CHINA (BP) -- The young Chinese woman steps from a back room into the soft, pink light of the small brothel. She adjusts her short dress and black stockings. A middle-aged Chinese man follows a few steps behind. Under the watchful eye of the shop's owner, the customer hands her a wad of bills -- about $60.
She nods and accepts the money, flashing a strawberry tattoo on her left hand, often a sign of rebellion in this ancient culture. Transactions like this take place every day in brothels throughout China, says Belinda Baker*, a worker who shares the Gospel among commercially exploited women in a city of 8 million people.
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The 40-year-old New Orleans native is careful not to say "prostitute," a word that implies that women choose that lifestyle. "No child says, 'I want to grow up and sell my body,'" Baker says.
Instead, poverty, lack of education and lack of opportunity drive women to prostitution as a means to provide for their families. Baker hopes to free the estimated 35,000 exploited women in her city both physically and spiritually -- first by sharing the Gospel, then by offering a safe place to live and alternative job skills.
The Weises* are among the women Baker hopes to reach. Ranging in age from 18 to 30, the five sisters -- Chen*, Jinjing*, Dongmei*, Liling* and Mingzhu* -- moved from a rural Chinese province to start a massage parlor in a working-class neighborhood in the city. Their goal is to send money home to their families.
An energetic redhead and former New Orleans party girl, Baker became a Christian in her late 20s after her sister told her about Christ. Because of her firsthand knowledge of the difference Jesus makes, Baker is passionate about sharing the Gospel with women trapped by exploitation and addiction.
Two of the Weis sisters, Chen and Dongmei, are Christians. Jinjing is Buddhist, since her husband and his parents strictly follow Buddhist traditions.
Baker shares part of her life story with Jinjing and tells her that she can be the first in her husband's family to follow Jesus Christ. "My sister was the first in my family to follow Jesus," Baker says to Jinjing. "Now all of us do."
Jinjing smiles and acknowledges that her husband enjoyed reading the Gospel materials Baker shared on her last visit. "He told me it was very good," the 27-year-old mother of two says. "He said I should read it, too."
Although her husband seems more open to Christianity than he did in the past, Jinjing says there are other reasons she can't become a Christian. "In my work, I can't avoid men who want sex," the young woman says. "I can't follow Jesus completely and do these special services."
But Jinjing never admits to providing sex to customers. "When men ask, I tell them no," she continues. "We will never think of doing that. We want to make money through energy and knowledge."
Her 30-year-old sister Chen, a Christian, paints a slightly different picture. "Business is slow," Chen says. "If I could hire a girl to provide sex, I would expand [our business] to offer more sex work." Read More