A reflection by Melissa

One of the things that is very life-giving to me is visiting the red-light area near our business. I know that seems strange. I don’t understand it myself – but when I sit in those rooms with our friends, something in me comes alive. And as I balance (often precariously) between darkness and hope, I am alive in ways that I’m not any other time.

A few weeks ago Beth and I went to visit a brothel that Beth had previously spent a lot of time in – but we hadn’t been in recently (and I’d never been in). While we were sitting there talking with Beth’s friends, and older woman came in and began to tell us her story. She told us of a life of abuse, and a lack of hope. It’s a story I’ve heard over and over – and at the same time it is unique. After all, this is not a book I’m reading, or a movie I’m watching. It’s not a documentary. There she is standing in front of me, telling me her story. And it’s a story that should never happen. It should never have to be told – but it did, and it does. And then she told us about her son, and her grandson – and how well they are doing. I just kept thinking about how horrible her life had been. I can’t comprehend the betrayal, abuse and despair she’s lived through. Simultaneously I could hear pride in voice that her son and grandson had very different lives than she did. And I just kept thinking how she provided for her family at great cost to herself. My heart broke that she’d lived through what she’d lived through, and it celebrated with her that her offspring had a different life (as much as it can with a near stranger).

And then I realized I “knew” this woman, or at least I knew about her.

She’s “that woman” who owns the brothel. It’s a dark brothel. There are young girls forced to work there. It’s not a nice place (and this is in comparison with other brothels, so that’s saying a lot!). She’s the woman that I blame. I judge. I have no compassion for. She’s the oppressor. She’s “the bad guy.” She’s who we’re “fighting against.”

But after hearing her story – none of those labels fit anymore. After hearing her story, it somehow makes a lot more sense why and how she makes the decisions she does today. It’s still wrong, and I still hate it, but it makes sense. She has been broken. She has been oppressed. She has been abused. She’s lived through more than most of us can conjure up in our worst nightmares. And while that doesn’t justify oppressing someone else, she needs freedom as much as the girls she “owns.” How beautiful would it be for her to find restoration and hope and freedom? Can you imagine?!

My heart is quick to judge (hopefully its becoming a little slower). How quickly I had written her off , seeing only the worst of her, and not her humanity.  I saved that grace for myself and those I deem “worthy.” If I’d known who I was talking with – I know I would have listened with different ears. But on that day, I received grace I didn’t deserve. I received the grace of hearing a story without the filter of my judgment.