I choked back tears as I looked at photograph after photograph. A graffiti-covered bridge under which one woman took shelter. A sleazy, pay-by-the-hour motel where another woman brought her customers. A restaurant down the street where yet another woman often grabbed a warm meal on a cold day while working the streets. The front entrance of a parole office. A pile of condoms on the ground.
Many of the scenes were familiar to me yet the world they represent is foreign. It’s a world right on my doorstep yet a universe away.
The photo exhibit was part of a project in which current and former sex trade workers were given cameras and asked to document aspects of their lives that they feel are important.
Some of these women have overcome incredible obstacles. Some are now helping other women on the streets. Some still struggle, day after day.
The photos were moving and emotional. But there was something missing.
The Church was missing.
There were many pictures of secular organizations that provide counselling and support. But out of 90 photographs, there were only a couple depicting churches. One photo showed a church building in which one woman sometimes found shelter. Another showed a small group of volunteers at a church downtown dishing out soup on a wintry night. But, as far as I could tell, that was all.
In his book Revolution in World Missions, Dr. K.P. Yohannan describes his first impression of North American churches upon coming to the United States several decades ago:
The orchestras, choirs, “special” music—and sometimes even the preaching—seemed to me more like entertainment than worship.
Many North American Christians live isolated from reality—not only from the needs of the poor overseas, but even from the poor in their own cities. Amidst all the affluence live millions of terribly poor people left behind as Christians have moved into the suburbs. I found that believers are ready to get involved in almost any activity that looks spiritual but allows them to escape their responsibility to the gospel.
It’s easy to tell myself that attending Bible study, going to church—and writing a blog about my faith—are enough. It’s easy to hide behind “spiritual” activities, even while attending a church focused on bringing Christ to the lost.
I recently read Under the Overpass, by Mike Yankoski. (If you haven’t read this book, read it.) The book documents the journey of Yankoski and his friend Sam as they spend a summer living on the streets. One of their purposes in doing this was to find out what the Church was doing to help the poorest and neediest. The results were, for the most part, a sad reflection on the Body of Christ.
I’ve been wrestling a lot lately with how to bridge the gap between my safe, secure world and this other world of which I’m growing increasingly aware. What good is it to have Jesus if I’m not feeding the poor and comforting the broken? What good is it to put on lipstick and heels and go to a Sunday service but never get my hands dirty doing the work to which every Christian is called?
But how do I get from here to there?
I know I tend to overthink things, but there has been an increasing disquiet in my spirit that I’m really not sure what to do with. I’m restless. Dissatisfied. My faith has to mean something more.
There are so many wonderful organizations out there with whom I could volunteer, but what is God calling me to do? I don’t have answers right now but I’m looking.
And that’s a start.