By: Major Sandra Pawar
“People were created to be loved. Things were created to be used. The reason why the world is in chaos is because things are being loved and people are being used.” – Unknown
“The vineyard of the Lord Almighty is the nation of Israel, and the people of Judah are the vines he delighted in. And he looked for justice, but saw bloodshed; for righteousness, but heard cries of distress” (Isaiah 5:7).
A few years ago, I spent three days in Amsterdam. I stayed in Zaandam, a very picturesque area. In many ways, I felt like I was staying in Epcot at Disneyworld with its model like houses and hotels. It was peaceful and beautiful. I then spent the next morning in an area where there were windmills, cheesemaking classes and a museum of clogs. It was very scenic, far removed from the real world and all its worries and stresses.
A few hours later I went to the city of Amsterdam and found myself lost in a maze of streets in the red-light district. It was horrifying on many levels and made me feel incredibly distraught, unsettled and broken in spirit.
A day after my visit to the red-light district, I again found myself in a different world visiting the house of Christian hero Corrie Ten Boom. I could not have spent my days in two more different worlds. One world was filled with such incredible faith and hope and bravery. The other world just broke my heart.
In the Amsterdam red-light district, women ‘work’ in small rooms behind large windows framed with red lights on top, where they stand and entice men. As men, women, children and teens walk past, they knocked on the window to get their attention. Seeing it in person was incredibly heartbreaking. These women did not look happy or satisfied. They looked like caged animals. As I found myself wandering around these streets, trying hard to find my way back to the main train station, I was crying. Silent tears were falling for the women I saw behind the windows and doors. I cried because I knew that God loved them deeply and wanted so much more for them. I cried because I knew that behind those doors and those red lights were broken and hurting women.
I questioned how society got to this place, where it was acceptable for women to stand in front of windows selling themselves; where they were commodities to be bought and sold; where it was normal for not only adults, but families with small children to wander past these women like it was a normal everyday outing.
This red-light district in Amsterdam and the activities there are legal. Everything is out in the open. The women who ‘work’ there are purported to have rights and protections. Yet even legal prostitution in that city involves human rights violations, sex trafficking, violence against women, immigration issues, and economic problems. The women still suffer physical, psychological, and financial abuse and still experience violence, threats, coercion, and fear.
Some people say that making prostitution legal made things better for these women in Amsterdam, that these new laws keep them out of the back-alley brothels and away from pimps. Yet what I saw was not safe, or secure. Women weren’t valued and cared for. When women are for sale, they are seen as a commodity rather than actual people with families and dreams of their own.
Are these women truly free because laws say they are? Or are they in slavery? Slavery to other people’s desires, slavery to circumstances, slavery to lack of opportunity and choices.
I don’t know all the answers but what I do know is I serve a loving God who desires the best for these women. He desires their freedom from the bondage they are in in every sense of the word. He longs for a world where women don’t have to sell themselves behind windows for all to see.
I can’t change the laws in Amsterdam, but I can pray fervently for these women, for the protection of their hearts, minds and spirits. I can pray that they would know their value, not monetarily, but according to the Kingdom of God. I can pray for their deliverance and freedom. You can too.
My visit to Amsterdam and the heartbreak I felt for these women and their circumstances confirmed for me the call that God had placed on my life years before. I was called to seek justice on behalf of others, and to set the captives free, to bring hope into a hopeless world.
Amsterdam is not the only place where women are seen as commodities, rather than valued and treasured children of God. It’s not the only place in the world where women are bought and sold. I have made it my mission to find and serve women, men and children around the world who find themselves in vulnerable and exploitative situations like those women in Amsterdam.
What about you? What is God calling you to? How can you set the captives free and give hope to the vulnerable and exploited in your community? Here are a few questions you can answer to help figure out your role in setting the captives free in your community, not just women, but men and children too.
- What is the difference between slavery and freedom?
- What are the ways people can be enslaved in our communities?
- In what ways can you reach out to them?
- What are some ways you can pray for them?
Father, We bring before You the many millions around the world who are held in slavery, who are suffering at this very moment. Father, pour out Your Spirit of comfort on them. We pray You bring freedom, healing and restoration upon each person.
We ask that you raise up thousands upon thousands of people around the world who are willing to pray and work towards the freedom of others. Help us to notice those in our communities who are trapped in slavery and who need us to reach out to them. Open up doors of opportunities to serve them and to help them know they are valued and loved.