Helping sex workers find love and wholeness

When Sharon Beel was a teenager, her mother used to work as a house mother in a children’s home, where children were separated from their mothers.

“There was one young mum who needed to grow into motherhood and she needed to be reunited with her children and I thought ‘why can’t she live here and learn to be a mum from my mum?’ ” recalls Sharon, who is now a pastor’s wife and mother of four.

“But because of regulations and the fact that there were other people’s children in the house, she wasn’t able to live with us. There was an empty house next door in which the Uniting Church used to put mums and kids who were escaping domestic violence, but they were given no support.

“So, I used to wonder ‘Why do you have a children’s home with kids without mums or a home with mums and kids together, but no support?’ And I remember praying, ‘Lord, can I have a house where I can do that – have a house where mums can be with their children and get the support they need to learn to be good mums.’ ”

Now, many years later, Sharon is living out that dream as director of Alabaster Community, a holistic rehabilitation ministry for women who are trying to escape from the sex industry and/or drug addiction.

Based in a house in Perth’s northern suburbs, the programme has been open for three months, with the first resident coming on the February 2 opening day.

“Together we felt called to reach out to other women struggling to leave the sex industry and drug addiction.” – Sharon Beel

“Currently, we have three residents and each is a mum and they have their children with them, so we’re focusing on our mothering programme,” Sharon tells Eternity.

She says the mothers would have lost their children to state care if they had not been able to come to the Alabaster house.

“We work closely with the Department of Child Protection to support them to meet their requirements to keep the children and address their personal issues at the same time as become good mums.”

The fees for the residential programme are covered by the women’s Centrelink payments (or by sponsorship where needed).

“The mothering programme has taken us a little bit by surprise. We weren’t anticipating that would be the most immediate need, but they are the women who have been presenting. And unlike any other rehab in Australia, we allow her to have her children with her from day one. Being separated for six to 12 months is too damaging for the child. They need to be in a stable environment with their mum, so that’s what we endeavour to provide.”

The original vision for Alabaster was to allow women to detox there, but because of the risk that presents to other people in the house (especially children), women who need to detox are referred to hospital or Next Step Drug and Alcohol Services.

“After they have finished their detox they can come here with their children,” Sharon says.

Sharon Beel first conceived her vision for a ministry to help women escape the sex industry through a friendship with a former sex worker who came to her church in Perth.

Sharon felt a strong pull to help her new friend, Sarai, overcome her drug addiction and the financial disarray that followed leaving sex work.

“We believe that it is only through salvation in Jesus Christ, the power of the Holy Spirit and in relationship with one another that true wholeness and eternal hope can be found.” – Sharon Beel

As their bond developed, Sarai became a strong Christian, a qualified counsellor and “a wonderful example of love and wholeness”, Sharon says.

“Together we felt called to reach out to other women struggling to leave the sex industry and drug addiction, and together we began a ministry called Pamper Van, a Christian outreach group visiting several brothels in Perth,” she says.

Through the Pamper Van ministry, which offered free pamper treatments to sex workers in Perth’s brothels, Sharon began to take women into her home, to help them detox under medical supervision. With varying degrees of success, she also did her best, assisted by her husband Andrew and their four children, to help the women heal emotionally and spiritually.

Sharon came to the conclusion that the work was too demanding and the women’s needs too overwhelming for a single family to give them all the love, discipline and nurture they needed. She believed the women needed support from a strong network of Christians offering different gifts, if they were to overcome the many obstacles to freedom.

“So I sought the Lord to know if he was calling me to create such an environment for them,” she says.

When she got the answer she was looking for, she designed a programme to help the women take back control of their life and shape their future goals. With a staff of about 25, the programme ranges from counselling and prayer to practical life skills training in elements such as budgeting, cooking, communication skills and leadership training.

As a Christian organisation, Alabaster’s mandate is to share the love of Jesus Christ and live in a community as a family.

“We believe that it is only through salvation in Jesus Christ, the power of the Holy Spirit and in relationship with one another that true wholeness and eternal hope can be found. We aim to walk and grow in love. This goes for staff, resident and visitor alike. Without love, we are nothing.”