Embracing Mercy

Before we joined World Impact in 1993, God called me to the city through the writings of Amy Carmichael, a single missionary in India who sought to rescue children and young women from the life of temple prostitution. Knowing that this dark reality is one that too often plays a backstory in lives of women in the city, I wanted to be a part of that effort in America’s urban centers as well. But visions and dreams need time and purification. As a young 20-something gal from Iowa with much to learn and too many quick answers, it would take time for God to do this work. 

In His sovereignty, I met and become friends with a prostitute – but not on a street corner. As a matter fact, when I met Grace, she was a Bible club mom to a vibrant and passionate little boy named Kaden. For months our friendship grew over conversations on Grace’s porch about life, cooking, and her son. Grace had come to know the Lord as a teen. When I asked about hosting a women’s Bible study in her home, she gave an eager “Yes!” It was through these times that Grace’s past quietly and gently came out. As she shared about her relationship with Kaden’s father, her deep shame and guilt were palpable. She could almost believe Jesus could forgive her. But sadly, Grace went back to the streets. The last time I saw her was on a corner; I gave her a hug, told her how much I missed her, and prayed with her. Grace passed away several months later of a staph infection.

Through this relationship, Grace taught me about the deep pain and fragility of those who have survived the streets. How utterly difficult it is to embrace mercy and forgiveness when you have been victimized in this way. As I questioned Grace’s death, God told me, “Sometimes a Father can only watch His children suffer for so long.” The desire to connect with other women trapped in this dark world has never left, and at times we have prayed and walked our section of Belmont Avenue handing out hot chocolate or flowers.  Now that human trafficking is being brought into the spotlight, I have had the privilege to partner with an agency called Made for Them that sends out prayer teams to let the women know that there is help and a way out. 

On our most recent prayer walk, it was rainy and cold. The layers of reticence and caution that we experienced the month before were virtually gone. God led us to follow up on a girl we hadn’t been able to meet, but we had left a flower at her door. She was there this time and willing to talk with us. As we handed her the candy cane and card with the hot-line number, we asked if we could pray for her. “Pray that I can get out of this,” she replied, pointing at her bed. We told her she could leave and prayed God would give her the courage to do it. We will return to that area the second Friday of every month to minister to these women. Please join us in praying for these precious lives – that they will have opportunities and courage to leave; that they will come to know Jesus and begin reclaiming the life God has for them. With each interaction, we think of Grace. We believe that there is true hope and grace for each one. 

Manuel and Kim Contreras are urban missionaries in Fresno, CA.