Hope for Athens Brothels
This year I had the opportunity to travel back to Greece on an international outreach to the brothels. Last year our Justice Discipleship Training School staff took a group of students there for the first time and one of those students was me! We were just starting to research and discover what our ministry in the Greek brothels would look like. Brothels are legal in Greece causing even more trafficking to happen; they are not hidden at all. Athens, Greece also has the generational issue of sexual immorality. It is everywhere: sex shops, brothels, strip clubs, etc. It has become a normalized part of their culture. In the white light district, a dedicated place where the majority of Athens brothels are, there were approximately 1,000 operating brothels where women and children were sold.
With a heavy, yet passion-filled heart we walked up and down the streets preparing our hearts and minds for the reality of life we were about to encounter. Our team carried a confidence into each brothel that shifted the atmosphere. We walked right past the men, without invitation, straight into the dressing room with our joy and gift for each mamasan (usually an older woman who was managing the girls) and girl we met. Walking in, we could tangibly feel the heaviness and brokenness of each man or woman. Some received a joyful spirit from our presence even if the gift was rejected. We encountered different levels of openness and opportunity in each brothel. We saw hearts soften and hope given each time a girl accepted one of our gifts. There is something about walking into the darkest and most broken places with the joy of the Lord where a small gesture can shift atmospheres.
When I was a student in the beginning of 2017, we had a lot of closed doors with very few open hearts in the white light district. But, in 2018, I personally was able to see the change and massive numbers of opportunities. At first, the gifts were in and out of our team’s hands and there were very few words exchanged. I continued to ask God if I would see any fruit from their time there the year before and He told me to be patient. We then got rejected three times in a row and my hopes were starting to fade. Persevering despite the odds, we went into the next brothel. My co-leader talked to the mamasan and I poked my head in to hand the girl around the corner a gift. As I handed it to her, my heart skipped a beat. She was the only girl I had met during my last time in Athens! Last year, she and her mamasan had a little bit of joy and happiness in their souls, but this year was different. The lifestyle had officially gotten to her, making her passive to the fact that we were trying to love her the best we knew how without being able to communicate in her native language. Discouraged, we left and headed across the street to the next brothel, confident that God was going to allow us to see fruit if we continued to persist.
There was joyful conversation radiating from the next brothel. My co-leader again pulled the curtain back to meet the girls and mamasan and, as she began to talk to the mamasan, I recognized the voice. I jumped in and the mamasan’s face lit up with excitement. “You! I remember you! You come here before.” Shocked that she remembered me, I responded saying, “You remember me? Yes, I was here last year, right?” That moment changed everything. She talked to us and introduced us to her girls. In conversation with her, she mentioned that, one day, she would meet us again and it would not be there. She said none of them like to be there and hope that they will be out soon. It was amazing to hear the joy and hope they still had even though their situation was so dark. As we wrapped up the conversation, I asked if we could pray for them. She accepted with absolutely no hesitation and began telling us what we could pray for. With her agreement to praying right then and there with them, we began to pray while the mamasan translated our prayer to Romanian so the girls could understand us. That moment of prayer was one of the most light-hearted feelings we had had in a brothel.
Although the year before wasn’t full of opportunity, this year was. We didn’t need a male to lead us into the brothels to not be rejected; we had times of prayer inside and outside the brothels; we were able to begin breaking the idea that brothels are a place of hopelessness. Jesus showed us that He is the redeemer, that he is the one who heals and restores the broken. Jesus is the reason we can enter into the darkest places and still bring light. He is the one that gave me the opportunity to pray with the mamasan I met last year. I was heartbroken that she was still there, but joyful that she had hope and joy in her spirit. I love being a part of this ministry. I feel blessed by simple things like coffee, a caring smile from a loved one, a random text of appreciation, quality time with friends, and acts of service, but there is nothing that can ever compare to the times that I know that I was just a part of a God-orchestrated encounter and walking into that brothel to share the love of Jesus with my team was easily one of those times.