Every time I visit my grandmother, I have to walk past brothels. My grandma has lived in that neighbourhood for nearly 60 years, long before it became a red light district. She cannot bear to move, and so I have gotten rather accustomed to ignoring the rows of men that line the street in her neighbourhood gawking at and waiting their turn with the skimpily dressed women who come in and out of the brothels.
But today, when I walked down that street to visit my grandma on the first day of the Lunar New Year, something was different. I really looked. And what I saw entered and broke my heart.
With my hand in Henry’s, we walked down the street and right in between two prostitutes who were standing on the sidewalk on our left and the group of men who were gawking at them on our right. One of the men held up two fingers. The women shook their heads. He held up three fingers. They shook their heads again. And the man walked away.
Four hours later, when I was leaving my grandmother’s place in heavy rain, I walked past one of the women I had seen earlier – a young woman in a bright red, lacy tank-top. She was holding an umbrella. There was a man standing next to her who gave her a sign. She nodded. I saw his gaze drop from her face to her chest before he started walking away. She followed quietly behind him.
I cannot forget the look on her face. Or the look on his. The lyrics from a song that Fantine sang in Les Misérables suddenly came into my mind: “Don’t they know they’re making love to one already dead?”
I found myself praying, “Lord, please let them meet You somehow. Please be with them.” I don’t know who they are, but I felt a great heaviness in my heart. Who are these men and women? What fills their days and nights? Who cares for them? Whom do they love?
In every festive season, many people are preoccupied with feasting and making merry. But in spite of and underneath all the merry-making, lonely hearts are still lonely, broken families are still broken, and people still suffer and die. Nothing real ever changes.
Last Christmas, as most people I knew were filling their days with celebratory social engagements, I knew of a pregnant teenage girl who was kicked out of her home by her parents. By God’s grace there was someone who was there to help her, someone who had the eyes to see and the heart to stand in the place of Christ. Today, I recognised a sister in a prostitute and a brother in the man who paid to sleep with her. But there was nothing I could do except to pray for them and to let my heart break for them.
How many other things do I fail to see even though I have eyes? Lord purify my heart so that I can see what You see. And sanctify me that I might love as You love. And for the many times I fail and continue to fail, Lord have mercy on me.
The uncanny thing is that this morning, Henry and I had started our day by praying that Christ would help us to recognise Him in every person we meet. We had prayed that we would see Him and welcome Him in even the most unlikely of ‘tabernacles’. I only realised at this moment that He had answered our prayer.