Sexual Exploitation and Sex Trafficking // Part Three

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::: ENGAGING :::

Featuring Emily Matson, Vintage Pearls

“When it comes to seeking justice for the hurting in our world, God doesn’t have a special roster. He intends to use you and me,” president and CEO of the International Justice Mission (IJM), Gary Haugen, shares, “He doesn’t have any other plan. In fact, it was precisely for such good works that we were created; they don’t save us or make us righteous before God, but they allow us to fulfill the godly purpose for which God created us.”

A few weeks ago, HHH began a series on sexual exploitation/sex trafficking (part one and part two), and I pray you will come alongside, gentle reader. Throughout this course, I will be speaking in some candid, explicit terms, so if you’re a young adult, please ask permission before reading. Better yet, read it alongside an adult. Before going further, would you mind praying with me? Please pray that the Spirit will soften your heart and align it to His? That He will not be quenched, and that He’ll remain in your presence. My sincerest thanks. 

Today and in the weeks to come, I would like to introduce a few beautiful ladies to you; all of whom have inspired and motivated me on this (lifelong) justice journey in the brief or long periods that I’ve known them. I am so blessed to be in their company! This morning, please meet Emily Matson, a psychiatric social worker at the Milwaukee County Jail. Emily is part of a group called Vintage Pearls. Established in 2012, Vintage Pearls began as a handful of women from local churches visiting one Milwaukee strip club — reaching out in Christ’s name. What they discovered is friendship – sisters, mothers, daughters, wives, friends. Women like us. Our friends. Vintage Pearls is passionate about all women discovering purpose in life, reaching for the best on our journeys. Emily writes,

“The general idea or mission behind this ministry is one of friendship and acceptance, and ultimately God’s love, offered to the women in the sex industry. On an average ministry night, a small group of women with this mission in heart will go together to a local strip club with gifts and chocolates and will spend time with the women at the club. Our group is typically made up of 3 women, though we have a much larger prayer and support team, and we go to the same club once a month. We sit with the women and have easy conversation. We go at a time when the club is not likely to be very busy, so the women can mingle with us more and we might be more welcomed. It is our hope that we might build meaningful friendships with the women and that our consistency would make our message and offering of love and friendship stronger.

 VintagePearls2Photo from left > right: Kate, co-founder of Vintage Pearls, Emily, interviewed, and Jen, co-founder of Vintage Pearls (with wall-hanging gifts Vintage Pearls brought one month to the girls).

I think each of us would have a different story to tell, in terms of how our hearts were stirred for this issue and how we became more aware of its impact. For me this issue has resurfaced countless times over the past couple years, surprising me often with how close to home it is. Sexual exploitation and sex trafficking seemed unimaginable and foreign … too distant for me to practically do anything about. Whether it was through news, conferences I attended, social work classes and stats … I’ve learned that this tragedy is rampant and local. It really does not have boundaries and is not sanctioned to Thailand or other distant lands, as I’d thought.

Throughout this journey, I felt consistently reminded of the pain and brokenness of those around me.  It seemed to be everywhere: in believers and non-believers, in my friends, in the world, in my own family. The more I realized the brokenness, the more I urgently wanted to see God’s restoration. I struggled to find out what role I could play in seeing that happen, as well as to maintain a proper perspective, as I knew that I myself was just as broken and in need of saving as those around me. I learned early, being raised in a “ministry family”, that every person fails and sins in major ways, and that any and all faith and hope must be in Christ.  His love alone, even working through those messed up people, could change lives and heal any hurt.

Through various experiences of working with inner city youth, as well as of witnessing some of my best friends experience the divorce and dissolution of their families, my heart has come to burn for seeing families and relationships restored.  I received my bachelor degree in psychology and my masters in clinical social work, with the hope that I might be given more opportunities to access privileged and vulnerable areas in the lives of people.  I hope to share the truth that I’ve found in Christ as well as to continually be humbled as I learn about the journeys and struggles of others.  One of my biggest passions is to be a speaker of truth and of God’s heart to others, particularly women who battle daily the voices that inherently counter this truth, as it relates to them.  While I have been told about God’s love and my value to Him throughout my life, many have not experienced this. I consider it an honor to be able to articulate to others, even to a trivial degree, some of God’s loving thoughts toward them.

Treasured

Not only do I want to take part in standing against injustice with regards to the sex industry throughout the world, but I also want to demonstrate God’s love in a practical way to those involved in this industry.

I want to better understand God’s heart for people. I want to discover with others our shared human brokenness, realizing together that we are all depraved as well as accepted.  I am eager for the opportunity to build relationships with people that I don’t normally spend time with, and I am excited to join with other women and people of prayer who want to see God’s kingdom come on earth. 

Being open to participate in any action against the sex industry yet skeptical of whether or not I had anything meaningful to offer, I fell in love with the heart behind Vintage Pearls and knew that I wanted to support it. Strip clubs are not fun places to be, in my opinion. But I am humbled and amazed at the way that God has given us easy access into one of them, how He has protected our eyes, minds and hearts, and how He has given us grace and ease as we relate to the women we meet there. It is amazing to me how they welcome us when they see us and how open they are to us being there. It is a humbling experience every time, in many ways.

For the most part, friends and family have been supportive of our ministry, I think. A lot of people we talk to are excited about our ministry, yet very hesitant to participate, outside of joining the prayer team. I think, when considering actually going into the strip club regularly, one must take time to prayerfully consider whether or not the Lord is leading … so it’s understandable and good that people do not want to hastily commit to joining us. In order to go into the club, I find that I must be abiding in God’s truth throughout the week prior to our visit. I must be prayerful and mindful of insecurities and laziness on my part so that I can be full of truth, undistracted, and free to offer God’s love and presence to the women when I’m in there. More often than not, though, I find myself on visit day unprepared, weary and not wanting to go in. Somehow, God’s grace abounds and gives protection and fruitful conversation. His truth is so much bigger than any other message. As intimidating as this ministry is, and as much as I understand one’s hesitancy to join, I have found that, despite myself, God uses me and blesses me every time.

I wonder sometimes if I am ministered to more than the dancers are.

I am challenged every time I go into the club. I find I have nothing to offer these women on my own, and that I am no different then them, and am just as in need of God’s love and grace. Though I pray that God would speak words of truth through me and I trust that His presence comes with us into the club, I also find myself encouraged by words spoken to me by the dancers and ways that I see Jesus in them too. The way I think about the people involved in this industry is challenged often. The brokenness I see in the men there and the emptiness I feel there break my heart and coexist with my hatred for the deception and the evil that is there. I am challenged to humbly try and conceptualize evil and man … where both meet, how they interact, and what defines them or whether or not they define each other. I am challenged by my own pride and by my tendency to categorize or apply a hierarchy to sin, often putting my sin in a different category as those of others, namely that of the consumers and perpetrators in the sex industry.

Meeting the men in the club brings me back to the reality that we are all broken people in need of complete saving … we are empty without the Lord and we grasp at things and pervert the truth in order to fill our own needs and desires. I am no different than them.

At times the ministry seems fruitless. I have expectations that I’ll walk into the club and speak prophetically and see a woman’s life changed before my eyes. I expect that women from the club will wake up to the reality that they are loved and they are worth much more than what they have been told … that they’ll leave the life they know and completely surrender to the Lord’s will, asking us for help along the way. How pretentious, right?! I do expect good things from the Lord and I do have faith in the powerful and transforming work of His truth. Yet I’m learning to check my expectations and desired outcomes of this ministry, realizing that God alone is sovereign. This ministry can seem fruitless at times because we don’t have much feedback and we don’t necessarily see women leaving the lifestyle of a stripper every month. I think my faith is becoming stronger through this experience, though. And I am looking more to the Lord for my accountability than to my own standards of success.

God does seem to give encouragement and motivation just when we need it. I think even when all that happens on a given visit night is that one of the dancers opens up about some personal family issue or other intimate situation in her life, I am reminded that this ministry is an honor and that I have the privilege to now take something to the Lord in prayer, something that is close to the heart of one of these women and something that maybe would not have otherwise been submitted at His feet. I am honored at that thought.”

“You may choose to look the other way but you can never say again that you did not know … If to be feelingly alive to the sufferings of my fellow-creatures is to be a fanatic, I am one of the most incurable fanatics ever permitted to be at large.” – William Wilberforce

Thank you, Emily and Vintage Pearls, for sharing so earnestly your compassionate heart. For more information on Vintage Pearls, please visit: vintagepearlsmilwaukee.com, or to connect, contact: vintagepearlsmilwaukee@gmail.com. Your prayers for their group and the ladies they meet would not be turned down!

Of note: If any HHH readers are viewing from the Eau Claire, WI area, Whispered Hopes, the ministry that Vintage Pearls stemmed from, also has a website which can be found here: http://www.whisperedhopes.org/.

If you'd like to read Holy Hen House's two previous posts on the difficult, but crucial matter of sexual exploitation and sex trafficking, they can be found here via these links: Part One and Part Two. Thank you for taking the time to read and to pray.

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