New Friends Opening Doors
New Friends Opening Doors
As Vivian Chu Chen [MTS 2011] was collecting used drug needles from the floor of a young woman’s downtown apartment one night, she remembered Tyndale’s Dr. Victor Shepherd’s definition of spiritual maturity from one of his classes— it’s simply “to be human.”
Picking up over 60 needles with bare hands, hoping she wouldn’t contract a disease, she was experiencing her own humanity in the middle of another’s, one trapped in a web of human sex trafficking and drug addiction.
Vivian met three classmates during her studies at Tyndale whose dreams shaped her own. One felt God was asking her to start a ministry for women in the sex trade in Toronto. Another felt she was being led to advocate for women with social justice issues. The other was working with girls in downtown Toronto. Vivian told them, “Good thing, good for you!”
Joanna Yee [MDiv 2010] was one of those classmates. She started Rahab Ministry in 2009 to come alongside girls and women working in massage parlours trapped in human sex trafficking. They work to assist women wanting to exit the sex trade industry. Since 2010, in partnership with Youth Unlimited and C.A.R.E. (Christian Aid and Relational Evangelism Inc.), Rahab Ministries provide ESL, the Alpha program, and counselling.
“When I reflected back on my own journey, it finally connected,” says Vivian. She had worked as a business analyst before attending Tyndale, and volunteered with children and young adults at Richmond Hill Christian Community Church. In recent years, while studying and training to be a spiritual director, Vivian focused on connecting with the second-generation young adult leaders in her church as well as leading a support group for women suffering from mental illness.
“Maybe God wants to expand my ministry to the second-generation Chinese in downtown Toronto,” thought Vivian while she was picking up those needles, her first Rahab Ministry volunteer experience. Vivian met many Chinese and other ethnic women working in the sex trade— on downtown streets and in massage parlours. Vivian’s vision expanded as she helped women write resumes, prepare for job interviews, and navigate the Canadian legal system. She even mothered them when appropriate (she’s the only mother on the Rahab team).
There are no published statistics on the number of women working in the Toronto sex trade, and there are no government-funded programs to help these women escape. One 2009 estimation suggested that there are approximately 600 licensed massage parlours in Toronto. Rahab Ministry’s visitation list includes 70 massage parlours in Scarborough, a list that is not exhaustive, with two to four workers per parlour. Most women range in age from 30–50 years, and many have been married, have kids, and are now divorced. “Some are housewives telling their husbands they work in supermarkets,” reveals Vivian. Rahab Ministry’s operation statistics estimate a possible 800 to 1,000 sex workers in licensed massage parlours in Scarborough alone, representing any number of families dependent on the sex trade for survival.
Vivian constantly asks herself why she’s doing what she is doing. One pastor even asked, “Why do they open the door to you?” referring to the massage parlour workers that Vivian visits. “I had to tell him that I don’t know,” says Vivian. But she does know it’s her calling to be their friend, and the very fact that they keep opening the door probably means she is.
Vivian is very aware how long she will have to befriend these women before they will trust her, and she knows it is only God who can restore their souls. Meanwhile, she’s also becoming more committed to her role as an advocate for these women. When she asks people to support her work financially, people naturally ask questions. The primary one is: “Don’t these women choose to be sex workers?” She realizes there are often many false assumptions made about women in the sex trade, and that her fundraising is actually an advocacy and educational campaign. A few months ago, three sisters were being held at the immigration detention centre in Toronto. None spoke English, and no one at the centre could translate for them. Rahab Ministries was contacted, and Vivian was one of the responders who heard the girls’ stories for three and a half hours, which included their involvement in the sex trade. Vivian interpreted their stories for the immigration officials, prayed while they negotiated for their release, then filled out the forms that allowed them to be released into the care of Rahab Ministries. These forms could not include an address because the location of the safe house where the girls would be taken could not be disclosed.
Hearing and telling the stories of women who have had no choice and then being able to provide choices is both human and divine. This is how God has invited Vivian into His work.