I met an unforgettable woman out on the track a couple weeks ago. We’ll call her Fig. Fig is young and beautiful and energetic. At first when we approach her she started running for her life – fearing we were undercover cops. After convincing her we were only there to offer her a gift, conversation and prayer she loosened up and began sharing her story.
She wanted prayer to get her son back. She had lost custody and was out here trying to make money so she could secure an apartment and make herself look fit enough to be a mother. It was clear how much she deeply cared about her son and desired to be the mother that could care for him.
She talked with us about her struggles on the street – the scary times – showed us some of her stab wounds where she had been chased, abused and scarred. As we continued to talk to her out on the street corner, every car that drove by or person that walked by she tensed up and became overly cautious. I asked if she ever got tired of having to watch her back so closely – if it ever became exhausting having to worry when the next knife will try to cut you? Yes, she said, but she had no other choice. She had to make money for her baby and she didn’t know anything else she could do. She had started in this business at 16 or 17.
She then began to show us the money that she had made that night, how much she charged and the high standards she keeps for herself, waiving her wad of 10, 20 and 50-dollar bills in front of our face.
That’s when the conversation turned to her pimp. She called him her baby’s daddy or boyfriend (which is not uncommon) and said she didn’t even really think he was a pimp. “I mean, he takes all my money, so I guess that kind of makes him one. But he gives a lot back and he pays for all my stuff and he takes care of me. So, I don’t really think he is one. He is more my boyfriend”
And that is the number one misconception with the women we meet on the streets. They believe they are truly in love or in partnership with the men who are prostituting them. I was in a training the other week where a woman asked “how do you convince someone that they ARE being trafficked?” And I am not sure you should (or could!). I am not sure in that moment the best use of my efforts would have been to convince Fig that her boyfriend was indeed her pimp – manipulating her for his own selfish gain. What she didn’t know WAS hurting her, but not as much as me convincing her of it right then. And the only way that knowledge will begin to help her is if she comes to a realization of it herself. If I try to make her realize it – she will only distance herself from me with bitterness and anger at the accusations I am making against her boyfriend, but if she gradually, on her own, comes to realize what their relationship truly is – that is when she will discover within herself the power to seek help to get free.
And I wonder how that plays our in our everyday life. The Christian Church is one that loves to confront. We love to tell people the sin we see in their life that they have to work on. We love to tell them the ways that they have offend us or the incorrect views they hold (how could you not SEE how blind you are being to this area of your life?) And we think we are doing it in love. But God only calls us to love without judgment and, more importantly, to take care of the log in our own eye before pointing out the speck in someone else’s eye. It is most powerful when individuals can come to those discoveries for themselves.
I am an alcoholic.
I am an addict.
I am a sexist.
I am a racist.
I am a homophobe.
I am a manipulator.
I am codependent.
I am lazy.
I am inconsistent.
I am hateful.
Of course, sometimes people need help. But that is why we remain in their life and ask loving and leading questions:
“What made you think you needed to make that decision?”
“What do you really want for your life?”
“What make you think you need to change?
“What makes you think they may not be a great influence in your life?”
“What makes you question if you do that too much?”
“What makes you uncomfortable about that person?”
“Why do you think others are concerned about [insert behavior]?”
Leading questions that open up the conversation allow you to listen in love within the context of a safe relationship. And for them to lead themselves to the change they need to make that will be more long-lasting if they make it for themselves – rather than if you were to force a change you think needs to be made in their life.