Amsterdam is a fascinating European city. Idyllic crisscrossing canals with enchanting little vessels navigating the quiet waters. A myriad of bicycles powered by unperturbed, peaceful riders-- and tourists nervously attempting to avoid getting nailed while crossing the bike lane. World-class museums. Cannabis "coffee shops." And sex tourism—including one of the world's most prominent red-light districts. The most famous district is known as De Wallen. It includes a labyrinth of alleys and streets and over 200 window brothels.

And Amsterdam is known for its charming outdoor cafés…. 

It was in one of these outdoor cafés that I met with a sex worker. If Jesus did it, why shouldn't we? I will never forget her...
A little context before anyone strokes out here. A group of us were on our way home from an FCW mission trip in India. We decided in advance to enjoy a layover in Amsterdam. Further, I asked if a couple of them would join me in meeting with a sex worker. My son and a young lady, Becca, agreed to do so. The group pooled money to "buy some time" with her. The rest would be praying for our time together. 

Once the decision was set in motion, the subsequent task was to seek out a sex worker who would –and could—talk to us. Since many of the girls spoke Dutch, it was a bit of a chore. We did not want to approach the ladies at night when they had customers, so we sought them out during the daylight hours (for obvious reasons). We had a few strikeouts, but then we met one young, blond, 23-year-old who spoke good English and was willing to honor our curious request. 

Initially, she was surprised that a middle-aged dude, a young man, and a young girl from America wanted to "just talk”—to get to know her and her world. With minimal persuasion, she timidly said, "Sure!" 

A buck is a buck…

We agreed on a price to "just talk," and we selected a local café for the one-hour conversation the following day.

During the 60-minute conversation, with our soft drinks and chocolate croissants in hand, she shared about her life and her choice to be a sex worker. It was mesmerizing and fascinating. 

She said her name was Denise.

With no shame or embarrassment, she shared that she took a 90-minute train ride into Amsterdam a few days a week--from a small hamlet where she lived. The money was very good and helped her support her two young children.  

It was clear that she deeply loved her children. They were her world. And we believe she seemed to enjoy her career path. She provided a service, and it brought her a measure of satisfaction. She did not see herself in the sex industry forever, however. A few more years and she would move on to a new occupation-- possibly attending university. We asked questions freely, and she answered them unreservedly. 

Once our hour was up, we thanked her for her time. We offered her a bible, and I asked if I could pray for her. "Out loud?" she inquired. I nodded tentatively, and she said, "Maybe not out loud, but right here instead," pointing to her temple. I told her that would work fine and that we would pray for her and her children in the future, too. 

As we were about to leave, she said, "My real name is Danielle. Denise is my street name." She is a real person with a name who desires to be seen. Real hopes and dreams. Real joys and authentic trauma. 

We had earned her trust. I still pray for Danielle and for her children. I like to think she still remembers that conversation after all these years. I hope so. I have her picture in my den to remind me to pray for her.

I had a couple of takeaways that further fashioned and forged my worldview.

The sex industry is the choice of people with the fewest choices. Some people make choices that appear unsavory to the rest of us. However, in desperation, some people dwelling on planet earth do what they need to do to survive. I have witnessed women in Asia who have been so desperate that they chose the unthinkable option to sell their own child…. or steal bread to feed their other children. A form of hopelessness that I have never experienced. Thank God.
Let’s be more intentional to leave judgment/judging to God. We have recorded stories of Jesus hanging out with prostitutes for a reason. He obviously wanted to impress something significant upon our minds and hearts. Further, we are reminded that "He is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. Be merciful just as your Father is merciful." (Luke 6:36). That’s a command. God is kind to people who don't dig him. Camp out on that thought for a bit and let's make sure we are doing the same.
Now, let’s go purposefully, generously, and intentionally love someone that no one else is loving well. It’s a part of our pilgrimage story. Who’s in front of you? Who is in your peripheral vision? Disheartened people are within arm’s reach-- as well as on the other side of the globe. We can do both. We must. 

For extra credit—check out 1 John. Yeah, all whopping 5 chapters (7-8 pages). An excellent 20-minute investment in your spiritual, social, and emotional health.
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