Then he turned toward the woman and said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I came into your house. You did not give me any water for my feet, but she wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You did not give me a kiss, but this woman, from the time I entered, has not stopped kissing my feet. You did not put oil on my head, but she has poured perfume on my feet. Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—as her great love has shown. But whoever has been forgiven little loves little.”
“I don’t think it’s ever a girl’s dream to be a prostitute when they grow up. But life is difficult and they’re desperate. A drowning person will grab anything that floats to survive. It’s the same thing,” says Vivian Chu-Chen.
Extending a hand to someone who is drowning is what Vivian does in her work with Fight 4 Freedom, a non-profit outreach to sex workers primarily in strip clubs and massage parlours. She goes where many would be afraid to go—into the places where women are exploited, trafficked or stuck, sharing friendship, compassion and the message of Jesus with some of society’s most invisible members.
“People thought I would be afraid, or that it would be dangerous. It never crossed my mind. I was excited to be there, to talk to them, walk with them… I knew it was where I belonged, talking to the people who are literally forgotten by the society and seeing how the city of Toronto is so different at night.”
Not everyone working in the sex trade is who you might expect, nor have all of them chosen to be there. Vivian shares that many of them are single moms with little or no English or marketable skills, supporting their families. Some keep their work a secret to protect themselves and their families from stigma, but they do the work because they need to pay the rent and put food on the table; minimum wage can’t cover the basics. Others are young immigrants, mostly from Asia, some of whom were trafficked into the industry, after being promised positions as nannies. Still others have difficult histories of poverty, pain or abuse.
But responding isn’t always a straight path or a smooth road. It isn’t a quick or easy extraction for people in the sex trade. Vivian’s goal is always first to support the women and let them know that God loves them. “They don’t have friends. Our goal is to bring the love of Jesus to them wherever they are at. If we walk into a strip club, the bartender says, ‘Oh! Jesus is here!’ Everyone knows us as ‘the Jesus group,’” says Vivian with a smile. They are known for their love, faith and persistence.
There is no shortage of work for Vivian. The sex trade isn’t disappearing, and trafficking is a real and present problem not just in the GTA, but in smaller towns and cities as well. And they need prayer. Vivian may not be afraid, but there are dangers in what she does, especially if it is perceived that they are removing commodified women from the trade. And they need churches who are willing to open their doors to those who have or are still working in the sex trade. Many churches, says Vivian, are afraid to welcome sex workers, an attitude that can quickly undo long investments in people and in changing their attitudes towards faith. It is messy, loving people. It isn’t always a clear cut then and now. People’s journeys toward Christ can take a longer, more meandering path. But if we, his followers, want to be like Jesus, and not like Simon the Pharisee, the call is clear. Let those who have been forgiven much—who love much—come. Let them experience the presence, the welcome and the redemption of Jesus, as much-beloved creations of their Father. Just as we are loved, let us love others.
Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.
1 John 4:11
Vivian will commence her role as Spiritual Director and Markham Outreach leader this month. To find out more about Vivian’s ministry to women and girls in the sex trade, visit Fight 4 Freedom.