I collapsed on the cement parking block alongside the canal. Autumn trees dripped their yellow leaves into tied-up boats, seventeenth-century apartments stood squished together. Tourists stopped sporadically by Oudekerk, snapping selfies. The great stone church loomed like a wizened old man who knew what I just saw. He wasn’t surprised, he saw it every day. However, Oudekerk hadn’t seen that day was a 21-year-old with her head in her hands, tears rolling down her face.

“Are you sure? I don’t want to accidentally get lost, the Red Light District is really close,” I commented to Peter and Kaela. A few streets behind our apartment was the hub for prostitution in Amsterdam, and I did not want to stumble upon it unexpectedly. It was two in the afternoon, and we were doing evangelism at that time, but still. When you are trying to find a canal to sit and play music by, because that’s where you feel you’re supposed to go, you don’t want to go down a very different type of street, not yet.

“Oh, this is the street we went down yesterday!” Peter exclaimed, and we passed by unassuming cafes and found a picturesque canal to walk alongside. Sure, the stench of weed lingered in every other place, and I was overwhelmed by how many languages I could hear, but it was beautiful. Yet what on earth were we going to do this time for evangelism? We had the halting, what-do-you-think stroll, as you battle fears and listen to the Holy Spirit. So we stopped, just before Oudekerk, wondering where to sit down and play, and I turned the opposite way we walked.

“Don’t turn around.” This was my first reaction to what I saw just behind us. One of the side-streets, oh it had three large glass windows, and they were not empty, nor were they subtle.

So we kept walking, my fellow DTS students understanding, all the while I was in a state of shock.

I’d seen prostitution before, in theory I understood the coercion, the slavery, the black mail behind it. I’d read Not for Sale and cried, I’d seen the ladies in Cambodia lined up in red dresses, I’d seen the hidden signs of brothels in downtown Newcastle.

But nothing prepared me for the upfront, blatant Red Light District of Amsterdam.

They… they were like… like mannequins in a shop window… I stammered, realising I could barely speak. They were for sale… but they’re people.

“Can we sit down?” I quivered, and we found a place just past Oudekerk. As Kaela sang sweet melodies on the cement parking block next to me, I just stared out at the water, slowly recovering. I’d been skipping along the past few months, amazed that my dreams to visit Europe were reality. I didn’t ever stop to consider– I’d be equally faced with the nightmares, too. 

Sitting in my Amsterdam apartment overlooking Central Station, I was reminded of a blog post I wrote over four years ago. Identifying with a Nightmare (The Global Slave Trade) came out of a place of learning to truly empathise with those in human trafficking, and that’s how I could  pray. I scrambled to find it in my Evernote archives.

The remarkable truth of Jesus Christ, Immanuel, will continue to amaze me because it truly means God with us.

Not God distant, not God unacquainted with pain, not God separated from this world but God with us. So though identifying with humanity is what causes his anguish, we know it is out of his immense LOVE for us that he has chosen life with us. And it is His perfect love that covers all pain, and it His love that makes it worth it all.

Worth it all. One day will bring freedom and it really will just be a distant nightmare. Only a bad dream. And we need to be part of bringing that emancipation. Then one day, how wonderful this love truly is… for ultimately He will wipe all the tears from our eyes.

And we will be with Love forever.
I like that.

I needed to hear it all over again.

Photos: Canal near Red Light District, Amsterdam; Oudekerk (Old Church); October 2015.