Friday, May 18, 2007


Originally uploaded by Elizabeth in Bolivia.
My eyes are tired and somewhat swollen; my headache hasn´t let up yet. I´m sad today, reflecting on last night´s sights and sounds, grieving for my friends in the brothels, aching because of the reality.

I was asked to look as androgynous as possible, as to avoid any attention from the men. I wore bulky, baggy clothes and a black baseball cap. My mittens protected my hands from the freezing cold outside and the burning hot chocolate that I poured and handed out.

I expected to smell alcohol, cigarette smoke, and urine. I expected it to be scarier and darker. What I experienced was even more disturbing... a mural of a naked woman just inside the red doors. Black lights, strobe lights, Christmas lights. Loud music, a dance floor, a bar area. It was all too normal and club-like, except the dance floor was empty and the bar was vacant. At first, I was confused. I felt frustrated that I wasn´t sick to my stomach.

Realization set in and I became angry. Satan disguises the ugliness. He masks oppression and injustice with things the world says are normal and acceptable.

The red, swinging doors announced the arrival of men...streams of men. The main, open area narrowed into a hallway, barely wide enough for two people to pass each other. Small rooms with tiny doorways reveal women in various types of clothing. Some in lingerie, others in traditional Chulita costumes with bowler hats. Jeans and tanktops or completely naked. Others with their faces covered, only their eyes revealed.

We followed the men down the hallway with our jug of hot chocolate and plastic cups. We greeted the women with smiles and hugs. I recognized some of them from La Casa, though their various disguises made it somewhat difficult. Most of the women dress differently at night - maybe so they´re not recognized during the day?

Most women readily accepted our hot chocolate once we assured them it was free. I didn´t say much, except to invite them to lunch and the upcoming Mother´s Day party. I observed the men observe the women. Some leaned in to smell her neck. Some lingered to check her out. Some immediately handed her money. Their movements were quick and the hallways were full... men milling about. Doors were constantly opening and closing, men coming and going. I didn´t want their attention, so when I wasn´t interacting with a woman, I looked down at the floor.

I gave hot chocolate to a young girl in another doorway - she couldn´t have been more than 15. I caught her gaze and could have cried right there. She was scared, uncomfortable, and innocent. Humberto told her she was much too young to be working, and if she wanted help, to find us at La Casa. I asked him about her later, and he said they´d probably never see her again since the brothel owners will most likely circulate her through various brothels - controlling her and keeping her from escaping. I can still see her eyes and her small frame. I want to go back, embrace her, take her by the hand, take her to a real home, offer her a bath, treat her like a beautiful 15-year old girl should be treated, erase the nightmares of her brothel life, tell her how much Jesus loves her.

We avoided a few of the worst brothels where minors work. One of them is a lottery system similar to Bingo.

We walked down a street and saw some of our friends leaning against buildings in the bitter cold. Three of them were laughing together, yet they were still ¨working.¨ These women aren´t ¨protected¨ by brothel owners, but can usually make more money by working on the streets because they don´t have to pay rent. This was once the most dangerous street...two years ago, over the span of 5 months, a murder was reported weekly. Now, less women work independently because it is so dangerous. Hotel rooms can be rented hourly. Gaps in the street revealed a parking garage of sorts... a dark, eery, concrete room which had doors attached. From the street, I could hear loud music and could see the pink glow from various rooms, where lightbulbs have been wrapped with toilet paper.

I made it through our rounds, though I was on the verge of tears. My servant team was waiting for me when I returned - they were praying while I was gone. I was welcomed with a hug which released my tears. I cried before I fell asleep last night - so hurt for the 15 year old girl, discouraged by the amount of men I saw, frustrated by the disguise and power satan has in the brothels.

I had asked God to show me His heart for His daughters, to be broken like He is night after night, to understand how far off this is from His intention for this world...

This morning we had devotions at La Casa with the WMF staff and volunteers. We sang about how big and holy God is, and then studied Psalm 139 -- Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence?

I couldn´t stop thinking about last night, (and still can´t) and cried for an hour or so. Some of the Bolivian women told me about their first time on the streets and said ¨I understand.¨ They hugged me and kissed me. We have so much more in common, now, with this shared experience. Humberto hugged me and said ¨you have a very sensitive heart.¨

These verses popped out to me and I think of my sisters in the brothels...

Isaiah 35:4 Be strong, do not fear; your God will come, he will come with vengeance; with divine retribution he will come to save you.

Isaiah 45:22 Turn to me and be saved, all you ends of the earth (El Alto) for I am God, and there is no other.

Isaiah 59:15 The Lord looked and was displeased that there was no justice.

Isaiah 60:2 See, darkness covers the earth and thick darkness is over his peoples, but the Lord rises upon you and his glory appears over you. Nations will come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn.

Isaiah 61 ...the Lord has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners...

And finally, a reminder that things are NOT the way they are supposed to be...
Isaiah 65:17 Behold, I will create new heavens and a new earth. The former things will not be remembered.

I am exhausted... physically and emotionally. Spiritually, I understand more of God´s heart for this earth, more about the things that grieve the Holy Spirit, and more about my purpose here.


Jessi said...

I don't have enough wisdom or good enough words to express what I feel like you need to hear. So instead I simply say...I love you, I am so proud of you and so thankful that the Lord carried you and was what you prayed he would be for you.
I have SO many hugs waiting for you!

jdances said...

Thank you for sharing this online. (I'm a friend of Stina K's. We went to wheaton together- my name's Janelle.) I spent 6 months in Chiang Mai, Thailand with a organization that exists to primarily send high risk, minority girls to night school while sheltering them and teaching them handicraft skills (and also spiritual training). There were also many girls however who had been rescued by IJM or other organizations from brothels or forced marriages. One of the hardest parts was seeing just the emptiness in some of their eyes and knowing that I couldn't tangibly do anything to take away their pain and scars beyond just being there. But then there was also knowing that there were perhaps thousands in that city alone that hadn't been rescued. The feeling of powerlessness to change anything was overwhelming and awful, but forced me to run to God. Now that I've been back in the states for a year and a half, I still haven't forgotten what that feels like, but I hope that I will never forget to turn to God and to His word in the midst of it.
May the Lord sustain you in your time there.

Anders said...


Your compassion and strength are AMAZING.

This brief glimpse of what you wittnessed moves me in so many emotional directions of anger, fear, and sorrow that I had to force myself to continue reading.

I truly cannot begin to understand your sorrow or the pain of those you are comforting, but I guess that is only further motivation to be lifting you and WMF up all the more in prayer.

Lord's Peace,