Women in the slum brothels of Kampala, Uganda, are learning God has not forgotten them, there is hope and redemption in their life stories, and He has given them a new name.
IMB missionary Allie White remembers riding in motorcycle taxis past slums housing brothels, and she would look down the alleyways and ask, “What is this place?”
Allie told one of her Ugandan national partners, Victoria, that she wanted to go into the area.
“I’m not going down that alley,” Victoria said firmly. However, the Lord turned her heart toward the women as she began praying with Allie and other Ugandan Christians.
“It’s a very high area of prostitution, so we began to ask God to open doors for us down there,” Allie said.
Victoria said God used future trips riding past the slums to open her heart.
“Whenever we were passing by, I would feel in my heart that I should go and meet these ladies. The more we went down there, the more we felt deep in our hearts that we’re supposed to start drawing close to these ladies and then see how their life is and how can we reach out to bring the gospel to them,” Victoria said.
When Allie shared her desire to minister to prostitutes with her language teacher, she told her, “My heart burns for this too.”
The women had enough interest to start a weekly Bible study. Six people came the first week. The second week, they asked a local councilman to encourage women to come. Sixty women came the next week.
Many women gave their lives to Christ that day and are still involved in the Bible study. They’ve chosen to get baptized and are involved in a local church in the slum.
“Our goal is to restore women who are affected by the sex trade industry and prostitution, and to empower them with dignity as they proactively engage in a spiritual transformation,” Allie said.
Allie said God led her and her national partners to Revelation 2:17: “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who conquers I will give some of the hidden manna, and I will give him a white stone, with a new name written on the stone that no one knows except the one who receives it.”
They learned that the women have a ‘work name’ and a ‘home name.’
“When we first meet them, a lot of them give us their name that they go by at the brothel. We’ve seen a lot of cases when they come to Christ, or they get comfortable enough with us, that they share their real name with us.”
Allie said the verse is a “beautiful picture of how, when we become God’s children, we receive a white stone of innocence, even though we deserve guiltiness. We get a white stone with a new name written on it. It’s a beautiful picture of God’s forgiveness in our own lives and with these women.”
One of these women is named Sarah, who comes from a Muslim background.
Salvation of Sarah
After Sarah’s husband passed away, her father-in-law sold everything they owned and put her out on the street. It wasn’t what she wanted for her life, but to provide for her children, she turned to prostitution. Sarah committed her life to Christ at the Bible study, and she knew she couldn’t go back to prostitution. She began making soap to bring in an income.
When Sarah was almost evicted, the church, located in the middle of the slum and without much income, raised the equivalent of $200 to cover Sarah’s rent for six months.
“God has really changed Sarah’s life. She is hungry for the Word of God. She is bringing other women in that area to the weekly Bible studies. The love of Christ, it just exudes from her,” Katie Hall said. Katie also serves in Kampala with the IMB.
Sarah recently received her first Bible and was baptized with seven other women who also left prostitution. Sarah’s 19-year-old daughter asked why the Christian women visited, Sarah shared her testimony, and her daughter committed her life to Christ.
“God is using Sarah among the women there,” Katie said. “She’s not turning her back on the women that she worked with. She’s actually actively drawing them toward the church and toward the ministry. You can just see Christ radiate from her.”
Come as you are
“We include women who are still very deep in prostitution. We let women come who have a deep desire to leave but just don’t know how to. The women who have left also are involved,” Allie said.
“It is very challenging, because a lot of the women have been in this business, the sex trade industry, for a long time. Some of them started very young, so they don’t necessarily have the education or [knowledge of] other trades,” Allie said.
Their faith and courage encourage Allie.
“When they say they are done with prostitution, they are giving up their job, they are giving their housing, because most of them live in the brothel. They’re saying, ‘I trust God enough to give up this and suffer,’” Allie said.
Katie said the local church’s involvement in the ministry is massive. The pastor’s wife had been trying to find a way to reach these women.
“Our national partners are walking very, very closely with these ladies because they can enter into a space that we’re not privy to often,” Katie said.
The involvement of local church members and national partners in the ministry requires trust.
“Our national partners have probably experienced more pushback because they had to cross some cultural barriers for themselves to even go in that area,” Katie said. “They’re taking a risk being associated with it, so they really have had to step into an area that they were uncomfortable stepping into in order to engage the women.”
“Ladies from the church are walking side by side with Allie. They’re leading out in a lot of the one-to-one discipleship that’s happening,” Katie continued. “They’re also walking hand in hand with them.”
Allie agreed. “My main job is to walk beside my national partners. They are the ones in the trenches every day.”
Katie said consistency is key.
“Lots of people might come in once, give some things or vomit the gospel, but then they just leave, and they don’t come back,” Katie said.”
Allie, Victoria and other national partners’ consistency makes all the difference.
“It’s that they keep coming back to the places that aren’t lovely. They keep coming back and they keep chatting with the women, and they keep just sitting there and they keep taking some of their abuses because some of them are drunk and yell at them and are mad that they’re there. They think they’re going to take their customers. Allie and Victoria have continually gone back and continually loved and continually just shown up,” Katie said.