Wherever souls are in peril, and things get pink and wobbly, you will find a helping hand, writes Sipho Kings.
It is a warm Thursday morning in Johannesburg. Most people are at work, but some are already wandering around a maze of dildos and condoms. Shades of pink and red are the colours of the day. Men and women are selling sex and all the paraphernalia that makes a sex life more lively, all under the mantra that a healthy sexual lifestyle is important.
But in the midst of this is a plain stall, unadorned with fetishes and wobbly toys. This is where the Salvation Army has set up shop.
But they're not selling anything – new or second-hand.
Sexpo, now in its eighth year, is a four-day event that is held in South Africa's three biggest cities every year. Each one has its own take on how promiscuous you can be, with the tanned people of Durban forever complaining that theirs is too conservative and Cape Town claiming to be the most liberal.
None of the sex and excitement has stopped religious groups from setting up shop. The Salvation Army is next to a stall selling tea, which makes its matronly spokesperson Major Carin Holmes happy – she is a consummate tea drinker.
"We are coming here to raise awareness about what happens behind the scenes in the industry," she says. "We are also here to be there for people if they want to talk to us. We are not here to lecture anyone or condemn them."
Her view is pragmatic. There is evil in the world – 45000 children are thought to be sex slaves in South Africa alone – and it is important to remind people of it.
"People going to Sexpo need to know that they do so freely, when many people in the industry have no choice and are watched by their pimps all the time," she says.
Members of the group have left their distinctive trumpets and other horns at the office – they also didn't slip into something more comfortable for Sexpo, sticking to their nurse-like uniforms, with grey pencil skirts and white-collared shirts with red lapels.
Passers-by, carrying large red bags of goodies, take only a cursory look before moving on.
The stall's theme colours are black and gold, a stark contrast with everyone else. The only bondage is on their posters, where bruised women are tied together with rope and barbed wire. Next to this are the words: "The safe word is 08000RESCU."
There is also a keyboard, where people type in their names to sign up for a petition to call for more to be done about the sex trade. The black T-shirts worn by younger members say: "I'm all for bondage until it's permanent."
Their pamphlets do have the exclamation marks that others offer but none of the promises of tantric sex or more staying power – their simple red-and-white design tells people about human trafficking and asks people to "catch us on Facebook".
In the late 1800s, when the Salvation Army was started in England, the group would undertake midnight patrols to try to protect women who might be raped or kidnapped.
They have never had a problem with being on the "streets" and working to make things better, says Holmes.
What does she think about the other lascivious stalls?
"I walked around to see what was here when we arrived, but I am not going to wander around because I have no interest in the things here," she says.
Reverend Daniel Brits is also going to set up a stall at Sexpo at the weekend. He has been attending since its inception and now runs the Chapel of Love. This has not ingratiated him with the mainstream religious community, a tension that is increased by his willingness to marry anyone, regardless of sexual orientation or belief. "I attend because it is more open-minded and young people you find at Sexpo," says Brits.
Churches have tried to negotiate the tensions between a more puritanical biblical reading of sex and their surroundings in many different ways. At last year's Durban event, the Christian View Network appealed to people by saying the "best possible sex" happens inside marriage when people are monogamous. Their stern message to would-be porno-graphy buyers was that, when a couple watches porn, only one person is turned on, which is to the detriment of sex.
Two years ago, the God First Church also had a stall at Sexpo under the banner "God Made Sex". Their message was also that good sex happens inside a marriage and that the Bible does not say people cannot enjoy sex.
The stand was a hit and they sold 300 books and gave away 2 000 DVDs of their sermon series, Sex in the City. In a statement at the time, they said: "It wasn't an attempt to be ... brave, but rather because God called us to be salt and light to the world we live in." This means the church must engage in the culture that the church finds itself in.
"To do that effectively, we should be going where the world engages with culture and so Sexpo becomes an obvious place for us to be."
People came to the stall to ask advice about things like a partner's seeming addiction to pornography, or help for their teenage children. "Ultimately we had the opportunity to point people back to Jesus, who alone satisfies a man's deepest need."
The church also bemoaned the cliché of religion being turned off by sex. "Sadly, this has meant people think the church is against it [sex], which is something we are definitely not."
The Bible itself does not mind a bit of sex. Among its warnings about people who stray off a puritanical path, it endorses sex and even has some racy passages. Its first book, Genesis, starts with God advocating sex between Adam and Eve. "And God blessed them; and God said to them, 'Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it'."
Genesis (2:25) also says: "Now, although Adam and his wife were both naked, neither of them felt any shame."
There are far racier books, with the Song of Songs (5:28) really heating things up. "Your breasts are like two fawns, like twin fawns of a gazelle, that browse among the lilies."
At Sexpo this is taken to the extreme, with an endless supply of breasts, vaginas and penises – in both human and plastic form.
Sexpo has clearly become international – you hear local, British and Australian voices discussing which sex toys are the most interactive and imaginative, while a Marilyn Manson song plays on the PA.
When one couple finds out what Mail & Guardian is doing there, they both laugh and say: "This place is all about temptation."
And temptation is perhaps the biggest danger that the Bible deals with when it comes to sex, and one of the reasons sex expos like this are vilified around the world.
The Catholic Church is strict in its condemnation of anything wobbly and pink that can lead to sex between unmarried partners. It calls unmarried people having sex "gravely contrary to the dignity of the persons and of humans' sexuality". Masturbation is a sin, as is pornography.
With only one religious group present this year, it is clear that the appetite of religion to interact in this new space grows and fades from year to year. The boundaries are slowly being pushed as they try to come to terms with a world saturated in sexuality and, although progress is sporadic, it is still happening.
At the Salvation Army stall, Major Margaret Stafford, national co-ordinator of its anti-human trafficking board, says it is important for religious groups to bring their message to places like this because society is confused.
"We have so many mixed messages in this country," she says. "We know that trafficking is bad, but then people are allowed to buy sex or buy sex toys. There are too many grey areas."