Last Friday night Gateway News joined a group of young adults reaching out to women on the murky streets of East London’s red light district.
The group of 13 people, led by Josh and Rachael Minter of Global Mercy Missions, has for the past four years been patiently loving on the ‘Rahabs’ — an honouring collective name they choose to use for the women, inspired by the biblical prostitute who helped God’s people in Jericho.
Over the years they said the had seen a number of women leave the streets as a result of their ministry. But most of the women were still there — and, in fact, the number of Rahabs was increasing, and in recent times “lady boys” had started to arrive. The Rahabs include victims of human trafficking, women from abused backgrounds who were psychologically trapped in the lifestyle and others like university students who had lost all their money and were resorting to the streets to try and make ends meet. Many were also in bondage to alcohol or drugs. Others believed they could not leave the streets because pimps had confiscated their identity documents.
In the briefing before we ventured out we were told our mandate was to love on the Rahabs, find out how we could bless them, pray with them, serve coffee and hot chocolate and give them gift packs — being careful not to take up more than a few minutes of their time and get them in trouble with the pimps who profited from their business.
The women on the team would connect with the Rahabs — many of whom they knew by name, while the men’s main role was to carry the provisions, pray and provide backup.
The team was amazing. They genuinely loved on the ladies — listening to them, praying with them, speaking encouraging words into their lives. In a few cases where wary Rahabs, who didn’t know the team members, walked away, the team ladies chased after them and reassured them. Josh and Rachael say the team has developed over years of doing life together — including sharing vulnerability about stepping out without being certain about the next step in the journey.
During Friday night’s outreach there were a number of physical healings on the streets in response to prayers. There were tears as some Rahabs expressed a desire to leave the lifestyle and were invited to come to church on Sunday. And there was celebration when it was learned that an 18-year-old girl from Lesotho had been rescued by her family — clearly as a result of the ministry of team members who had held a daytime Bible study for 16 Rahabs in a brothel the previous week.
Thirty gift packs — usually enough — were handed out during the night, but at least eight women who were met on the street towards the end of the outreach, did not receive gifts.
As we walked back to where our cars were parked, a police van, with two officers in front and a dog in the back, stopped next to us. The policemen wanted to know why we were walking in such a dangerous area. On learning about our mission, one of the officers said that if it resulted in just one changed life it would be worth it.
Indeed there was a breakthrough on Sunday, as one of the women came to church, and was helped to get a taxi back to her home in Mthatha. There was much joy when the woman phoned to say she had arrived home safely.
Later, I spoke to Josh and Rachael about how the Rahab’s Hope ministry had started.
I learned that Josh, a South African preacher’s kid who had returned to the Lord as a young man after a few years of rebellion, finally yielded to God’s call on his life after his worldview was rocked when the Lord used him in the instantaneous healing of a woman who had not walked for six months, and in the salvation of her whole family.
Rachael, who grew up in America, shared that her heart had been set on a life of mission since she was 13 and a visiting South African couple had prophesied she was destined to take the fire of God to nations. At 14 God told her she would be involved in human trafficking ministry.
The two met during their first week of a 3-months stint at Heidi Baker’s Harvest School of Missions at Pemba, Mozambique when they were assigned to lead worship together.
“It was awkward as we fell in love,” said Rachael.
Josh pursued her to America and they were married within 10 months of meeting. Later, to their surprise, they took over a ministry to a community living at the Stoney Drift rubbish dump in East London — a city they visited during a trip to South Africa to see family. Josh had grown up in East London and because of memories of his childhood rebellion and family traumas there, he had intended to keep the visit short.
In East London they did not immediately get involved in ministry in the red light area because they did not know how to get started. But in 2014 a mission team from Bethel Church ministered in the area — even going into a brothel.
“We looked at each other and said: ‘They are doing what we want to do. That’s not fair,” said Rachael.
“It gave us this righteous jealousy,” said Josh.
“It empowereed us to just do it.”
Much of their Rahab’s Hope ministry that has developed over the past four years has been modelled on ministry they witnessed in Reno, Nevada, in the United States.
“It involves giving gifts and going in low and slow and loving on them and getting into their lives even if you don’t see them set free,” said Rachael.
Josh recalls the first time they visited the red light district. Three people — he, Rachael — who was six months pregnant, and Tando Tullia Keke — still a core member of the team, prayed and went in and gave roses to the Rahabs.
Josh said he went because he didn’t want to see women stuck in trafficking but also to support his wife’s ministry dream. But everything changed when, on a dark and dangerous street corner, a girl of about 14-years-old stepped out into the light to display herself.
“That night I couldn’t sleep. I kept seeing her face and God said: ‘Joshua what would you do if your child was caught in human trafficking?’ and I said I would do anything to get her out. Then God said with a very loud, gentle voice: ‘Now you know what I would do to get them out.’
“And that’s just been my heart ever since then.”
In 2015 the Rahab’s Hope team was inspired to host their first “Dinner With Jesus” event on Valentine’s Day. They paid for the time of 15 ladies and treated them to a Chicken à la King meal, showered them with gifts, and washed their feet.
“So many women were just bawling and set free. It was a beautiful night,” said Rachael.
In 2016 and this year, they held Dinner For Jesus events for, respectively, 30 and 60 Rahabs (and a few ‘lady boys’).
After the latest dinner, at which there were many salvations and deliverances and they gave Bibles to their guests — some of whom they never saw on the streets again — they felt inspired to start a homegroup for the Rahabs.
After trying unsuccessfully to get the women to come to home group at church, Josh declared they would take the group to the brothels. The first time they took pizza and the Rahabs “glowed with glee”, he said.
“We haven’t yet done it as much as we would have liked to. It’s still fresh,” he said of the brothel home groups.
Rachael said they would like to get to the point of running a ladies’ Bible study for the Rahabs and a men’s group for the pimps — “because the pimps are hungry for Jesus”.
Josh said that God has worked in their hearts. Because they were made in God’s image they desired justice but Jesus had to show them what His justice looked like.
“We have to go through a process. We have learned that the pimps are victims to something else — it’s demonic. We know who our enemy is and it’s not the pimps. And just as God loves the prostitutes, He also loves the pimps and the guy who comes and picks up a woman. We have to adjust our hearts.”
Another current dream of Josh and Rachael is to establish a safe house to facilitate effective rescue and rehabilitation of the Rahabs.
Rachael said while they really wanted to see every Rahab reunited with her family, it was mostly not the case.
“God has challenged us on this, because sometimes in this type of work you can feel very unproductive because sometimes they don’t get set free.”
Josh said: “Dealing with prostitutes and drug addicts is intense. One day I came back seeing no fruit and I remember talking to Jesus about it.”
In the course of that conversation he said Jesus led him to a point where he agreed that he would continue to do whatever the Lord asked him to do — even if he never saw any fruit.
“Jesus said now your reward. your fruit, is My presence. Then I said: ‘Jesus that’s fine with me. If your presence is the only fruit I have for my ministry then I’m satisfied — as long as You are with me.’ ”
He said as soon as he made the inward decision to focus on God’s presence he started seeing many more people’s lives transformed around him, and fatigue and burnout lifted.