My team and I were visiting one of the most high profile cities for sex tourism in Southeast Asia. We went to a restaurant in the red light district just as the nightlife was picking up. Our hostess led us up to the top floor so that we could sit on the porch and watch the activity below on the street. What we saw was heartbreaking. The street lit up with neon signs and tourists scanning the area for beautiful girls to buy. The men on the team decided to walk down the block to see if trafficking is as prevalent as statistics would tell us it is. In the ten minutes they were gone, they were approached seven times with offers of sex with children. As disturbing as that was, I still was not prepared for what I would see with my own eyes at the table across from me. I was chatting with a friend at the table, when I glanced across the room and noticed a very young, Cambodian girl with a much older white man. She looked scared and did not seem to enjoy her meal in the least. My eyes filled with tears as I realized what was happening; I looked at my friend, only to see tears streaming down her face. It was then, that I knew. No more than 10 yards away from me a young girl was being taken on a “date”, only to be raped soon after. I began to pray fervently for her, as it was the only thing I knew to do. I felt hopeless and desperate as I watched him lead her away down the street. There was nothing any of us could do for her, and it was that reality that kept my friend and me from real sleep for weeks.
Fortunately, that is not the end of the story. Because of Rapha House and the power of Jesus Christ, girls are being loved, rescued, and healed in Southeast Asia every day. Though we were not able to help this girl, there are many in this country that are equipped to do so. Rapha House is a Christian organization that works in Southeast Asia, the US, and soon other regions. Their focus is to love, rescue, and heal victims of sex trafficking. Their safehouses, and training programs are the way that happens. While in Asia, I was able to see firsthand the work they are doing. Upon entering the safehouse grounds, one is in an entirely different world. No longer are children hungry, begging, and broken; they are joyful, loved, and provided for. In these homes, there are social workers, counselors, and house parents educated and prepared to provide the care these children need. The girls are not only given the basic necessities and an education, they are given a chance at a real childhood! Once a year, the staff and girls go on vacation to the beach, girls are given the opportunity to take dance, music, and soccer lessons, and many other fun activities abound at Rapha! It is their desire that these girls are not only rescued, but healed completely, and that includes being a kid! All of the girls and women in the safehouses, are taught the Gospel of Jesus Christ. However, Rapha House loves all of them and they are free to choose to remain Buddhist and are still welcome in the program.
Once the girls are in their teens, they are able to decide what they will do with their life. Rapha House runs seamstress and cosmetology programs, as well as helps girls who are interested attend college. However, there is not a certain age when the girls must leave the program. They stay as long as it takes, until they are prepared to reenter society. I could never fully explain what it felt like to be in the safehouses. The extreme grief I felt when I met a four year old child who had been raped and abused, the relief and joy to see her flourishing under the care of the workers at Rapha. The disgust and confusion at the parents, friends, and family members who sell these children, the excitement when these families learn how precious these children are and alternative ways to support their family.
The best way to stop trafficking, is to prevent it from occurring. Not only does this organization have safe houses, there are also prevention programs. They are strategically placed in the most at risk areas of this country. Parents are taught ways of making money, the importance and value of children and women, and the Gospel. Children are given an education, and there is a Kids’ Club where they can come to be loved and cared for. Rapha House also works to educate government employees and police officers in the US, and abroad to the dangers of trafficking and how to prevent it.
All of the logistics of this organization do not tell you what you really want to know. Is it working? Are girls being restored and are traffickers coming to justice? Yes. I will never forget the smiles on the faces of the children at Kids’ Club, the pride of the girls from the seamstress program as they showed us their work, or the look in the eyes of the women who were once trafficked and are now working with Rapha to restore other young women. Though I was not able to save the young woman I saw at the restaurant that night, I can help love, rescue, and heal others like her through the life saving ministry of Rapha House. Please join me.