A few weeks before my thirtieth birthday, I became part of a small community: four small streets in the infamous sector of the city of Amsterdam. I would walk the streets of this neighborhood known for legalized prostitution and drugs for the next ten years. It was here in this environment where God gave me daily tutorials of discovering who he is and who he isn't. I was way over my head those first few months, drowning in insecurity but at the same time happy. It was strange that as I was removed from my comfortable Canadian lifestyle and placed into an unknown culture, it felt like new life was breathed into my soul. My six months of volunteering with Youth with a Mission have turned into almost a decade as a full-time missionary.
Welcome to the neighborhood
I arrived in the city expecting to be a blessing to the women working in prostitution. But I was clueless when I started. I had never worked with prostitutes before. I was only moving on the call of God and his Word. It went against my natural instincts to work in an area where I was confronted with other women in such a state of emotional, spiritual, and physical brokenness. It was a place that seemed to confirm my fears about men, humanity, and myself. But living in that insecure place made me desperate for God, and I realized rather quickly that there was no way I was going to be able to do it through my own strength.
If you walk into the neighborhood, the first street is wall-to-wall women standing in their glass prisons. If you keep walking, then you run into the live sex show. If you turn down another street, you come to the section of windows where women from Africa and South America slowly lose hope in a work they despise. Across the canal on the opposite side of the street stand Dutch and Eastern European women on display. Dispersed among all of this are porn shops, bars, and more sex shows. But on these very streets over the years I have also encountered tremendous kindness, goodness, and generosity from those whom you would least expect it.1