She Said, “I Am Not Worth This.”

Passporter Ashley LaBella describes what it was like walking the streets of Jaco on Valentine’s Night in Jacó, Costa Rica, and sharing God’s love with sexually exploited women.

Sin City? What possessed you to want to stay there?”

Jacó, Costa Rica, boasts a range of brilliant natural beauty by day: from the exotic flowers in bold red and orange hues, and the mountains stretching across the dark sandy beaches, to the colorfully painted smoothie shacks along the coastal streets.

However, as my team and I go into our fourth week here in Jacó, the “darkness” that covers this beach town after the sun sets has become more and more difficult to ignore. Often, if we mention our new hometown, others respond with a look of confusion, wondering why we are staying in “Sin City” willingly.

Our daytime ministry changes daily. Some of our days have been spent serving the local prenatal center, and at kids clubs and camps, building relationships with the homeless, packaging beans and rice for local families, cooking for church programs, fixing up the youth center, and more importantly, engaging with local business owners and families that we meet as we walk into town.

Every walk, purchase, or conversation we strike up has a underlying purpose as my team and I strive to live with the same intention as the surrounding culture: to be relationship focused.

At night, a few of my female teammates and I choose to walk into town, prayerfully asking the Lord to place people along our path who are struggling in darkness and bondage.

Many times we walk outside of the local casino hotel known as the “hotspot” for girls to be stuck in prostitution.

Taxis stuffed full of men, often American, pile out and boldly walk into the bar area, where an abundance of young women in painfully high heels and body-tight dresses stand outside of hotel rooms, in rehearsed tones whispering, “Want to come in, Baby?”

What is painful to understand about sex trafficking and prostitution is that while some women are forced into it, others willingly choose it without a second thought that they might be worth more.

My favorite moments have been those where we strike up conversations with these women outside of the casino hotel, beginning with sometimes a silly question about a good haircut place, and on most occasions, because of their overwhelming kindness, ending with their phone numbers in our contacts and a plan for a future ice cream date.

On Valentine’s day, the girls on my team chose to give away roses to any women in town who we felt God had pulled us towards. As two friends and myself made our way past the casino, we found ourselves talking with some of the ladies outside.

My friend Madalyn was beaming with joy after a conversation with a young woman, but as she went into further detail, sadness came over her as she told us the woman’s response to her floral gift.

The young woman, turning her head behind her to ensure it was really she that was receiving this gift spoke out saying, “Why are you giving this to me? I am not worth this.”

*photo via @infracta_anima

Those words crushed each of us as we stood in disbelief, that these young women assume they are unworthy of even small kind gestures, let alone love itself.

As we made our way back home that night, I gave away one of my flowers to a young store owner who I had passed in town several times. Each time I had passed her she had a solemn look on her face as she stood outside in the hot sun, watching over her store.

As she was closing her store that night, I fearfully approached her, with 100 worries plaguing my mind. “What if she thinks this is not genuine?” “What if the language barrier creates extreme awkwardness?”

God’s love pulled me towards her in courage, as it tends to do when I am stuck by my own limitations, and I used my broken Spanglish to tell her that the flower was for her.

She looked side to side and pointed at herself, “For me? Really?” Her response was just as crushing as that of the first young woman, because of the same underlying pattern; disbelief of self worth.

Though deep down we crave to free each of the women we meet from prostituting themselves, we know this is something that is no quick process. Instead, we strive for a goal that may seem less significant, but truly has an incredible impact on the hearts of these women:

We strive to, over the next two months, just let these young women know, whether in prostitution or not, that someone actually wants to be their friend with no-strings attached, that they are lovable, and that they have the capacity to be so much more than money made in casino hotel room or a little souvenir shop.

God is moving in such big ways here in Jacó. Please pray for the women stuck in or actively choosing prostitution, the men who nonchalantly purchase women for pleasure without conviction, and the overall darkness surrounding Jacó.

If you are a college student who feels God calling you to serve in anti-trafficking, check out these fall Passport trips to Costa Rica and Thailand/Cambodia.