Sometimes You Find Yourself Working in a Slum
A Samaritan's Purse intern shares about the day she spent meeting prostitutes in Katanga.
Amy Kuhl is working with Samaritan’s Purse Uganda as a communications intern.
It’s difficult to say what a normal “24 hours in the life of Amy” looks like these days. It changes frequently. Recently, I found myself on assignment in Uganda’s largest slum.
I wound my way through a jumble of red-tinted mud and brick huts and wooden stalls where people sat selling useful knick-knacks. Scrawny dogs lay sprawled under vehicles, hiding from the sun’s heat. Kids darted in and out of open doorways. Chickens pecked at the packed dirt ground. We were headed to Pastor Job’s church in Katanga.
Katanga is a slum of Kampala associated with prostitution.
Katanga sits in the shadows of Kampala, just a short drive from the office where I work. Many people moved to the capital city in search of a better life. What many found instead was a lack of employment opportunities and a struggle to survive.
To Ugandans, Katanga is synonymous with crime, high abortion rates, and illicit activities. The whole slum has become a sort of red light district with frequent visitors from the city and nearby university coming for less-than-wholesome reasons.
Last month, Samaritan’s Purse highlighted projects that combat human trafficking. I was assigned a story to write and sent to Katanga to interview a pastor working with a Samaritan’s Purse project called My Sister’s Keeper.
My Sister’s Keeper is a program aimed at helping churches reach out to vulnerable women and aid them in breaking free from the bondage of sexual exploitation. Through trainings, workshops, and community screenings of documentaries like Nefarious, the program makes churches aware of the intensity of the problem of sexual exploitation in their communities and is equipping them to respond.
Pastor Job, the pastor I was interviewing, moved to Katanga from Nigeria because he felt called to serve God’s people there. His passion and focus has been on empowering his church in the slum to love those most in need. I could have sat in the sanctuary of his church listening to the powerful ways God has worked in his life for much longer than the time I had. Below are just a few snapshots of what he shared with me.
Why would anyone become a prostitute?
Though I could guess at the answer, it’s a question I had to ask. Why? Why so many prostitutes?
There are several common ways women in Katanga get sucked into the industry. Some women are tricked into prostitution moving to Kampala from small villages because they were promised work in the city at a good wage. They were unaware that the work they would be doing was prostitution.
Many prostituted women in Katanga hope to leave their trade.
Pastor Job’s church is showing them a community filled with love.
Others were told by husbands or parents they had to sell their bodies in order to earn money to keep their families alive. Others began prostituting because they saw no other options to earn the money they need to survive. It’s a lucrative business.
While Pastor Job showed me his neighborhood, a couple of prostitutes came to talk.
They had chipped blue nail polish and darting eyes.
They took drunken side steps.
They came needy.
They came as outcasts.
In addition to being sexually exploited, prostituted women are also considered outcasts in Uganda. They’re often disowned by family, not welcomed into churches, and avoided due to fear that they may corrupt husbands and sons. Prostitution is a difficult stigma to overcome.
Pastor Job is teaching the people of his congregation to love these women, see their needs, and care for their hearts as sisters in Christ instead of running from them.
Pastor Job moved to Katanga to help prostituted women
find love and acceptance in the church.
As Pastor Job showed me around, kids came too, popping out of shacks and jumping over trash and streams of refuse and dirty water to stand and stare.
They smiled and hid shy faces. Posed. Shoved. Stared some more.
A couple of white girls in a slum on a Thursday morning is a curious site.
I smiled at the staring faces and shook dirty hands.
When I looked at the kids, living their childhood in the slum, I couldn’t help wondering what their futures will hold. The odds don’t seem to be stacked in their favor.
In just a few short years, will the young girls find themselves working as prostitutes?
Many women are young when they begin prostituting, earning better money the younger they are. Globally, the average age of a woman entering the sex industry is between 12 and 14 years old. It’s the same in Uganda.
I desperately hope the future of the young girls I met is different.
Maybe they’ll be carrying on the ministry of My Sister’s Keeper, helping young women know their beauty and worth in Christ.
Pastor Job’s congregation has come to see the great need and responsibility of reaching out to sexually exploited women in their communities. Leaders in the church have been equipped with practical skills for working with women in prostitution. It can be a slow and painful process, but the My Sister’s Keeper program is committed to keeping churches encouraged and empowered to love these women and help them through.
Once shunned, alone, and vulnerable, sexually exploited women are being welcomed into Pastor Job’s church with open arms.
It’s a place of refuge and healing.
It’s a place where worth is not based on how young your body is or how much money you earn to send back to your family.
It’s a place of welcoming.
Maybe it’s rough, but it’s there.
God’s presence. His love.
God is at work even in a slum.