International Ministries

Not Alone on the Streets

January 6, 2011 Journal
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When the two women turn around, I see that one of them could pass for my younger sister.  She is about my height.  She has straight brown hair like I had at her age.   She wears no make-up and is bundled up against the cold night air in an off-white overstuffed jacket like one I had my freshman year in college.  

We were not sure the two women would talk to us.  When our driver pulled the car off the road, not just stopping along the pavement and lowering the window as prospective clients do, the women headed away from us.  

The other woman and I get out of the car anyway.   “Ciao?!?” with an inflection that makes it more of a question than a statement.  It is an invitation to talk and not a demand. The women turn around and the shorter one makes eye contact.  

We try not to appear threatening.  Our hands are in full view.  My assignment is to support the social worker, carrying the thermos of hot tea and the neon green pouch of brochures and free birth control.
The social worker has been doing outreach for 5 years, so many of the women know her by name and easily slip into conversation with her.  With new women, the introduction goes:  “I don’t think we’ve met before.  Which language do you prefer?  If you need to see a medical doctor, you can call this number and I (the social worker) will answer and make arrangements for you.”  

In this case, the shorter blond woman speaks for both of these young Eastern Europeans.  She responds in basic Italian and translates the social worker’s statements into her mother tongue for her co-worker.  She tells us where they are from and that they have been in Italy only 10 days.  When the social worker asks how she speaks Italian, she says she has worked in Italy before.

For security reasons, the interactions with women on the streets are kept short.  We offer the women a cup of hot tea, the birth control items, and end our visit.  It is a brief moment when they are not alone.  

We go home to our warm beds hoping that we have planted good seeds.  The social worker receives calls from women who need medical care but also from others with a variety of concerns.  

I am glad to have the opportunity to accompany this social worker on a regular basis now.  She would not be able to go alone.  Since the brochure is not in the language of the two women we met this week, I will forward an excerpt from the brochure to a Baptist contact in the women’s home country for translation.  Next time we see these women, we hope to be able to hand them something in their own language.  

The exploitation of women is a bigger problem than Baptists here can address alone, but working with other organizations and using our European Baptist Federation Network (see photo from Nov. meeting), we can carry light into the dark streets of Western Europe.   Working together, none of us is alone.