During a raid two months ago in India, rescuers invaded a room crowded with 36 women enslaved in the sex industry. Within moments of entering, they heard strange noises just on the other side of a wall. They searched for an opening, but there were no windows or doors. Finally they tore down a section with their bare hands. On the other side, twenty-two girls and young women fainted as fresh air and light rushed into their prison. Captive for at least seven hours in the dark, carbon dioxide-saturated air, suddenly, inexplicably, they were free.
This is the work of Exodus Road, a Colorado Springs-based non-profit “which empowers the rescue of victims of sexual slavery.” When pondering the question of whose responsibility it is to free victims of human trafficking, founder and president Matt Parker and his wife Laura decided that as followers of Jesus, it is theirs. They currently oversee four rescue teams operating in SE Asia, India, and the United States.
Matt Parker was the keynote speaker at Freedom Sunday in Colorado Springs last weekend, “an ecumenical night of worship and action proclaiming an end to modern day slavery.” The evening included a fair-trade market, an art gallery, a dance that brought me to tears, worship through music, and Matt’s stirring presentation.
I felt very privileged to contribute artwork for the gallery portion of the evening:
During our travels around the world, my husband, David, and I have brushed up against the monster of human trafficking.
David recalls an evening in Vietnam when he and his traveling partner finished their review of financial records for the orphan care NGO they were auditing and returned to the hotel early. They stepped out into the warm, bustling, festive atmosphere of the tourist section of HoChiMinh city in search of a restaurant for dinner. Two young girls sidled out of the shadows. The two men immediately recognized they were being propositioned. My husband still vividly recalls the horror he felt for the desperation the girls surely endured.
Human trafficking seriously impacted the adoption process of our daughter in 2005, following the “Miracle Baby Scandal” of the previous year. A Kenyan evangelist claimed that his prayers could make infertile women pregnant. Twenty plus children were discovered in the care of mothers who claimed they gave birth miraculously in Kenyan slum clinics after pregnancies as short as 27 days. The babies’ true origins were never determined, and they were placed in orphanages after DNA tests confirmed no biological relationship to the women who claimed to be their mothers.
Before the Miracle Baby Scandal, foreign adoptive parents could complete a relatively simple legal process to obtain guardianship during a 6-8 week stay in Kenya and then return to home soil and complete full adoption. The interpretation of the law was in-flux literally as our guardianship request was processed in early 2005. Mid-case, officials determined to award guardianship only to Kenyan citizens. After a harrowing 7 ½ months in Kenya, we claimed our daughter through full adoption .
Earlier this year in Port au Prince, I noticed two young boys, barefoot with ragged clothes hanging from their skinny limbs. They swarmed an SUV just in front of us, wiping dirt from its windows as it slowly rolled through traffic. They must be street kids hoping to earn a little money, I surmised, since they reminded me of young boys in Nairobi who sniff glue and eke out survival on the streets.
A couple days later we were privileged to meet Joan Conn, founder and Executive Director of Restavek Freedom. She described a scene much like the one I witnessed and explained that the children are escapees from the unregulated, socially acceptable “restavek” system. In principle, impoverished children live with wealthier families, exchanging small domestic services for food, nurture, and schooling. In practice, many of the estimated 225,000 restavek children are domestic slaves laboring night and day with little food, no education, and subjected to all manner of abuse and exploitation. The danger and unpredictability of the open streets is a friendlier environment than the homes of their “benefactors.”
Even if only briefly, my husband and I have looked into the faces and been impacted by the stories of some of the world’s 27 million victims of human trafficking. Just one of them is too many.