Unsettled, bothered, disgusted, saddened, struck, angered, outraged, confused.

This just begins to describe how I feel after spending a weekend in the Red-light district of Amsterdam. I stayed with an inspiring inter-faith community that strategically lives in the middle of Amsterdam’s sex scene with the intention of being a light in a spiritually dark place. From a window I could see sex theatres advertising “live porn” shows and the street lined with prostitutes posing in windows, and sidewalks swarming with tourists. There were an uncomfortable number of groups of men on the streets. If you only saw the tourists and nothing else, you might think you’re in any major city. However, many tourists on those streets were there for porn shows instead of museums and were buying sex instead of souvenirs. I didn’t take any pictures. I couldn’t.

Disturbed simply to be there in the midst of the scene.

Unsettled because this is not the way things are supposed to be and I don’t feel like I can walk down the street and accept any of this as normal.

Bothered at how “legal” seems to usher in “acceptable.”

Disgusted at the way the men gawk at the women, objectifying God’s beautiful creation as a quick fix for their lust.

Saddened, because the glass she stands behind looks to me like a prison wall.

Struck, because I don’t want to accept that this scene is a reality.

Angered at the distortion of God’s creation and his good gift of sex.

Outraged by the knowledge that most of the women are not there by choice.

Confused because I don’t know how to swallow this and move on. My heart cannot understand.

I’ll never forget the shock I felt when I first entered the red-light district of Chicago to walk the streets and minister to the women. I came home to my dorm in the middle of the night when everyone was sleeping and sat in the lounge for hours trying to process what I had just seen. I never became comfortable in that context, but as I heard the stories of women and encountered both police and pimps, I felt like I started to understand the horror and slavery of their lives. It was a very dark place and there was a certain secrecy to all that was happening. What I didn’t realize at the time was the way in which the darkness reassures you that what’s happening isn’t right. In the midst of so much heartbreak, the darkness brought a strange sense of comfort, because when light shone, it rebuked the deeds of darkness and they fled.

Now on the train back to Paris, I find myself again trying to process what I have experienced, although it feels like a completely new experience, primarily because of how everything is done in broad daylight in Amsterdam, as simply another tourist attraction. Even the darkness of night is shooed away by the many streetlights and red lights in the windows. People swarm the streets, laughing and joking and getting wasted. Prostitution is part of a big party scene, and because it’s legal, no one is hiding. All of this disturbed me. Deeply.

I don’t have a personal solution for my reaction, and in fact, I hope it doesn’t go away. Instead, may it motivate prayer for God’s Kingdom come and action for justice. Come quickly, Lord Jesus!