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Her name was Spice. Young and pretty, she had an attitude to match her name. She owned nothing except the clothes on her back and the shoes on her feet. Alone and suffering from several mental disorders, Spice had been living on the streets since her divorce several years earlier. She’d survived mostly by prostitution and her own determination.

I met Spice on a warm summer evening in downtown Denver. I’d just finished my sophomore year of college and had landed a job as an intern at a small nonprofit agency that provides food and clothing to Denver’s underprivileged. Half finished with my college degree, working a good job for the summer, and counting on a bright future in corporate communications, I felt pretty good about myself. I decided it was time I gave a little something back to the community.

That evening I rode downtown with the agency’s mobile medical unit, a large RV converted into a portable doctor’s office. From it agency volunteers provided free health care and medicines to the homeless. I figured I’d go along, pass out a few Bibles, do my token good deed for the year, and be along my merry way.

As the pampered, sheltered child of upper-middle-class parents, I’d never before seen the sight that greeted my eyes as we parked the RV in a parking lot between dilapidated storefronts and shabby apartment buildings. Homeless people were everywhere, pushing their belongings in shopping carts or carrying their entire worlds in old army-surplus backpacks. Some were sleeping in bus shelters, and others had bedded down under the eaves of the old stores that lined the street.

I remember being absolutely terrified as the volunteer doctor opened the doors to let the people onto the RV. This place—only 20 minutes from my own front door in my comfortable, safe neighborhood—felt like a foreign country. Nothing in my upbringing and education had prepared me for this. Frightened, I cowered in the corner as homeless people crowded onto the RV, eager to talk to the doctor.

Then I met Spice.

Most of the other homeless people had left by the time Spice entered the RV, loudly proclaiming that she needed medicine for some sort of infection. I sat alone in my corner as I tried to process everything I’d just seen and heard.

Spice’s dark gaze zeroed in on me. “Hi,” she said. “I’m Spice; I’m a prostitute. Who are you?”

I tried to smile. “I’m a college student.”

Her expression grew serious. “Then why are you here?” she asked as she continued to stare at me.

That one simple question shook me to the core. Why was I there? I’d come with the intention of “helping” these people. I’d planned to hand them a Bible, say a prayer, then go back to my own nice neighborhood after fulfilling my Christian obligations.

Shame filled me as Spice stood waiting for my answer. Finally I shook my head. “I don’t know why I’m here.”

Spice scooted out of her seat and sat down next to me. For the next half hour I listened to her stories of life on the streets. That’s when my life began to change.

She’d been married and had two daughters. But after she’d developed mental problems, her husband had kicked her out of her own house. Unable to find or keep a job because of her mental condition, she turned to the streets and prostitution as a way of life.

Some winter nights Spice sold herself just to be able to have a few hours’ shelter from the bitter cold. She managed to stay out of jail by performing favors for the cops who patrolled the area. Numerous scars adorned her face, arms, and legs from men who believed they’d purchased the right to beat her as well. Spice said she missed her daughters and hadn’t seen them in three years. She had no idea where they were or how to find them.

By the time she finished telling her story, she was crying and so was I. After a few moments of silence Spice turned to me and took my hand.

“Kid, I hope you never have to experience the kind of life I have. I’ll pray for you.” Then she left.

God chose that moment to impress upon my heart a new mission for my life. Suddenly I realized I was supposed to spend the rest of my life serving people like Spice. The forgotten, homeless souls, so often frowned upon by society, became my purpose for living.

I have a dream now—a dream inspired by Spice. A dream that someday there’ll be a safehouse in Denver for women like Spice, so they won’t have to sell their bodies just for a warm place to stay. A place where homeless girls can stay and get an education before they turn to a life of prostitution.

Spice will probably never know that God used her to change the life of a sheltered little girl—me. And she’ll probably never know I saw Jesus in her.

God reveals Himself to us in unusual ways. It surprised me to find Him in a prostitute named Spice. Keep your eyes open. There’s no telling where He’ll reveal Himself to you.

Kelly Hauck writes from St. Joseph, Michigan. Reprinted by permission from Insight.

The Spice of Life

by Kelly Hauck
From the July 2005 Signs