(Read about our daytime adventures in Part One)
There was no “wasted” time on this trip. Less than twenty four hours after landing, our group of 20+ Americans was walking down the street preparing to go into bars that exist solely to sell women…and talk to said woman. And our group of 20+ mostly female Americans did NOT blend in around Walking Street (or anywhere for that matter). We had dinner at a outdoor patio/sports bar type of place where we met up with the pastor of the local church and some volunteers that were going out with us. The teammate that was stuck in Tokyo also joined us with many hugs and much excitement. The sun was starting to set and the area was coming alive. One of the girls from lunch worked at a bar just down the alley across the street from us. She was standing at the entrance to the alley; her purpose was to attract customers and get them to come in her bar. But she was excited to see us and some of our team poured into the street to hug and talk to her and her co-workers.
After dinner we split into smaller groups of 4-5 people. Our mission was to talk to girls, let them know they had a way to freedom, and invite them to the Girls Getaway. My group leader was Melissa, one of the long term missionaries. We were joined by Jesse, a Filipino guy and Kaylee, another teammate (that I absolutely ADORE). Melissa wanted us to jump right in and took us straight to Atlantis, the biggest bar on the Street. This is a place that “employs” several hundred girls. One of the owners is fully aware, and not a fan of, Wipe Every Tear. We knew we would stand out and expected to be kicked out almost immediately. But at least we would have a chance to see this place we had heard so much about.
We strolled in as if we owned the place and moved quickly up the stairs to the top level. We sat at the bar lining the railing with the VIP section just a couple of steps below us. We had a prime view of the stage.
I thought I was prepared for this trip. I had studied the pictures and listened raptly to the stories. I had
stalked faithfully followed the blogs, twitters and facebook pages of people that had been here before. And yet seeing a still shot, even one as vivid as the one above, does nothing to prepare you to face the look of utter misery and emptiness in these girls’ eyes. It does nothing to prepare you for the feeling of oppression that settles around you as you step onto this street. I wrote in my journal the next day “We ARE in the valley of death – death of love, hope, spirits and relationships….” *
Almost as soon as we sat down, a “sexy masseuse” approached us and began to rub Melissa’s shoulders. Note of importance – you do NOT get contact with the girls without paying. But she initiated the contact and when Melissa thanked her and asked how much, she responded with “Nothing for you ma’am”. Melissa looked at me with wide eyes and said “I think we need to order drinks.”
A couple of mango juices later (we’re hardcore man) and Melissa was engaged in a conversation with our masseuse. I was watching the girls on stage, fighting to keep my composure. I figured nothing would get us kicked out faster than an American girl sobbing. It’s not good for business. All of the girls exuded despair but one in particular stood out to me. I couldn’t keep my eyes off of her and as if she could sense that, she started glancing up towards us. I kept thinking “there’s no WAY she can see us well”. We were on the third level and the lights were on the girls. But when she would glance up, I would smile at her. And she started smiling back! I pointed her out to Melissa who casually asked “Do you want to buy her a drink?”
That moment ranks as one of the most heart wrenching, uncomfortable, surreal moments of my life. Because to have an opportunity to talk to “Jamie” (names have been changed), I had to call over a waitress and ask for her. The waitress then aimed a laser pointer at her to indicate she had been “ordered”. When she came upstairs, the waitress guided her to me & took her drink order. (To talk to a girl, you have to buy them a “ladies’ drink”. It’s more expensive and the girl gets a commission from it.) The club was loud and Jamie did not speak English very well. Between her accent and mine, it took a few minutes to explain that while I was there for her, it was not for the reasons she was accustomed. I told her about Wipe Every Tear and the Girl’s Getaway and soon she called over one of the waitresses, a friend of hers. Before I knew it, there were several girls gathered around telling me about themselves and giggling.
After awhile I realized Kaylee had somehow managed to work her way into the VIP area and was dancing with and talking to the girls working in there. Melissa was having conversations and Jesse was at a table with several waitresses and girls talking to them. We had only paid for the privilege of one of these girls’ company. And no one had asked us to leave.
Eventually Melissa told us it was time to go. We said our goodbyes and headed out with Melissa practically trembling beside me. As we walked outside, a guy stared at us with absolute coldness. Turns out he was the owner. He could have easily walked in and confronted us. But he wasn’t standing there when we walked in and had no idea we were there. Then Melissa said “I didn’t want to tell you this while we were in there. But when I got the tab, I was a hundred pesos short.” Now, a hundred pesos is approximately forty-two cents. Still. If you’re short, it doesn’t matter by how little. Kaylee told her “Keep counting until it’s there. God will provide it for us.” But of course, a hundred peso bill was not magically appearing in the stack. Finally Melissa leaned over to a heavy set white guy walking passed and asked to borrow it. He casually pulls out a bill and says “That’s 1,000 by the way”. That amount covered our tab and then some. I saw that same guy all three nights. I often wonder what he would have said if I’d walked up and said “Thanks for financing us to fight against the very reason you are here.”
We returned to the hotel walking on air. We had walked into the lions den, broke all the rules, and walked back out completely untouched. God’s favor had covered us completely and it totally rocked our world.
*The rest of that journal entry read “…But God IS with us and He is LIFE. He can resurrect this valley”