19 May 2014

From Prostitutes to Graduate Students

In my transition to becoming a campus minister for graduate students, people are often interested in my 'previous life.' When I mention living in a community in the Red Light District, people are usually fascinated by any kind of ministry to prostitutes and what I might have learned from them. Homeless people, for better or worse, are less sensational than prostitutes, even though I have also, in my time in the community, learned a lot from them.

The usual questions focus on the differences and parallels between the groups are. There is also usually a question of why I've decided (or felt called) to such a huge change. The irony is that campus ministry is less of a strange change for me than one might expect. After all, I love academics, like doing ministry, am highly educated, am familiar with the North American university sitting, and have aloways enjoyed reading about millenials and culture on the internet. Campus ministry feels like a good fit for who I am and the gifts and passions I have.
Ministry to prostitutes, on the other hand, is a different story. I moved to this neighbourhood because I sensed that God had led me to be part of this intentional community, which was reaching out to its neighbourhood. It wasn't until I actually arrived in Amsterdam that I knew for sure that my new neighbourhood was the Red Light District. I feel called to minister to prostitutes because I feel that God calls all of us to minister where we are and to reach out to the neighbours we have. It just so happens that my neighbours here are somewhat unusual.

In thinking more about the question of what I'm taking with me from one ministry context to another, I recognize the importance of authenticity, which is closely related to a ministry of presence.

The other day when I was talking to a prostitute, she asked me about my own sex life. To the degree that I could be honest and respectful of my husband's privacy, I answered her. Only afterwards did it occur to me how strange this interaction was. Ten years ago, before starting this ministry, I would never have been comfortable with this kind of question nor giving any kind of answer to it! But the strange intimacy of the prostitute's work - her being half-naked and her work being to create intimacy - has helped me become more comfortable with how intimacy and honesty can play a role in reaching out to another. Futhermore, the question reminded me of how I have learned how important authenticity is to ministry. I cannot hide behind an ideal, whether that be a picture I have of myself or how I ought to minister. I have to be entirely myself, otherwise neither I nor the good news will be accepted or heard.

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