Spotlight: Mercy Ho – Embracing Streetwalkers

Mercy is a gentle and soft-spoken person, yet her passion and conviction seem to readily define her. It is no coincidence that her name itself embodies the heart of her ministry! Once a self-proclaimed ‘wild’ youth who indulged in worldly activities, she now serves the downtrodden of society with tenderness and, yes, mercy. Here’s her story.

Hi Mercy! How did you end up working at Tamar Village?
It’s a bit of a long story! Before I became a Christian at 21, I basically lived a life that was very similar to that of the street ladies — I drank a lot, clubbed a lot, smoked a lot, and had a lot of relationships. However, after my encounter with God, I wanted to know Him more. Within three to six months of being a Christian, I began to realise that I had a call to missions. I remember saying, “God, if you’re willing, I would like to work with ladies in prostitution one day.”

Years later, after working for a period of time, I went to a conference where they talked about human trafficking and it gripped my heart. After that, it took a year for me to reach the decision to quit my job and work in ministry full-time. It was at that time that I first heard about Tamar Village. I had not heard of the ministry before, but when I got connected with them, I realised that one of the two founders, Auntie Lois, was a good friend of my mum! Years before, when I met her and Auntie Shu Hui, the other founder of Tamar Village, and told them about my call to missions, Auntie Shu Hui had said, “It’s not time yet.” This time, she looked at me and said, “It’s time.” And the rest is history.

Describe your job in two words.
The first word is unconditional. Because of the work we do, we have to respect the ladies unconditionally. A lot of times we hear their reasons for being driven into prostitution — poverty, forced by their boyfriends or families, lack of education, etc. However, when we bring them into a restoration programme, we face times when they are not willing to change. That’s when we have to be like Christ and show them unconditional respect and love.

The second word is friendship. Jesus was friends with sinners. In my interaction with the ladies, I am challenged many times to be truly genuine as a friend — to truly humble myself and try to understand their point of view when they are struggling with things that will not be resolved easily.

What does a typical workday look like for you?
Tamar Village opens from Monday to Friday, 10 am to 5 pm. We start the day by praying with the ladies previously from the street and giving them time to share their lives. After lunch, I occasionally check in on them to ensure that they are working on their allocated tasks, which is to sew and produce merchandise that will be sold to support our ministry!

For ladies who are Christian, we spend an hour every day going through discipleship material for new and growing Christians. Practical discipleship comes in when I take some of the ladies out with me to run errands during the day. Just the other day, I brought a lady to the MDIS (Management Development Institute of Singapore) campus and told her, “Look at all these courses. You have an ITE (Institute of Technical Education) cert, but you could possibly get a C6 for O-Level English and study something you like.” We try to open their eyes to practical things that can inspire them to dream beyond their circumstances.

I CAN GUARANTEE THAT NOT A SINGLE ONE WOULD SAY, "I WANT TO BE A STREET LADY AND LET MEN TOUCH MY BODY..."

What is one stereotype of streetwalkers that you have found to be untrue?
It would be: “These ladies love their job — they love to sell their bodies.” I challenge you though: take any lady selling her body on the street to a quiet place, get her some food and drinks. After she is relaxed and feeling safe, ask her, “If today you were 7-years-old again, and you are in a family that is stable, with working parents, and an education, what would your dream be?” I can guarantee you that not a single one would say, “I want to be a street lady and let men touch my body every night for money’s sake.” In my conversations with them, I have come to realise that they have dreams too, and their dreams are not low at all!

What are some of the most challenging situations that you have faced?
One time, one of the ladies came to a point of complete rebellion — she threw a tantrum and broke some glass on the floor. I just said, “We still love you.” She walked out. My team and I could only pray. Fifteen minutes later, she came back and apologised. Another time, a lady lost her house, and we had to look for a hotel or a place for her to stay. It was very hard to even find a room for rent because of the stigma against streetwalkers.

What is your heart for Tamar Village?
That one day, we won’t need Tamar Village anymore! I always tell the team that we are not working to expand, but working to close down. It will be a great day when we don’t have any more street ladies in Tamar Village, and with all our resources, we can do something else and help another group of people instead!

What does ‘social justice’ mean for you personally?
Edmund Burke, the British philosopher and politician, once said, “For evil to triumph, all it takes is for a good man to do nothing at all.” To me, you don’t need a ministry to do social justice. If you can find someone who is in need and experiencing some form of injustice (e.g. coming from an abusive home, or someone who has never had education, who is treated unfairly, etc.), you can start with that one life. Also, social justice is merely a tool to show who God is. Ultimately, social justice renders the gospel to be shared.

MY DREAM IS THAT ONE DAY, WE WON'T NEED TAMAR VILLAGE ANYMORE

Any final words?
I urge you to take time to ask God what He wants you to study. Social justice is not limited to full time Christian workers. We need doctors, nurses, lawyers, teachers, psychologists, and more! Also, God doesn’t need us to do social justice for Him, but He gives us the privilege of partnering with Him so that we can know Him more. Lastly, always remember to build lives, and not projects or ministries. We are not looking at quantity, but quality. Stop for that one person, meet his or her need, and let that experience bring you into a deeper relationship with the Lord — our ultimate goal and treasure. 

Become a volunteer!

Tamar Village exists to reach out to ladies previously from the street in Singapore, choosing to walk alongside them as a friend and journeying with them into a new life.

To serve the ladies in a holistic fashion, they work not only with the ladies themselves, but also the ladies’ children and families! In addition, legal, medical, and other services are provided to those who need it.

Want to volunteer with Tamar Village?
Find out more at http://tamarvillage.org/

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