In Israel HE taught me:-
Story Two: ‘Ladies of the Night.’
The 2008 Olympic Games opened today. It was a spectacular event. As the parade of athletes marched around the ‘Bird’s Nest’ Stadium in Beijing, I quickly identified the Israeli team. Shimon Peres, now president of Israel was present to applaud and acknowledge his nation’s presence. I remembered the first time I met him. In his apartment in Ramat –Aviv. It was a treasured moment. And if anyone could effectively symbolise the indomitable spirit of Jewish survival during the last 60 years of turmoil accompanying the establishment of the State of Israel, it was in my opinion, Shimon Peres. Through wars, social and political upheavals this man has been a constant presence in Israel’s fight for survival. Yet though highly thought of, Shimon Peres was not the sole object of my interest. It was the delegation from Palestine that held my attention. There, for the entire world to see, was a nation which although it had no official state with borders was being accepted as a legitimate nation alongside world powers such as China, Russia and the United States. From my analysis it appeared that Palestine was already a recognized state; at least that is, from the point of view of the Olympic Games.
President Bush 11 had during the course of his tenure in office, made it publically known that he was interested in overseeing the establishment of a Palestinian State before he left office. A Palestinian State, with Jerusalem as its capital. With the third quarter of the year drawing to a close and a fourth in sight, political events both inside the United States and the Middle –East, suggest that this ambition may remain a dream never fulfilled. President Bush’s dream! I missed meeting him when he kindly visited my country. No! I am not a political person but sometimes I think I would like to meet persons who make such important contributions to world history.
Palestine and the Palestinians! Different people will respond to this nation differently. For me their actions created a ministry opportunity that continues to marvel me to this day. The Palestinian Intifadas or uprisings, created security concerns for the Israeli State. Many people have died on both sides of the conflict. Prior to the 1990’s, Israel’s economy was heavily dependent on the relatively cheap pool of labour supplied by the Palestinians. Agriculture and construction industries largely but not exclusively were the main beneficiaries. But the cost of protecting ordinary Israelis and tourists from what Israel described as ‘acts of terror’ and Palestinians called ‘acts of legitimate resistance towards an occupying power,’ changed Israeli political and internal security ideology. These changes in turn led to a revision in economic ideology which meant that Israel was no longer prepared to put up with disruptions to its economic progress, the new security measures warranted. Simply put Israel decided that it needed to replace its Palestinian workforce with a cheaper and much safer workforce. Someone then came up with the ‘brilliant’ idea of importing cheap labour from Europe, Asia and Africa. So the Israeli Government began to negotiate with national governments around the world, for contract workers.
Thousands of workers began to pour into Israel from eastern European countries such as Rumania and Bulgaria and eventually these were joined, by workers from Asian countries such as China and the Philippines. Israelis were quite happy with their newly discovered ‘friends’ from around the world. As one Israel said to me “I feel much safer with you (foreigners) around. At least I am not afraid for my life!” The love relationship would take a dramatic turn after ten years when the foreign presence caused bitterness amongst ordinary Israelis who felt, “these foreigners are taking our jobs.” Initially however, all was ‘smiles,’ handshakes and ‘pats’ on the back.
Now when you have a large workforce of males engaged in farm work or heavy duty construction, one might be forgiven in thinking that something had to be done to provide other outlets for all that masculine energy. ‘All work and no play, make Jack a dull boy’ is one common saying. In this case ‘Jack’ took on the likes of ‘Vasily’ from Rumania, ‘Boris’ from ex Soviet states and ‘Wei Li’ from China. What then was to be done to keep Vasily et al, happy after hours? Israelis tend to be practical people. However during all the sensitive negotiations seeking to bring in foreign male workers, wives and girl friends were not factored into the equation. Or should I say they were factored out of the equation. The thinking was that these men would eventually go home to their partners and children, if they had any. Besides what would the state of Israel do with all those little ‘Vasilys’ and ‘Wei Lis’ who would be the natural outcome of any policy that encouraged wives to live in Israel with their male counterpart? That would create complicated social issues with which Israel was not prepared to engage. All was strictly business. However, men are men and Israeli men, at least those who would employ these labourers, recognized that others of their kind needed some creative outlets for their ‘after work’ hours. This especially so when certain hormones were expected to come into play.
If, you have been privileged to grow up in a country where the Bible is held in honour and read in the family living room or bedside, you might be forgiven for thinking that Israel is a land of modern day Davids, Elijahs and other holy men and women of God. As you read the bible, something of the culture embeds itself in your mind. An uninformed image of present day Israel is projected into one’s mind. So when you do eventually get to visit Israel and live in the land for some time, you can be forgiven for feeling that somehow you were not taught all the facts; or that your mind played tricks on you! And like me, you might just wonder; ‘What happened to the Holy Land?’ That was how I felt in those initial days when I arrived in Israel and found out that it was a predominantly secular state. I naively thought everyone in the land had read and believed in the bible. I am afraid to say I was terribly wrong!
When I first arrived in Israel toward the end of the eighties, I was privileged to live in a country club near Herzylia. The club served as a hotel or motel and it was in my opinion a beautiful place. The rooms were air conditioned, bright, clean and well furnished. There were sport facilities, a swimming pool and sauna. The neighbourhood was relatively quiet although the main highway towards Netanya passed by. Shopping could be done at a well supplied shopping mall a few hundred meters along the highway. Moreover one could easily catch a bus to the Tel-Aviv University, the institution to which I had gained admission. All seemed picture perfect! Or was it?
There’s something about man that just doesn’t ‘fit.’ I was reading the other day about the launching of a space mission to a distant planet. The mission was considered a success because it had ended with the crashing of a space vehicle into the planet surface, enabling scientific investigations to be carried out on matter that was displaced as the vehicle crashed. Something was bothering my mind, as I watched the space programmers send out a loud cheer. Something of this nature.
God in His kindness has given us a universe clean and free from litter. Until man touched that planet the surface was clean and natural. Imagine going on a trip to this virgin planet. You gaze and gaze at such magnificent beauty and then just as you are about to surrender your soul to the absolute brilliance of God’s creation, your eyes light upon man’s leftovers. You are obscenely greeted by scrap metal, nuts and bolts - litter carelessly strewn across the hither to perfect surface, by man; a destroyed space capsule!
We have the habit of tarnishing everything we touch! When I read the account of Yeshua feeding the five thousand I cannot fail to be impressed by the beauty of His consideration for nature and beauty. In my research, I noticed that the first three accounts of the story in the Gospels, Matthew, Mark and Luke simply write that the ‘disciples picked up twelve baskets of broken pieces of bread and fish’ (NIV). It is the fourth gospel written by Johanan that supplies us with inside information.
‘When they had all had enough to eat, he said to His disciples “Gather the pieces that are left over. Let nothing be wasted” ’ (Johanan 6:12b NIV). It was Yeshua who ordered the gathering up of left overs. Left to themselves the disciples and people would have, just like those modern scientists, gone home leaving litter all over the place. Talk about environmentally friendly. No one in the ‘Green Party’ compares to Yeshua. How could they? He cares for His creation more than anyone else! And that creation includes you and I and the whole wide world!
Yes, there is something about man that does not sit. I heard someone give the answer one day. Man is cursed and everything he touches is scarred for life! Thank God for Yeshua! If you give Him the chance He will do for you, what He does best. Clean up the mess of the life given and bring into the soul cleansing from all that tarnishes and scars the heart. His blood when applied to our hearts in faith washes us from all our sin! It is a mystery, a workable mystery that brings hope and freshness to even those who are the worst cases of human abuse.
So picture perfect? The expensive cars were parked along the road side leading to the Mandarin Hotel. I saw them each night as I went into the club after spending some hours in the mall or just taking a stroll. The road led off from the main highway to Haifa and passed by the club. It wound its way towards the Mediterranean sea. I had often wondered what those cars were doing so late at night. Actually I was beginning to feel a bit security conscious. I was planning to be the perfect friend of Israel. If no one else had noticed these ‘breaches’ of security, I was ready to set matters right. Somebody brought me down to earth;
“It’s the night trade” Jeremy whispered.
“What?” I answered.
“You know! Prostitutes!”
“No way!” I countered, as we entered the gate leading to our apartment. The next night we took a walk and I learnt my first lesson on night life in Israel, courtesy ‘Ladies of the Night.’ I was to say the least, shocked. This could not be! Not here! But yes, it was ‘here’! And as I got to understand in the following days, it was ‘here’ in a big way! My view of the country club neighbourhood as picture perfect had been shattered.
What you might be asking, has all this got to do with foreign workers living in Israel? And more precisely what has this got to do with ministry in the Land? Well as I mentioned Israelis are practical people. Happy workers, better work! Better work, better business! Suddenly, someone or some group of persons decided that male workers-those of the foreign kind- really needed to have a good time after work. There was alcohol and food in plentiful supply. But one thing was missing. ‘Good time’ was short on women! Overnight a lucrative trade sprung up in the central district of Tel-Aviv. Women from Eastern Europe were brought in to ‘help’ the workers have a good time.
For many years and since Israel’s independence, ‘ladies of the night’ had surfaced from disadvantaged backgrounds associated with Jewish women with a Sephardic background. Sephardic Jews, are identified as those whose parents were expelled from Spain many years ago and who ended up living in such countries as Morocco or Yemen but predominantly in North African countries. They had children, and their children’s children and so on, made aliyah (immigration) to Israel in the years that followed.
The trade in sex for money was prior to the nineties, a relatively small scale and discreet business and in so far as I knew, mostly confined to the backstreets of Tel-Aviv. But the influx of migrant workers led to an open, semi-legitimised industry. Once the door had been opened the phenomenon took on a shape and direction of its own. City officials struggled to bring some semblance of order, and the Israeli justice system sought to restrict the spread of the trade, by granting permission for licentious activities to take place in an area of about two square miles surrounding, what was said to be the largest bus terminal in the Middle East. Once this legitimization had been provided, the trade took off with a vengeance.
Centers sprang up offering the public quick physical pleasure, peep shows and pornographic film. Sex shops selling all kinds of wares opened and the center of Tel Aviv became infamously known as a center for licentious activity. One of the most difficult scenes for me was watching male prostitutes hiding in dark corners on Tchlenov Street waiting for customers. I wondered what forces shaped their lives and how they came to be like this. Men dressed as women! I wondered even more at what spirit drove those who might want to make use of their services.
However, by the beginning of the millennium a number of factors began to work against the sex trade. The constant terror attacks had affected tourism and this meant that many Israelis needed certain jobs which were being done by foreigners; the ‘menial’ jobs. Israel began to cut down on the number of labourers hired on contract. Then, in the year 2001 the attack on the Twin Towers in New York dealt a harsh blow to what was left of an ailing tourism business. People just stopped travelling and Israel’s tourism industry crumpled. With even more Israeli businesses closing down, the government was hard pressed to create job openings for ordinary Israelis. Foreign workers began to be less than welcome. The government of Ariel Sharon, initiated a harsh crackdown during which many illegal migrants and workers were jailed and deported. Thousands of foreigners were affected as immigration officials broke into homes and arrested people who hither to had been welcome in Israel as friends. It was a difficult time and congregations of believers across the land felt the pressure.
Because many laborers lived in the central district, government attention fell on businesses making illegal profits through illegitimate businesses which had sprung up alongside the legally sanctioned ones. The district was left reeling as police cracked down on shop owners, gambling joints and houses of prostitution. I watched as club after club closed down. A prayer had been answered but not in the manner I had expected.
About the ‘Ladies of the Night.’ My interest in ministering to them began when I started to help the poor and needy in Tel-Aviv. The Gates of Righteousness Humanitarian Center was situated right in the heart of the needy area. I had hired a room above one of the clubs and from time to time would give the ladies some item of clothing or toys for their children. I was particularly concerned for the children because this was no place within which to raise children. They were beautiful children. Some blond hair and blue eyes. They won my heart. I just wanted to do something to help them.
One other issue bothered me concerning the area. No less than one million Israelis passed through the area in a given month. It was also a thriving business center encouraging the sale and purchase of cheap goods such as shoes, bag and jewelry. Before the days of the booming sex trade people had visited the area to buy bags, ornaments and household wares. What this meant was that thousands of young Israelis were familiar with the area. Then, because buses from all over the country ended their journey here at the bus terminal, young people across the country were exposed to any and all cultures prevailing in the area. Young boys, girls and children were eventually exposed to shocking images of nude or semi nude women sitting behind flimsy window curtains. I made it a point to chase away as many youngsters as I could. The boys especially were eager to ‘experiment.’ But I would have done anything to keep them innocent and away from the grip of the devil. I was concerned about the children of Israel!
What had initially been intended as an outlet for the licentious needs of foreign labourers ended up enticing young Israelis from all walks of life. I sadly remarked to interested believers wanting to help these women that it seemed as though peace could come to the Holy Land if everyone acted with the tolerance shown by visitors to the clubs. Soldiers rubbed shoulders with non-soldiers. Religious men by passed non- religious and Israeli Arabs silently ignored Jews as they brushed pass each other in those dark and narrow corridors. The women made for an “arguable” peace!
I counted myself fortunate. Fortunate that sometime during my early childhood I met and began a relationship with the Messiah that has stood me in good stead all these years. Being saved at an early age has definite advantages. For me this meant that I grew up learning how to live a self controlled life in a personal relationship with the Messiah. My training discouraged pre-marital sex and engaging in flirtatious activities with members of the opposite sex. I was a servant of God! Not that I was perfect but the Messiah had His hand on my life. And He stopped me from going too far on more than one occasion. I gained inner strength and this virtue put me in good stead as I now turned my attention towards helping these women and their families in need. The disciplined life previously lived for the Messiah helped a great deal. I was not interested in joining the many Israelis and others who were spending their time and money on extramarital activities. I highly recommend that parents teach their children abstinence. Sexual abstinence, until they get married. Those who enter into a personal relationship with Yeshua the Messiah will find it more beneficial than its weight in gold. Besides such a relationship might just save the lives of many loved ones especially, in these days of that dreaded diseases called AIDS.
My Israeli friends, Rapahel, Clara and Eli spent time with me in fellowship. Every Monday we met to pray and encouraged each other. When in time the opportunity to minister in a wider manner to the club ladies arrived, I had a small but ready team. If I were to say that I had developed a plan of action I would be telling a half truth. Yes, we were praying. Yes, we were interested. Yes, we had the desire. But the specifics concerning how and which women we were to minister to initially, was by no means clearly revealed. God has His way of leading.
One day, I decided to organize an outreach program targeted at the Rumanian workers who visited the clubs. I thought this would be the best way for me as a single man leading a team of singles to tackle the sex Goliath. I thought we would show the Jesus film in the Rumanian language, provide a meal and evangelise the community. Invitations were sent out and word was passed around. To my great consternation the numbers of workers I thought would turn up did not materialize. For some reason, which I was to find out later, not a single male Rumanian showed up. Then just as discouragement was setting in, up the stairs walked a lady whom I had previously met. She was Russian and she was a “Lady of the Night”. The decision was quickly made to show the film in the Russian language. This lady spent the evening watching the film and partaking of the meal. By the end of the meeting she had wept her way to Salvation! Hallelujah! As we sat listening to her share how she came to be with us we could not but acknowledge the hand of the Lord directing all. Earlier on during the day she had sensed that this night was to be a turning point in her life.
Eugenia shared how as a teenager she had run away from home (Ramat Gan) and spent the rest of her life-some twenty years in the sex business. She shared and we gained an understanding into the tensions which caused young Israeli women to run away from home, fall into the hands of unscrupulous men and become slaves to a lifestyle that offered little chance of escape.
I marveled at the way in which the Lord had orchestrated events. He had kept the meeting from becoming too crowded so that we could spend quality time with this woman! I found it hard to believe. But we rejoiced all the same. We had so much food left over and were pondering over what to do with it when Eugenia, suggested that she go with us and distribute it to as many ladies in clubs as would gladly receive us. What a night! Eugenia’s presence led to warm receptions as we entered club after club. Grateful words of thanks were offered from women many of whom had never received a love gift without ‘strings’ attached for years. We met women and girls. Some working independently and ‘legally’ but many enslaved by “pimps” whose consciences had been sheared by fire. The Lord must have prepared the way because these men also asked for gifts. It was the first time so far as I had heard that so many women engaged in the night trade, had been reached by believers in the Land. I knew we had broken new ground in our evangelistic efforts. Eugenia left us that night a changed person. Yeshua had touched her life afresh. Life for her would never be the same!
The compassion of God is clearly revealed in the biblical story about a woman caught in the web of adultery. She was caught red- handed and brought by her accusers before the Son of God. Yeshua revealed to us the depth of the compassion of God for our world. The religious people of that day insisted that she pay the full price for her unfaithfulness. A punishment which meant stoning to death! I somewhat understand the tensions she must have felt that day. I recently read about a father who had slain his teenage daughter for confessing the name of Yeshua (Jesus). He had beaten and burnt her to death. Tensions can run extremely high in the middle-east even today!
Our ‘Woman of the Night’ was brought before Jesus and forced to listen as her accusers recommended the full force of Mosaic law be carried out; death by stoning! In one of the most compassionate scenes ever recorded this women suddenly found her terror turned to tenderness. Her death sentence was reversed by the kind words of a loving Savior.
Confronted by their own guilt as offenders against God, the harsh prosecutors left her standing with the ONE who had the real power to judge and condemn her to an eternity without forgiveness. Perhaps she had experienced in those terrible hours of her ordeal, the utter hopelessness that comes from being caught in an offence for which there is no escape. Sweat and chills. Panic, gripping fear and shame. Helplessness and depression. Endless tears! She knew she was undone! Then in an instant the words of Yeshua changed her life forever. “…Neither do I condemn thee: go, and sin no more?”(Ref: John 8: 11, KJV). She was SAVED!
What beautiful words! Such magnificent compassion! Whatever sweet words this ‘Lady’ might have heard through those beautifully created ears. Whatever songs of shame worldly men may have sung to cause her to stumble, nothing could compare with the sound that came from the lips of the Messiah. “Neither do I condemn you: go and sin no more!” I think our Lady must have cried whatever tears were left in her, out of sheer gratitude to the One who does what He does so well; forgive the sinner and offer them a chance to live right for God without fear of torment or condemnation. This is what He yearns to do for each of us. Why not accept His invitation? “I am the light of the world: whosoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (Gospel according to John 8:12). Eugenia accepted! Millions have accepted! Why don’t you reach out right now and ask HIM to save you!