‘No more will anyone call you Rejected. You’ll be called My Delight.’
Isaiah 62:4 (MSG)
Around the corner from one of the largest and oldest temples in Taipei, is the Pearl Family Garden. In an area also known for its gang activity and crowds of homeless people, this ministry has been reaching out to women working in the red light district in Wan Hua.
Here, many Taiwanese women aged from their sixties and up to their eighties are still working in the sex trade.
The ministry began thirteen years ago, with “Ah Zhen” from the Netherlands and two Taiwanese volunteers and later joined by other missionaries including Edna McKelleher and Audrey Chan (previously Lin) from Australia. Many volunteers have also brought much help and expertise.
The key to the ministry is building relationships with the women in Wan Hua.
Most are single mothers who left difficult marriages and entered the sex trade as they had little or no schooling—some needing to earn income to bring up their children or care for their elderly parents. Sadly many women now have broken relationships with their loved ones.
As the women get older, it is increasingly difficult for them to earn a living working on the streets or in traditional tea shops, where women accompany men to drink alcohol and sing karaoke. The myriad of issues that they face include poverty, social isolation, poor health, poor mental health, huge financial debts, gambling and drug addiction.
Trust is vital in building relationships, however in the Pearl Family Garden team’s experience, this takes a long time. Many women have experienced much brokenness and trauma in their lives. Moreover, they work in a profession that is dark, complex, and can conceal their true identity. However, the project has a good reputation in the community and activities at their women’s centre often attract new visitors.
The regular meetings are a lunch time gathering every Thursday, where about 40 women attend. They come to chat, enjoy a free meal and attend programs that sometimes include hearing Bible stories or inspirational testimonies from people who have overcome different struggles in life.
Celebrations such as Mothers’ Day, Mid Autumn Festival and Christmas are organised as a blessing for the women, particularly as these important occasions are missing from their regular family life.
Friday is ‘craft day’ where women earn a supplementary allowance through making products such as bags and soft toys. Churches in Taiwan and OMF-supporting churches overseas often help with sales of these items.
In addition to the estimated 50 women participating in the regular weekly activities, it is also a priority to visit and connect with the thousands of women who work on the streets or in teashops. During these visits, the team can become more aware of the difficult situations many of them face and how to respond to their needs. They will also hand them Christian magazines and invitations to the centre.
Some of the initiatives to meet these needs include providing anonymous subsidies for the women to help with their medical care or living situations, language classes for those with lower literacy and therapeutic group activities using art, music and horticulture.
The ladies also enjoy Taiwanese opera classes and nature outings, which many of them cannot afford. Spiritual care is provided for some of the women on an individual basis and through easy to understand discipleship workshops.
Spiritual care is provided for some of the women on an individual basis and through easy to understand discipleship workshops
The Pearl Family Garden team also partners with a wide range of churches, individuals and service providers to connect many isolated women with relevant support networks in society so they receive the integrated care they need.
Through their faith in Christ and support and companionship of one another, many women who were once hurt, bitter and even despondent now have restored hope and joy in their lives. They are also able to face their struggles in life with greater confidence.
Finding more pearls
After eleven years in a modest, one-bedroom apartment, the program recently moved into a new centre on the street level that is situated in the heart of the red light district and a night market. With a larger community at their doorstep the team are keen to explore how these new premises can benefit the community around them. Although these new premises will still bring challenges, activities will be more visible than they were in the much smaller previous centre.
The vision for many years of the ministry has been to mobilise churches around the island bringing the gospel to women in their local red light district, and to see a string of pearls expanding around Taiwan. The Pearl Family Garden has supported churches in similar work outside of Taipei, more recently Audrey Chan is working to pass on the vision to a church in Taichung to ‘find more pearls’.
The team is also exploring the possibility of using the centre for courses or starting a church and inviting the community around them including the men they know who live or work in nearby shops.
The dream is not only that the ministry will continue to spread but that Taiwanese churches will also take on responsibility for this string of pearls.
Irene Nicholson & Edna McKelleher
Will you pray for the Pearl Family Garden?
Give thanks for the impact of the Pearl Family Garden over the last 13 years
Pray for wisdom for how to make the best use of the new premises
Pray for the ministry to grow in other cities and be taken on by local churches