Monday, November 7, 2011
I learned about Christian prostitution in Spain.
Bernice and Annabel told me about it.
They lead one of the seven rescue homes in the province of Cantabria sponsored by the ministry of Nueva Vida.
Bernice is a Mexican pastor’s daughter and seminary graduate.
Annabel is a missionary, first sent by her home church in Malaga to do missionary work in Morocco. She holds a graduate degree in Spanish language acquisition.
They invited Trish and me to their home after church, at the normal Spanish time for dinner, 10:00 PM.
As we drove to their house, Bernice told us about their work in Morocco and what had led her and Annabel to relocate to the city of Santander.
I am somewhat aware of sex trafficking through Free for Life, a ministry based in our church. Colette Bercu and her husband Dan lead that ministry and have done an incredible amount of work in a short amount of time. They have passionately worked to educate me about the scope and power of the global sex trade.
But even Colette never told me about Christian prostitutes.
In Santander, most Christian prostitutes are Nigerians. They are teenagers or young adults who have been transported from their native country. They are taught to work the streets and parks of Santander in ways that will not invite police interference. As they work, they often listen to Christian praise music on iPods. Before and after work, they may attend church, where they worship fervently. One prostitute actually leads her small church in worship before heading out for her late night employment: prostitution in the city park.
Here’s the deal: these women have a loaded gun to their heads. The sex trade operators know their families. They will kill the parents and siblings of those who quit the trade. If a prostitute doesn’t show up for a couple of days to work, she gets a call from a family member at home, asking if everything is OK. That means that someone in their village has informed mom and dad that she is not working and may need a call to see if she is sick or something. This reminds the sex worker of the dire circumstances that threaten her family if she decides to bolt.
These women, many who are poorly educated and without significant, safe connections in the country where they work, decide that although what they are doing is difficult it is not as wicked as exposing their families to death. Besides, some make enough money to help feed families at home.
So the prostitute walks the parks, advertising her trade through her clothing and mannerisms, that she is available. As she walks, she listens and sings to herself:
“Lord, I lift your name on high;
Lord I love to sing your praises.”
Now that think about it, I had heard about Christian prostitutes, from Susan Ruden, author of Paul Among the People.
Ruden is one of the world’s greatest experts on the classical world and its literature. She had read Paul’s writings late and reluctantly, after extensive work in classical Latin and Greek literature. What she found was explosive, for her personally and for her career.
St. Paul, you see, is the bad boy of academia, even in religious studies.
However, as she read him, Ruden decided that modern scholars had terribly misjudged and maligned this man, whom she claims invented the Western world as we know it today.
As she describes the horror of the late Roman Empire for the bottom two thirds of its inhabitants, she graphically describes the perpetual erotic atmosphere of the Greco-Roman cities. Few people, she claims, male or female, escaped being raped before reaching adulthood. The slaves especially were used and passed around to friends and were often physically disfigured by sexual abuse.
Women who claimed to have escaped this abuse were from a higher class, which made it possible for her father and husband to afford a bodyguard to accompany her wherever she went. It was obvious who these women were because they walked through the streets wearing beautiful veils.
The apostle Paul insisted that all women wear these veils when gathering for worship. Susan Ruden claims that Paul did not do this in order to put women down but rather to provide an atmosphere of equality for the lower classes. In the church, none would be able to distinguish between those who were privileged and pure and those who were not.
They all would lift holy hands in prayer and worship, their past and present struggle hidden under a symbol of purity.
Ruden says that the slave women, who were many, and in the Roman Empire often educated and cultured, would leave church and participate in all sorts of sexual situations. They had no choice; their owners could kill them without any interference by Roman authorities.
There was one place where they could go to escape, for a while at least, from the plight into which society had placed them and in which it maintained them: the church.
A woman who later would be removing her clothing and doing whatever powerful people demanded her to do, took a beautiful piece of lace and covered her head. She then walked into the house of God and lifted her voice in prayer and song, adding her redeemed voice to those of her brothers and sisters in Christ.
Somewhere today, a young woman from Laos, Nigeria or Nicaragua is preparing to go to work. Later she will do nasty stuff. For now, she slips on her headset and joins her spiritual family in worship. She realizes that her brothers and sister in Christ would not understand what she is doing, but she sighs and quietly sings along:
You came from heaven to earth, to show the way
From the earth to the cross, my debt to pay
From the cross to the grave, from the grave to the sky
Lord I lift your name on high.
Perhaps today this young woman will meet someone like Colette, Bernice or Annabel. Perhaps she will learn to trust them when they tell her that they have safe contacts who can help keep her family safe if she wants out.
In the meantime, why doesn’t she join them for dinner later, after work?
The table will be ready and, if she wants, she can play video games or just tell jokes. And, if she likes, perhaps they can have some friends over to sing and play some music.
‘Sure,” she’ll say. “Cool.”
These angels will give the young woman a bottle of cold water and their card with contact information.
Then she will put on her headset and tune one world out as she tunes another world in.
And does what she must do.