Yesterday, I walked the steps to the top floor of a brothel. They were narrow, wooden, creaky, dark. It was late afternoon, almost time to wake up, to begin business. I wondered how many walked these dark stairs before, and what their motives were.
We followed Jasmine, a young girl with a slender nose and bright red lips. She showed us to her room, a small dirty place, walls lined with rusty metal trunks, locked, floor lined with girls who’s belongings were inside, some stirring, some sound asleep still. I could hardly stand up the ceiling was so low. An electric burner on the floor held pots crusted with old food that must had been their kitchen. A large window with bars across showed a prison like view of the busy traffic below. Evening in Pune, India meant everything cooled down, and people were out shopping.
On this street you could buy whatever you wanted- fresh fruit, electronics, rice, sex.
Jasmine pulled out a straw mat for us to sit on, motioning to another girl who was awake. She left the room and returned with glass bottle of cold mango juice for us. We made small talk through our translator. Jasmine has a sister, Emily, in the children’s home we are working with. She is a beautiful quiet girl, I have grown to love the past few days. Jasmine had brought Emily to the brothel with her in order to escape living with their abusive uncle. The people from the children’s home had finally convinced Jasmine her young sister would be better off with them. They still visit her and the other mothers of the kids, which is why we were there.
We sat around, trying not to be awkward with the language barrier, trying to see hard faces soften with a smile. More of the girls began to wake up, and we introduced ourselves to each one. I saw desperation in her face of one of the young girls like I have never seen. I knew just looking at her, she was a walking corpse. I wanted to cry, hug her, drag her out of her dark reality, show her the sunshine and the great, big beautiful world. I wanted to show her there was so much more then this crowded room, sleeping during the day, living a nightmare night after night, then countless bodies just using and discarding. But I just smiled at her.
I thought about Sara, another one of “my girls” at the children’s home. The first day I was there, some boys made fun of her drawing and she cried and cried. I tried to hug her, but she just stared at me blankly. I told her she was an amazing artist, and a great girl, and she shouldn’t listen to those silly boys. Later, she came back to me, a smile on her face. She gave me her picture, her with her friends at the children’s home, under a happy sun, green glitter making the whole picture sparkle.
Sara was born in a brothel. Her mother died from “being overworked” and the madam of the house was going to use Sara as her “retirement fund” as soon as she turned 12. The workers from the children’s home pleaded again and again to let Sara go with them. Out of nowhere one day the Madam agreed saying that may be the only good thing she did with her life. Sara is 9 now, she’s been in the home almost a year. I thought about the fate that would have awaited her just a few years from now, had she not have been rescued.
I looked around at each women, imagining the little girl in them. Did they still hold onto any hope they could escape that place? Did they still dream of a better future, of true love, of a family? In a few faces I recognized a glimmer of hope, most seemed to have discarded that long ago. How many nights of this before you lose your dignity, your worth, yourself?
The translator asked if we wanted to say anything. I told them they weren’t just beautiful on the outside, but God saw them as beautiful on the inside. That He saw who they really were, still a little girl, innocent, that nothing could ever separate them from His love.
It’s hard to believe it in a place like that, but I had to, I needed to, for these girls, for me for humanity itself. I found myself believing it the more and more I said it. I wanted to tell him how Jesus came from the lineage of a prostitute, how He offered nothing but grace when the world offered stones. I just told them He loved them and knew that was the only thing worth knowing. If they could just really see it.
I know as many of the Jasmine’s there are, there are also so many Sara’s and Emily’s. Aren’t we all at one point in our life trapped in a dark place, waiting for someone to tell us hope is not dead, waiting for a rescuer? We’ve got to to be brave and compassionate enough to walk out the rescuing side of Jesus’ character. We just have to.
I walked down the stairs of the brothel, knowing I would carry that day with me forever.
walking up the dark stairs
my heart sinks in despair
your daughters are trapped
in abuse and lies, does anyone care?
but I see the barred windows lets the light shine through
I know beyond reason it will be ok
there will be a brighter day
hungry eyes, haunting desperation
dirty hands, tugging, begging for attention
these streets have beaten the best out of you
stolen your precious childhood
but somehow redemption is possible
somehow, even this can turn to good
that dark places between tough and hard
is your home
the only thing stronger then this pain
is the fear you will be all alone
hope seems like a distant land
you can’t get a visa for
but we can get there together
take my hand
we can get there together
I don’t know how this ends
but I know its an ashes to beauty story
I can’t see the road we are on
but I know we’ll get from suffering to glory
this can’t be a tragedy
no matter how sad the tale
It’s a mystery how it happens
but I know love will always prevail