Don’t be deceived by your heart
A big part of the time I feel like I don’t…
Pulling to the side of the road, three women in a sport-utility vehicle — Catrina Cabe, Kim Tomshack and Cindi Airedale — get out and open the hatchback. They embrace Rachel, a blonde woman in her mid-30s, and ask if there’s anything she needs. Clothes? A sandwich?
The tattered shell of an abandoned building in southeast Chattanooga holds haunting memories for Catrina Cabe. (PHOTO BY TED PARKS)The blighted, broken buildings around them, near Main and Willow in southeast Chattanooga, reflect the lives of the women who walk these streets. The neighborhood, including a nearby gas station for tractor-trailer rigs, is a hub of prostitution.
The three women are members of the Mountain Creek Church of Christ, which meets in a northern suburb of Chattanooga, about 25 minutes away. Rachel says that the care she receives from them — especially Cabe — reminds her of the need to turn her life around. And that it is possible.
On Willow and in a nearby, roach-infested flophouse where men took her, Cabe was known as “La-La.”
“It’s like a corner of hell,” she remembers. “I felt invisible out here. I felt like the walking dead. I felt like I didn’t exist to the rest of the world.”
Now she leads a ministry called Cry for the Broken that takes her back to these streets.
“I’m out here, basically, looking for myself,” Cabe says. “I’m looking for that other girl like me.”
FROM PROSTITUTION TO SALVATION
The church members stop at a deserted, two-story building. Inside are rows of columns with peeling turquoise paint and graffitied walls with gaping holes. Outside, window gratings with broken panes line the facade.
“I used to think about hanging myself everyday, right up there,” Cabe says, pointing to a landing on the second floor, where a lone incandescent bulb still dangles. “Me and that light bulb, we made it.”
A sign put up by Cry for the Broken conveys the ministry’s hope for the neighborhood.
Cabe grew up just south of Chattanooga in Ringgold, Ga. She ran away from home at age 13.
“I engaged in what is called survival sex” for food and a place to stay, she says. But she also studied, and by age 18 she had earned her GED high school equivalency degree and had a job. Waitressing at an omelet shop in Princeton, W.Va., she hoped to buy a car. She worked a couple of weeks but saw no way to afford one.
“There were these women who would come in every night with these stacks and stacks of money,” she remembers. “I found out that they worked at the strip club up the street.”
Cabe quit the omelet shop and started dancing at the club. She worked as a dancer in five states over a period of eight years. Her dreams faded as she became a self-described “needle junkie,” developing an addiction to opiate drugs. Then came meth. Then crack cocaine.
“My crack pipe was my pimp,” she says. Her addiction controlled her life. Prostitution fueled her habit. Crack produces an intense high for three minutes, she explains. “You can stay high for 15 minutes for $20.” Then it’s time to look for another $20 customer.
She was in and out of jail. During one stint in Chattanooga’s Silverdale Corrections Facility, she met Arendale and Tomshack at a Bible study.
Assigned to drug court — a program allowing inmates to serve part of their sentence in substance-rehabilitation programs — Cabe learned the skills she needed to leave drugs behind. Now she has “a belly-button birthday” and “a sobriety birthday,” she explains. She considers July 6, 2010 as the day her life off drugs began.
A new life in Christ followed. Cabe met her husband, Justin, after graduating from drug court. The couple was baptized at the Mountain Creek church on Easter Sunday, 2015.
A year later, focusing on the hanging light bulb above her, Cabe reflects on how easily her life could have ended here.
“Salvation to me doesn’t just mean that I get to go to heaven,” Cabe says. “It saves me from myself.”
A HEART-SOFTENING MINISTRY
Launched in February 2015, Cry for the Broken serves prostitutes on the streets and ministers to women at Silverdale. Church members also serve at the Chattanooga Community Kitchen. They sometimes encounter the same women in all three places.
In a supply room at the Mountain Creek Church of Christ’s building, Catrina Cabe sits next to items that volunteers with Cry for the Broken use in hygiene bags.Every other Saturday, Cabe and her coworkers drive through the Willow Street neighborhoods.
“We go out into the highways and the hedges and we do what we feel like Jesus would do if he were here,” Cabe says. “We rescue broken women.”
Cabe knows what to look for — dishevelled women, without a purse, sometimes shoeless.
“They’re looking into the cars desperately for somebody that they know or somebody that will lock eyes with them,” she says. “People who aren’t looking for prostitutes don’t look at them.”
The church members offer the women hygiene bags with toothbrushes, soap, lotion and body wash. They also give out peanut butter sandwiches — and undergarments.
Women on the street have few places to wash clothes, Cabe explains. If they stay in a place other prostitutes have been, they might find clothes that, even if not clean, are a better option than what they’re wearing.
“Clothes become disposable,” Cabe said. “Clothes get recycled throughout the prostitution world.”
Don Hedrick, an elder of the Mountain Creek church, says the ministry “has caused a flurry of activity” among its members. Widows prepare sandwiches. The youth group packs the hygiene bags.
“People are so insulated and isolated from this kind of thing,” Hedrick says. “Now they see poor kids, they see hungry kids. They don’t see prostitutes.”
“I think it really has impacted their hearts,” he adds. “You’ve heard the expression, ‘hard-hearted.’ Well I think this has been a softener.”
‘PLEASE JUST KEEP HER … SAFE TONIGHT’
Back in the SUV, the three Christian women find Latania. Again, they open the hatchback and help her select clothes. Cabe pulls a card from a hygiene bag.
“If you want off these streets,” Cabe says, “and you want to go somewhere safe, and you want to change everything — only if you want to, I’m not pushing you — hold onto that card.”
Noticing Latania is sleeveless, Arendale takes off her jacket and gives it to her. Then the women pray.
“Please, just wrap your loving arms around her, and let her know that you care about her and we care about her,” Arendale asks God.
“Please just keep her … safe tonight.”
Kim Tomshack, Cindi Arendale, Hannah Shrum and Catrina Cabe pray before distributing sandwiches and personal care items in the Willow neighborhood.
Cabe gave a big stack of the cards to Chattanooga police, in hopes that they would offer them to any prostitutes they stop and question.
Lt. Eddy Chamberlin — whom Cabe called to wish happy birthday on the way to Willow — says that Cry for the Broken provides a lasting solution to problems conventional policing struggles to address.
“We can’t arrest our way out of a lot of the problems,” Chamberlin says. “We have to start looking at other ways to problem-solve. And one of the best … is to bring the experts in.
“Each one of these women means something. They have value. And to be able to help rescue them, that really makes an impact.”
Cabe’s own experience tells her that women on the street need love — not the cheap kind for sale, but the unconditional kind that affirms them as women made in God’s image.
“These women don’t get touched unless they’re being paid,” Cabe says. “They don’t have anybody in their life that just loves them for them.”
“If you think of a prostitute,” Arendale echoes, “if you first see them as a person, … there’s a little girl in there.”
Rachel, the blonde woman Cabe knows from her days as a prostitute, says she longs to leave her current life behind and join the Christian women.
“It breaks my heart, really,” Rachel says, “because I’m not with them out here ministering. But it gives me hope.”
As for Cabe, “She’s an inspiration to me,” Rachel says. “One day I see myself in her shoes.”
Cabe replies, “I see you that way, too.”
FOR MORE INFORMATION, see mtncreekcoc.com or search for “Cry for the Broken” on Facebook.
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