The Road to Emmaus
- Sunday, July 01, 2007
When a gnawing crack addiction engulfed Andy's* life almost two decades ago, he abandoned family and friends. He was sleeping on park benches in Chicago's exclusive Gold Coast area when another homeless man suggested he earn an easy $250 from a car that sidled to the curb. To feed the drug habit, Andy gave it a try and began selling his body to gay men at night.
"It gave me a false sense of feeling good about myself," he says. "Guys driving around in big, expensive cars, staring at me and wanting to pay for my services … I wouldn't feel so ugly when they picked me up. Before I'd feel like the ugliest thing in the world—the ugly, homeless drug addict."
During a typical month Andy and about 40 other hustlers (prostituting men) enjoy reprieve from the streets at Emmaus Ministries. In the basement drop-in center, Andy finds hot showers, laundry facilities, home-cooked meals, Bible studies, and people such as founder John Green who care whether he lives or dies.
Male prostitution is a hidden but rising trend in American cities. Men comprised 4 in 10 prostitution arrests in 1998, more than double what the FBI reported in 1970. In Chicago, police arrest about 3,000 men and 5,000 women a year for prostitution. John attributes this increase to the growing gay community and continuing breakdown of families.
Andy once ran a successful barber business on Chicago's South Side. He enjoyed the gang members who crowded his basement, waiting their turn. But when he began snorting crack, "it took me for a different spin," he says.
Hooked, Andy sold his cars and barber tools for the narcotic. "I left the neighborhood and went to the Loop, 'cause I needed someplace to get out of the shame and guilt spotlight." In despair, Andy soon began prostituting.
"When I first saw men in prostitution, I thought, Dude, why don't you get a job?" admits John Green. He grew up Roman Catholic in a wealthy suburb of Akron, Ohio, on a 100-acre private lake. When he was 16, his parents gave him a 16-foot sailboat.
Later, two years with a homeless youth ministry in New York City revealed the cruelty of street life to John. He began asking how to act justly, show mercy, and walk humbly with God (
In 1990, John launched Emmaus Ministries (www.streets.org), an evangelical Catholic-Protestant outreach that incarnates Christ's love to hustlers. (In the Gospel of Luke, the road to Emmaus was one of the first places where the resurrected Jesus appeared to His disciples.)
Today, John, 42, directs the ministry in a three-story former crack house in Chicago's Uptown neighborhood. Behind the aging brick building, John and his wife, Carolyn, live in a condo with their three young boys. Where drugs once fed empty lives, the Emmaus team shows God's love to the city's forgotten people.
Surprisingly, prostituting men are usually not gay. "So many of our guys have huge starving hearts for a father," John says. By the time a man begins prostituting, he is bearing immense pain. "Most guys have been sexually abused, the majority are high school or middle school drop outs, and most don't know who their fathers are."
"They're looking for a place to call home, love, and acceptance in the world. But the streets twist those things," John says. "Every voice speaking into their lives is negative and dark."
Five nights a week teams from Emmaus scour gritty urban streets. Pairs of men and women offer hot coffee, cookies, and an invitation to the Emmaus drop-in center.
Lindsay Myers loiters in "Boys' Town" on most nights until 3 A.M., hoping to develop friendships with hustlers, predominantly African-American, in Chicago. She and three other recent college graduates are volunteering full-time at Emmaus for one year in exchange for room, board, and $20 a week.
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