(The thoughts shared in this article are a reflection of the author’s personal experience with International Justice Mission. For official information on IJM, please visit http://www.ijm.org.)
It was the first time I had ever entered a brothel. In fact it was the first time I had ever been to this part of the city. My palms were sweaty and it was hard to maintain composure considering how fast my heart was beating.
I had heard stories of what it would be like but this was worse. I was unprepared to witness the stench and filth that filled this place. As soon as I entered, I was overcome with an urgency to leave. But not leave without her. I had heard she was fifteen; this girl we were seeking. As I walked down the dark and filthy corridor, watching my steps so that I wouldn’t step on anything gross, I could hear her voice. Loud, rebellious, unwilling to leave. My team was trying to speak to her. I wondered if she could hear the hope and rescue that my team member was offering. She wouldn’t move. She held on to the bed and shouted abuses at her rescuers. I was not of much help that day because all I could do was stand amazed at the love and determination my colleagues were showing to get her out, despite her rage.
Since this was the first time I was part of a rescue team, I had been asked to wait in the car till the brothel was secured. My team did not want me to be overwhelmed or afraid during this first experience. Waiting was hard. I wanted to step inside because I knew that my team was in there. It felt right to be inside. When they finally called me in, I was escorted and briefed by a team member about the scene inside. I was told that she was not willing to leave and that she believed the lie that she would be in danger with us. Such lies are often told to these little girls to drive out any hope of rescue or freedom.
After more than an hour of negotiation, the only option left to us was to leave her there. It was the hardest thing to do. I guess that’s the reason I remember this day so clearly. The police team supporting us that day did not want to use force on her and there were no documents to prove her age. She was not rescued that day. But my team didn’t stop. In the dark alleyways are trapped thousands who need to be rescued and shown hope. Then why aren’t they, you ask? Most of them are trapped beyond reach, several are trapped because of reasons that are more powerful than the voice of hope and help.
Over the years, we supported the rescue and restoration of several children. Some from places fancier than we could ever expect. People held in slavery because they had everything to lose and no power against their captor.
I served with International Justice Mission for five years. I learnt that it wasn’t over till every door was shut on us. But this relentless team did not give up even if there was the tiniest glimmer of hope stealing its way out through the cracks of that shut door. I worked with men and women who worked all day, all night, all week, and weekend and yet showed up on Monday morning, with tired yet smiling faces because someone needed to be found, rescued, encouraged, healed… and because we had a wonderful team!
These people are not normal. You can’t be normal in such a place. They are extraordinary. They drop their emotions and personal struggles outside the door and walk in bravely everyday into brothels that hold little children captive. They swallow their fears when they are exposed to danger. They wait endless hours in courts waiting for a hearing that has been adjourned too many times and will most likely be adjourned again. They encourage the disappointed survivor who mustered courage once again that day to testify against her captor. These people get beaten and misunderstood by the children they offer healing to. They drive hours to offer comfort to someone sick or suicidal even though they themselves stayed up working late or nursing a sick family member all night. They are forced to sort out differences and straighten up attitudes because there’s no way around it. They spend hours supporting, assisting, leading, accounting, networking, teaching and offering comfort to other team members while dealing with their own struggles in quiet with God. They work so that their team mates can get a day of rest. They celebrate because it brings healing. They deal with information accurately and stay at work for as long as it takes so that documentations are completed.
IJM is not just the exciting news updates and successes. It’s made of people who give generously, people who work hard with dedication and unmatched passion to rescue people who are exploited, people who give up years of profits to volunteer and be impacted by reality. It is made of people who are full of joy, passion, exhaustion, doubts – real people who need to experience rescue everyday from the darkness they walk in and out of. These courageous men and women witness God’s healing and restorative work despite the consequence of man’s sin and disobedience, from the front seats of this arena. They should know that they are the hope for a world that is crying out to be rescued. Hope in human form.