“I Haven’t Turned a Trick in a Week”

April 29, 2013

He attends Baby University with his mom on Saturday morning.

“You have to measure discipleship in different ways in South Toledo,” said David Kaiser. 

We were between events this weekend and he was trying to explain how things are different here.

Over the years they have ministered to many prostitutes at Western Avenue Ministries. So how do you measure spiritual growth? How about when a woman said, “Pastor Dave, I haven’t turned a trick in a week.”

Or how about this? “I haven’t used crack in three days. That’s the longest I’ve ever gone.”

Or how about this? “I decided not to get drunk today because if I pass out, the Crips and Bloods will rob me.”

Or maybe this one? “I was going to kill that guy two weeks ago because he stole my girlfriend, but I’ve decided not to.”

That last one happened Sunday night during the Mosaic service where Lutherans, Baptists, Pentecostals, and PCA Presbyterians gathered with the “guests” from South Toledo who mostly go homeless or sleep in sheds or in subsistence housing, when the nice-looking suburban types meet to worship with the folks who call South Toledo home. Some of the “guests” come to worship, others are there so they can get their free bag of groceries after the service. As Cindy said, “It’s the end of the month and when they run out of food, they come here because they know we will help them.”

So when the prayer time came, they asked us to mingle in the sanctuary of the former Lutheran church and pray for each other. David found one guy and said, “Let’s pray together.” Then he saw another guy with his arms on the pew, head down, and said, “Do you want me to pray for you?” The two guys almost killed each other two weeks ago because the black guy had stolen the white guy’s girlfriend. “Is this going to be a problem?” They both said no so David said, “Let’s hold hands as we pray.” “I prayed like my life depended on it,” he said. After the prayer the two men reconciled.

When the service was over, the “guests” (that’s what they call the folks whom they serve. These are the poor, tired, homeless, hurting, addicted, drugged up, messed up, broken people who live in South Toledo.) ventured downstairs for a free meal served by a group from Cedar Creek Church, a huge congregation in suburban Toledo. There was a stark contrast in the fresh faces of the suburban kids and the worn faces of the “guests.” Then people lined up to get their bags of food. “This week we’ve got lots of free meat so we’re giving each family a bag of sausage patties.” Plus staples like cereal and canned goods and something that looked like grapes but it was hard to be sure amid the jostling and noise.

The demographers say that South Toledo is made of three groups that live together somewhat uneasily:

Blacks (18%)
Hispanics (22%)
Appalachian Whites (60%)

That last title is descriptive, not pejorative. These are folks who moved north from places like Kentucky and West Virginia. It makes for quite a volatile mix. Mr. Snow, the affable but no-nonsense security guard who has himself been through a recovery program at the Cherry Street Mission, explained it to me this way:

“These people don’t know no better. They Momma was smoking crack and her Momma before her. They yell and scream and steal. They don’t know no better. That’s how they they was raised. They don’t know how to raise their own kids. They teach their kids to steal something and then say, ’I gotta go to the bathroom,’ and then they disappear.”

“We watch the parking lot carefully. If people want to smoke marijuana, they can’t do it here. If they’re going to sit in their car and drink, we won’t let them do it here.”

Then David said, “The pimp was here tonight.” His name is Mr. Love. Someone called him “Chicken Man.” He’s 50 and says he has an 18-year-old girlfriend. But one thing you learn very quickly in this ministry is that people will lie right to your face. Just lie and then lie again. He’s a liar. He grabs young girls and seduces them with money and a little attention into working for him, selling themselves for money. It’s a vicious trap. “If we rescue one girl,” Elizabeth said, “there will be another girl after her and another. He provides the service because there is always a demand for girls.”

But there are compensations. One woman came to Christ last night. At least David thinks she did. “She might have been demon-possessed. I don’t know. So I asked her, ’Have you ever asked Jesus into your heart?’ And then I asked her, ’Did you ever ask Satan into your life?’”

Then you look at the faces of the little children who come with their mothers to Baby University.

So beautiful.
Innocent, beautiful children raised by parents who sometimes are hardly more than children themselves.

It is so heartbreaking.
But if the work is hard and slow, the victories are real and sometimes the work of grace is amazing in a broken human life.

If you’ve been turning tricks to make a living, it’s a huge victory to go a week without turning one.
That’s worth cheering.

So our friends at Western Avenue continue their good work. Not everyone can do what they do. Some people visit and never come back because the devastation wrought by sin is so great that they can’t take it. At one point last night, Kelly Kaiser said, “You can’t look at it that way. Don’t let the darkness overwhelm you. Just light a candle and let it shine.”

Several times this weekend I remarked that the key to ministering in South Toledo is to throw away the playbook. Just forget everything you were taught. You see things here they forgot to cover in theology class. At the end of the service last night, a man came up and said, “I keep hearing you talk about forgiveness. How do I forgive the man who molested my eight-year-old son? My ex-wife says I have to forgive him. What do I do?” David asked me, “Did they cover that in seminary?” “No, I missed that class,” I replied.

On Saturday Marlene gave a talk on forgiveness at Baby University. A lesbian couple attended. After the talk, one of the women came up and thanked Marlene. “Every time I talk to my mother, I remember how I was raised. At Christmas I hated it when my brothers were given a toy like a train because I knew it was something new my mother would beat me with. I never thought about forgiving her until this morning.»

I forgot to tell you about the drunk guy who almost started a fight or the two women who almost got in a fight over who got an outfiit from the dress closet. But I also forgot to tell you about the smiling face of a little boy who showed me his hand-me-down book and wanted to read it to me. And I didn’t tell you about the girls being changed forever by Project Beauty that teaches true self-esteem and how to develop inner beauty. 

Little victories.
A light shines in South Toledo.

And the darkness cannot put it out. 

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