at me,  tells me she is HIV positive and has been supporting her three children by selling her body for many years.  She too had a dream.  To be a hair dresser.  In a fancy salon.  This woman, with beautiful caramel skin, and a wide smile that touched my heart, wanted to be a lawyer.   It hits harder than before.  A lawyer.  Like me.  She had dreams that would have made us colleagues and friends instead of strangers living in different worlds.  Each woman I met had a dream.  Each lost her dream when poverty or a caretaker forced her into a lifestyle she hates.  They hate it.  Each woman I met had a dream for a decent, promising life shattered by the commercialization of something our Heavenly Father meant to be a beautiful expression of love.

During our conversations, I heard something else that made my stomach turn.  Others had come.  People had wanted to help.  People who didn’t stay.  And now no one is helping.  No one is showing them the love of Jesus through genuine, lasting kindness and respect.  No man. No woman.  It’s time for us to show up for these women.  Women who are not prostitutes, but women and girls who are prostituted.

Here’s our dream for them:  We want to create a safe place; a sanctuary.  A home where women can come live with us, out of the slums, away from their pimps, and thrive.  We want to provide them hope and a future.  She wants to be a teacher?  Let’s help her enroll in school and work toward that dream.  A hair dresser?  One of us can step up to send her to the best school.  Even a lawyer?  Yes.  Let’s get back to school and see where the road leads.  We want to set up mentorship and counseling and rehabilitation, even as we seek to help them set a new career path.

And for those precious, precious young ones, we are going to work with the government to remove them from the awful circumstances they face and bring them home, where kids can be kids and they can try to grab the last bits of their childhood and go to a safe school.

We need a home, land, furniture, social workers, counselors, school fees, transportation, salaries, vocational school experts, and Jesus.  We need Jesus, and you.  Link arms with us to create our sanctuary!  You can sign up to partner with us right here.