Prostitutes & ministry: 'I wasn't sure what to do'

FRANCE (BP) -- Taking a deep breath, I stepped into the darkened room located in a popular port town nestled along the French Riviera. The aroma of stale alcohol and cigarettes overwhelmed me. I was greeted by a blonde woman who eyed me suspiciously.

"This is my friend, Beth, from America," Tara Chaney* introduced me. "She's visiting me for a few days and wanted to come on our little tour to see you all tonight."

Instantly the blonde woman's demeanor changed. She oohed with delight and embraced me in a friendly bisou (or kiss) -- a French greeting not usually offered upon a first meeting.

When Tara first asked if I wanted to join her and some other women to hand out chocolates to local prostitutes, I was tentative. What would I do or say? Could I truly embrace these women for who they were? What about the language barrier?

I spent the day prior to our tour asking Tara a barrage of questions about the history of each lady, and how this all began.

It started with two International Mission Board missionary women who saw a need, and an opportunity, to show the prostitutes in this popular port town they are loved and valuable. Five years ago they began handing out small, quality chocolates to the ladies. On each chocolate a Bible verse was taped. What started with these two IMB missionaries eventually grew to include women from other evangelical mission organizations and a few from local French churches.

On the day of our outing, we met early at a fast-food restaurant to pray and plan our route -- and for me to bolster my courage with a strong cup of coffee. Later that day, we started our tour, which consisted of visiting establishments along four specific streets. The ladies stood in the doorways waiting for clients. When they saw our group coming, they let out squeals and offered plenty of bisous. Initially, the ladies weren't quite sure what to make of me. After a quick introduction from Tara, though, I was accepted as one of "the Chocolate Girls" (a nickname lovingly bestowed upon the group by the ladies). One woman even told me her real name instead of her street name -- often viewed as an expression of honor and trust.

I was deeply humbled that these ladies welcomed me so openly, but I also regretted that I couldn't share in the French conversations. I wasn't sure what to do, other than stand there, smile and nod like a fool. Finally, almost without even realizing it, I began to pray.

I watched one lady stare blankly at the Scripture taped to the chocolate. Running her fingers over the words of Ephesians 3:18-19, she read of the height, depth, length and breadth of God's love for her again and again. I prayed that those words -- His Word -- would not return void. I prayed the love given so freely from Tara and the other Chocolate Girls would touch the ladies' hearts and give them a tiny glimpse of the love their Heavenly Father has for them. I prayed their eyes would see and their ears would hear the Good News of the Gospel of Jesus Christ; that they would know the Creator of the universe died to have a relationship with them.

I found out later that as I was praying, others in the group were sharing the Gospel clearly and compassionately -- and the ladies were listening.

I asked Tara what her dream was for this ministry; what do the Chocolate Girls ultimately want to see happen?

"We want to learn," she said, without hesitation. "We want to learn how to offer a way out of that life for those who want it. The majority of the ladies we minister to have advanced degrees, are trained for good, decent jobs. However, they are unable to make enough money in those jobs. In order to offer them a way out, we need more than just a program to give them skills training, and we just don't know how to do that."

Tara said she and the other Chocolate Girls desperately want to see a church planted for these ladies, or at least a Bible study formed that they can attend. Even better would be a network of churches that would welcome these ladies when they decide they are ready to see what church is all about, she noted.

In order for the Chocolate Girls to obtain their desired training and partnerships, they need someone who can network full time with churches and other organizations that can help reach the ladies. They're requesting groups to prayerwalk the streets during the day, ahead of the tours at night. They also are seeking other evangelical believers to walk alongside them, learn the ropes, pray and go.

-- Pray a church will be planted among the ladies.

-- Pray God will send someone to be the full-time networker and administrator of this ministry.

-- Pray the Holy Spirit will reveal more opportunities for Tara and her colleagues to learn how to best reach the ladies with the hope of the Gospel.

If you would like more information on how you can partner with IMB missionaries with this ministry, email contact@imbeurope.org. To learn more about IMB work in France, visit http://www.imb.org/france.

*Name changed.

Beth Vaughan is a writer for IMB based in Europe.
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