Men: Part of the Solution
By Jeff Hartman
Photos by Jeff Hartman
I’m not going to lie. It’s easy to vilify the men involved in the sex industry. After spending five weeks with the Cupcake Girls, I was frustrated by the men whose demand for sex was causing so much marginalization of the women involved.
But then I came across an organization called “Men and the Sex Trade” Project (the MST Project), whose approach to caring for the marginalized comes from a completely different perspective. As their name might imply, MST is focused on caring for the men involved in this industry. I wanted to learn more about this extremely unexpected mission.
I sat down with Jon Bean, the HOPE Campaign coordinator for The MST project in Portland, on a chilly Sunday afternoon. I really wondered how he would “sell” me on the vulnerability and lovability of men who were taking advantage of women.
We spoke honestly and openly about men and the struggles we face in our day-to-day lives. Jon explained that honesty, or the lack thereof, is one of the most common problems he sees with men who suffer from addictions. Men don’t have a venue, or feel the freedom, to honestly express themselves and their struggles, experience emotional intimacy, and feel vulnerable with other men. As a result, they often struggle alone.
A Positive Legacy
It was at this point that Jon’s demeanor changed. He began to speak passionately about his own history with sex addiction, which began when he was 11 years old. He talked about how the addiction caused many problems in his life and his relationships. Six years ago he finally began to see some real change. He tried several different approaches, and even believed if he just asked God enough, God would take his addictions away. It didn’t happen. In addition to prayer, Jon had to take ownership of his problems and he had to do two things: truly commit to letting go of his addiction and join a group of men at his church that loved, listened, and challenged him without judgment.
Jon’s three young sons, he explained, are actually the ones who put him “over the edge”. He started thinking about what it meant to be a father and what kind of legacy he’d leave behind. He was going to have to tell them about his struggles some day and he wondered what he would possibly be able to say to redeem himself. His desire to create a positive legacy for his kids forced him to make a change. While continuing to pray, he saw a booth for the MST Project, which was founded by Chris Lenty, a family friend, at The Justice Conference in Portland.
That was the moment when Jon decided to use his experiences to reach out to other men who suffer from similar addictions. Because he is married with three kids, moving overseas and working in a red light district in Thailand or Cambodia wasn’t an option, so Jon connected with one of the MST Project’s US-based initiatives, the Hope Campaign.
A Journey of Vulnerability
The leaders of the Hope Campaign help men through their sexual addictions by sharing their own lives and walking with men through theirs. In addition to the program, they send out monthly encouragement videos and have started a prayer/accountability group using the popular WhatsApp app for smartphones.
The primary goal is to establish a relationship built on trust, and then take men on a journey of vulnerability and discovery of who they are as men of God. They go to the root of the sexual addiction and walk with them through this painful journey with the purpose of experiencing the love and the hope that is found in a relationship with Jesus Christ.
MST believes God’s love is available to all, including men stuck in addiction. MST believes the hope they have in God can cause a man to return to his wife and become a better husband. It can cause him to return to his children and become a better father. It can cause him to return to his community and become an example of hope, not just a statistic.
Part of the Solution
I admired Jon for his vulnerability and honesty. He wasn’t looking around the packed room when we were talking about sex addiction and our struggles (like I wanted to—I mean, who might be listening to us?). He is secure in who he is as a man of God. While he is not perfect and still remains vulnerable in a highly sexualized world, Jon feels he lives in freedom as a result of giving his weakness and brokenness to God, and, in turn, his commitment to being vulnerable with others.
“Men are worth fighting for and investing in,” John told me. “Society doesn’t know how to invest in men in the important ways. If Christians don’t do it, who will? God created them and cared enough to give his life for them, and we should too.”
The MST Project’s website echoes Jon’s perspective: “Men are part of the solution.
After months of representing the vilified man in an all-woman conversation, I felt like I had found the other “piece” of the sex industry. I realized both men and women are being marginalized and are in need of unconditional love and attention.
We need organizations like the Cupcake Girls and the MST Project that are willing to go to the edges of society to love and reach out to people who are not typically loved. Everyone is made in the image of Christ and has gifts and talents that, if used properly, can be used to change not only their own lives but their family and community too.
To check out the ministry of the MST project and the HOPE campaign, you can visit them on the web at: www.mstproject.com. If you are interested in starting a HOPE Campaign group, or if you would prefer to have one of the HOPE Campaign staff work with you through the material, then please email email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org