In February 2011, the Taiwan field leader Phil asked me, ‘Tera, have you ever thought of starting a similar ministry to sex trade workers, like the Pearl Family Garden, in another city?’
My immediate response was, ‘No! There are still many ladies in Wanhua that we haven’t reached.’ But the challenge of that question kept coming back to me. God reminded me of Keelung, a harbour city close to Taipei. A few years before, someone had mentioned to me that Keelung had a similar area where women work in prostitution; the church were interested in doing something, but did not know how.
I went to Keelung in January 2012 to have a look at the area. I was introduced to a local pastor whose church is on the edge of the red-light district. I felt like one of the spies in Joshua, but as soon as I saw the area, I felt a real burden. We prayed that God would give us two local volunteers so that we could begin street work, visiting the ladies and building trust. God didn’t just give us two workers; he actually gave us two churches! Each church had a small team of volunteers willing to learn, and it was exciting to see the vision and passion grow in the hearts of our co-workers. Many ladies responded positively to the friendship we offered.
In January 2013 I received the news that a prayer partner in Holland had passed away and left a big gift for The Pearl Family Garden ministry. As I went on home assignment, I questioned: does God want us to step out in faith and start a women’s centre in Keelung? I arrived back in Taiwan in July 2013, and heard that the mayor of Keelung planned to designate a specific area as a sex zone in Keelung’s red-light district. This would legalise any sex trade conducted in the area. He hoped this would bring more tourism and commerce and help the ailing economy of the city. On hearing the news, the churches in Keelung were alarmed and came together as one for prayer and fasting. They rose up to protest against this plan. We were asked to share about our ministry during this meeting at which pastors from all different denominations were present. One of our local workers there shared the following:
‘Our church has been on the edge of the red-light district for over 40 years. Many times we have prayed that God would remove them from our doorstep, but we never prayed for their lost souls. When Tera took us into the area to share the gospel I was scared but, when I saw how they responded to us, I realised that the scariest thing is not who they are or what they do, but my own heart’s attitude.’
That evening, our low-key hidden ministry was brought out into the open and received heartfelt support from all the local churches.
The partnership of the local churches and the gift God provided through my prayer partner gave us the courage to step out in faith and establish the new ministry. We call it ‘Promised Land’. The first activity we used the gift for was during the Chinese Moon Festival. We bought 300 moon cakes and attached a different bible verse to each. We handed them out as gifts to the ladies during street work.
Now the churches do the ministry. I am involved as an ‘advisor’ walking with them in the process of developing it. During our recent planning meeting, the workers of both churches wrote a report on what they saw as the most important issues they needed to address. They decided to focus on raising prayer support, the need for training more workers and thinking through issues of practical help for the ladies.
We pray that the church in Taiwan will rise to meet the practical and spiritual needs of the marginalised women in Keelung and other cities.
Tera van Twillert
Originally published as ‘Promised Land; The Birth of a New Ministry ’ in OMF UK Billions Magazine Jan – Apr 2014