Following Him Into China’s Red-Light Districts


Editor’s note: As China Partnership prays and shares this month about ministry in cities, we wanted to shine a light on one of China’s darkest areas: the sex trade. Although ministry in these districts is extremely sensitive, God is moving. One woman who works with the people of China’s red-light districts shares a few of her experiences over the years, and invites us to join her in prayer for the people of these hidden places.

Here’s a little about me: I am a daughter of our Heavenly Father. This country has become our home because of the love and acceptance we have received from its people. Father has specifically called me into the darkest, forgotten corners of this country: the red-light districts. These districts may be forgotten, or rather, unnoticed, by even those who live round the corner. But he does not forget. He sees, he knows—most importantly, he LOVES. And he has a plan for the redemption of the evil and brokenness we have seen there. 

What does God require of us? To do justice, to love mercy and to walk humbly with him. What does that look like? Most of the time, all we can do is pray to him to bring true light into this darkness. So here I am now, showing you, through my journal entries over the years, a glimpse of what happens on these streets. 

I share these journal entries so that you know what I pray, and can join me in praying, too. God hears our prayers. The work done on our knees petitioning our Mighty Father can powerfully change the things we don’t see—yes, even in seemingly dark places.  

April 9

On recent outreach evenings, Father has been allowing me to gain a better understanding of what is happening, especially in the spiritual realm. By his grace, we have built strong relationships with local make-up shop owners. Many women and men go to these shops to get their make-up done every night before going to work in brothels, karaoke bars (known as KTV), and nightclubs. 

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The make-up bosses we are friendly with allow us to sit in their shops while men and women wait in line or get their make-up done. We are able to talk and build relationships with these men and women. We have learned that this area has become notorious for male prostitutes. Boys as young as sixteen work in bars and night clubs, serving older, wealthy women. In contrast to many of the girls we have rescued over the years, who come from impoverished families in villages and have been deceived or trafficked into this work, some of these young men are educated university students. Some of the older, wealthy women have bought luxury goods, cars and even apartments for their young “boyfriends.”

Although on the outside it appears that these young men have chosen this, we know too well that there is no “choice” at all. Once they accept lavish gifts from their clients, they become slaves, not only to these women, but also to other idols they have allowed to take priority in their lives. They think these choices will give them freedom, but it is not true freedom—it is actually bondage. Please pray that these boys and young men will know the truth, because only the truth will set them free.

July 29

Tonight we randomly walked into a massage shop where three teenage girls were smoking, drinking beer, and playing cards. My friends and I sat down next to each girl and watched them play. We did not make small talk about how much massages were (no point, it’s obvious this wasn’t really a massage joint) or why we were there. Unbeknownst to them, we were lifting them up.

Next, we wandered into another massage shop because the brothel boss made eye contact. She welcomed us to sit, and she ended up sharing her life story with us. She talked about how she regrets the decisions she has made, which led to leaving her husband and sons behind in the village because she “chose the naughty life” in the city.

At the end of the night, I asked a young pimp how long he has done this work, and whether he had pursued other jobs. I encouraged him that he was made for more than life in the red-light districts. I could tell he desired that, too. He said he can’t do anything about it because he was “uncultured,” and this was his fate. 

January 17

 I’ve been traveling, and last night I went out for outreach near my hotel. Interestingly, for the first time since coming to China, I was able to actually go inside a KTV. In my city, KTV’s are highly guarded by the mafia, and there is no way to get in. We are only able to approach those who work inside by going to make-up shops and hair salons as they prepare for work. But in this city, the KTV scene operates differently, so we were able to walk freely into the KTVs to see our friends inside. I walked up the stairs to one and saw a line of women sitting at the top of the stairs, waiting for customers to arrive. The place was seedy—full of tacky pictures on sound-proof, padded walls, and smelling of alcohol, cigarettes and sweat.

I spoke to a few girls. My friend told me that one of the girls I spoke to has her mother working as a cleaner at the KTV. “Her mother sees her here?” I thought. I couldn’t quite wrap my head around that. No matter how long I have served in these areas, or just when I think I’ve heard all the stories, I continue to be shocked at the brokenness that is evident. Our visit was cut short when the new boss of the KTV cursed us and kicked us out. 

We finished the night at another KTV where there was a “sorting room” full of women waiting to be “picked” by customers. After spending some time in the sorting room, it was time for us to leave. Outside, my friend and I looked at each other. We needed a moment to pull ourselves together. At that point, all we could do was pray. We took comfort in each other, but more importantly, in the Father who led us there to love these women where they are and to usher them out of this darkness. 

March 3

Our hearts have been broken this week. We stumbled across a new area we had never known about before. In an alleyway, women stood on the street, waiting for customers to pick them. It was so dark and narrow that there was no other reason for anyone to be there. This discovery was even more harrowing because nearly every woman there was over the age of forty; some were close to sixty.

These women are mothers and grandmothers. It broke our hearts. One friend who witnessed this hasn’t been able to function for days. Our hearts are burdened because the Father’s heart hurts for these women—his beloved daughters. There are no words, but please lift them up. Some have family they don’t want to return to, or who don’t want to take care of them. Our friends shared with a few women about the Father’s love for them.

I hope this gives you a glimpse of what we see in red-light districts here. In almost every conversation, someone asks why we are there. We usually tell them that we are there to love and care for people in the red-light districts. They ask further, “Why are you here to talk to us and to care about us?” We tell them that Jesus loves them, and does not want them to continue doing a job that hurts themselves and others.

Often, they don’t ask further. They simply do not know how to respond.

Ella Lee (a pseudonym) has been called to minister to and love those in the red-light districts of China. 



Pray for men and women in the red-light districts of China to experience truth that brings freedom. Pray that they will encounter the Father’s love of the Father and be released from darkness and bondage. Please lift up these men and women who are ignored or forgotten by so many others.

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Further Reading

Why Should I Love My Enemies?: Give Up Revenge, Love Enemies
Read More
Nanjing: Bringing the Gospel Into Life
Read More
Nanjing: A Welcoming City of Newcomers
Read More


With rising pressure and persecution in China, there are two challenges imperative for church leaders. The first challenge is for current leaders to love Christ above all else, and not to stray into legalism or love of the world. The second challenge is to raise up the next generation of leaders, who will humbly model Jesus even if current leaders are arrested.


  1. Current leaders to grow in their daily walks with Christ
  2. Current leaders to shepherd and raise up new leaders
  3. New leaders who love Christ and will model him to the world
  4. New leaders to love and care for the church



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