The kitchen is bustling with activity. It is Monday, which means lunch day at The Dale Ministries. The Dale is a ministry without its own walls: every activity, including this one, is done in partnership with buildings throughout the neighbourhood. At the core of The Dale are people who know poverty. On this day approximately 100 people are seated at long tables ready to eat lunch made largely by the community members themselves. Here everyone is invited into “full participation”, an attempt to have people experience what it means to both give and receive, a value that is too often lost when one is consistently a recipient of charity.
Andrea* arrives late and approaches me in the kitchen. She is interested in getting some food not for herself, but a friend who is apparently too drunk to make his way to lunch. I have known Andrea and this friend since 2007, the year I began working at The Dale. “Can I get John* some food? I even brought a container.” As I fill the old margarine tub with food, Andrea reminds me that she was once a woman of the night, or in other words, a prostitute. With a grin, she announces that it has been at least five years since she worked that job. Now it’s her job to take care of John and the others that make up their crew.
As a child, Andrea never imagined she would one day sell her body to men. Rather, she dreamt of being a teacher and hoped to be a mother. Things began to change when Andrea became the victim of repeated abuse by various family members. She fled her unsafe home with nowhere to go. As a young woman Andrea found herself on the streets of Toronto. It didn’t take long for a man disguised as a father figure to show up, full of promises to care for her. Within weeks Andrea was trapped, forced by the man now know as her pimp to make the money he had at first promised to take care of her with.
Andrea spent years being controlled by other people. In order to cope she turned to substances that seemed the only escape. Andrea is no longer a young woman: she describes her youth as a distant, ugly memory. Her hair has whitened; her skin is translucent and full of scars; her hands rough from street life. I see in her a fierce resolve to conquer the addictions that still have a grasp, to experience healing in regard to her past and to rediscover the dreams she thought were dead. I am inspired by Andrea and know I have much to learn from her.
One of the deepest challenges for Andrea is to believe that as a woman she is valued for something other than her body. She spent most of her life being used by other people for their own so-called pleasure. This is not a struggle unique to Andrea and her circumstances: it is a struggle for many people every day. At The Dale we are privileged to acknowledge our brokenness and journey with one another toward wholeness in Christ.
As I hand over the full container of food, Andrea looks me straight in the eye and says, “I always wanted to be a mother and now, in a funny way, I am. Maybe one day I’ll still figure out how to be a teacher.” I try to copy her famous grin and emphatically say, “Oh Andrea, in a funny way, you already are.”
* Names have been changed.
This article was originally published in the Fall 2014 Issue of Mosaic Magazine