I walk up to the door a brisk Tuesday afternoon. Locked. No one inside yet. I step down the doorstep, face the street, and wait. A couple minutes later, I see a van that has slowed down to a stop in front approximately 8 meters diagonally from my left. The van sits there. It’s in an awkward place on the street, not a parking spot for sure. The van continues to wait. I see a shadow of what is the driver inside and then I look another direction. After 10 more seconds have passed, I look back. The van is still waiting. This occurs one or two more times, with me looking another direction and then drawing my attention back to the driver. I cannot see his face. But after a third time of looking his direction, it hits me in a moment: He thinks I am a prostitute. That realization hits me, chills and angers me, and I scowl in the direction of the driver, then shake my head side to side to let him know to move along. Seconds later, he orients his wheels back toward to street and drives away. Wow. I am struck with shock.
This has happened every time I have had to wait outside Neustart. Sometimes a couple vehicles in a matter of a minute. I’ve learned to wait underground at the U-Bahn stop 30 seconds away until 12:30 hits rather than to wait out close to the street.
I’ve been at Cafe Neustart 3 times now. My first surprise was the fact that most of the prostitutes who came in were older—in their 30s or 40s. There are a few who are younger, like a 21-year old woman I met last week. She’s 1 month younger than me and from Berlin.
We see probably 15-20 women a day. Maybe more. From the past few weeks, I’ve noticed about 80-90% know German either well because they are German, or know German at a conversational level because they’ve been in Germany for a few years (7-8 years I’ve heard from some of the women). The other 10-20% now just a VERY basic level, if any, German. These women come from Bulgaria or Hungary, primarily.
I remember the first woman to come in on my first day: "M." German, so bubbly and outgoing. She has a rustling laugh, that probably comes from smoking. She has a crazy, fun, outgoing personality. She is short and nothing but lovable.
The women who come in are of all shapes and sizes. Some wear clothes like any other woman would—jeans, coat, scarf, gloves, hat—except almost all have heels. I guess that would be the only thing that sets them apart. Some wear little, tight, or revealing clothing, but as it gets colder, the women bundle a bit more (but I’m sure those who still wear almost nothing are forced to wear almost nothing by the pimp overseeing them. I could be wrong, but it would not surprise me).
My Time There
The first week was rough just in regard to language. I was very focused and insecure about my German. And I was flustered being in this new environment, not knowing my place, feeling inadequate with the language and my newness to everything. The first day, I began by asking the women if they wanted coffee or tea and/or asked if they wanted any vegetable soup Rhonda had made. Then, "M" asked to have her nails painted, so I gladly did, excited for the opportunity of SOMETHING that I could do for her.
She tried talking with me, but I had a difficult time understanding. I often just repeated back the German words she said to me. "R" helped at times when I was really struggling. The rest of the day included doing another woman’s nails and teaching her German (as she didn’t know any—she arrived 3 months ago from Bulgaria), and then playing a board game with a wonderful woman, full of joy and jokes, "J."
"J" stayed after we closed the cafe to help us decorate from Christmas. In that time, she shared with "R" about a spiritual dream she would have regularly: she would be in hell and the devil would be dragging her down, and then Jesus would appear and rescue her into a light. "J", I found out later, is a believer. "R" has a desire to see her step out of the industry, despite the difficult battle it would be, and to move into the life God has lovingly planned out for her.
The next week, I had the privilege to wash the feet of a Hungarian woman. This woman had new heels that were bought for her by her pimp. The heels were killing her feet. "R" prepared an Epsom salt bath for her feet to soak. After some time of soaking, I massaged her feet, scraped off the dead skin on her callouses, and applied some lotion and pain-relief cream. During the time of doing this, I was able to talk with her for a little bit. It was hard for me to understand and I don’t remember much of what she said other than her mention of siblings in Hungary. What I do remember is this woman’s fear, uncertainty, and angst under her side-smile. She received a phone call during the end of our time, and she left shortly after that.
Last week, I went out on the street for the first time with a German Neustart volunteer. We went out to give coffee, tea, sweets, and an invitation to Neustart’s “Weihnachts feier” (Christams celebration) that evening. A few women later, I see the Hungarian woman again—the one from the week before. She had the same response of angst and fear underneath her half-smile. She said a few things to us in what seemed to be mostly Hungarian. And then I hear two names. The first sounded like “Moses” and the second was clear, “Jesus”. I smiled widely and my expression lit up, “Moses? And Jesus?” She said a few more things in response, which we could not understand….then she repeated those names. I really wanted to understand her…..but thankfully we understood something—the names. The Spirit gives me a sense that she has a yearning to know Jesus. To have an escape. To see light. Please pray for her….I don’t remember her name. But please pray for her. Pray that she stay and not be moved to another area in Germany. Pray that we can communicate with her, give her biblical materials in her language. Pray that she earnestly DESIRE these things and desire to know and follow Jesus with all that she has.
From the past few weeks, it’s clear: These women are in messy clutches…they are in the control of their families, their boyfriends, their pimps, a desperate need to make a living somehow. They are being sucked dry. As one woman described, she has a “cross on her back that is crushing her.” Their problems are complex…their lifestyle is depleting, dehumanizing, and soul-stripping. And there are language barriers on our part. I desperately desire for these women to hear the gospel—to know the truth of how God views them, of how God loves them, of how He can set them free if they repent and trust in their only hope—Jesus. My heart burns to share….and my tongue fails. Please pray that I can learn German quickly and that those who do not know German, that we can convey the gospel simply and clearly—there are ways. It’s just a matter of pursuing those ways and having faith.