On the Streets

I didn’t want to go out last night at all.  It was snowing and cold and the chocolates we were planning to hand out to the prostitutes were at church—out of the way from the place where I intended to meet up with Tom* and Jeanne*, two others from the association Alliance de l’Esperance.

Two weeks earlier we’d had to cancel the outing because of snow and ice. 

As I got in the car, the snow started coming down harder.  “This is crazy,” I thought to myself.  “Who goes out on a night like this?”

I got to church, picked up the chocolates and tucked myself into my ski coat.  I was wearing three layers of socks, hiking boots, ski bandana, gloves etc, carrying thermoses with hot tea inside, plastic cups, the cards with the information on them for the girls, the chocolates, the cell phone, metro tickets…  Off I went in the snow to the metro stop, only to find it was closed.  A strike.  Of course.  As usual here in France.

I trudged back to church, aware that I did not have Tom’s cell phone number.  A few calls to others finally got me his number, and I called to say I’d be late.  (I briefly considered saying I wasn’t coming.)  I was going to have to negotiate downtown Lyon, trusting my GPS to get me to the meeting spot.  I have a horrible sense of direction in the day with sun.  At night, with snow, well, I was determined not to panic.  I had the GPS, and this was looking more and more like a case of spiritual warfare.  Doggonit!  I was going to get to Tom and Jeanne and find those girls.

The GPS and prayer got me to Place Marchal*.  The snow was making eerie gusting swirls in the black sky—everything looked menacing.  I found a parking place, thank you Lord, and hurried through the deserted square to the meeting spot at the train station where Tom and Jeanne were waiting.  We exchanged our stories, each admitting we had almost given up, but that we sensed the Lord asking us to persevere.  We felt buoyed by each other’s stories.  We walked out of the train station, pausing to pray for God’s protection and for any girls who might be out on this horrible night to be open to hearing about the God of Hope.

We walked down the long wide avenue where, on some evenings, every twenty yards or so there is a young prostitute waiting for customers.  Tonight, no one.  And then, around the corner we saw them, two young African girls, dressed in hot pants with tights underneath, shivering, holding a wimpy umbrella, as if that could protect them from the deep chill of the night, from the horror of their work.

‘Sandy’ was from Liberia, ‘Betty’* from Sierre Leone.  Both accepted hot chocolate gratefully, speaking to us in English.  We told them our names and a little about our association.  They were eager to hear, stamping their boots to ward away the cold.  Tom gave each girl a Gospel of John and a small booklet that talked about women who have left prostitution with God’s help.  We asked if they knew of Jesus. 

“Yes.”

“May we pray for you?” 

“What are you going to pray for me?” Sandy asked, a tinge of defiance in her voice.

“What would you like for us to pray for you?”

“For perfect health and that I could leave this job!”  Betty quickly agreed.  Pain was etched behind the pasted smiles.  “And that I will be open for God to touch my heart,” added Sandy, softly.

We prayed with the girls, filled their plastic cups with hot chocolate, reminded them that there was information on the little cards attached to the chocolates we’d handed them.  Information about where to get help.

We kept walking.  The next four girls, standing apart at first, crowded together when they heard of chocolates and warm drinks.  Shelly, Elsa, Estelle and Julie* are all from Nigeria.  All speaking to us in English, all cold, thankful for a warm drink and wondering, “Can you help me?  I need help.  I have to get out of here.  I’m dying.”  Each girl shared snippets of her story.  How she didn’t have legal papers and couldn’t get another job or leave the country, how she had to work to eat, to live.  The streets were too cold.  “But yes, please pray for us.  We want out.”

These girls gladly took gospels and literature along with the chocolates and the cards and drinks.  They welcomed our prayers and they prayed along, “Yes, Jesus.  Amen.”  It seemed they had a recognition of their need for a Savior.

In all the times we’ve gone on the streets, we’ve never met with such openness, such desperation.  Usually many of the girls are friendly, but they don’t show the hurt, the need, the fear.

The next girls were from Bulgaria: Sissy, Cindi and Andrea*—they spoke a little English and a little French, but communicating with them was much more difficult.  Still they took the hot drinks, the chocolates and listened as we spoke of Jesus.  We thought we had literature in Bulgarian, but it turned out to be in Romanian and Hungarian.

Along one street where a woman got out of a car, we turned in her direction, but then felt such a presence of evil, as men stepped out of dark alleys, that we didn’t venture further.  Yes, sometimes we feel it—not just the prostitution but everything else that goes with it.  Dark, dark.  So we prayed.  “God shine light in this darkness.  Help these girls, many here against their wills, to find a way of escape.”

As we walked, Jeanne told us of Joy* whom we met months ago on the streets, who is attending Jeanne’s church and opening up to the Word of God.  A little ray of hope.

We go in fear and trembling.  It is never easy or convenient.  We go simply because the love of Christ compels and propels us forward.  We go shaking our heads, saying, “Who would have thought that we’d be doing this?”

We go and we thank you for going with us in prayer.  We ask that you keep praying for breakthroughs in these girls’ situations and in their hearts.

We have so little to offer.  A smile, a prayer, a cup of hot chocolate.  But our God is so very big and He offers HOPE.


*names changed