Sadie and I pull into a parking space near the massage parlor but not directly in front of it. A small sign proclaiming “Foot massages” hangs in the window. Next to the sign is a picture of a foot with all its parts labeled in Chinese.
We prayed just before we left Sadie’s house, ten minutes ago. We pray again now. “Father, go ahead of us. You know all about the women working in this place. You love them. Please let Your love shine through us.” We take a gift bag from the backseat and go into the parlor. A woman stands behind the counter. “Massage?” she asks.
We tell her, no, we’re from a church nearby and we’re here with a gift for her. We just want to say hello.
The gift rattles her, and she looks around for something to offer us. “Water bottles?” She holds out one to each of us.
Sadie and I were told during our training to expect this, and we accept them, tell her thank you, and then leave.
When we are back in the car, we pray once more, thanking the Lord we were able to talk to a woman, to place the gift directly in her hands. We ask that the Bible verse—printed in Chinese—and the candies and small treats inside the bag would be a testimony to His goodness, and we pray that the woman will be intrigued by the New Name business card and be able to seek out more information.
New Name is a local ministry that partners with area churches to reach out to and walk alongside women in sex trafficking and adult entertainment industries. One of the ways New Name does this is through outreach: pairs of women are given a route of venues to visit. Each time they go, they take a gift bag containing small items and a handmade card with a Scripture verse on it. Sadie and I go to the same church, so we were given a route together.
Every venue on our route is an Asian massage parlor, known as an AMP. The AMPs we visit are all located in strip malls, next to restaurants, grocery stores, or small businesses. They are easily accessible and in plain sight. I’ve driven by them for years and never thought anything of them. They look legitimate.
They’re not. Not only are many if not all of the women working in AMPs required to perform sex services (the parlors we visit have ads on a website that specializes in just that), most are also trafficked. Lured by the promise of respectable jobs and a better life, once these women are in the AMPs, they live incredibly controlled, fear-filled lives. They usually do not ever leave the parlor unless they are being transported to another parlor. They get moved often.
In our training for this outreach, Sadie and I learned from an Asian-American member of the New Name team that this particular form of trafficking has a long history. Chinese women were first brought to the U.S. in the mid- to late 1800s to serve—and service—the Chinese men who’d come as railroad workers and miners. Their lives were so hard that the average lifespan of these women was five years after being sold.
This slavery still continues, and though it is now in plain sight, it is even harder to prosecute and shut down. Thousands of brothels disguised as massage parlors exist across the United States, and the women who work in them are trapped.
Sadie and I go to four of them. We don’t feel like we’re doing very much. We’re simply offering gift bags, smiles, a few words, hugs.
But we offer these in the love of God, and we trust He will use them to show these women how very much He loves them, too.
For more information on Asian Massage Parlors, read this document published by the Polaris Project, which operates the National Human Trafficking Resource Center (NHTRC). It’s a bit dated, but still very helpful.
For more information on the earliest trafficking of Chinese women into the U.S. and about Donaldina Cameron, the woman of God who rescued so many of them, follow this link.
Want to get involved? Follow this link to the NHTRC website, where you can sign up to receive more information about trafficking in the U.S. and learn about volunteer opportunities.
Jen Underwood lives with her husband, Dave, their four kids (a 9th grade girl, 5th-grade boy-girl twins, and a 2nd-grade boy), two international high-school students (both girls), and a dog in the western suburbs. She works as a writer/editor and blogs at jenunderwood.org. She is a member of the Redbud Writers Guild.