We had the OCC team fly in from Jacksonville the day after I arrived so I’ve spent the majority of this week with them. My purpose here as “ short term staff” is to lead each team in different forms of outreach within the communities of both Alajuelita and Escazu. For this group it consisted of children’s ministry, teaching ESL ( English as a Second Language) to students, running the church thrift store, visiting a women’s rehabilitation center, and praying for local families.
I’m continually amazed by the tension between the beauty of Costa Rica and the brokenness it contains. Living here, I see God’s glory all around, through the lush green terrain and tall mountains. Yet I also see drug addiction, alcoholism, legalized prostitution, and different levels of poverty. The people themselves are gorgeous in appearance, but underneath they carry wounds that are deep and in desperate need of healing. In so many ways it is a portrait of humanity itself. All of creation is made up of the artistry of the maker intertwined with the flawed nature of man, true light intermingled with darkness.
This idea has been the prevalent thought in the front of my mind and heart lately. It manifested itself all the more through an experience the team, Dan, Laine, and myself had together this week. In San Jose there is a place called the Hotel Del Rey, a large pink building with several floors and an ornate facade. Its outward appearance is nothing short of a false face, though, a mask that covers what goes on inside. Behind its inviting exterior, it acts as the largest brothel in this region, one that is world renowned. Men (aka Johns) from all over go there to drink, gamble, and spend time with the hundreds of prostitutes ( including women, men, and transvestites) who are employed there. The average woman who works at the Del Rey is 16 years old, some are victims of trafficking but most go by choice. After learning of this place and what it is famous for from a local ministry called Freedom Street, the team decided that during their visit here they wanted to see it for themselves. Thursday night Dan took all of us to do just that. During the walk up, no one spoke, everyone was praying and preparing themselves for what we were about to be met with.
I’ve known about the injustice of sex trafficking and prostitution for some time now. I’ve read about it, watched films on it, and even worked with some ministries that fight to prevent it. Seeing it happen right in front of my own eyes, however, turned a thing I’d merely been told of into a hard reality. It was one of the most difficult, heart wrenching moments I've ever experienced. On the bottom floor, there is a bar and casino where the women socialize with their customers. Walking in, we found hundreds of girls and the Johns they were going to be spending the night with. That’s not even counting the rest, who were in the upper rooms already working. Our group sat down and ordered some cokes, all the while watching and praying to ourselves. We stayed there for almost half an hour, every one of us experiencing a broad range of emotions: anger, disbelief, sorrow, compassion. There weren’t many dry eyes to be found. All I could do was seek God, praying for him to give me his perspective because I didn’t have the wisdom or strength to form one. My heart ached a little more with each girl’s eyes who met my own. Being unable to find hope in the midst of what was around me, I asked God if it even existed there.
This was his reply, “ I am in this place. I am not absent. I have not forgotten it. I won’t forsake it. I’m here, even in the midst of darkness such as this. “
He reminded me of the most powerful truth I know, that what Jesus Christ did on the cross was enough. It was enough to cover any sin. Any injustice. Any evil. It was enough to cover every act that occurs in the most popular brothel in Costa Rica. I find confidence in that promise, because it’s bigger than me. I put my faith in it, because it means that there is no such thing as a hopeless situation.
I truly believe that God’s heart is breaking for his children who walk through the doors of the Del Rey. I know without question that he longs for each of those women to realize that their worth and value goes far beyond what the next willing man can pay. More so, I trust that he is at work and changing things in ways my human eyes aren't capable of seeing. I think that our group made a difference simply in being willing to walk in and to face something that was ugly and unjust. The entire time we were there, no one evangelized or preached. We simply sat and observed. We allowed our presence to speak for us. We made a difference, not because of ourselves, but because of the all-powerful God we serve. His spirit went with us and that was enough to make an impact. We were a portrait of Christ’s love in the middle of brokenness and carriers of God’s light; the same light that illuminates bleak darkness and robs it of its power. There is hope to be found, even in the brothels.
"Yet I am writing you a new command; its truth is seen in him and in you, because the darkness is passing and the true light is already shining."
1 John 2:8
P.S. Hotel Del Rey translates to " from the King" in Spanish. To me that says it all.