The Dirty Parking Lot
I was sitting outside a cheap airport hotel in Nashville when she walked by me. No more than 90 pounds, this little African American girl had an afro full of curly bouncy hair , and I was quite sure that that beautiful head full of hair was the only thing keeping her feet on the ground. She was so little she could’ve blown away at the slightest breeze of wind.
She wore little tiny hot shorts, the kind that high school volleyball players wear. The kind that make you look away because they make you blush. The kind that need just a few more inches in order for you to look up and look into the person’s eyes.
She had tall wedge shoes on, without which, she could have passed as a seventh grader. The shoes gave her some age though. Perhaps legal. But more likely just seventeen. Yeah, she looked about seventeen. With a tiny spaghetti strap top, big chunky belt, and hoop earrings, she could’ve been in Seventeen Magazine. Elle. Glamour. Lucky. But there she was.
I was reading USA today. Slightly concerned about the sketchy neighborhood but more concerned about reading in peace and quiet. The lobby was too loud and it was worth the risk to sit outside and enjoy reading the paper. I just wanted peace and quiet...
But there she was. This little fire-cracker of a girl walking about the parking lot, with confidence, with humility, almost like she was looking around for a friend, but half-way expecting to be beat up. She was both fearless and terribly afraid. I found myself watching her, but I was afraid too. I wanted to watch her but I didn’t want to look into her eyes too deeply.
She disappeared into the lobby and came back. Walked past me a third time. Walked straight to a van and took a wheelchair out of the trunk. Opened the front door and awkwardly helped a disabled man out of the drivers seat and into his chair. She turned around and began walking towards me. He lingered by the van adjusting his shirt, getting himself ready. She walked towards the front door.
I’m a kid who doesn’t see the nitty gritty of this world. I don’t see war. I don’t see drugs. I don’t see abuse or poverty. And I can’t say that I’ve ever seen a prostitute in the middle of a transaction but last night...there she was.
I felt sick to my stomach. I thought I would throw up. I felt sweat beading up on my neck and my heart racing. There it was with skin on it. Sexual exploitation. Sex slavery. Prostitution. Destitution. Hopelessness. Whatever you want to label it... there she was. When my world stopped spinning I found my heart in a huddled mass at my feet, below my newspaper. “Lord. Why? Why do I have to see this? What do I do for her? I don’t even know what to do.”
As a mom, wife, sister, co-worker, and friend who thrives off of coming up with answers and quick fixes, it was debilitating to see this girl that I could not help. I felt frozen. Afraid. Helpless. How can I be God’s hope and love between here and the bedroom door? What do I say to a girl who has already been bought? What do I say to a man that looks no one in the eyes and sneaks away to a dark room to do a dark thing? Prayers welled up in my soul as she got closer and closer to me. Do I look at her? Do I say hi? Lord, ARE YOU HERE? Really? Because I don’t see you anywhere in this dirty parking lot.
I feel angry, like I’m watching my own sister take each and every step.
“Girl... what you doing out here all by yourself,” her sweet voice barged into my soul’s tailspin.
She stopped to talk to me. Oh my gosh, she stopped to talk to me. It was like a Christmas present. She stepped into my scared world. Her questions continued. Was I from Nashville? Why was the lobby too loud? Wasn’t it a beautiful night? I got the feeling she genuinely wanted to talk to another girl. I got the feeling that by talking to me she was able to redeem herself, redeem her moment, redeem her dignity. I got the feeling that by coming to me on her own terms she was able to say to herself and to me, “I am still human.”
“My name’s Sherelle.”
“My name is Jenny. Your hair is awesome. You are beautiful by the way. You are so beautiful sweet girl.”
I looked as deeply, intimately, lovingly, and compassionately into her eyes as I could. For a moment I felt like it wasn’t even me looking into her eyes. Like maybe Jesus was looking at her through me. She looked back. Sad. Tired. Resolved. I wanted to hug her. I wanted to buy her back. Pay double. I wanted to call the cops. I wanted to follow my heart to the ground and lay on my face and cry out to God in that run down parking lot.
She walked through the front door and I am quite sure I will never see her again.
My friend, Kim Jones, has started a weekly email to encourage and challenge those of us at Irving Bible Church who are interested in reaching and loving on people who are sexually exploited. She asked us to pray for a holy awareness so that we might see the ugly reality around us. So I prayed for it. But last night I wished that I hadn’t.
I didn’t know holy awareness would mean little, 90 pound, bubbly Sherelle in the Nashville hotel parking lot.
Holy Awareness Hurts
As I laid in bed and prayed my heart out, I told my husband what happened. There was this girl in the lobby tonight...”Oh yeah,” he cut in, “The prostitute?”
“NO, Sherelle. Her name is Sherelle, she’s from Chicago.”
I felt the tears run down my cheeks.
This is the face of sexual exploitation. Not a monster. Not a whore. Not a druggy. But a young girl who could be a model in a magazine. A young girl who should be going to Sonic with her friends and hanging by the pool. A young girl who moved here from Chicago to be near her family. A young girl who should be young. But here she is...
a young girl who because of poverty, hopelessness, or imprisonment, has become the face of our culture’s sexual perverseness. She is the face of the broken.
Will you pray for her with me? All week long, remember Sherelle. I have no answers and I feel utterly helpless but I am trusting that God will take that one moment I had with her and he will multiply it. I pray that she will know the prayers of God’s people and she will know his love.That somehow, someway, God will do what only He can do: save. I pray that each and every one of us will open our eyes and pray for a Holy Awareness. It is not easy and not even desirable... I was afraid. Then sad. Then angry that God didn’t come and save her. I prayed the hotel would burn down. The fire alarms would go off. Or the man who bought her would have a heart attack. Then I cried some more. And then, I was afraid again.
How many Sherelle’s are there Lord? I fell asleep in prayer.
It’s easy to ignore what we cannot fix. What is harder is to pray for Holy Awareness, knowing that we may not have an answer or a quick fix, but knowing that the more brokenness we see, the more we are drawn to the heart of God. Praying on behalf of our brothers and sisters, we desperately seek restoration and God’s redemption for those who are sexually exploited.
Educate yourself and start to pray over this epidemic. To join my friend’s email list regarding the sex industry, simply send a blank email to the following address and we will add you to the weekly email:
Check out what other Christians are doing about it. Hope House. This one of a kind Christian ministry in Asheville, North Carolina is committed to rescuing teens from human trafficking and they are the first and ONLY faith based safe house shelter for sexually exploited teenagers in the country.
Donate. If you just feel better by giving money :) (who doesn't!) there is an amazing organization in the Dallas area helping women each and every day to come out of the sex industry. My dear friend Lauri Lanier works as an advocate for these women and could spend hours telling you the redemptive life stories that happen every day at New Friends New Life. Their building was just broken into last month and they are in the process of re-building computer systems and other things that were stolen. Your financial donations would greatly help as they continue to walk alongside women who are starting their lives over again. You can make a MUCH NEEDED financial donation and read more about the amazing, life-changing love that happens at New Friends, New Life by clicking here.
And remember, pray for Sherelle.