The night air was crisp, but I wasn’t trembling because of the early August chill. My insides were responding to a building anticipation over the past couple of weeks. Nervousness, perhaps? Nevertheless, I pulled the beanie down over my ears and joined my two companions as we headed towards one of the busiest streets in town, buzzing with nightlife at 11 pm.
I remembered walking down those same streets thirty years ago as a student, on fire for God, sharing the message of the Gospel, praying for marginalized people, and growing in my love for missions. There was a certain kind of romantic mystery about ‘street life’ to which I have always been drawn to. For me, the assumed lurking danger in dark alleys was merely an opportunity to discover something extraordinary, someone extraordinary, whose story hadn’t been heard yet.
This was different. This was no ordinary outreach with Gospel tracts, little pocket Bibles, or prepared evangelical phrases. We were on our way to where the drug dealers, addicts, and prostitutes ‘hung out’ every night. My two companions were in full-time ministry at the time, managing a ‘drop-in center’ where local prostitutes could come to during the day for food, Bible study, and a refreshing shower. Their approach was different from what I had been exposed to in ‘street ministry’. The goal was to befriend the girls first and establish a trusting relationship without specifically talking about Jesus, sin, or repentance. Only much later on, after trust has been created and maintained, would my companions invite the girls to their Bible study. It was a long process and it often took a couple of years before some of the girls would accept Christ, or come off the streets. An important factor to consider was that the girls ‘belonged’ to someone who was exploiting them, preventing them from leaving.
As we were approaching a well-lit low bridge, she swung herself around the railing, startling me. “Hey, sweetie,” cooed the velvet voice. She had beautiful features: high cheekbones, full lips, and perfectly straight teeth. She was dressed in a revealing, tight-fitting animal print dress, and she could barely balance on her high heels. She placed her arm around my shoulders and used me for support, while chit-chatting, often looking over her shoulder. Her name was Ruby. “Aw, sweetie, you girls are always so nice to us,” she smiled when I gave her a handful of Sparkles. She struggled to unwrap the candy and I assisted. She wiped her nose with the back of her hand, her bangles cling-clanging. She glanced over her shoulder, leaning closer to my ear. “He’s always watching, you know? I can’t go too far.” We came to a halt and I told her about the drop-in center. “Don’t you have a job for me, sweetie? If you could just … (sniff) … I wasn’t always like this.” She staggered, but I caught her before she fell. She seemed breakable. “It’s the drugs, you know?” she slurred. “If you could do anything, what would it be?” I finally asked and she seemed to sober up for a moment. “I would be a jeweler,” she giggled, but it soon turned into an uncontrollable hackle, and then … wailing. I was perplexed. My companions had ended their conversations with another girl in the meantime and joined me. We prayed for the sobbing girl and afterward said our goodbyes.
Ruby wouldn’t let me go. She looked at me earnestly, digging her nails into my arm. “Why do you believe I’m worth something?” she wanted to know. Her question tugged at my heart. It was not the right time to tell her that I understood more than I had let on. I knew the pain and shame of being exploited intimately, and how that erodes one’s self-worth. I couldn’t possibly identify with her life, or what she had to endure, but I was familiar with the loss of identity and womanhood; the desperate longing to be valued.
“You have worth, Ruby, because God gives you worth,” spilled over my lips. She sank down onto the pavement and hugged her knees against her chest. I didn’t want to bombard her with placated, meaningless phrases. Instead, I sat down next to her, and we smiled at each other through our tears, experiencing a comforting kinship for a brief moment. “How will God find me in this dark place, sweetie? There is so much evil, so much suffering here. I’m too deep in the gutter.” I prayed for guidance under my breath but didn’t get the opportunity to respond. Ruby hastily got up and motioned with her head. An expensive car was driving slowly towards us, flashing its headlights. “Got to go, sweetie, I’m an expensive girl.” Ruby cautiously crossed the road and the fancy car flipped open an entrance. She fell into the seat, and as she closed the door, the driver sped away. The buzzing city enveloped them. Ruby was gone.
I have often wondered what I could have done differently that night. Prayer didn’t seem adequate―it was comforting but didn’t change Ruby’s situation. Perhaps it did. I will never know. Could I have rescued her? Should she have simply run away from her captor? It’s more complicated than that. I have discovered many years after that night, that ‘fixing’ someone was impossible. Such brokenness takes a long time to heal, and it requires a network of people investing in such a process. Then there is the issue of rescued girls returning to the same world they desperately wanted to escape from. It’s a tough journey. It’s easy to criticize from the sidelines, but after having sat on the pavement with Ruby, I knew that God was the only one who could safely bring her through her pain. He knows more than I do, and I had to trust him to complete the work he had started in her. It doesn’t mean I don’t have to do anything, but it means that I can do what God had called me to do for such a time, in such a speechless moment where the pain is shouting at the top of its voice; even if it is only to listen and comfort, and share my Sparkles. I can’t do what only God can do.
We couldn’t find Ruby the next time went back to the same area. Anything could have happened to her, and we could only trust that she was safe. I had unwavering faith that God had already found Ruby as she was crying out in the darkness, amidst the evil and suffering, just like he would find all the other Rubys out there. Nothing was impossible for him. He had created Ruby possessing great worth as his precious creation, even if she and others didn’t believe it. He paid the most expensive price for her on the cross. She was a diamond in the dark.
Short Biography: Idalette ([email protected]) is a part-time co-lecturer at SATS, in the Christian Counselling courses, she completed the Higher Certificate in Christian Counseling at SATS in January 2020 with distinction. She earned a degree in music (BMus (Ed), 1992), and honors in Educational Psychology (1993) at TUKS. As a part-time counselor with survivors of human trafficking and sexual exploitation, she is interested in effectively applying music- and art therapeutic techniques in trauma counseling, she is also a motivational speaker, writer, and spokesperson for Human Trafficking Awareness. She is married to Andrew and they have three children and live in Centurion.