The Inherent Worth of Women: Sister Sandy Walks With Those in Street Level Prostitution
Sister Sandy Sherman, Ursuline Sisters of Toledo, serves with Rahab’s Heart, a ministry to women in street level prostitution in Toledo, Ohio. Rahab’s Heart focuses on building relationships with women and offering practical support with unconditional love. Through street outreach, meals together, informal support groups, and days of reflection, Sister Sandy and her colleagues connect with women, encouraging them to dream again as they find new freedom, new purpose and new hope. Below, Sister Sandy talks about her work.
You are called to serve women engaged in street level prostitution. Tell us about that.
The stereotype is that these women “chose” this life. But in reality many of them were forced into it. These are the kids who fell through the cracks before human trafficking was known to the community. Some were drugged. They became worn out or were tossed out. They were never taught they were worth anything more.
We relate to these women by walking with them as sisters. As our founder, Lee Ann Campbell says, “We love on them.” Lee Ann, not so very long ago, lived the same life as these women do now. We worked together for a brief while at another agency and this ministry was her dream. She and I started doing street outreach together in 2011 and it was the beginning of Rahab’s Heart. Rahab is the prostitute in the book of Joshua who created a haven for the Israeli spies but also took care of her own by cutting a deal with them to keep her family safe. Our women learn to take care of their own the only way they know how. We create a safe haven for them to dream of another way.
How would you describe this work?
On the street, you learn to recognize if a woman is working or not. You learn when to approach her, when not to approach her. We offer them “Hygiene Kits,” with personal care items like soap, shampoo, hand sanitizer, toothpaste, tampons, snacks, water, juices, protein. When they are ready, we connect them with social agencies and with a health clinic in the neighborhood run by That Neighborhood Foundation, our 501(c)(3).
How do people respond to you as a Catholic sister?
Early on, three of us from different communities were hosting a coffee house one night. We had not introduced ourselves as sisters. When in the conversation the women realized we were nuns, one of them said, “I always thought God played favorites and blessed some people and not others. Now I know that I’m no different from you.” This is exactly what we try to convey: As human beings created by God, we are all worthy. We do this by just being together and respecting one another. We get out the chairs, sit in the circle and enjoy each other. They feel safe.
How did you decide to become a Sister?
My dad said that my mom put off marrying him because she thought maybe she was called to be a sister. It turned out that her call in life was to marry my dad. She began to pray that one of her three girls would hear that call. All of us considered it. I believe that God whispered my mother’s prayer in my heart and I eventually owned it as my call.
In 2014, the Ursuline Sisters elected you as their General Superior/President, a role that now occupies much of your time. What is that like?
My role as the Superior is to be the spiritual leader. It is my privilege to be able to discern with the sisters how they wish to live out the rest of their religious life and empower them individually and as a community to do that in the spirit of our Foundress, St. Angela Merici. Angela believed women could have a relationship with God and serve their neighbors while remaining in the world rather than in a monastery. Under her influence, women dedicated their lives, to be a peaceful presence wherever they were.
What would you say to women who are interested in learning more about what life is like as a sister?
It’s not meant to be an easy life. We need strong women. Strong in a spiritual sense. One who can stand tall in her own truth and integrity and empower others to do the same. As sisters, we welcome women of faith and courage who want to walk with us, willing to take the hope of Jesus to those on the margins. Angela would tell them to trust the Holy Spirit who speaks to them in their hearts.