‘Why don’t you work with the sex workers here in Adelaide?'

The simple question behind Rahab ministries

Paullette Cairns is the founder and pioneer of Rahab, a ministry reaching out to the sex workers in Adelaide and now in many other places in Australia.  The vision of Rahab is to restore, inspire and assist those who feel trapped in the sex industry, so they may discover their God-given identity and find fulfilment in life. Here she tells Anne Lim how she came to start the ministry 19 years ago in Adelaide.

My mum was a Mormon, so I grew up as a Mormon in Adelaide, although my dad was an unbeliever. I loved the Lord as a young girl, but something happened to me when I was 13 years of age. And from that moment on, I gave up on God. I remember making a conscious decision and just saying, “You are just a fairytale, God, I’m never going to believe in you again.”

It wasn’t until I was 27 years of age and in a very unhappy marriage, living in Mackay, Queensland, with two children. I had a friend who was a Christian and she invited me to a Christian camp for the weekend. I was an avid sun baker back then, unfortunately, but I thought, a weekend away from my husband, down the beach. I will not attend any of those meetings and all I am going to do is sunbake.

But as soon as I got to the camp, there was a huge rain storm, and I wasn’t going anywhere. A woman came up to my room and said, “Look, why don’t you just come to a meeting – there is a guest speaker?” And I thought, “Well, what else am I doing?” And as the guest speaker spoke about her testimony and what God had done in her life, I just wanted what she had. I also attended every meeting after that.

That weekend I bought a Bible. I felt like I was on a cloud and God was just touching my life, and it wasn’t long after that I dedicated my life to him. I remember being so excited that I ran down the street clicking my heels to the side – I was so over the moon. I couldn’t believe that God had come back into my life. I just remember going, “Oh my gosh!” and I was just so full of joy! And I’ve been a full-on Christian ever since.

I’d been living on a property north of Brisbane where I hardly saw anybody all day. I’m a people person and I found the loneliness very hard to handle.  When my marriage finished, I felt very sad about it, but God led me to come back to Adelaide. It was so nice to be back and see my family as well as enjoy the city life. I said to the Lord, “I just want to live somewhere where there are police cars, ambulances, fire engines, aeroplanes.” And God put me in a home that was one block from the city centre.

Even though it was traumatic and a lot of it was serious stuff, I really enjoyed the camaraderie with the young women.

The planes seemed to come in through my back door because my house was near the airport as well. There were fire engines and police cars going past all the time – it was like God gave me the desires of my heart. I went to a church that was right in the heart of the city and they ran a young women’s shelter. After attending that church for a little while they asked me to oversee that shelter and I ended up living and running that shelter for over three years.

It wasn’t the easiest job, as you can imagine, the girls were aged probably from 12 to 35. They came and went but I saw things in that women’s shelter that I couldn’t believe were happening. Even though it was traumatic and a lot of it was serious stuff, I really enjoyed the camaraderie with the young women. I had about 33 girls come and live in the home during that time, and I also had my daughter living with me as well.

Paullette Cairns, director of Rahab Ministries

But I was born for ministry. I took any opportunity to go on a mission trip. I went many times on small mission trips to Thailand and the Philippines. I went to Cambodia for three months, and while I was there, I worked on what was called the Boat of Hope. It had doctors and nurses and it would travel along the Mekong River to the villages. People would be waiting in lines to see the doctors and people were dying of infections when all they needed was antibiotics. Some had huge goitres and all they needed was iodised salt. It was very sad – these people had very little, and the only hope was that the boat would stop at their village once a week.

But when I wasn’t on the boat, I would always find myself in a town on the border of Vietnam and Cambodia. I would just hang around the girls that were being ‘trafficked’ for sex. I couldn’t understand the Vietnamese language and the girls could not understand me, but I just loved sitting with them. There was an excitement in my heart. I just liked them and their company. Soon my money ran out and I came home but I wanted to go back and work to help with the needs of these girls.

When I got back to Adelaide, I joined a mission group called Youth with a Mission (YWAM). I was telling a woman at YWAM what my plans were to go back to Cambodia and work among the women who were trapped in the brothels. She turned to me and said, “Paullette, why don’t you work here in Adelaide? No one is working with the sex workers here.” At that moment a sensation of a coin dropping into my spirit happened and since that time, I have been visiting the women in this city and many other cities and towns. The very first sex worker I met told me that for every job she did, she died inside. And the second girl I met told me that every job she did, it took part of her soul. And those words spoke to me very deeply.

A sensation of a coin dropping into my spirit happened and since that time, I have been visiting the women in this city.

So, because of YWAM and the people who lived on the mission base, there was always someone to go out with me at night. I had teams of girls I could ask, and we would go to the streets and meet the girls, giving them a chocolate bar and a can of Coke. That would help with getting the girls to come over to the car so we could talk with them. After a while, I wanted to do more and meet more of the women working in the brothels and massage parlours.  The girls on the streets are mainly on drugs and many have PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder).

One night, I was asked to help my friend cater for her daughter’s 21st birthday party to just help carry out the food and keep an eye on things. Everybody was young and drunk, and this guy said, ‘”Well, I know where all the brothels are in Adelaide.” Nobody knew what I did, but I just went up to him with the tray of food and said, “If you think you’re so smart, why don’t you give me one address?” And that’s how I started. A couple of times we saw the police at one place and then we’d follow them to the next place. You just learn to do things like that.

Now through Rahab we go to about one hundred brothels and massage parlours in Adelaide. And we speak to many girls that work on the streets. In Australia, there are about 23 Rahabs that run their own teams.

I have also travelled to Mexico, Brazil and PNG running training sessions for teams that want to start going into the brothels in their cities.

When you go into a brothel, you can’t go in empty-handed. You can’t go with a Bible under your arm and say “Repent!” We wouldn’t get back in. And so, we pray for the women and take gifts. The gift that we’re giving out now is a sewing jar with a pin cushion on top and inside are cotton reels, buttons, scissors, a thimble, a measuring tape, and needles. And they’re beautiful. Maybe only 10 percent of the girls might open the jar, but they’re really a prop – a reminder of home, of their mother, of sewing, mending something.

You can’t go with a Bible under your arm and say “Repent!” We wouldn’t get back in.

With drug addictions, these women can be very lonely people because they’ve probably moved many times from state to state and they don’t go home and say, “Hey, Mum and Dad, I’m actually a sex worker.” It’s a quiet sort of profession that nobody knows much about. And yet it’s a thriving industry. There is a major organised crime element, and many of the girls now are from China. They hardly speak any English at all.

I don’t do a lot of outreach anymore. I went into the brothels for 11 years.  I am more involved administratively. Going into these places is not for everybody and it’s not for the faint of heart. Most of the girls that are on the Rahab teams are just Christian people who love the Lord and feel drawn to reach out to these somewhat vulnerable women.

We go out on Tuesday afternoons and Friday evenings.  We have our own van which we use for outreach. We reach out to the ones who feel trapped in the sex industry. Rahab is available to speak to these women and see what their needs are. So, they get a card that says, “Need someone to talk to?” and my phone number and a gift. We have seen many girls leave the industry, but we often don’t know where they have gone. Some we help get into detox and others we meet regularly. We assist them if they have court, need a doctor, need detox, need a lift, need a meal, and need someone to talk to.

Most of the girls that are on the Rahab teams are just Christian people who love the Lord and feel drawn to reach out to these somewhat vulnerable women.

In one city, an outreach team brought fresh roses to give to every girl at every place they went to. But, of course, some of the girls were working and missed out on the gift, so they left a few of the roses in the back room where the girls shower and groom before they go out to meet their next client. One girl had been working while the Rahab team had been there and when she came in, she saw the roses and the card. She went onto our website and got in touch with us. She wrote, “I saw your roses. I am stuck in a brothel! I need someone to talk to.  I need to find God again.”

Some pretty girls are on big money, and they only do two or three jobs a day, but most of the girls are doing up to 12 jobs a day (or even more) and we’ve heard all the terrible things that can happen – girls working 16-hour days, and they’re sleeping on the massage beds.

And no, you don’t have to know about this side of life. You may never set foot into one of these places, but you can pray for the women inside. Often if they make contact, my first question is, “What’s your greatest need?” And the main one is accommodation for many of these women. Even though they’re earning the money, they’re taking drugs, they smoke cigarettes, they drink – they’re just consuming their money, and many of them always seem to have friends hanging around and they’re paying for their drugs as well.

Not so long ago I was picking up a woman a couple of times a week and she always had nowhere to go or live. She had burnt all her bridges and the people she knew were sick of her. She would jump in my car, bringing all her belongings with her and just cry. Sometimes we have put the women in motels, but they often wreck the motel rooms, and it can cost up to $800 a week for a cheap motel. Some sleep in the brothels.

Anyway, it’s just lovely just taking them out and listening to them. It’s just God’s love, I suppose. I love supporting them because they’re so broken. They put on massive fronts. You just listen to their story. I’ve had PTSD a couple of times now because the stories have just shattered me. There’s so much abuse that’s happening to these girls.

So now we have a business plan to set up what’s called “The Coming Home Project”. We need a small farm or campground or large home on some decent land where we can have some animals, and we need to be less than an hour out of Adelaide. We also need finance to pay for wages. I’ve worked with volunteers for over 20 years, and volunteers come and go. But if you pay someone, they’ll stay. And these girls are going to be needy. A business plan has been written and we are looking forward to having something soon to assist the women with much-needed accommodation.

We have a prayer meeting every Monday to pray about a property and to pray for the women we are working with.

Rahab is a total faith-based ministry. I have never received a wage, but I had heard from the Lord to believe him for my income. God has never let me down and one day I would like to share the story of his provision for me for all the trips that I have done and how he has met every need that I have had.  And everybody who helps Rahab does so at their own expense. They must work as they have their own living expenses just like anyone else. But I’ve always driven a car, I’ve always had petrol in the car. I was never hungry. I always had my hair done. God asked me to live by faith and to believe that he will provide for me. When God asks me to do something, I’m not going to disobey God. I’m in the will of God. And people who love and submit their lives to the Lord are in the will of God.

A person should consider us in this way: as servants of Christ and managers of God’s mysteries.  1 Corinthians 4:1

For further information, contact Paullette on 0421 412 779 or click here.