Since we moved into the downtown eastside at the end of August, my housemates and I have been hosting an “open meal” every Friday. Basically, we invite pretty much anybody and everybody — be they people from school, from church, or from the street corner — over for a big meal and we count on the holy Spirit to show up and bond us together in love, just as we count on Jesus to show up and host the meal (in this way we hope to — at least a little bit — recover something of the sacramental nature of the meals Jesus shared during his ministry, and we also hope, in these meals, to embody the proclamation of the forgiveness of sins and the reconciliation of people with God and with one another). Over this time we have always had one woman (let’s call her Jane Doe) come every week. Time after time, Jane was sure to be there. It became, she told us, the highlight of her week. Over the last few months we fell in love with Jane and, marvelously, she also fell in love with us — no small feat for a woman who has been continually rejected and wounded by Christians because she is a prostitute who happens to be gay and who also happens to be Wiccan.
Jane’s life has not been easy and yet, all things considered, she has accomplished some amazing things. Like working in the sex trade for 25 years (ages 18-43 and counting) and not becoming addicted to any drug whatsoever. Like living past the age of 40 when that is the average age of death for female prostitutes in Vancouver. Like valuing herself enough that she refuses to drop her price — even though the addicts that she has seen overtake the neighbourhood have driven prices down to amounts that cannot sustain a life, amounts that can only sustain a life-destroying addiction. Like maintaining her own place — even if it is a single room in a shitty hotel. Like working for herself and not for a pimp. Like teaching us some of the joys and wonders of opening our home to people that are usually rejected by Christians.
But then, last Friday, Jane never showed up for dinner. And so, over the week, my housemates and I would walk down to the corner she works to look for her, to try and find her and make sure that she was alright — because prostitutes tend to “disappear” all too often and all too easily in this neighbourhood (cf.: http://www.missingpeople.net/vancouver_missing_women.htm. See also this page for what tends to happen to “disappeared” women: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_Pickton — is there any way to view these pages without weeping?). We were hoping that maybe she had just forgotten dinner, maybe she had been sick that night, but we never found her. Maybe, we thought, she was staying inside because of the snow and the cold weather. But, once again, last night at dinner, Jane wasn’t there. And all the ways in which we had been reassuring ourselves, ended up sounding pretty hollow.
Jesus tells us to go out and find the lost sheep but sometimes it’s damn hard to find them. I guess this week we’ll be putting up posters, checking the hospitals, and trying to track down her neighbours to see if they’ve seen her. I think we’re all more than a little scared that all these efforts will be futile. Those who get lost here, often stay lost, and those of us who should be out searching, don’t know how to find them.
Lord, have mercy. Teach us, we pray, how to find your lost sheep. We are not very good shepherds and we don’t know how to search out your little ones. Lord, make your Church a true shepherd, a true seeker and finder of lost sheep, because we need all the help we can get out here, and I don’t think our hearts can handle seeing another face added to the “missing women” sheet. Honestly, we don’t know how your heart can handle it. How long will you allow this to continue? This God-damned situation is more than we can bear.
Please, reader, if you pray, take a moment to pray for Jane.