“If a pimp starts approaching our group of girls, I want you to cut him off and talk to him. Whatever you do, don’t show any fear. Just talk to him. And if he asks you what you’re doing there, just tell him you’re inviting his girls to get off the street; then ask him if he wants ‘out’, too.”
Quite honestly, we had no clue what we were getting ourselves into. Princess Night was several years old and had developed a coveted reputation on the wide narrows of one of Atlanta’s city streets. Armed with roses and cards stained with truth, volunteers would rush out of the van and surround girls who were prostituting themselves (oftentimes forced) with a barrier of love, creating a wall of protection from the cruelty of the world around them so that – even for one minute – they might experience the blessing of peace.
As we were driving farther away from the glow of Atlanta’s city lights, I wondered where we could possible be traveling. I was under the impression that the bulk of trafficking occurred inside of the city, but as we pulled off of I-20 and onto the boulevard, I began to recognize the crippled exterior of the darkness we were in.
The buildings groaned with abuse and buzzed with the familiar glow of neon I saw on the streets of Thailand. You could almost see the darkness swallow the frailty of light that beamed off the headlights that grazed the walls of those prisons. Pimps patrolled the streets from the shadows, much like they did in India, and strip clubs and hotels boasted with the customary shame of a maimed beauty.
I would lie if I said that I wasn’t overwhelmed. This was happening in my own backyard. I thought that America had perfected the art of cover-up, of masking scars with make-up and broken hearts with a smile on Sunday mornings. What happened? Why was this so… not discrete?
We drove around for about an hour, frequently stopping for the girls to bombard women with Heaven’s love while the men scanned the darkness for threats. Numerous women were crowned as royalty with roses and prayer on that Friday night, but what happened next was nothing short of beautiful.
What do you do when a very large, 47-year-old man, who you might mistake for a pimp, approaches you in a pool of tears?
Yeah. That’s what happened.
Stanley needed help. With suitcase in hand and sorrow in tow, he was begging for us to give him a ride to his mother’s house. His wife was in prison and his current girlfriend, who was pregnant with his twins, threw him out. He knew that the “church people” would help… even in the midst of brokenness. He just wanted to go home.
The thing that stood out to me most about Stanley wasn’t that he was a man clothed in too much sorrow; it wasn’t that he could crush every last one of us with his fist; and it wasn’t that I had unconsciously labeled him “perverted” because we picked him up outside of a strip club.
What stood out to me most was that he smelled like he had bathed in cologne. And it was somewhat pleasant (although excessive).
As we were driving him home, I said to him, “You might be broken, but you sure do smell nice!” Stanley snickered a little bit and said, “Well, man, I had to put it on heavy. I couldn’t go home to my mom… smelling like alcohol…” his voice trailing off in defeat.
It sobered me up thinking about the number of times that I had intentionally tried to cover up my mistakes, my wrongs, and my scars. It made me think about how often I try to ‘make up’ for my faults because I want to prove to the world that I deserve a second, third, or fifteenth chance.
But grace doesn’t work that way. When applied liberally, grace transforms. It does more than cover-up; it washes us clean. It makes us into something new.
We may have honored the royalty embedded in the hearts of a dozen prostituted women that night, but we also crowned a grown man as a prince. We battered the lies in his life defenseless with an onslaught of truth, with the redeeming power of grace.
… so that he might become [something more].
The wonderful thing about experiencing grace is that it opens up your eyes to see things that you couldn’t see before; it enables and empowers you to unearth and unleash its transformational power into the world around you.
So as I write this nestled [safely] in the corner of a coffee shop between the buildings that create Atlanta’s skyline, I dream of grace. I envision a city whose streets pulsate with the beauty of what grace is fully expressed, a city whose people crown the broken as royalty.