Ezekiel 16:12 “And I put a jewel on thy forehead, and earrings in thine ears, and a beautiful crown upon thine head.”
“My goal is to rescue women, but let’s do it pretty.” Allison Hale’s crowning missions mindset pours out of every pore of her being—physically and spiritually. It is her ideology. Women’s ministry is Allison; Allison is women’s ministry. You can’t have one without the other in the Dominican Republic. It is what her thoughts gravitate to every morning, and what threatens to break her frame when she calls it another night. More than that she is the founder of The Workshop in San Pedro, and operates a potentially dangerous outreach she calls Operation: Scarlet Thread, a team of women that go out to the red light districts of the DR and evangelize to prostitutes on the streets at night (See Josh. 2:18). This is not your typical door-knocking approach. It is a radical, but authentic method that works best for the culture that Allison ministers in tirelessly.
But during the day, one of the places she loves to just be, to disciple, and to minister takes place in a small tannish-colored cement building that stands out as one of the purer buildings on San Pedro’s dingy streets. The Workshop is a beacon of hope, a talked about location that is rumored to be a refuge for women at risk along with their children who are as vulnerable as their mothers.
The Dominican Republic is a spiritually dark place. Numerous forms of sexual evil rampage the streets every night, and probably during the day. The facts are stark. Women are exploited and prostituted. 25,000 of the Dominican Republic’s children are trafficked. And because of these moral atrocities the DR has gained a hard-earned reputation for ranking fourth in the sex industry. They are famed, promoted, and touted as being a destination spot for sex tourism. Like sin, prostitution when full grown brings death. The horrific cycle is complete when women and children are lured with the promise of a better life and sold to countries like Costa Rica and Belize to repeat the same nightmare, albeit on foreign soil. And the United States is one of their buyers.
In the DR the price of purity is cheap. It’s auctioned off at an average of $2.50 for a good night’s work. Women are used and cast aside, hopefully with enough “filthy lucre” to buy groceries for their children the next day. The next day. That is why they find themselves on the same corners every night. Not because they find their job pleasurable, but because they need bread, and eggs, and milk. This cycle conditions them to become unaware that there is another way over the high and impregnable wall that is called bondage. The women, like ancient Israel before the incarnate Christ, sit in darkness. Without hope. Without dignity. Without purpose. And worse of all, without salvation.
Yet God has His chosen generation and royal priesthood in every country. His scope of salvation extends as far as the east is to the west, from the remotest, undiscovered island to the most populated city. In the DR, God has reached down and has faithfully begun plucking His Beloved out of the darkness of prostitution and into His marvelous light. And He’s doing it through The Workshop ministry (See 1 Pet. 2:9).
On the streets of San Pedro, the Workshop is a city on a hill. The Light of Christ saturates its interior, and can’t help spilling out of the windows, its brightness illuminating the passersby on the street. We would call it a safe house in the States. It’s nothing to boast about. The streets leading up to it are broken, narrow, and off-puttingly slanted.The building stands humble in appearance, but without price in the eyes of the Precious Redeemed who take refuge within its walls.
What beautiful symbolism. Our world is broken, full of the narrows of sin, and slanted. Yet inside the secret place of Christ there is refuge, peace, and beauty.
These are the greeting truths that welcome the women into this Christ-filled home. Hospitality is foreign, something they probably haven’t experienced before. So Allison has reached into the well of her natural creativity, and used it to set the example of what a model home looks, smells, and sounds like. Pencil sketches of the women’s hands capture the beauty of restored dignity. Gone are the hands that once extended to sin and shame, here are restored bodies that glorify God through honest living.The rooms are clean and orderly, reflecting God’s desire for holiness, and a non-chaotic atmosphere. The decorating scheme is designed to showcase the worth and warmth of hospitality, and to reverence the beauty that God has grafted into the fiber of each woman's soul. The Workshop is a haven of rest from the pressures of the street.
It’s called The Workshop for a reason. Allison is intent on restoring the dignity of women, and referring to them as employees of the Safe House does not do that. Instead they go to The Workshop, and are taught the precious truth that they are Christ’s workmanship. While there the women are taught to sew, crochet headbands, or make jewelry. The point is to repurpose their hands. Ropes of necklaces hang from pegs, waiting to be shipped to their future owners. Containers stand on shelves full of coral, turquoise, and jasper beads of every color. This is M.E.R.C.Y Jewelry, handcrafted jewelry with a heavenly purpose. You can find it on Etsy, but visiting in person is 100 times better. All proceeds go back to the safe house and benefit the women who work at the tables to make one-of-a-kind bracelets, necklaces, and earrings. But it’s not all work and no play. Their purpose is not only to punch the time clock and collect an honest day’s wages, it is a place to learn and share Christ.
The Bible has just as much power in the Dominican as it does in America. The dedicated servants of the workhouse scoop women off the streets and give them a second chance with a bowl of soup, and the Bread of Life. Around a few plain Jane tables a fellow disciple opens the Word of God, and begins feeding these women spiritually. Many of the safe house refugees do not have the privilege of literacy. What glory God receives when a once-stained soul reads her first words from the Bible! Slowly but surely, with patience and much love, hearts are softened, washed, and set free with the water of the Word. Proof that God’s grace and restoration knows no bounds or geographical limitations.
Allison loves and values these women, because God has loved and valued them first. They are His Treasures. The Safe House looks like any other Dominican dwelling, but like every geode, if you looked inside you would see the most beautiful jewels being grown. Like the jasper, and turquoise they handle daily, these women are Jewels in the kingdom of God. Blood-bought sinners that sparkle with the ruby-red radiance of mercy. It’s in this place that women sit on white slip-covered couches as the pure and precious possessions they really are in Christ’s sight and talk about their day, their kids, and their God.
When I visited I was privileged to serve them and paint a few cement walls the color of warm terra-cotta that would in future serve as their patio. I took the utmost care, cutting in with my dollar-store caliber paint brush as best I could. My team made sure that the coverage was even and solid, no grey peeking through for these women! Some painted tires for future DIY projects, others quieted a screaming toddler or played with the kiddos with necklace kits and coloring pages. And in the middle of it all, the story of the safe house unfolded, and I was struck with its theme of redemption. I can tell you honestly that there are Jewels living in the safe house. Pearls of great price that have been grown in what used to be a shell of human existence, but now are returning to their original purpose—to glorify God.