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