This story is 17 years old, and I will warn you now that it's not exactly appropriate for all ages...
Every year around Easter, Lincoln Christian College (as it was known back then, before becoming a university) would close the campus and send out both students and faculty all over the country - even to different parts of the world - to engage in various ministries and mission projects during what they called "Week of Evangelism," or "Week of E" for short. I assume they still do this, although I really don't know. During my first Week of E as a freshman, my roommate Eric and I went with a small group of students to a church in Indiana called "New Hope Christian Church," which led to Eric and I constantly making Star Wars references. We spent the week helping the church's youth program and day care. The year after I went with a group of students to Brooklyn. That's where this story really begins.
We were a group of five guys and five girls. The girls stayed in the home of our sponsors, an older couple who ran the church in Brooklyn we were helping out for the week. The guys stayed at the church. Of all the guys, I was the only one from a big city, and thus the only one who didn't experience culture shock. Brooklyn reminded me a lot of Chicago, but with a lot more graffiti. The church was a former Lutheran church, complete with old statues and fancy designs that reach "The Exorcist" level of creepy when the lights go out. We set up our sleeping bags in the basement, and spent the first night exploring the old church. I turned a corner and nearly ran into an aged, spooky statue of Jesus. I screamed, then instincts took over, and I reacted.
I kicked Jesus. In a church. At midnight. During Week of Evangelism.
The sturdy old stone statue absorbed the blow, and I lost my footing and fell to the floor. I made enough noise to wake the dead, but no one seemed to notice - or they were too scared to make their way through this haunted house of a church to figure out what all the racket was. Eventually we all made it back to the basement and swapped stories about what we discovered.
The next night, after a day of working with the church folks doing various ministry-type activities (youth meetings, teaching and the like), the guys were back at the church, preparing to settle in for the night. I lay on top of my sleeping bag, thinking about how amazing New York is - at least what little bit of it I had seen. Lincoln is a small town surrounded by corn. I missed the city. Brooklyn was awesome (and had the best bagels I've ever eaten), but I wanted to see more. One of the other students - I'll call him Pascal - and I started talking, and we decided to venture out into the night. None of the other students wanted anything to do with our plan, so we threw on our jackets and headed out.
Granted, this probably wasn't the smartest plan I've ever had, but I was in a brand new world, and wanted to explore. And somehow, New York City at 1 AM seemed less frightening than that creepy old church. Pascal and I made it to a subway station and took it to Manhattan. I saw my first ever drag queen. By 2 AM Pascal and I were walking the streets of Manhattan, and my friend got an idea: "let's look for hookers!" He didn't suggest that in a "let's go pay them money so we can have sex with them" way, but in a "I know there are prostitutes here somewhere, because I've seen it on TV!" kinda way. Farm town boy.
Pascal got me thinking, though. Up to this point, aside from a few homeless people, we hadn't really seen anyone. This is Manhattan. Where's all the action? Soon I'd have that question answered for me. We walked past a man handing out flyers for the adult film theatre across the street from us. We crossed the street and spoke with the guy at the ticket booth. He told us there was only 15 minutes of the movie left, and he'd let us in for a dollar a piece. We were young Christian men, Bible college students, visiting from out of town, helping an old married couple with their church ministry.
We each gave the guy a dollar and went in the theatre.
Curiosity is a powerful thing. It drove us out on the streets of NYC in the middle of the night. It put us in a porno theatre in Manhattan at 2 AM. The theatre was interesting. Individual men scattered throughout, each buried in their respective seats, not acknowedging the presence of anyone else in the room. Explicit images flashed across the screen, accompanied by rather typical-sounding porn music. It actually got boring after a few minutes.
We left the theatre (before anyone else) and went on our way, continuing our search for ladies of the night. We found another guy handing out flyers for something porn-related when Pascal asked him point-blank: "Where are the prostitutes?" The man replied nonchalantly, as though we asked him to point us toward the nearest Burger King. "Three blocks down, and you should start seeing them." So three blocks down we went.
We turned the corner, and it was like walking through a veil. The night went from dark and quiet to bright and hopping. People were everywhere. We saw prostitutes. At least we were pretty sure they had to be prostitutes, if the TV shows we had seen taught us anything.
We walked past all sorts of people. Some of them were odd looking. Some of them were scary looking. Some of them looked like they were comfortable with the idea of going back to prison. We made our way down the block, past most of the clusters of people, when two prostitutes approached us. The one in front of me looked a lot like Yoda in a blonde wig. She made her sales pitch (so to speak), and I learned that for only 50 bucks I could get "the whole package." I didn't bother to ask what that included.
After respectfully declining the ladies' offer, we ventured further into the night. At 3 AM we were approached by a guy who sounded like a used car salesman. He followed us for about two blocks, going on and on about... I don't even remember. He just kept talking. Then he shifted gears abruptly and offered to take us to an orgy a few friends of his were... throwing. Do people "throw" orgies like they do parties? I don't know. The whole thing sounded off to me, but then Pascal asked, "Where is it?" "Oh, Let me show you!" the man replied with a huge smile. "We're actually heading right toward it." Lucky us, right?
We walked another half block when the man pointed to the building next to us and said, "this is it." He opened the door and motioned for us to come in. We didn't have a chance to respond when we heard a gruff voice from inside the building boom out, "Who's with you? Are they cops?" With that, Pascal bolted down the street. I ran after him, and didn't catch up with him until I met up with him at the subway station two blocks down. We sat on a bench, waiting for the train, as Pascal kept asking over and over, "Do you think they're gonna come after us? They know where we went. What if they try to come get us?" I eventually got him to calm down. Then the train arrived, and we rode it back to Brooklyn, sitting amongst three or four nearly unconscious drunk people. One guy kept mumbling to himself about the apocalypse.
We got back to the scary old church at 4 AM, and had to be up by 6 AM to start the day. It was a light day for us, so we had finished early. Guess where the group got to go to spend the day? That's right: we went to Manhattan! Everyone was so impressed by how quickly Pascal and I figured out the subway map. It was almost like we'd seen it before.
You might be asking what the moral of this story is. You tell me. I was just telling you the story of what happened to me one night long ago when I was in Manhattan.