She says her name is "MJ". I know that's not her real name because here in Subic Bay/Olongapo City, like so many other places in the world, real names are never used. I was surprised to find that names were used here at all. Many places 'employing' a lot of men, women and children use only numbers and it's client's choice which number he wants as a companion. But MJ it is, and I tell her "My name is Erin".
I smile as she tries to repeat it. Most cultures outside of North America or Gaelic-based cultures seem to share the same difficulty with saying a name beginning with a short vowel. No matter. She is pleased that she speaks my name well and I tell I'm impressed. She is tall and slender for being Filipine, and wears braces. The braces give away that someone is paying for her "beautification", but I don't mention it. It's simply an unspoken reality she wears on her face.
She is bubbly, vivacious, and eager to please. She races to get me a glass of pineapple juice, and appears delighted at the invitation to sit and talk with me. Despite my stilted and poor efforts at small talk, she is patient and carries her end of the conversation well. It's not that I cower at sharing my faith… it's that a part of my Aspie self cannot carry on small talk. Even with practice and prep, it is one of the hardest things in the world for me to accomplish and it makes outreach for me a source of fear and frustration. My poor hearing and the loud background music don't help. But she's friendly enough and we laugh at my teammates who are trying to impress other girls with their pool playing skills.
I ask if she has children. Her face brightens more and she confirms that she does — a 3 month old boy. She's only been working at this particular bar for 1 week, but she needs the money to support her son. She's proud that he's "a foreigner's baby". At least… that's how she makes it sound. The foreigner is long gone and the 22 year old MJ is on her own to raise her child.
I ask if this kind of work is something she wants to do for the rest of her life. Her effervescence disappears and tears well up in her eyes. She tells me she hates it here — she hates herself — and she wants out. I explain about who Jesus is, what Tamar and YWAM are, and that there is a place she and her baby can come and receive education, family, love and Christ. She is eager at the thought of it… or so it seemed.
I motion for one of the YWAM staffers to come over so she can give MJ contact info and directions to where we are. Suddenly, the switch is flipped again; and just as fast as she became teary from her welcoming face, she suddenly became flirty and party-ish. She tells my YWAM friend that she would OF COURSE come and visit us "as long as there is alcohol!"
Throughout the night, the snap changes in mood and tone concern me. Is she tweaking? Every time I glance at her hands and feet, they are continually moving anxiously – nails tapping the table, knees bouncing up and down rapidly. Is she high? Is she cluing in that I'm not a paying customer and she's stuck with a missionary? Is there spiritual oppression invading her spirit? All of the above?
We begin a game of pool with 2 others. The flirty persona is ramped up, and she shows off her talent. We have fun, but she sits to wait her turn, her face is a mask of boredom and disgust. Then she turns and asks me more about why we would come here and make friends with her… she asks about church… God… Jesus… the tears threatening to spill over again.
Men enter the bar.
Tears are gone and MJ jumps up, leaves our group, and followes the 2 sailors. A large ship has docked tonight. Plenty of work for everyone.
She's rejected. They blow her off.
She sits alone at the bar for awhile and then comes back and sits beside me in a huff.
She asks about a male teammate of mine, the flirty grin coming back as quickly as her embarrassment over her rejection. I give her basic answers but tell her he's no interested in her in "that way". That's not why he's here. He loves her with a different love… a better love. She mutters something in anger, crosses her legs, and looks the other way for a long time.
An older man with white hair is at the bar now. She becomes seductive, approaches him, caresses his back, and speaks into his ear. He, too, refuses her. Once again she storms back to our group, switches to fun and flirty, sits with me, asks about why in the world I would want to be her friend, gets close to tears, and then goes off to approach a man in his 30s at the bar.
He lets her stay… but they don't go anywhere. Eventually, he waves her off.
No show. No dough.
She's not making a lot of money tonight and her anxiety level is reaching epic proportions. Whoever she has to pay — the Mama San, the owner, her pimp, her landlord, herself for baby supplies, food and clean water — all that is weighing on her and that weight is creating a war within her soul. She goes back to fun and flirty with us… amazed and suspicious and yet curious with me… seductive to customers… welcoming and shy to other teammates.
How many MJ's are there in there? Who is this beautiful girl really?
Another girl walks past. MJ sighs and expresses how sexy that girl is, and how ugly she is — gangly and small chested. I turn to ask her more about how she sees herself, but she only shrugs and goes back to rapping her nails into the bamboo table, her toes tapping the life out of the floor.
She disappears for a time. My heart sinks. This girl seems so trapped within herself! A beautiful girl with a quick mind and bright smile, her circumstances threaten to tear the core of her apart. I had hoped to perhaps convince her to at least come and inspect Tamar/YWAM… just a look. No expectations.
As the night draws to a close, MJ comes running out from the back. "You are leaving?" she asks. I tell her it's late and it's time for us to be getting back. "Are you coming back?" she asks hopefully. I assure her we would be back on the strip next Thursday and Friday. We would come see her. She smiles what seems to be a smile of relief, but with so many MJs showing themselves in the span of 1.5 hours, I am no longer sure.
As we walk down the highway to catch a jeepney, we realize one of our staffers isn't with us. I run back to see where she is, and there's MJ… giving the staffer her personal information and receiving YWAM's.
I'm elated as I am cautious.
It's a step.
Perhaps one day, I will know her real name. If I never hear it, that's okay. God knows it well and has been whispering it in deep and ferocious love since He knit her together in her mother's womb. It is His voice she needs to hear so that the face she wears becomes her own.