A glimpse inside a Nigerian brothel
Missy (left) and Karis trying to teach little Abigail how to eat a sucker. Abigail lives with her mother in this brothel.
This week I went to two brothels with Missy and Karis, two SIM missionaries here to do a short Bible study with some of the women. Missy and Karis go every week to visit and study the Bible study with the prostitutes. Sometimes they are receptive, and other times not.
It surprised me that the owners would allow us to bring in the gospel, something that could potentially put them out of business. Even more unfathomable, though, was not that they let us in but that the owner of one of these brothels is a leader in his church. The Bible says people will know we are Christians by our love. What love is there in running a business that allows women to sell themselves? At first I was disgusted but then all I felt was pity. He's fooled himself into thinking that being a church leader can earn his way into heaven.
The first brothel was dark and the atmosphere heavy, as I expected. The second one, though, had yellow painted walls and a somewhat cheerful feel, definitely not what I expected. I realized that what distinguished the two was not the bright colors or good lighting but the attitude of the women. In the first, the women seemed heavy, as if you could see the burden of work hanging on their shoulders. In the yellow brothel, women were going about the morning as if everything was normal, singing and joking with one another while doing the morning's chores. Walking in with no prior knowledge you might've thought it some type of housing project.
I discovered why the women of the yellow brothel seemed so normal: their hearts were almost completely chained up, Letting themselves feel nothing was the easiest way to avoid the pain. Karise mentioned that just a week earlier one of the woman had said something like, “You think we want to live like this, that we don't know what we're doing is wrong? This place has us all in chains.” It was just a brief glimpse of her heart, though, because this week she was silent.
Some might say that the pain is deserved, as the women have chosen this life. True, as far as we know these women aren't trafficked or held against their will, but what looks like a short-term solution to poverty turns into a long-term slavery to debt and hopelessness. I imagine it's the latter that makes it so difficult for these women to leave. If you believed there was nothing better for you outside—and at least here you get food, clothes, and shelter—why would you leave? Steal a person's hope and you have their freedom.
You might think that someone living like this would jump at the chance to escape, would be open to the prospect of a Savior who could set her free from this life. Mama Rahila ran the first brothel. She told us that she knew what she was doing was wrong and felt her sin piling up. Still she didn't leave, saying that only if God would find her another business could she go. What Mama Rahila and many of the others the women can't come to terms with is the depravity of their lives, hence the hardened hearts. How do you convince someone living like this that the power of Christ's death can break those chains?
The hardest thing for me to accept about the brothels was the children. One girl in particular, Mama, caught my eye. She came right up to me and within minutes we were playing and laughing. It was as if the reality of her life hadn't touched her yet. Naivety and a child-like ignorance had spared her these past ten years of her life. Then it hit home: ten years old… the same age as my little sister. How much longer would it be until Mama was ushered into the same lifestyle? Five or ten years? Only three? I prayed that Missy's idea of buying the brothel and rehabilitating the women happens before Mama stops smiling.