I've been trying to form this post for a few weeks now. The experience I'm about to describe was so unique, so special that I can't seem to capture it effectively with words. Truly, you had to be here. But I'll attempt to provide you a glimpse into my time in an abandoned house on Hunter Street in downtown Jo'burg.
Some context: I've been attending a fabulously vibrant black church called Bellevue Baptist. The church is adjacent to a crumbling old house, long condemned and abandoned. A variegated group of people (ranging from infants to grandmothers) have been squatting on the property for years now, and, despite their efforts, the members of Bellevue Baptist have had very little success in reaching the residents of this home. Most notably, several young prostitutes live there. These are the women we have been called to befriend.
A few Saturdays ago we, accompanied by two men from Bellevue, decided to knock on the gate of this decaying mustard yellow house. In typical African fashion, chairs were offered from the house and we sat on the veranda in the company of four gorgeous young women for the entire afternoon. We talked for hours of their backgrounds, children, hopes, and (finally) beliefs. Without agenda, we discussed Jesus and sin and judgement and the mystery of justification through faith. The four women listened so carefully, weighed in with their own opinions, and asked lots of questions. In some of the most precious moments of my life, we were able to communicate the truth of grace -- mystifying, undeserved, scandalous grace -- to ears who had never heard. These women, so kind and charming and confused and entrapped, shed tears over this novel idea that even they could be forgiven. The fading light of evening, the shadow of the crowded clothesline striping our faces, the still summer air, our hands grasped together in prayer. These are details I will never forget because they accompanied one of the most beautiful presentations of the Gospel I have ever witnessed. I heard the Gospel with new ears that night, because I saw all of mankind represented in those four women. We are all harlots, unfaithful to the One who loves us most.
As I sat with these four beautiful prostitutes, I couldn't help but remember an encounter with four burqa-clad women during a visit to a mosque several weeks ago. Although poised at the opposite end of the spectrum, these Muslim women were as lost as the prostitutes. As different as the situations were, they both serve as such vivid portraits of entrapment. Antithetical, yet interchangeable, portraits. And the Gospel found it's way to all of them. To God be the glory for this miracle.
As I write I'm listening to one of my favorite songs, "Wedding Dress" by Derek Webb. 'Cause I am so easily satisfied by the call of a lover so less wild… I am a whore, I do confess, and I put you on just like a wedding dress and run down the aisle. I'm a prodigal with no way home. I put you on just like a ring of gold, and I run down the aisle to you.
It is only by God's unfathomable grace that I do not live in that yellow house on Hunter Street, forced into prostitution just to be able to eat. But my life -- all our lives -- is marked by unfaithfulness to the ever-faithful Jesus. Allured by the call of countless other lovers, I abandon the perfect call of Christ. Our "prostitution" may be manifested literally (as in the case of my four new friends), but probably comes as rebellion, greed, pride, or self-obsession. But as the Bible so beautifully reminds us in the stories of Gomer and Rahab and Mary Magdelene, our whoredom is forgiven and cured by Jesus. His unconditional love transcends my sedition. He has even given me the honor of inviting four lost lambs in to the fold.
I ask you to pray for the salvation of these four women. We have continued to visit them weekly, and one friend has come to Bellevue several Sundays in a row. This is huge progress and celebration is undoubtedly erupting in Heaven as the Lord draws these women closer to Himself. Pray for my friends to accept the sweet call of the one and only Lover of their souls.