There is a prostitute in this photo. She’s the girl in a short skirt and sneakers with a pink barrette in her hair. She’s getting talking-to by her pimp, who is also her mother, who called her over when she started talking to a woman instead of a man who might be convinced to pay for sex. The girl is 12. You can’t see in the photo that the mother/pimp is also toting the 12-year-old’s infant daughter.
Sing aloud, O daughter Zion; shout, O Israel! Rejoice and exult with all your heart, O daughter Jerusalem! The LORD has taken away the judgments against you, he has turned away your enemies. The king of Israel, the LORD, is in your midst; you shall fear disaster no more.Zephaniah 3:14-15 (NRSV)
Surrounding the pair are other folks who spend nights on the streets as well as ministers and members of the ministry Manos Extendidas. Once a week or so, the ministry serves soup and friendship on the streets at night, attempting to affirm the dignity and humanity of children, youth, addicts, and other abandoned people in some of the most vulnerable neighborhoods of Comayaguela and Tegucigalpa, the twin-city capital of Honduras.
I was there to witness and observe the ministry. I was there to participate in affirmations and the serving of soup. I was told to expect to see what I saw, but I wasn’t prepared. I can’t stop thinking about this girl.
On that day it shall be said to Jerusalem: Do not fear, O Zion; do not let your hands grow weak. The LORD, your God, is in your midst, a warrior who gives victory; he will rejoice over you with gladness, he will renew you in his love; he will exult over you with loud singing as on a day of festival. I will remove disaster from you, so that you will not bear reproach for it.Zephaniah 3:16-18 (NRSV)
I was there to witness, and that’s all I could do in that moment. In the following week, I have had trouble sleeping and focusing on my work. I feel worry and guilt. I can’t stop imagining the girl’s life each night.
I am searching for a prayer for this girl. Where is God? Where is the life and justice and grace that we have been promised?
I will deal with all your oppressors at that time. And I will save the lame and gather the outcast, and I will change their shame into praise and renown in all the earth. At that time I will bring you home, at the time when I gather you; for I will make you renowned and praised among all the peoples of the earth, when I restore your fortunes before your eyes, says the LORD.Zephaniah 3:19-20 (NRSV)
Holy God, I turn over this girl to you. I turn over her baby to you. I turn over her mother to you. Lifting them up in prayer and bearing witness to their lives is all I can do. I beg for your grace and tender mercy. Help me forgive, help me to let go. Help me to learn to practice gratitude in the waiting and waiting and waiting for your presence. Help me to see you at work, O God. Help me to see you coming.