In San Pedro de Macoris, Dominican Republic, women walk the streets as the sun sets.
Many are mothers who have tucked their children in bed, locked the door and left to sell their bodies for the price of the next day's meal. Their worth is priced at 50 to 200 pesos, or between $1 to $4.
Twice a month, a well-dressed woman approaches the prostitutes on their territory at night. She offers to buy them coffee and talk.
This is Allison Hale, founder of Mercy Jewelry in San Pedro de Macoris. Mercy Jewelry is a ministry founded in 2009 to provide women who worked the streets a life with dignity. Through this ministry, they hear about Christ's love and His healing.
The Dominican Republic ranks fourth in the world in sex tourism, and the No. 1 reason for a woman to prostitute herself is to feed her family, according to Newsweek in 2015.
Prostitution “was one of those things that just kind of kept being thrown at me in San Pedro,” Hale said. “The women at our church just started opening up my eyes to the real problem that was happening down the street from the place we called home.”
Hale formed a team of women to go into the streets at night to try to reach the women.
“Jeremiah talks about strengthening the hands of the poor. He doesn’t talk about filling the hands of the poor; he talks about strengthening. There are churches that want to reach out to prostitutes, but they know they don’t have a job for them,” Hale said.
This is where Mercy Jewelry entered the picture.
In addition to offering a consistent hourly wage, health insurance, and retirement, as well as education for themselves and for their children, Mercy offers childcare during the working hours.
“The children are at home sleeping while the mothers are out on the streets. When they’re prostituting, then they come home and sleep, so they never really get that time as mother and child,” said Hale.
Mercy also provides what is called an “honor job” for the women who come to the workshop from the streets.
“It’s their phrase for something they can look into their children’s eyes and say ‘I do this. I make this jewelry. It’s honor, it’s dignity, it’s normal’” said Hale.
This honor also comes over time with the discovery and practice of the Christian faith that Mercy preaches, “knowing that God loves these women and has created them for a purpose,” said Hale.
This spiritual guidance is helpful in adjusting to life off the streets, teaching the women to trust and know that they are worth more than 200 pesos.
Mercy employee Paolo* said through Mercy she has learned “to walk with the Lord is better than the path I was on. Anybody, no matter what path you are on, be sure to walk with the Lord.”
In the future, Hale’s hopes for expansion involves partnering with churches outside of San Pedro de Macoris and creating Mercy workshops throughout the Dominican Republic. Area churches can provide the discipleship and spiritual guidance, Mercy will provide the consistent, quality employment.
Together, the combination of a regular schedule and dignified employment with their developed Christian faith, the women are rehabilitated and begin to slowly separate themselves from their past.
In the words of Mercy Jewelry artisan Arianna*, “I didn’t find Mercy; Mercy found me”.
* Indicates name change