[Below is from the thoughts of one of the women in our ministry, Mimi. She has an incredible heart and passion for the women working in the sex industry. Here is an explanation of her encounter with Night Ministry.]
[*- Some of the names have been changed in order to protect the persons mentioned.]
“Please help me.” So reads a sign held by a young woman standing along an alleyway in the back streets of Osaka. Dressed in tight jeans and a sweatshirt too thin to keep out the cold, she watches the passersby with a hopeful look. She isn’t homeless. She’s not asking for money or trying to hitch a ride. The sign isn’t hand drawn on a piece of cardboard. It’s a bright yellow sign, nicely laminated with hot pink lettering that matches the girl’s pointy red fingernails. Below the cry for help is printed a second statement: “It’s a normal snack.” “Snack,” or sunakku, as it’s pronounced in Japanese, in this case means a bar. The girl is one of dozens of other girls, lining the streets in an attempt to lure in potential customers – usually Japanese businessmen, most of them married. It is a sad sight to see.
Thirty minutes earlier, I was sitting in the corner of Life supermarket with a missionary from Texas named Daniel and a Japanese man named Sean* going over the game plan for the night. Sean has yet to become a Christian but has formed a deep connection to Daniel and wants to be of help. Daniel takes out a stack of pink slips of paper with Matthew 11:28-30 printed on them in Japanese. Sean and I write “May you be filled with joy” on the backs of the papers, to which Daniel adds his e-mail address. He and Sean have been making the rounds every Friday night for the past month or so. Tonight is a little different than usual in that it is “White Day” and Daniel’s backpack is filled with chocolates. However, the idea is the same – establish a presence, make connections, get to know people, serve in small ways.
Daniel leads us in prayer, and we’re off. It’s a little after midnight but the side streets and covered shopping strips are crowded with drunks and cross-dressers, couples, groups of businessmen, hosts and hostesses, prostitutes and the like. Tonight, I am mostly just along as an observer. At times, I feel like the third wheel. Sean and Daniel make a good team. Sean is open and friendly and is usually the one to start the conversation by introducing his “American friend. ” Daniel’s foreignness is enough to attract curiosity and his halting Japanese and gestures of kindness appear to make a good impression. The girls are surprised and seem genuinely appreciative. None of them refuse the chocolate that is offered to them.
We have to be quick in our exchanges. Many of the girls are being watched and can get in trouble if they spend too much time talking with non-customers. There have been times when men actually came out of the stores to drive Daniel and Sean away. Sean makes it clear that we aren’t there for alcohol or sex, which is, of course, bad for business. However, it also begs the question: why are we there? Sean says that we want to bless and encourage them, sometimes adding that we are Christians. Daniel hopes that the women will eventually make contact and open up with their problems or concerns.
I am struck by how young the girls look – probably in their late teens or early twenties. I think of my younger sisters in college back home. I wonder what sort of education these girls have had. Most of them wear heavy make-up and short skirts, despite the cold night air. I compliment their jewelry and sparkly nails. I have never gotten a manicure in my life but think back to someone suggesting that we start a nail salon as a way to connect to the women and get them talking. It would probably be more effective than encountering people randomly, I think. Daniel seems disappointed that we haven’t seen any of the girls he met before. We continue to walk.
“Please help me.” The yellow sign succeeds in grabbing our attention. We stop to chat for a bit and find out that the girl’s name is Sally* and she is out four or five nights a week and almost every Friday. Daniel and Sean do their thing and the girl accepts some chocolate. I explain that we are Christians who have been helped by God and we want to help others and were struck by her sign. To me, it is a reminder of why we are there – all of these women and men caught in an industry based on deception and addiction, feeding the every growing emptiness of a society starved for love and genuine relationships.
That night we meet another girl. She has long black hair, thick black eye make-up and a black coat, out of which stem two long black-stockinged legs teetering on black high heels. She tells us her name is Ali*. She has to stand outside all night long. If she succeeds in attracting customers to the shop where she works she can have a “break” by drinking with them. Sean asks her if she has a dream, something she’s working towards. She says she wants to raise sales and make her establishment prosperous. I’m wondering if she is told to say that or if she really has no other goal in life. In either case, my heart goes out to her.
Finally, we come across Marie* standing outside a love hotel. She is an older woman, probably in her 50s, and one of the few people whom Daniel and Sean have been able to establish regular contact with. She tells me I’m pretty. I tell her that I’ve heard about her and am happy I got to meet her. Then she turns to the two men to discuss plans to get together and talk on a week day afternoon. Daniel and Sean are hoping that once they are in good standing with her they will have an “in” to reach other women in the business. I wonder if and when the meeting will actually take place.
Having come full circle, we make our way back to Life. It is a little after 1 am. We have a quick de-brief session, after which Daniel asks me to close in prayer. I pray for the women we talked to that night but I also pray for Daniel and for Sean and his family. I continue to marvel at the work of God and how he brings people together in His mysterious timing. As I bike home, I think of the red-light district nearer to my apartment and wonder what it would be like to start reaching out to people there. The night’s experience reminds me that strangers are instantly intrigued the moment I open my mouth and speak Japanese to them and I want to use that to the advantage of the kingdom. Mostly, however, I continue to think of the words on the sign: “Please help me.” And I thank God that He is opening a way.