GUAYAQUIL, Ecuador — Cheap thrills are easy and the cost is minimal in a port city like Guayaquil. Women on the street corners of Ecuador’s largest city are regarded by residents and visitors alike as a $5 commodity.
International Mission Board missionary Barbara Rivers, however, takes a different view.
Rivers, from Houston, and a group of Ecuadorian women also walk the city streets, mingling with the working women. But instead of miniskirts, halter tops and high heels, these women sport colorful polo shirts with a message of hope embroidered over their hearts: Jesucristo Señal de Salida (Jesus Christ is the way out).
María’s father was an abusive alcoholic, so she left home intending to live with her grandmother in another city. A family friend agreed to help her — for a price. By the time she arrived in the city she was no longer an innocent 12-year-old girl. Her grandmother had her placed in jail where she learned to drink liquor, smoke marijuana and use drugs.
María ended up in a brothel and was forced to hand over her prostitution earnings. She escaped from that situation but took up with a man who fathered her first two children. Living on the streets, she had two more children with another man.
Then someone invited her to church. Not interested at first, she remained in her old life. Some female believers, however, told her about God’s love and forgiveness through Jesus Christ, so she decided to give church a try. When the pastor invited her to pray a prayer of faith, she gave her life to Christ.
“Jesus filled the emptiness of my heart and changed my life completely,” María said. “My old life is in the past.” Now, she is married and works in a vegetable market.
“I can talk with other women who live in situations similar to mine and tell them that God wants to give them a new life,” Maria said. “I believe that God is using me to take His word to others.”
María and others like her are living stories of redemption who bring hope to the streets as they minister alongside Rivers and Norma de Campos, an Ecuadorian pastor’s wife who began the work in 1998. The women introduce themselves, share scripture and tell the prostitutes about God’s love.
“For most of them, no one has ever told them they love them or told them God loves them,” Rivers said.
When a prostitute repents, she may still find herself in the same house and same neighborhood with many of the same people.
To aid the new believers, Rivers, de Campos and their team hold events for the women’s families and offer getaway retreats to teach about redemption.
About 30 women attend two Bible studies offered each week.
Although they turn to Christ, some will still return to the streets, struggling to move from lives of bondage to a full understanding of who they are in Christ.
(EDITOR’S NOTE — Davidson covered this story as an overseas correspondent for the International Mission Board.)