About a week ago, I was sitting in a brothel in Southeast Asia with my arm around a young girl named Kwan.
She was shivering with cold. And I put my arm round her hoping it would make her a little warmer. And honestly hoping that maybe – just maybe – she would experience a moment of comforting touch that seeks to give life in her world of the constant groping touch of men who seek to take something from her.
She was shivering because we were sitting under a giant fan, and the tiny shorts and mid-drift tank top they gave her were not intended to provide warmth. They were intended to display. The tank top was so small it couldn’t cover up the “push bra” she was wearing to give her the illusion of cleavage that she was too young to have fully developed.
So I bought her a drink (she wanted a Coke) and sat with my arm around her, talking through the Google translate app on my phone.
A lot of what The Exodus Road does is sit with girls and boys like Kwan. They ask questions and collect evidence until they have enough proof to motivate local law enforcement to act.
It is such hard work.
You pretend to be a customer, like any other. You casually ask about their age. You ask about their price. You ask how much for “short time” (about an hour). And you ask how much for “long time” (all night). You ask what you can do with her. Is anything off limits?
The operatives get all of this on hidden camera, and take it to the police. Sometimes there is a raid, and an arrest, and a rescue. And sometimes they continue to wait.
This problem is the result of human brokenness on a massive and complex scale.
There are NO quick fixes for girls like Kwan. I’m just so thankful for the people willing to pursue the slow fixes. I’m so thankful for the people who are willing to be present with these girls and boys in hell. It seems to me that the hardest part of this work is the fact that they have to walk away from so many “Kwans.” And often the only help they are able to give is kindness and a warm arm around cold shoulders.
But they press on with the belief that rescue is possible. And over 850 rescues later (and over 330 arrests) they press on.
There were a lot of young girls in Kwan’s brothel. In November, The Exodus Road will send back operatives to work these cases. The hope is that the evidence will pile up and arrests and rescue will follow.
Using my phone, I asked Kwan how old she was. She predictably, said “18”. I asked how long she’d worked at this club. And I broke a little inside when she said “just 2 days.” When I asked if she liked working here she said “Not much. But the money is good.” I wanted to tell her no amount of money would be worth it. But I realized how easy that would be for me to say from the comfort of the suburban paradise in which I live.
And then when the time came, I gave her a hug, told her how beautiful she was, and left.
There were 30 girls like Kwan in every club we visited. And in two cities, we saw hundreds of clubs. Not all the girls (or boys) are underage, but all of them are trapped.
I love the people from The Exodus Road – they are modern day abolitionists. In a brothel, you see all the brokenness of humans descending in one place.
And for the most part, the church isn’t there.
In fact, very few churches support the Exodus Road in significant ways. Maybe it’s because they are not a “Christian” organization – meaning they will work with anyone who stands against slavery. But in some ways it may be the most Christian organization I’ve ever seen. They live the gospel in such tangible ways in the center of intense brokenness.
I don’t know what it all means for us as a church, I’m just left with this question: How could we not help?
The gospel of Jesus is big enough for us AND Kwan… or it’s not the gospel.
So let’s do what we can.
Written by Jonathan Cleveland
We realize this is not an easy post to read and you might feel helpless. Over the next few weeks, we will be sharing stories from our time with The Exodus Road and talking about how we’re going to partner with them. They will be a big part of this year’s Christmas Offering. In the meantime, here are a few things you can do now:
Like The Exodus Road on Facebook.
They regularly post photos and stories and updates from the work they are doing.
Donate to The Exodus Road
You might not be able to go physically, but you can support those who can.
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These girls’ stories need to be told and shared. Let’s shine some light into the darkest corners of the world.