Trigger warning: sexual abuse, sexual content.
That’s what Matt Parker of The Exodus Road told us.
We were going to get baptized into the red light district. We were going to go out and walk the famous “walking street” where thousands of people come from all over the world to see and touch and taste a vast menu of sexual options.
Whatever you want, you know.
Signs being handed out every couple of feet; just pick what you want.
So many to choose from. Just pick a number.
And here I am sitting and watching, maybe 20 girls, on two stages at the first bar. They look bored. Some are dancing, some are barely moving to the loud music, some catch my eye and smile. I look over at the old man next me and the young, beautiful girl next to him. Her hand is on his leg. His shirt is unbuttoned and white hair curls out. I look at her face and she is looking down. She’s sad or maybe resigned, I don’t know. Both. He pulls out his money and she just stares at it. Yes, sad and resigned.
Matt calls a girl over for me so we can talk. Of course we can’t talk because I don’t speak her language. But I smile and she puts her drink up to mine. “Cheers!” She smiles. We sit. Matt talks with her and he tells me where she’s from. She is wearing a bikini and a number. We just keep smiling.
This one is the dive; it’s dirty and unkept. But the girls are more aggressive. Two come up to us with shots and are giggling. They want to know why myself and Alece are with Matt. He must be a strong man to have two girls. He tells them we met in a hotel and that we wanted him to take us to walking street. They giggle. They speak some English. They keep trying to give us shots. They like to try and guess my age. One says I look 39. I laugh. We ask questions and giggle with them, but the veneer is thick. We move on.
More naked bodies. But by the third bar the bodies are just bodies and it’s true what Matt says: “You have to look past the skin and see their soul.”
This is a nice bar. It’s clean and the vibe is cool and the music is thumping. The girls are trying harder. I look around and see lap dances and sex acts. Over in the corner I see one man, early 30’s, shoving his head into in between a girls legs. She keeps pulling away, trying to laugh. He stands up and forces himself to her face, pulling money out. Another girl is on his other side and I watch her smile and then look angry. She is not happy with him. He turns to her and starts kissing her and then turns to face the other girl and she is visibly disgusted; she wipes her mouth off. He keeps trying to get his kicks for free, but the one girl finally gets up and goes back on stage. She does not like that man. He gets up and I notice that as a last act of power he grabs her rear end as he walks out the door. She just keeps on, dancing on stage, moving along. This is just the way it is. Matt calls over the other girl, the one still in the booth, the one who had been groped and pushed and kissed and assaulted. He buys her drink and we give her at least 20 minutes of relief.
More girls come over, one for each of us. They try to give us lap dances. They want to know if we like ladies. They giggle and I say, “Can we just sit? Let’s just talk.” We fumble through. I try to tell them they are beautiful. One girl is at University studying to be a lawyer. She says this land is the land of smiles, “happy happy all the time.” I look into her eyes. I don’t say anything. She says, “Well, not happy all the time.” No, of course not.
We pay for our drinks and we go back to the hotel. We are supposed to debrief, share our feelings, talk about what we saw.
I feel nothing.
I don’t know why. I feel like maybe I’ve just been to Vegas and this is all just so normal. It’s not. But it looks like a big party. Everyone is just having a good time.
This is the narrative. It’s all good, these girls choose this, we’re all just having a good time.
I’ve been baptized into the red light district, but I feel like I’ve only just had my toe in the water.
There is an ocean to go. But I’m not afraid anymore to look. I’m not afraid to see. And that’s the beginning, to know that I can look and see and I am stronger than I think I am (by God’s grace). I can do this work. I will do this work because it’s holy work and Jesus is here in these dark places and the Kingdom is on fire here.
Want to be a part of this work? Keep following along with me. You can learn more about The Exodus Road and become a partner, helping to free slaves, HERE.