With the sun shining down on our hot, sweaty bodies, we walk slowly but determinedly through the poorer area of town to our destination. Seven women in company, along with a translator, we receive some unwelcoming and querulous stares; I try to smile and greet the people humbly with a gentle “bon-soir”. Finally, we come to a halt in front of the place that will soon provide me with one of the most difficult and beautiful experiences I’ve ever had – Port-de-Paix’s brothel.
We knock on the door and are let in, and I am confronted with the jarring reality of the lifestyle of the women who reside within the corrugated-tin walls. The atrium-of-sorts that we walk into is open to the sky, with five doors on each side and a lean-to shade structure on the left. Each door, to my gut-wrenching realization, has a number on it, scrawled messily in blue spray paint. These women are literally numbers.
Some peer out their doors and somehow trust us enough to lead us into a room that adjoins the compound-of-sorts. Soon, we are underway, cutting and rolling and gluing paper onto coffee stirrer straws that, when cut, dried, varnished, and strung, will turn into beautiful necklaces. The learning process is a struggle, though, and the 95-degree heat of the room, the unstoppable flies, and the language barrier are keeping me discouraged. How can these women, who wear such defeat on their faces, possibly find hope? How could a women’s craft time possibly mean anything to them?
Walking away that day, although it was amazing to be able to work alongside and teach these women a fun craft, I couldn’t shake the heavy feeling of hopelessness that weighed down my whole being. I couldn’t forget the looks of defeat on these women’s faces as when I first saw them peering out of their rooms, their beautiful dark faces nearly indistinguishable from the darkness behind.
Though we left them with plenty of supplies and promised to come back the next day to check on them, I thought this would be the whole story – sadness, defeat, frustration, and hopelessness. Hearing their tragic stories and listening to their prayer requests for freedom from that place was overwhelming. The next day, we stopped by the brothel again on the way to another neighborhood, but I still did not expect anything new really at all. However, as we walked once again into that place, the heaviness I felt before lifted as my eyes were met by one of the most incredibly joy-filled sights I’ve ever seen.
The doors to the dark rooms around the atrium were opened and light streamed into them, illuminating bowls and boxes and tabletops filled with and covered with dozens of straws chock-full of brightly-colored beads. Three ladies were making beads even at that moment, their faces gloriously bearing a countenance of pride and worth and confidence. All seven of us cried out in joy and rushed to hug and kiss each beautiful woman and to celebrate with them. I was dumbfounded.
This incredible transformation in that moment reminded me of the 180-flip people experience when deciding to surrender to Jesus for the first time. Scripture speaks of how God turns mourning to dancing.. A similar worship song declares, “He’s lifted my sorrows; I can’t stay silent, I must sing for His joy has come”. As each woman lifted their straws of beads to the light, my heart felt as if it was about to burst out of my chest. The Lord not only showed me His transforming power that day, but also worked a true miracle through using the success of a small craft to impact a whole community of prostitutes, giving them inextinguishable joy and worth.
Though I was blown away that day and still to this moment cannot stop thinking about how I can’t wait to share the story of these ladies with everyone I come into contact with, I am also sobered by my lack of faith in the power of God to transform. He was so incredibly faithful to all those women and I that day through mercifully proving yet again his love for his daughters. I will never again forget that the hopelessness of the world, however small or great, will someday be renewed. My God and my Savior has already completely wiped away all the shame those women experience and has already nailed it to a cross.
Yes, it is very true that there are still deep-seated structural and social problems that wrack the people of Haiti each and every day. However, it is also undeniable that our Lord is absolutely in the process of gloriously renewing and restoring the darkness and oppression that is often too easy to sense in this world – one bead, one necklace, one woman, one brothel at a time.
– Katie Skiff