This Might Get Messy

It’s been a while since I’ve talked about something personal.
Don’t get me wrong, what I am doing, “my job”, it’s all very personal- it’s just easy to leave that part out. I don’t have a career where I go to work for my 8 hours a day, earn the money I need, and come home and disengage from “work”.
I carry my job with me; almost constantly.
No, I don’t spend countless hours in the Red Light district of Berlin.
I don’t spend countless hours with girls I’ve met on the streets.
I have a manageable amount of hours I spend working on administration for the ministry and I have days off. But, I can promise you, countless hours are spent carrying my job.
I spend countless hours loving and caring.
Countless hours thinking and contemplating.
Countless hours mourning and grieving broken hearts and broken lives.
It’s easier to tell you their stories- to share what I hear and not what I feel and definitely not what I, myself, am going through. However, I’m reminded to share with you also, my journey; my own continuing story.

So, yes, my job is personal, but then there is still my life apart from what I do.
I try my best to combine what I do with who I am in a healthy way- because really who wants to live two lives? And sometimes one bleeds into the other, regardless of any intention or desire, but I recognize that these two are not the same and both need to be consciously separated every now and then.

So taking a step away from the nicely packaged, tough stories of other girls, what has my life actually looked like this past year?
Messy.

“…But Nancy, your engaged!”
“…This year must have been such an exciting year for you!”
“…God is so faithful.”

I can almost hear the thoughts, of people looking in from the outside, audibly.
And yes! All these statements are more than true. But, what isn’t so easy to see from the outside looking in, is that this has been one of the most challenging years of my life. Instagram and Facebook can taint reality all too easily.
They say, “a picture paints a thousand words”.
I’d say, “a picture paints a thousand assumptions.”
No one likes assumptions and both sides are at fault. The post-er and the viewer. I can say that because I’ve been on both.
As the post-er we often do a bad job of portraying an accurate version of our lives. And in all fairness who really wants to present there crap to the world?
But as the viewer, although we know this, that it’s only natural for people to post their “picture perfect moments” and although we know, we all have crap we aren’t putting on display, we assume everything’s great in the lives of people we are watching.
I think that’s because it’s much easier to go with that assumption than actually ask and then potentially have to deal with the struggles, with the person.
I mean, it is a much nicer life when we tell ourselves everyones happy.

I hope you see that my point in all this isn’t to say,

“You didn’t ask enough”,
“You didn’t care enough”.

Like I said, we all do a bad job of portraying reality and I admit to not showing my messy side for far too long. My point is that we all need to face the truth and get a bit more real and vulnerable, a bit more often.

What does real and vulnerable look like in my life?
I think in a word, I’d summarize the not so picture perfect side as, disappointment.
My year has had incredible highs, and many promises fulfilled; the goal is to not minimize that at all, in my honesty. But let’s be real, the beautiful testimony isn’t in sharing our perfect pictures anyway. The beautiful testimony has always been God in our pain. No perfect picture will ever compare to the beauty of what God is doing in our greatest pain and weakness.

So let’s not rob God of revealing his masterpiece.

To be continued…

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Ella Part 2

Like I said in my previous post, we don’t know when girls will come or go and thats just the nature of the work… but, just before Christmas I was pleasantly surprised by Ella’s return!

Josef and I were in the area early to do some grocery shopping for that night of ministry, when all of a sudden I caught a glimpse of her out of the corer of my eye. I though my eyes were playing tricks on me, but when I turned back to get a better look I realized it was indeed Ella! I told Josef to continue on to the café so I could go check in on her. When I asked where she had been, she explained that she went back to Bulgaria to have her baby boy! Yes, she gave life to a healthy baby boy! We talked a bit more and continued on where we left off, offering to help her find a new job and get her off the streets. Unfortunately, Ella has many disappointments behind her, with little to no hope for anything much better in the future. We will not give up here.

The following week we had Christmas on the streets and to her great excitement, I was able to give Ella a Christmas present. Since then, we have had our holiday break and I look forward to the next time I will get to see Ella.

I am so thankful to know Ella gave life to her son, that she is safe and healthy and that I get to continue to be a part of her life.

Ella

*Ella is a sweet, beautiful 22-year-old Bulgarian girl who hadn’t been in Berlin long when we met her. At her young age, she already has 4 children at home that she claims live with their father, as she does not have the money to support them. She has no support from her parents and lived in a hotel, that she can’t even afford, here with her friend. We know that she has a boyfriend here also, but we are not sure of the role he plays in all of this. It seems that he does indeed have quite a bit of control over her. One of the first nights that I met Ella, I was able to ask her if she was interested in getting off the streets and look for something different. Immediately, she agreed to come back to the cafe with me and talk about doing this. At the time it seemed we had a job available for her, but unfortunately, it all fell through. Since then we had kept seeing her on the street but had no other job to offer her. After returning from outreach, I learned that Ella suspected she was pregnant again. My first night back on the street, Ella ran over to me and gave me a big hug but also told me herself she wasn’t doing so well because she was pretty sure she was pregnant and also struggling with pain. I told her to get a test done the next day and to see a doctor.

I was on my way to the cafe early the following week, for a meeting, when I ran into her again. Ella explained she still wasn’t doing well and she still hadn’t taken a test but she knew she was pregnant. She put my hand on her already changing stomach and I too was certain she was pregnant and already further along. Desperately, she asked me what she was supposed to do and told me that she wanted to get rid of the baby. I told her I thought she should keep the baby, but I was also honest with her and told her I didn’t know what to do from here, knowing the situation she is in. I promised I would come back later that night and have more answers for her. We agreed that we would offer Ella a spot in the safe house that night, but I wasn’t convinced she would be ready for this. Regardless we went out to find her and tell her about it. We barely took two steps out of the cafe and there she was. She told me her pain was worse and also that she had been bleeding. We took her back to the cafe to talk. We told her about the safe house and she seemed interested and willing to go right away but unfortunately because of the language barrier we felt she didn’t understand that this wasn’t just a housing option. This would be, a 180-degree life change. After talking with her more, we noticed she was getting nervous about the time- her boyfriend was already calling multiple times- and we decided it was most important to just take her to the hospital that night and sort at least this one thing out first. Many of the girls we work with have no papers, insurance and little money as it is, so taking them to a doctor is a significant thing we can do.

We ended up in the maternity ward with multiple pictures of newborns hung on the wall. Completely captivated, Ella took pictures of all of them. It was a precious moment. We found out she was suffering a bladder infection and also that she was already 7 weeks pregnant. She saw her little bean of a baby and could also hear its heartbeat. Ella was in shock finding out she was this far along. She had guessed that she was no further than a month and hearing different was very hard for her to comprehend. Earlier that night she had told us she wanted an abortion, but when we asked if she had already made up her mind, she said no.
We prayed that Ella would keep the baby and come to enter the safe house.

On a Wednesday night in April, I got a call from Lynette, who currently leads the AJ ministry, asking if I could come to the cafe immediately. It was just a little earlier than I would normally leave for outreach and all I knew was that Ella was at the cafe and something had happened- so I made my way as quickly as possible knowing by now, that there was a good chance she would already be gone when I got there; and she was.

When I got to the cafe Lynette explained to me that when she arrived at the cafe to set up, she found Ella on the step in front of the cafe distraught and in tears, not like we have ever seen her before. She let Ella into the cafe and asked her what had happened. Ella explained that her boyfriend was picked up by the police the night before and she had not seen him since. Lynette proceeded to ask her why but got no answer from her. She was upset and afraid, but after sharing what had happened said that she had to go again. We looked for her on the street when we went out later that night but did not find her. The next day I was told that Ella came into the cafe, still in tears, and worried, but after that afternoon, we didn’t see Ella again.

I didn’t know if Ella was still pregnant, if her boyfriend was released, if she chose to leave on her own because he wasn’t or if she was trafficked to another location. It broke my heart to not know where Ella was or if she was safe and I continued to hope to find her on the street week after week. It goes without saying that this ministry is a strange one, on so many levels, and when women aren’t working we never know if we should be celebrating or worrying.
Then, we finally got news on Ella’s situation.
One Wednesday, I finally asked one of the other girls I had seen with Ella before, if she remembered a girl named Ella, and if she knew what had happened to her. At first, she had no idea who I was talking about- not surprising since we never know when the girls share their real name with us or not- but when I proceeded to show her a picture I had on my phone from a WhatsApp conversation she immediately began to talk. This girl’s “boyfriend” was coincidently best friends with Ella’s “boyfriend” since they were very young. She told me, that she heard Ella is now in a brothel in Hamm, another city in Germany. She told me her boyfriend was taken by the police and that Ella was gone since then. I proceeded to tell her, that I too knew this, and wanted to know if she knew why. She said she asked her boyfriend and he told her that Ella’s boyfriend and brother beat up a man in Turkey. Her brother was arrested at the time and locked up but her boyfriend wasn’t. Ella’s brother was recently released but the police were now on the search for her boyfriend. They found him that night and he was sent back to Bulgaria to serve his time. We never know when we are hearing the real story from the girls and when they are making things up, but it’s not very often facts line up like they did when this girl was sharing with me about Ella. She wasn’t sure if Ella was still pregnant or had an abortion but she said she thought she already got rid of the baby before leaving.
I was relieved to hear where Ella is or could be but my heart still aches to know that Ella continues to work in forced prostitution and that it’s unlikely, she now has anyone reaching out to her.
Unfortunately, this is the reality of the work we are involved in- we never know when a girl will suddenly disappear or return.

Stories of the Red Light District

I am fully aware, that I have not updated my blog in far too long. When life is busy, days get long and nights get short, and it’s not easy to sit in front of the screen to write out a post. More than that, when you find that life isn’t easy as you might wish it and things are more difficult than you want to explain or reflect on, all the more procrastination creeps in. Then I remember it’s not about me. It’s so far from about me… and there I find my motivation again.

Then I remember it’s not about me. It’s so far from about me… and there I find my motivation again.

If you’ve been following my journey a bit, you know by now that since being in Berlin, I’ve been working with Alabaster Jar, and organization reaching out to women in Berlin’s Red Light District. To find out more about this ministry and exactly what we do you can go ahead and visit our website, as I won’t take the time to explain that here now. What I want to to take the time for, now, are the stories I’ve collected in the Red Light District of Berlin. These stories aren’t pretty, they aren’t easy, they’re not even complete. They are works in progress. But, I’ve come to recognize that that’s okay. In fact, working in this area, I’ve come to realize that the journey has to be acknowledged. It’s not very often we see success the way the world measures success in this ministry, but it’s in the little things. So I want to take the time to share the little things, and ask you to pray with me, that these little things, turn into big things.

So let’s start off with Alice

Alice was the first girl that I started to get to know personally. When I started working at AJ, the team had already spent excessive amounts of time trying to get this young Bulgarian girl off the streets. Alice was in Berlin with her boyfriend and had a family at home to financially support. She was my age, fragile, and her need for help was evident. Unfortunately, because of her Roma background, Alice found it extremely hard to accept help. In the Roma culture, family comes first and the well-being of your family, in all aspects, is more important than your own. For this reason- knowing that if she accepted help, she could be in a better place than her family in their current situation- Alice did not see it as appropriate to take steps in setting up a better life for herself, with our help. Very often, the responsibility and burden these girls carry for their families and loved ones create difficulty for us to intervene.

We offered Alice a place in a safe house, as we felt this would be the best option to get her away from the life she was currently living, but unfortunately, Alice never agreed to this. Still very attached to her ‘boyfriend’, and worried for her family at home, Alice preferred we take steps with her outside of a safe house. We were able to help Alice get the papers she needed to find a new job, as well as place her in a new job, with a Christian employer who understood her situation.

Most of the girls we work with on the street have little to no experience in anything other than prostitution. Most of the girls have little education, language skills, social skills, or life skills. The safe houses we work with are also known as “Transition Homes” where the girls are able to learn these basic skills they never had the chance to pick up. They are homes with staff dedicated solely to the girl’s growth, development and well-being. It is impossible for us, as AJ volunteers, to offer all that the home does and it’s why we try our best to enter girls that are serious about leaving the streets into these homes.

This was Alice’s first job apart from working the streets; She was thrilled about starting her new job and she took it seriously. While employed at her new job, Alice continued to both live with her boyfriend and work the streets. Alice never fully got away from the streets but seemed to be doing better. Unfortunately, it wasn’t long before her place of employment had to let her go because of financial reasons. After this, we talked to Alice about entering a transition home again, and although the situation looked hopeful, Alice ended up going back to Bulgaria with her boyfriend.

We are now told that Alice no longer works in prostitution back home, but also know that she continues to receive money from a former client- We don’t know why, and we only have little contact with her. We continue to ask about her on the street frequently, as she still holds relationships with some girls here, and we always hear from them, that she is doing better.

We trust that God is watching over Alice and that He has a plan for her. We, personally, weren’t able to come to a turning point with her but we pray that God keeps her off the streets, safe and far from returning to prostitution.