I never expected to find myself in Haiti, let alone at a table full of prostitutes. But in a strange twist of events, on my fourth trip in just three years, there I was. The stories from that week have made such a profound mark on my soul that it has taken me nearly a year to process them, the words just now leaking out onto the screen as I type.
I was simply invited along for this journey, and I can take no credit for the planning or execution of the plan or the hours of work that have gone into it. I can only tell the story, my eyes brimming with tears.
We sat around the table with a simple invitation that would change everything. “What are your dreams?” we asked. The look of confusion in their eyes broke my heart. Dreams quickly die in their line of work. But we persisted and they began to open up. Finally, we asked them, “Would you like to become Beadmakers? If you could learn to make beads and be paid reliably, at a fair price, would you leave the brothel?”
It took a few tries until the question sunk in, but a faint glimmer of hope began to show in their eyes.
Rose-Merline (Of course this isn’t her real name) was there on the first day of training. She spoke a bit of English, and was so proud to listen to our words, understanding before the translator repeated them in Creole. She was excited and she moved quickly.
A little too quickly.
That first day, we meticulously taught them how to make beads.
How to cut.
How to measure.
How to glue.
How to roll.
Rose-Merline tried so hard. But her beads came out wonky. She rolled them too loose and there were gaps. There weren’t fat in the middle and skinny on the ends. She forgot to wait until the glue dried, so they all stuck together.
The other ladies started to laugh at her. They had caught on quickly and she lagged behind. I couldn’t understand what they were saying, but from the look on her face, I knew it wasn’t kind.
After a few hours, we handed each lady a bag of supplies and instructed them to continue to make beads at the Brothel, bringing them back to us in the morning.
But Rose-Merline refused the bag. In her broken English, she told us her beads weren’t good enough and she wouldn’t be returning for the training. She looked at us sadly and walked away.
There’s a bit of Rose-Merline in all of us. Her language, her upbringing and profession may be vastly different, but we all know the sting of rejection. We enter a place where we long desperately to belong, to prove that there’s a place at the table for us. And when it becomes apparent that we’ve read the situation wrong, or we’re obviously not welcome, the shame burns on our cheeks and in our souls.
So. I’m going to break a writing rule. I’m going to tell you the ending of the story. It just doesn’t seem right to string you along. My story doesn’t have a happy ending. It doesn’t wrap up into a neat little package. Rose-Merline didn’t return to the training and she didn’t become a Beadmaker.
Soon after our conversation and after the ladies left for the day, our team felt unrest in our souls. Rose-Merline’s words were weighing on our hearts. We called a driver and we asked him to take us to the Brothel. We packed a bag of supplies and we drove to the crude building where she lives and works. Immediately, people from the streets surrounded our truck, wondering what the Americans were doing. We peered inside the gate and we could see the ladies already making beads. We found Rose-Merline and we surrounded her. We spoke words of affirmation to her, saying we believed in her, that if she continued to practice making beads, she would get better. We encouraged her to return to the training, to become a Beadmaker.
Her eyes lit up and she hugged us. She just needed someone to believe in her. If only for a moment in her life, we wanted her to know she was worth more than the few dollars she made each day. Perhaps she had never been told that? Perhaps no one had ever taken the time to hand her hope? I’ll never know. We pulled away, waving from the back of our truck, watching her wide smile.
She didn’t return. But you already know that.
I’ve wrestled with this story for months now, because I so desperately want the ending to be different. And I’ve realized living in the grips of bondage for so long, with overwhelming obstacles, makes it desperately hard to believe there are any other options. Rose-Merline couldn’t hear the invitation over the noise of the lies. Years and layers of decay and shame in your soul can do that.
The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.
But you? Today? I can give you these words. You are worth more than the rejection and shame you feel. Though you believe you’re fragile and unloved, the Holy Spirit draws near. Though your heart is shattered, though the layers are deep, He doesn’t pull back. He pulls you close.
There is a place at the table for you.
P.S. Need a reminder of hope? You can buy your own necklace made by our former brothel ladies! I can’t even type that sentence without crying. God is so good.