Sunday, December 28, 2008

The Scars Remain


I have to confess that upon my return from my recent trip to Cambodia I was a little depressed. It was not due to any problems that we’re facing with this ministry but rather the nature of our work. Let me explain.

I know a woman whose face was horribly burned in a car wreck. She and her husband were on their way to a Christian retreat when they were t-boned by a car. She was ejected from the vehicle, covered with gasoline, and lit afire as a human torch. By the time her rescuers got to her the damage was done.

I’ve seen photos of her when she was hospitalized. The doctors said that most people with such severe burns do not survive. She did. And though her wounds have healed, the scars remain.

She also has shown me photos of what she looked like before the accident. She was beautiful. She remarks, “It’s as if that girl died in the wreck.” And in a sense, she did.

When I think about the damage done to our girls’ lives, I get discouraged. We cannot restore their innocence. We cannot undo the physical toll abuse has taken on their bodies. We cannot return what they’ve lost. Like my friend, their wounds may heal; but their scars will remain. That bothers me.

God is teaching me something in all this. (I have to confess that I can be a slow and reluctant learner.) He is teaching me something important about His grace, these girls and myself. Even God cannot turn back the clock and have the world the way it once was. There was a time in creation when beauty was unmarred and innocence was not lost. But not anymore. That world exists no longer. We all have been wounded, some more profoundly than others. So we now live in a place where the best that He offers is the grace of redemption and healing. But even then the scars remain.

I have one last confession. I long deeply for a different world. I long for a place of complete restoration. I want to live in a world without scars. And one day, I will. I pray that each of our girls will find their way to that place, too. I want them to know unspoiled beauty—a beauty that no predator or circumstance can steal. But for now, the best that we can do is to help their wounds to heal and free their beauty within, yet the scars remain.

"He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away."
—Revelation 21:4

Monday, December 15, 2008

"Songkum" and Rapha House

[Editor's note: I wrote this during a recent trip to Cambodia.]

While here in Cambodia, I attended an anti-trafficking conference in Phnom Penh. On the last evening, some from our team went to a riverfront restaurant where two former Rapha girls met us for dinner. The next day, they joined us for the trip back to our shelter so they could spend a few days with their friends at Rapha before returning to Phnom Penh with us.

During the long ride to the shelter, Yan leaned forward from the backseat to ask me a question. Yan speaks a little English, and she said, "Kerry, what is the purpose for living?"

You don't have to be highly educated to ask profound questions. Yan was labor trafficked to Thailand when she was a teenager. And though I don't know all the details of her story, I do know from the bits and pieces that I've heard that she suffered terribly.

Her question caught me a little off-guard, so I decided to buy some time and bounce the question back to her. "First, I want to ask you a question, Yan," I began. "What do you think is the purpose for living?" But she did not tolerate my efforts to stall for time. "No," she replied. "I asked you first. I want you to tell me, and then I will tell you what I think."

So I collected my thoughts and answered her as best as I could. She didn't hesitate a moment to tell me that she disagreed. Then she went on to say what she thought.

The Cambodians have a word for it—songkum. And Yan explained why she thought songkum was the purpose for living. She said that even if a person is blind or is missing a limb (not an uncommon sight in this country with so many unexploded landmines)--if that person has songkum, he or she can keep on living. But without songkum, the person will give up and die. Songkum in Khmer means hope.

I then asked Yan if there ever was a time in her life that she lived without hope. And she quietly said, "Yes." Then I asked her when that changed. And she said, "When I came to Rapha House." She said that's when she began walking with Jesus.

In one respect, Yan is right. Hope is the purpose for living. For without hope, people will give up and never know God's love.

Some may think that we're in the business of helping exploited girls. And some may think our calling is to combat the evil of human trafficking. But in reality, that's not what Rapha House is all about. Rapha House is about songkum. With the help of God and people like you, we bring hope to people who had no hope. And in doing so, we help them to find a reason to live.

"I am the LORD; those who hope in me will not be disappointed." (Isaiah 49:23)

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Lost In The Crowd


[Editor's note: This is one of the devotions that has been translated into Khmer for the girls of Rapha House.]

When the Bible says that God so loved the world, it is easy to feel lost in the crowd. The world is a big place. It’s filled with lots of important and powerful people. Many of them are doing great things for God and show remarkable devotion. It’s easy to imagine that God takes note of their lives. But sometimes it’s hard to believe that He notices or cares for you.

There’s nothing special about you, except maybe all the problems you’ve had and might still be having.

The truth is that in the entire history of the world there has never been a person whom God loves more than you. He loves you not because you’re so lovable but because He’s so loving. The Bible says that God is love (1 John 4:8). And nothing you have done or could do changes that fact. God can’t help Himself. He loves you!

You are the reason Jesus left the courts of heaven. You are the reason He came to earth. You are the reason He went to the cross. You are the reason He rose from the dead. And you are the reason He is returning to earth. He went to heaven to prepare a place for you. And now He is coming back to take you where He is so you can be with Him forever.

When the Bible says that God so loved the world, we tend to make it impersonal and abstract. We tend to get lost in the crowd. Deep in our hearts, we doubt it. We wonder if God could love anyone like us that much. So we quote John 3:16 failing to see ourselves right at the center of this verse. But you are the prized object of God’s extravagant love. You always have been.

John 3:16 not only says something remarkable about God, but it says something remarkable about you. And it’s time to do more than just memorize this verse. It’s time to realize that you’re not lost in the crowd.

For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. —John 3:16

Monday, October 6, 2008

Hard Times and Trafficking


Think like a trafficker for a moment, not with respect to sex but with respect to money. I assume that's why they do what they do. They're in it for the money.

For them human suffering is of little consequence as long as they profit from it. So they exchange innocent children for profit.

When hard economic times comes, traffickers don't say, "Well, the economy is in the dumpers. I guess I better find a real job." Not hardly. Hard times is what probably ushered them into corruption in the first place . Now they have discovered what it feels like to have free flowing money. And free flowing money is a hard habit to break. So in tough economic times, traffickers step up their game. Their greed drives them. And that means more, not less, innocent children will suffer.

Now think like the average person for a moment. When the average woman hears about trafficking, her heart aches. She wants to gather these wounded children under her protective wings and care for them. And the average man is outraged. He wants to hop on a plane and get his hands on a trafficker and make him permanently regret hurting kids. But revenge tours aren't wise. And adoption tours usually aren't feasible. So average people must settle for supporting good works that benefit trafficked children.

When tough economic times come, average people are tempted to take the exact opposite approach of traffickers. Rather than stepping up their efforts, they consider cutting back their support. So in tough economic times, more children suffer.

We must not let this happen. Yes, these are tough times. But tough times call for uncommon courage, uncommon cooperation, and uncommon commitment, especially in the face of growing evil. Refuse to settle for being average. Remember the trafficked children.

The wicked man earns deceptive wages, but he who sows righteousness reaps a sure reward. (Proverbs 11:18)

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Trafficked Girls and Rolex Watches


I was looking online at the prices of Rolex watches, not that I can afford one. I was just curious. I found a supplier who advertises authentic Rolex watches at discount prices, so I began poking around his site.

I discovered that I could buy a stainless steel--no gold, no diamonds, just stainless steel—Rolex watch for $4,675 (list price: $5,250). That’s a savings of $575!

I have a Fossil watch that I’ve had for years. It keeps really good time. I paid $40 for it at an outlet store. It needs a new battery. But that will only set me back about fifteen bucks.

I found my reading glasses and looked at the back of the watchcase. Guess what? It’s stainless steel, just like the Rolex!

Last night, I got the bill for the business startup for a couple Rapha girls. We’re underwriting their beauty salon startup and will be paying their rent for the first year. It’s the best that we can do to help formerly trafficked girls to have a real chance at independence. Guess what? It’s going to cost $4,393.48. That’s $281.52 less than the price of a stainless steel Rolex!

Life is a series of choices. And those choices reflect our priorities. Some people buy Rolex watches. Others invest in the freedom of trafficked girls. Thank you for your choice and putting your money to good use where it makes a real difference.

Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life.
—1 Timothy 6:17-19

Sunday, August 31, 2008

When She Said “No” to a Man


Fourteen-year-old Sophea learned what would happen when she said “no” to a man. She found out in a roadhouse along the road to Siem Reap. She was on her way to what she thought was a waitressing job. And she and her traveling companion—the female broker whom promised her the job—stopped to rest for the night. But there would be no rest for Sophea that night.

A man came into her room wanting sex. When she resisted, he raped her. Then another man came. Again, she resisted, but this man brutally beat her and then raped her. Sophea learned the hard way that saying “no” to men is dangerous.

The broker reassured Sophea not to worry; the men had paid for the sex. But Sophea never saw any of the money. And when she got to Siem Reap, she found that there wasn’t any waitressing job awaiting her. Instead, she was sold to a brothel where saying “no” to men could be deadly. Her customers and pimps would not tolerate it.

At Rapha House, I invited Sophea to attend a week-long training session for a select group of girls that we are preparing to serve as peer counselors. Sophea came to a couple sessions and then dropped out.

When I saw her next, she shied away from me. She didn’t know what to expect from saying “no” to another man. She wasn’t prepared for what happened next. I gave her a hug and told her that I loved her. I reassured her that I respected her “no.”

I don’t know what will happen with our peer counselor program. And I don’t know what will happen with Sophea. But I like to think that the most significant lesson she learned from this whole experience is that she can say “no” to a man and her “no” will be respected. Nothing Sophea could have learned from the training was more important than that.

Turn, O LORD, and deliver me; save me because of your unfailing love. (Psalm 6:4)

Monday, August 18, 2008

My Shirt with Two Right Sleeves


I own a dress shirt with two right sleeves. It fits me perfectly because it was custom made for me.

It’s not that I have two right arms. I don’t. But the Rapha girl who sewed the shirt for me made a mistake in the rush to finish it during my last visit and attached a right-hand sleeve to the left side of the shirt.

This shirt is one of my favorite shirts. I wore it to a funeral today that I officiated. Nobody there even noticed. Nobody said, “Say, do you know that your shirt has two right sleeves? What’s up with that?” And if they would happen to ask, I’d tell them.

One reason why I like my shirt so much is that every time I wear it, I think of the girl who made it for me. I think about how far she has come. And it fills me with joy. No store-bought shirt has ever done that for me.

But another reason I like my shirt with two right sleeves is that it reminds me that something flawed can still be something truly beautiful. Every person that I’ve ever met (myself included) is deeply flawed. Trafficked or not, we all have some real challenges within ourselves to overcome. The reason I like working with trafficked girls is that they know that, and many are facing their challenges head on. The rest of us sometimes, to our shame, are more concerned with looking good than getting the help that we need.

I have a confession to make. When I first discovered that my shirt had two right sleeves, I was tempted to get it fixed. Then I realized that would only ruin it. So I’ll continue to wear it proudly and let it remind me of a special girl and the truth about myself.

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me. (2 Corinthians 12:9)

Saturday, August 2, 2008

A Woman of Honor


Can a sex-trafficked girl who has lost her virginity, been forced into prostitution, and lives with a sexually transmitted disease, even if that disease is not life-threatening…can such a girl become a woman of honor?

Many in the West may have no hesitation in answering that question. We understand that what happens to sex trafficked girls is not their fault. They are victims.

However, the girls that I’m talking about don’t live in the West. They live in the East. And many in the East believe in karma—the iron law of cause and effect. So believers in karma see these girls differently. To them, sex trafficked girls are persons who are reaping the punishment for sins of a past life. To them, these girls get what they deserve.

To become a woman of honor in the East, a girl must be a virgin when she marries. It’s a cruel irony that certain forces in the East compel young girls into prostitution and then despise them for not being virgins.

So the question remains. Can girls who have been sex-trafficked become women of honor?

Besides karma, another important value in the East is face. Face is roughly equivalent to prestige or status. Status is measured largely by wealth. And business ownership is one indicator of wealth.

Recently, I received an email about one of our girls who has completed our program to return home to run a business that we helped her to start. The message reads with only one edit on my part: “Recently everybody is very happy to see the successful of [our graduate]. She is going home with the honor and everyone take her a good example.” Did you see that? She is regarded as a woman of honor and not just by her peers. Society now sees her as a woman of honor because she is a business owner.

I am thankful that the true value of persons is not determined by society but by the Cross. At the Cross, God makes a bold statement that He thinks that we are all worth dying for. But whether in the East or the West, we live within a particular society. We cannot give back sex trafficked girls the precious things that they have lost. But we can help them become women of honor. We can share in God’s work of giving them beauty for ashes.

I will give them a crown to replace their ashes, and the oil of gladness to replace their sorrow, and clothes of praise to replace their spirit of sadness. Then they will be called Trees of Goodness, trees planted by the Lord to show his greatness. (Isaiah 61:3 NCV)

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Tangible Hope

Whenever I travel to Cambodia, I always send email messages home to update my friends and family. I just returned from Rapha House a few days ago and sent a few messages home while I was away.

One of the ladies at church who read these updates said that this time my messages weren’t as despairing as before. On my past visits, I confronted the horrors of human trafficking and the devastation that it brings to children’s lives. In addition to that, this time I saw something else when I visited Rapha House. This time I witnessed tangible hope.

I was in the car when Sopheap called the leader of our aftercare program with the exciting news that she just made her first sale. Sopheap used to be a client at our shelter, and then she married and moved away. Her husband and her lived in abject poverty, so we decided to help. We set her up in her own little clothing shop. And now she has made her first sale. It wasn’t just a business transaction; it was a case of tangible hope.

I saw tangible hope when I helped unload the salon furniture for Phally’s very own beauty shop. I witnessed a beaming smile cross her face when she told me in broken English that she was going to start her own shop. And in just a few days, she will leave our care and begin to realize the goal of our ministry—independent living.

At Rapha House, we have a saying: “We’re successful when the girls that we serve are successful.” And our girls are successful when we offer them tangible hope for a better life. Your participation makes that possible.

You may never visit Cambodia and email your friends back home. But you can rest assured that every prayer, every dollar and every effort on behalf of this work is bringing tangible hope to girls who at one time were hopeless.

You hear, O LORD, the desire of the afflicted; you encourage them, and you listen to their cry, defending the fatherless and the oppressed, in order that man, who is of the earth, may terrify no more. (Psalm 10:17,18)

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Sophea’s Journey Through Hell (2)


The dirty tile floors and windowless cement walls at the brothel resemble prison cells. And in many ways that is what they are for the girls confined there.

Whirring ceiling fans provide slight relief from the sweltering tropical heat and humidity. They offer a place for Sophea to fix her attention during the customers’ visits—an endless parade of men morning, noon and night. It’s not uncommon for trafficked girls to be raped seven to fifteen or even more times a day for two to five dollars per visit. Of course, the girls never see this money. Instead, they’re relentlessly reminded of their growing debt for food, clothing, lodging and whatever other charges the brothel owners choose to assign to them. It’s just another scam that the owners use to maintain dominion over their victims. Seldom do victims challenge this extortion. No one speaks out against the crimes that brought them to these places—fraud, kidnapping, rape and more. And any who dare risk fierce retaliation.

At first, Sophea protested being abused. She explained that she had never done such things before. But brutal beatings silenced her protests. To make her compliant, she was locked in a room with no food or toilet. Eventually, her captors forced drugs upon her to manage her. Such techniques are called “seasoning” and these Mengele-like men are expert practitioners of their hideous art. They know how to break the will.

Dehumanized, Sophea was reduced to a body without a soul—an object to be used and used up until she would eventually die or be discarded due to disease or undesirability. Death is often the only escape from this bondage. And Sophea recounts through her tears the time that she reached the point where she entertained killing herself.

Fortunately, she found another way out. One evening, a customer unconsciously left his cell phone on the bed when he went to the restroom. In a moment of clarity, Sophea phoned home and reached her grandmother. She said she was being held at a brothel. Her grandmother notified the authorities.

However, the brothel owners were tipped off and begin grilling each of the girls to find out who told. Sophea eventually confessed. Then the brothel owners rounded up the girls and moved them to another location. They decided that Sophea was more trouble than she was worth, so they turned her over to a drug dealer who repeatedly tried to rape her but decided to give her $2.50 to wash his hands of her find and leave her to find her own way home.

Today, sixteen-year-old Sophea lives at a safehouse and is studying cosmetology. And dreams are starting to replace her nightmares.

Editor's note: Sophea recounts her story firsthand in the film "Baht" produced by CIY and featured in their Move conferences nationwide.

He rescued me from my powerful enemy, from my foes, who were too strong for me. —Psalm 18:17

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Sophea’s Journey Through Hell (1)


As a young teen, Sophea’s first experience with sex was not with someone whom she thought she loved. A total stranger in a dirty guesthouse on the road to Siem Reap, the tourist mecca of Cambodia, raped her. When he was done, a second man raped her and brutally beat her when she tried to resist. This was fourteen-year-old Sophea’s introduction to sex.

After this ordeal, the woman who had lured Sophea from her home with the promise of a legitimate job told Sophea not to worry. She said the men paid for the experience. Sophea, however, never saw any of the money and ended up being sold to a brothel where she spent eight months in a living hell.

How did an innocent girl end up in a place like this? It all started with a single incident of domestic violence.

One day when Sophea was in the third grade, her grandfather and mother got into an argument. After being hit, Sophea’s mom ran away to the Thai border, leaving her family behind.

Sometimes it’s hard growing up in a fractured family in the most prosperous country on earth. But growing up destitute and in a broken family in one of the poorest nations on earth can drive people to make desperate decisions.

In order to help her family make ends meet, Sophea took a job as a laborer at a sugarcane farm in Thailand. The adults mistreated her, calling her lazy and blaming her for everything that went wrong. She needed whatever money she could get but wanted desperately to escape this oppressive situation. One day a man came along speaking her native tongue. He invited Sophea to come to work in Bangkok. She trusted him and went. There she spent the next year working as a laborer and receiving nothing in return. So she called her grandma and asked to come home.

Sometime later after returning home, a woman came through her hometown telling about a restaurant in Siem Reap that was hiring responsible girls to wait on tables. The pay was sixty dollars a month. Sophea left with her grandmother’s blessing. And on the way, she found herself at the guesthouse where she was raped and then was sold to the brothel.

Next installment: Sophea escapes to freedom

O LORD, see how my enemies persecute me! Have mercy and lift me up from the gates of death —Psalm 9:13

Sunday, June 8, 2008

The Judge's Verdict


My wife and I had a retired judge and his wife over to the house the other night, along with a couple of their friends. They wanted to see a film that we have featuring one of the Rapha girls telling her story about being sex trafficked.

Following the film, they were unsettled and said, “We live such sheltered lives here in America, we had no idea that things like this were happening in the world.” And then the judge said, “It makes you wonder…” he paused for a moment of self-editing and then voiced his thoughts aloud by saying, “…why doesn’t God do something about this?”

I told him that I used to think the same way. My protests over the evil and suffering in the world were well rehearsed. Until one day, God brought me up short. In the midst of my questioning, God impressed His gentle reply upon my spirit: “Why don’t you do something about this?” There I stood before the Judge without a defense.

Think about it. How did God eradicate all the suffering caused from polio? He used a man like Jonas Salk. How did God answer the evil of Nazism? He used the Allied forces, many paying the ultimate sacrifice. This amazing, albeit mysterious, God allows us to shape the future to a large degree. He gives us the freedom to determine the type of world in which we’ll live.

I then asked the judge a simple question: “Do you want to live in a world where millions of children are trafficked?” I waited for his verdict. His answer is of small consequence here. The only thing that matters is how you'll answer that question.

Defend the cause of the weak and fatherless; maintain the rights of the poor and oppressed. Rescue the weak and needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked. (Psalm 82:3,4)

Thursday, May 22, 2008

The Ultimate Betrayal


Recently, I saw a movie in which a Rapha girl recounts her story. It’s heart-rending.

I’ll write more about this film some other time. As I watched this girl’s story unfold, I was struck by the magnitude of betrayal that she endured. At every turn, the people she encountered used and abused her. The men to whom she was labor trafficked the first time as a young child mistreated her and cheated her out of her money. Then, she was trafficked again to Bangkok with the same results. She desperately wanted to help her impoverished family, so she took what she thought was a restaurant job in Siem Reap. On the way, she was raped not once but twice and brutally beaten. The restaurant job was a ruse, and she ended up trapped in a living nightmare at a brothel, where she faced unthinkable horrors, including unrelenting sexual assaults and forced drug addiction. That went on for month after month. One betrayal compounded upon another.

Today, I spoke with a young woman at church about this film. She wants to invite her parents to its preview, but she says that they’re good Christians and don’t like to see anything that makes them feel bad. They like to keep life positive and upbeat.

I understand. But nobody gave this young girl the chance to keep her life positive and upbeat. Her desires were never considered. Never heard. Never respected.

I understand that stories about the human trafficking and sexual exploitation of children are disturbing. We don’t want to consider such ugliness. But unless the church turns its face towards this reality and acts decisively and boldly, we are guilty of the ultimate betrayal. For who should take the lead in fighting evil, if not Christ’s church?

Do not withhold good from those who deserve it, when it is in your power to act. (Proverbs 3:27)

Sunday, May 11, 2008

The Type of God He Is


“So where was God when I was being abused? What type of God would let something like that happen to someone?” Those are good questions. They’re tough questions but good questions. Here’s another good question: “What type of God would let something like that happen to Himself?” Don’t be too quick to dismiss this as an attempt to avoid the hard questions. It’s one question that might actually help us gain some perspective on the others.

What hurts when we think about God is His apparent aloofness. It seems that He doesn’t care. He didn’t do anything to stop our abuse. He could have. But He didn’t. He didn’t strike our abusers dead before they hurt us. He didn’t give us enough power to fight them off and escape to safety. He didn’t protect us from them in the first place. It seems like God just stands by and watches all types of horrible things happen to people and never does anything about it. What type of God is that?

While this may be true of the gods of other religions, we find something different in Christianity. In Christianity, God took on flesh, entered our world, suffered, and died on a cross. His death was for sin—all sin. So that means, when Jesus died He suffered due to our abusers. He knows personally the type of pain that they bring. He has suffered because of them Himself. That’s what type of God He is.

What’s more is that He knows fully the anguish of our feelings of abandonment and resentment. He has taken these upon Himself, too. He has taken upon Himself our anger, hatred, and doubts. All of it. He isn’t a God who watches our experiences from afar. He knows them up close and personal. That’s what type of God He is.

Why would He do this? The prophet writes: “He was wounded and crushed because of our sins; by taking our punishment, he made us completely well” (Isaiah 53:5 CEV). Jesus wants to heal us.

God values freedom, which means evildoers are able to hurt others. But God hasn’t left us without hope. He is able to heal all our wounds, including those done by others and the self-inflicted ones. That’s the type of God He is.

Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten by God. Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows. —Luke 12:6,7

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Recidivism


Recidivism. It's such an ugly word that describes an even uglier reality.

According to one statistic that I recently heard, sixty percent of sex-trafficked girls return to prostitution. Recidivism is so ugly not because it’s a big, fancy word but because it describes the life of a girl—a girl who was offered more but settled for less.

Why would someone do that? I suppose the experts have their answers. And I have my opinions. But what frightens me most about recidivism is that it threatens girls that I know, girls that I love.

I wish that every girl’s story would have a happy ending. But that happens only in fairy tales, not in real life. I have known girls who have chosen less. And there will be others.

Our ministry is too young to offer longitudinal reports on recidivism. But I can tell you something about my heart. I am personally going to do all within my power to help each girl to succeed. I am going to do all that I can to enlist the support of every person who will accept the challenge to join us in this fight. I will mourn the loss of every girl who chooses less and do what I can to offer her another chance. But I will not let the failure of one life rob me of the joy of sharing in the success of another. I cannot.

Even if six out of ten girls fail, I will work for the four who’ll succeed. I do this work not because it’s always rewarding. I do this not because it’s easy. Sometimes it’s hard. And sometimes it’s heartbreaking. But I do this because it is necessary; because it is right; and because it is what God wants.

Recidivism has always been a part of any important work to redeem others but so is success. I am praying and working for success. Precious lives hang in the balance.

Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. (Galatians 6:9)

Sunday, April 20, 2008

The Love of Money

Probably one of the most frequently misquoted passages in the Bible is 1 Timothy 6:10. It says: “For the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil.” It doesn’t say that the root of evil is money but rather the “love of money.”

The United States Embassy to the Vatican says that human trafficking “rivals drug and arms trafficking as one of the most lucrative criminal enterprises in the world.” The love of money is why children are trafficked. Children pay with their freedom and innocence when adults love money.

Let’s face it. We will not rid the world of greed. There will always be those who love money over the welfare of children. But what about us?

Nowadays, there is plenty of talk of economic slowdown and recession. As a result, fear sets in. Fear intimidates good people but emboldens evildoers. So when difficult economic times come, those who love money determine that they will not be deprived of whatever their heart desires even at the expense of children. And so lovers of money act.

In times like this, we cannot afford to surrender bold action to evildoers. Good men and women must be courageous. Good men and women must be generous. We must show our faith and dare to act with boldness. Now is the time to open our hearts and our pocketbooks to demonstrate our love for God and the world’s children. “Keep your lives free from the love of money” (Hebrews 13:5).

One man gives freely, yet gains even more; another withholds unduly, but comes to poverty. —Proverbs 11:24

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Gone In 26 Seconds


I googled “seconds in a year” and came up with 31,556,926. Then I found a UNICEF statistic that I’ve been looking for. UNICEF reports that an estimated 1.2 million children are trafficked throughout the world each year. Each year. I’m no math whiz. But that means every 26 seconds another child is trafficked somewhere. Gone in 26 seconds. That’s about the time it took for you to read this paragraph.

Honestly, when I hear statistics like this, they overwhelm me. I can’t imagine that every year the same number of children is trafficked as there are people living in Dallas, Texas. I can’t imagine what life has become for these children. I don’t want to think about that. I don’t want to think about their hunger, abuse and despair. It sickens me.

Sometimes when I’m confronted with a monumental problem like this, I’m tempted to pull back. I figure that this is a problem for governments to fix…or the mega-charities…or maybe the foundations with deep pockets. What can I do about it? I’m just one person.

When I start feeling like this, I leaf through my photos of the girls of Rapha House. I can still hear their laughter and recount the times when their beautiful brown eyes filled with tears. I can still feel their hope and the touch of their soft hands in mine. Then I realize: I don’t have to solve this problem for every child in the world. But with your help, we can make a real difference to some of the world’s children who have been trafficked.

Let’s put this problem into perspective. For the girls at Rapha House there is no more important ministry on earth. They’ve survived a nightmare and are starting to dream dreams.

I do not know what it will take to mobilize Christ’s church or even the good people of the world to respond decisively to this wholly unnecessary evil. But I do know this: In one corner of the globe there are girls who are finding hope. And you’re playing your part. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.

The LORD God has told us what is right and what he demands: “See that justice is done, let mercy be your first concern, and humbly obey your God.” (Micah 6:8)

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Survivors In Their Own Words


When I was in Africa, the AIDS orphans that we met donated money to buy Bibles for the girls at Rapha House. They also sent the girls handwritten letters. Some of the girls from Rapha House responded by sending their own letters to the children of Africa. This is one of those letters.

Dear all friends who live in Kenya…and in my heart:

Hello, friends! I really want to meet you. I thank you for giving me the love and support that my heart needs.

I was really happy to learn that I wasn't alone. And I hope that all of you think about me all the time. I want to tell you that I was very happy when I read your letters. It made me know how much God loves us. Now, I have warm feelings because before I didn't have a lot of friends because I was scared.

When I was young, my father beat me and my family. He always beat my mother in front of me everyday. It made me scared. I didn't want to live with them. And I always ran away to other people. But other children didn't want to play with somebody like me. I didn't have a friend.

Now I have a good life, and I have new friends. I hope one day to meet you. I want to sympathize with you that you can find a good life in the future.

God bless you. And thank you. I love you.

Jonthern

… God sets the lonely in families, he leads forth the prisoners with singing (Psalm 68:6)

Sunday, March 9, 2008

A Mona Lisa Smile

I wasn't expecting it, but there it was. The grainy photo taken undercover filled the screen during the slave hunter's presentation. To my knowledge, it's the only photo that we possess of one of the Rapha House girls before she was rescued and while she was still working in a brothel.

It's not prurient. It's simply a portrait of a young, sixteen-year-old girl sitting in a bar booth with flowered wallpaper behind her. Her black hair is slightly pulled back off her ears. And she wears a white button-down blouse modestly open at the collar. Her eyes glance towards the side. And her mouth wears a Mona-Lisa-like smile.

What strikes me most about this photo is the girl's faint smile. Like the Mona Lisa, it's subject to interpretation. But I know what I see.

In preparing these updates and other materials for Rapha House, I constantly pore over my photo collection of Rapha House girls. Frequently, I run across photos of this very same girl. In these photos, she has a wide and easy smile that lights up her whole face. It's beautiful.

I contrast those smiles to the one that I see in the photo from the brothel. There's no comparison. Once she was a guarded and tentative girl from a brothel, but now she has rediscovered how to smile the carefree smile of freedom. That's what we do at Rapha House. We put real smiles back on the faces of children. And that's God's work.

He upholds the cause of the oppressed and gives food to the hungry. The LORD sets prisoners free (Psalm 146:7)

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Trafficked Girls and Two Boys


While I was in Missouri recently for the Rapha House annual board meeting, Stephanie Freed told me about an experience that she had after making a presentation at a church.

She told the audience about human trafficking and our ministry to girls who have been rescued. She related a few stories of our girls and talked about what their lives have been like. After the presentation, a father approached Stephanie with his two sons.

The boys were probably ages nine and eleven. The boys had been raising some cattle that they recently sold to the stockyard. And the money that they made was earmarked for their college education. But after hearing about our girls, these boys came up with an idea.

When their father approached Stephanie, he was choking back his tears. It's hard for a man to let emotions like this bubble to the surface when talking face-to-face with a woman. But this was not a normal situation. This man's sons on their own decided that a better use of the money that they were paid would be to give it to Rapha House. So the dad signed over to Stephanie the check from the stockyards. It was for over three thousand dollars!

I don't know if these boys will ever meet the trafficked girls that they've helped. But I like to think that one day in heaven Jesus will introduce them. But until that time, I hope that their generosity will inspire others to follow their example. I think that we all have a lot to learn from them.

…the Lord Jesus himself said: 'It is more blessed to give than to receive.' (Acts 20:35)

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Ng's Path to Freedom (Part 3)

[See previous postings of Ng's story.]

The path Ng took to freedom was neither straight nor easy.

Someone at the old man's house where she was a slave told her that her mother had moved. Desperate, she escaped into the jungle with only the clothes on her back.

Ng met up with an older woman who took her in and fed her. The woman knew her mother; and Ng's hopes soared with thoughts of a reunion, but that dream was quickly dashed when the woman said that her mother had met another man and had moved away. The woman did not know where. Ng was just thirteen-years-old and all alone in the world.

After staying at the woman's house a few days, Ng left. She didn't want to be a burden to her, so she slept in the jungle, ate food from people's trash and begged for money. People spurned her.

Once two young men grabbed her from behind and pushed her behind a house and raped her. With a heavy sigh, she says, "After they were done, I ran to a policeman. He thought I was just a beggar and scolded me. But then he noticed that my pants were ripped and bloody." She was taken to an emergency shelter and transferred to Phnom Penh and was eventually brought to Rapha House.

When asked about what life at Rapha House has been like, Ng replies, "La ah." Good.

She arrived malnourished, and her skin was darkened from constant exposure to the sun. The staff says that she was extremely difficult and would fall into long periods of deep depression.

But then something changed in Ng. She started making friends with the other girls there. She started going to school for the first time in her life and began learning to read and write both Khmer and English. Ng has started to trust again. She even has hopes for the future.

Ng has a long road ahead of her. But now, she is safe. And since Ng has no family other than us, we're going to walk with her on the road to lasting freedom.

In my anguish I cried to the LORD, and he answered by setting me free. (Psalm 118:5)

Sunday, February 17, 2008

The Story of Ng (Part 2)


Ng’s ready and somewhat mischievous smile masks the darker truths about her life. As she tells that part of her story, her head sinks; and she nervously scrapes away the chipped polish off her fingernails.

After being sold at age six to an elderly man by her mother, Ng found no sanctuary in the old man’s house. The other servants scolded her. And the people living there slapped her around and told her that she was worthless.

Upon her arrival, Ng was immediately put to work. Her small hands took a towel and dipped it over and over again into a bucket of soapy water as she cleaned the floor on her hands and knees. The other servants, unhappy with her progress, came by and hit her over the head whenever they passed her. That first day in the old man’s house, she washed the dishes, dried and put them away, swept and mopped the floor again, helped to do the laundry, and was told to massage the old man’s feet.

Later that night, she was awakened and told to go to the old man’s room. She remembers hearing the crickets outside and yawning as she padded across the floor to his bedside. Then she tells how he grabbed her and roughly tore her clothes off.

She doesn’t look up as she continues her story. She works away at the nail polish on her hands and says, “Koat tva bhap.” He was bad to me.

This was Ng’s nightmare. And it continued for weeks that turned to months and months that turned to years. Then after six years, she made good her escape.

Next week: Ng’s path to freedom.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

The Story of Ng (Part 1)


What six-year-old Ng (not her real name) wanted was what most girls her age want—a safe and loving home to grow up in. What she got was something entirely different.

One day, Ng’s life turned upside-down when her stepfather ripped a gold necklace from her mother’s neck and grabbed a knife to slit her throat. Ng screamed and instinctively threw herself towards her mother to protect her. Then her stepfather ripped Ng from her mother’s body and beat her until her small body crumpled unconscious. He then took all the family’s money and jewelry and left.

You might think that having her stepfather out of her life for good was the best thing that could have happened for Ng. But life was about to get extraordinarily more complicated for this little girl.

Forced to find money in order to eat and feed her four children, Ng’s mother took all her kids and moved into the city to find a job. There she made little more than a dollar a day. So Ng’s mother decided to do what seems inconceivable for any parent who is unfamiliar with the desperation borne from abject poverty. Ng’s mother sold her to an elderly man in order for her to work as his servant. Ng was just seven-years-old.

This began a hellish nightmare that lasted six years for Ng. I’ll write more about that in my next update.

At Rapha House, tragedy plays a part in each girl’s story. But that’s not where the story of these girls ends. At Rapha House, we’re committed to bringing hope in the place of heartbreak, healing in place of pain, and freedom in place of captivity. It’s a big job that requires you and us and God. And that combination is what makes the difference for girls like Ng.

"For I know the plans I have for you," declares the LORD, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future." (Jeremiah 29:11)

Sunday, February 3, 2008

A Tribute to a Slave Hunter


Aaron Cohen is a slave hunter. For years, he has traveled the world retrieving persons sold into slavery, including girls sold into the sex trade.

If you ask Aaron Cohen how many people he has rescued, he probably would say, “Not enough.” This humble slave hunter knows that there still is a lot of work to do.

The other night, some family members, a few friends and I attended an event hosted by an organization honoring Aaron Cohen as its humanitarian of the year—a well-deserved honor. For me, one of the most poignant moments of the evening came during Aaron’s acceptance speech and his accompanying slide show. He showed one slide of a Rapha girl before she was rescued. Then the very next slide showed her receiving her diploma at our graduation event in November, which Aaron also attended. These two slides told a powerful story—one that I’ve had the privilege of witnessing in part firsthand.

Think for a moment. What if we could mobilize a whole army of slave hunters like Aaron Cohen? Tens of thousands of children would be freed. But where would they go for their wounded hearts to heal? Where would they learn how to preserve their freedom and live independently?

The photos that Aaron Cohen showed tell more than a story of one girl’s personal triumph. They are a metaphor of what it takes to win this fight against this heinous evil. In this war, we need heroes like Aaron Cohen to free people from slavery. But we need places like Rapha House where wounded hearts can heal and rescued souls learn how to live independently.

Thank you Aaron Cohen for making a difference. And thanks to each supporter of Rapha House. Because of people like Aaron and people like you, lives are being saved.

"Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke?" (Isaiah 58:6)

Sunday, January 20, 2008

How Could Someone Do Something Like That?

If you met Marie, you’d be impressed with how sweet and gentle she is. What would make a parent sell a child like her to traffickers? How could someone do something like that?

Evil. Some parents are plain evil. That’s true on this side of the world as it is on the other side of the world. Evil is why some parents sell their children.

Desperation. Poverty causes people to do things that they never would consider otherwise. And for some parents, selling a child is a way out of the type of poverty that few of us have witnessed, except maybe from the comforts of our living room while watching TV. And then the remote control is always nearby when the images become too disturbing or boring. Poverty is why some parents sell their children.

And some parents sell their children in hope. Some, like any parent, want the best for their children. And when traffickers come to the village, they paint a picture of a better life. They claim to represent some wealthy patron looking for a nanny, housekeeper, or cook. Parents are told of a better life where their daughters will be safe, receive an education, live around privilege, and be able to send money home. And so they take the earnest money, sign the contract, and never see their children again.

At Rapha House, we’re committed to providing girls like Marie with real hope for a better life. And because we’re here, they find the hope that they’ve been looking for.

Find rest, O my soul, in God alone; my hope comes from him. (Psalm 62:5)

Sunday, January 13, 2008

The Long Road to Healing

Recently, I reported about Kvoe—the eleven-year-old girl who was labor trafficked to Thailand for nine months and ended up in a Thai prison. Three months later, she was brought to Rapha House. When our staff took her home, Kvoe was greeted with the horrific news that her mother had died, her house was gone, and her little sister Phea was missing. Kvoe was left all alone in the world.

Later, the Rapha staff revisited the region and found Kvoe’s little sister Phea. Like a stray animal, this nine-year-old girl had been scavenging in the village wherever she could find food and shelter.

But now the sisters have been reunited. They go to school together. They attend church together. And they play together with the other children at Rapha House.

A recent photograph shows Kvoe and Phea smiling. Their smiles say it all. In the midst of their suffering, these sisters have found hope.

We know that these girls have a long way to go. At times, they’ll be lonely. Some days they’ll miss their mother terribly. And they’ll shed more tears. Lots of tears. But Kvoe and Phea are no longer alone. They have each other. And they have the love and support of the kids and staff at Rapha. They have others to walk beside them on the long road to healing. That’s what we do at Rapha House.

The LORD is close to the brokenhearted
and saves those who are crushed in spirit. (Psalm 34:18)

Sunday, January 6, 2008

An Unpleasant Reality

**WARNING**
SOME MAY FIND THIS REPORT TO BE DISTURBING


Just outside the capital city of Phnom Penh, we have a ministry partner who runs an outreach to neighborhood children—a kids’ club. Many of these children come from extremely poor families.

Poverty causes people to do desperate things. Stephanie Freed, who currently is in Cambodia with a team from the US, reports the following in a recent email:

“Just a while ago, over a Coke, Thearin [a young women who leads the club] tearfully told me about one of the girls from the club (15 years old) who was sold to a Korean man. He bought her for $500 from her mother. He took her to a hotel for a week, where he and his friends took turns raping her.”


Five hundred dollars. That’s about a year’s wage for the average person in Cambodia.

And with one desperate, greedy decision made by a mother in Phnom Penh, a teenager’s life has changed forever.

Everything about this story sickens me. Then I realize. Nobody’s helped by my disgust, indignation or outrage. So I will channel my energies more productively. I will give. I will serve. I will write. I will pray. I will speak up and speak out. I will do whatever I can to relieve the suffering of survivors of trafficking and abuse and prevent other girls from becoming victims, too.

“All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”
--Edmund Burke