It was daytime and she was holding onto the fence in front of a Buddhist temple. Her back pressed up against it as if she could disappear if she pressed hard enough. Her hands down by her side, knuckles white in their grip of the posts. Fear in her dark oval eyes begged for everyone to keep their distance. She was only a girl, maybe 13. Her jet black hair was straight and hung to her shoulders. Her lips were set in a straight line, quivering. There was no invitation upon them. Her gaze was watching foreigners pass by as if they were ravenous tigers about to pounce. I could feel her terror. I could SEE her dread. Everything about her begged to be left alone. Her keeper was close by; keeping an eye on her, otherwise she would have bolted. As night approached her fear would only grow until it was all encompassing, devouring her…digesting yet another innocent.
Across the street a group of girls chatted in a bar. They were veterans of this red light district; somewhere between the ages of 16 or 18 would be my guess. They look much older at night, but in the daylight their ages were more obvious. The bar mom fed them as they applied their make-up. She had the eyes of a hawk, watching over them. They were preparing for work and with eyeliner here and lipstick there, they aged right before my eyes. They smiled as I walked by, but the smiles never reached their eyes. Of course I could not understand the chatter among them, but I noticed something missing. In any group of teenagers I have ever been around there is always laughter mixed in with the conversations, but on this street in this place there were no musical girl giggles…only girls getting ready for their work as if it was the most normal thing in the world.
Next there was a beggar. He sat in the sidewalk, and I nearly tripped over him. His head was caved in on one side to the point that I could not see how there could be any brain in there. His eyes were oval slits, one of them swollen closed by a black bruise. It was quite a shiner. Recent. He was dirty and he sat with a bowl in front of him to collect pity money. He did not speak or follow after. He only sat on the dirty street in his ragged clothes waiting for someone to care enough to put money in his bowl. He respectfully bowed his head as we passed him by.
Around the corner, the fight club was nearly abandoned during the day, except for the preparations underway for the fight later in the evening. A lean white man was sparring. He was not built like a fighter, no big muscles bulging, but his kicks and punches did not miss their mark. The sheer number of them created a rhythm….it was the cadence of the place, echoing off the now empty seats. His hair was shoulder length and wild. It swayed with every punch. In all of this, his eyes stood out. They were cloudy, and glazed over. He appeared to be strung out and the vacancy in them was as deep as a well…a vast never-ending emptiness. Dark pools, sunken with heaviness. The kicks and punches were robotic, as if carried by muscle memory alone. There was not a word uttered between he and his sparring partner, only hundreds of sweaty practice blows by the man with the empty eyes.
A small boy, maybe 6 years old held out his puppies. Two of them, weeks old, eyes just opened. He smiled as we turned his direction. In the bar, we held the pups and made small talk with the boy. A woman approached with the mother dog so the puppies could eat. As she got closer I saw that it was in fact a lady boy. All the girls in this bar were lady boys. Just as in the other bar they were also preparing for the nights work. Make-up and dinner were their priorities at the moment. The bar mom was as concerned with the puppies eating as he was his boys. The mama dog’s name was Nan-nan. I wondered how old the young boy would be when he switched from drawing people into the bar to working himself.
These are the images I saw in the red light district on our prayer walk one afternoon. I did not take pictures because it felt disrespectful to use people as Facebook fodder, but they are etched in my mind’s eye. I feel the weight of them even now as I write. The darkness there had nothing to do with the sunlight. It was palpable and heavy like nothing I have ever felt. It seeped into me as I walked. My heart was broken and wept within me. Disturbing does not begin to cover the feelings that rose up in my soul for the humanity trapped in the world of the sex-trade I witnessed on this day. I am aware that my ONE hour here was during the slowest part of the day and that what I saw was a tiny fraction of the reality that is trafficking. My heart was so troubled that in the evening, when we were supposed to return to the streets to reach out, I could not. I stayed back instead, with the prayer team to cover those who would be out trying to make connections and offer options to those trapped. Even now, tears threaten to spill down my cheeks at the hopelessness…the darkness so complete that it grabs the heart of anyone who ventures down that street. The depth of the problem cannot be solved with a red X marked on hands. It cannot be fixed with awareness… that is only one step. It is a deep shadow of evil that holds its captives prisoner…locked away in chains of fear and hopelessness. It is a way of life for them, which starts very young…they are raised up in it. It is overwhelming because it is a multi-dimensional, many layered problem. Only God can right this wrong. Only He is big enough to set the captives free. My heart cries out to him to do so…oh how it cries. He etched the images on my heart…as they are etched on his.