Give, Sow, Tend
Hope through StreetLight
Sydney’s sex industry, friendship and Jesus. Ordinarily, it would be hard to imagine any circumstance in which these concepts could ever be combined. However, in Jesus’ name and in God’s extraordinary strength, the impossible becomes possible each fortnight through our StreetLight ministry when volunteers visit sex workers in Sydney brothels. Their aim? To give, sow and tend the hope of Jesus into precious lives through genuine friendship.
Ministry initiatives like StreetLight’s brothel visitation depend on the willing readiness of individuals to regularly give time to something most of us would consider outside our comfort zone.
Meet Jess and Kerri – two Christian women from different walks in life who both volunteer their time each fortnight with StreetLight’s Brothel Outreach Team. We’re sure they won’t mind us telling you that they don’t own a Super-cape – they’re wonderfully ordinary women with a heart to reach out in friendship to women working in Sydney’s sex industry.
Hi, I’m Jess, I’m 33. I work for CRU-camps, an organisation that runs Christian holiday camps for kids in NSW. I go to Penrith Baptist Church and recently married Marco. About four years ago I was living in a share house. One of my housemates volunteered for StreetLight. She would ask us to pray for StreetLight, which made me curious about what it was. I went along one Tuesday to an Information Night and from that was keen to be involved.
My mum was a super-strong woman. I had every opportunity growing up and I want to see that for other women. I’ve travelled quite a lot over the last ten or eleven years and have seen how women are treated in various places compared to Australia. I didn’t want to be ignorant to the sex industry in my own neighbourhood and all the stuff that goes along with it.
I have a passion for women and for working with them. I want women to understand they have equal rights, to have self-respect and to be respected and treated well in the community. Women in brothels aren’t in the best situation, so I was keen to use my passion to connect with them. I’ve been volunteering now for two and a half years.
I feel now like I’ve found my groove visiting the brothels. We visit the same four locations each fortnight. At first, it was a struggle not to think badly of the men coming in and out while I was there, but I had to let go of that and focus on the women. To be welcomed in to spend time with the girls in their breakout area is a unique opportunity. Most of them are happy to see us.
Sometimes, they don’t feel like talking. They want to relax, or spend time on their phones, and we respect that. Many only speak Chinese, Korean or Thai, but with Google Translate, it’s opened the door to new, deeper conversations than we’ve been able to previously enjoy with the girls.
Our immediate mission is not to convert the women or save them from working there. Our goal is to connect with them; to show them love for a moment and be someone in their work day who doesn’t want anything from them. The compassionate side of me has grown, my awareness of these things going on in the suburb I live – why shouldn’t I know about it and be involved in this ministry?
Many of the women are here from China on their own, or perhaps with a relative or friend. Often, they’ve left children and families home in China, so they can be very lonely and isolated. Having a friendly person they know they’re going to see every couple of weeks really helps them. Taking the love of Jesus to them without any judgment, coming to them as one woman to another is enriching for them and for me.
What would Jess say to someone considering getting involved?
Come along to an Information Night, or one of our meetings so we can explain more about what visitation looks like. You’re never alone and it’s not scary. When people join our team, they might sit in the car and pray until they feel confident enough to go in. Everything is at your own pace. If you’re not able to go and visit, baking cupcakes for us is super-important. Men can be a part of our team too by baking or volunteering as a StreetLight driver. We’re regular people of different ages and different backgrounds, none of us have special qualifications, just a heart to show women they are valued. We’d love to have more people join us who can speak Mandarin, Korean and Thai; that would really open more doors for us.
I’m not naturally a conversationalist; you wouldn’t consider me the obvious choice to be involved in this ministry, but you don’t need that personality or those skills to be involved. We pray for God to give us all we need; for the receptionist to open the door, for the women not to be busy so they can talk to us, for people to be receptive to our conversation – relying on God is the most important thing.
My name is Kerri. I have three adult children; two still living at home and one married. I’m an archivist at a school. I love being outdoors and keep busy with lots of things. I’m in the stage of life, now that my children are older, in which I’ve got time to get out at night and do things. My parents took me to Sunday School as a child and I made the decision to believe in Jesus in my twenties. I’ve been going to a Pentecostal church called Dayspring for the last eighteen years.
A friend of mine at Dayspring used to volunteer in the Brothel Outreach Team. Before she moved to Thailand to be part of another ministry to sex workers there, she shared in church what she’d been doing with StreetLight. She asked if anyone was interested and it really resonated with me. I knew immediately it was something I’d like to do.
I came along to the meetings and started, at first, by sitting in the car and praying while the others went in to visit, but as soon as I stepped through that door [to visit workers in the brothels] it was like it was the most natural thing for me to do.
I quickly understood that although the women working in the brothels didn’t think so, they were in an abusive situation, they didn’t value themselves. I want to see women rise up to know they are a daughter of Christ and to know they are worthy; to see women be who they’re meant to be. I want women to know they are treasured.
You know, you go into these places and offer the gift of a cupcake or muffin each fortnight, or a little gift of nail polish at Christmas and straight away the girls will say “Oh no, I don’t deserve this!” To be able to say to them, “Yes! You do! You’re worthy. You are just as worthy of this gift as anyone else.” To help the girls see and believe this truth is such a privilege. I am so blessed by my involvement in their lives, by being able to give to them like that.
We see some of the girls quite regularly, but others change around between places. They know we go to different churches around Sydney and some ask us if that means we believe in Jesus. If they ask us questions about our faith, we’re always happy to answer, but primarily we want to build relationships with the girls so they can see the love of Jesus through us.
We like to think of ourselves as turning the ground ready for the seeds of faith to be planted by God in his time. We bring hope to them, to help them see themselves differently to those who usually come to see them. We want to show them that a stranger can walk through the door of the brothel and care about them, to say in word and deed, “Hey, I value you as a person, not just as an object to be used.”
What would Kerri say to someone considering getting involved?
“It’s so inspiring in my own Christian life to be able to visit the brothels and show the love of Jesus to these ladies. It builds conversation when you tell people what you do. At first, they’re always a bit shocked, but then when you tell them why and what the outcome of it is, it gets them thinking about what they’re doing with their own lives and empowers them to believe they can do something like this. Volunteering is a great blessing to me and the ladies StreetLight visits.”
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