I continue to muse about Africa. Many have asked me about the one detail about my trip that has been the most difficult to explain. There are a few reasons I feel hesitant..the first reason is that I do not feel qualified to speak about the vast issue of sex trafficking. The second reason may be that I cannot find the words to paint the picture of what I saw In the Red Light District in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
Our team had been in Ethiopia for many days before we finally arrived, one evening, to the Red Light District. We were there to hand out flyers, inviting the girls working the streets, to attend our service that would be held in our brand new Mercy Chapel the following evening. You see, International Crisis Aid has seven SAFE homes for young girls that have been rescued from sex trafficking...girls either held against their will, or held there by extreme poverty, surviving by selling their bodies. Mercy Chapel will provide a place for girls to receive help-spiritually, physically, and practically. International Crisis Aid is very excited for Mercy Chapel to open. Which we can proudly say, has just happened!
My first experience in the red light district was surreal. As we drove into the narrow streets, I began seeing young children standing in narrow doorways, waiting for customers. One after the other, I saw them. My stomache began to hurt-a sign of stress for me. I silently prayed for these lost girls, reaching out in prayer to an unseen God, believing that He cares for these girls, believing I have a reason for being here this night. The phrase, "forgotton children" kept going through my mind. In my head, I kept asking the question, "how could this be?" Nothing had prepared me for what I was seeing, thousands of doors, with thousands of girls, "working." I remember thinking, "they all have a story, a family, feelings, dreams, hopes." Then I remember asking God, "WHY." "Why so many, so much suffering?" This was all occuring before I even stepped off the bus!
Pat Bradley, ICA's president, who has personally rescued over 100 girls, could not wait to get off the bus. He has a message and is anxious to tell it. He tells the girls how special they are, he tells them he loves them, and that there is a way out. He offers them hope and a place they can call home with a family that will love and protect them. He pleads and prays, and lifts their chin to look him in the eye, while he tells them they are not trash, they are not forgotton, and He is hear to bring a message to them.. someone sees their anguish, their plight, and their horror. He is offering Safety and hope.
Me on the other hand? When Pat asked, "are we ready to get off the bus?" I wasn't! Could I talk to these girls? Could i muster up enough courage to walk down that dark street and face evil? Don't get me wrong, I wanted to help the girls..but there are other forces to face in the red light districts of the world. There is a dark force-something beyond any experience I have ever had. I remember stepping off the bus and feeling a heaviness, almost physical, like I had a difficult time catching my breath. My friend, John was put in a different group and I remember feeling a little panicky that we were seperated. I was with Pat, our interpreter, and two others, Donna and Josh. We began walking and handing out our flyers, inviting the girls to our celebration of the opening of Mercy Chapel. All of sudden Pat was in one of the small shanty's with our enterpreter, the only other person in our group that has been in the red light district. Donna, Josh, and I stood out on the street, looking very OBVIOUS. A few men approached us, asking to see what we were handing out. Donna refused to show them. All of a sudden, Pat came out, walking toward us. He motioned for us to come into the tiny little room, where he was speaking to a very young girl. I walked into the room, only half way and had my first experience with what these girls live like day after day. I did notice much about the room, only the girl. She had a difficult time looking at Pat. She kept her head down, and kept looking nervously toward the door. I saw glimmers of hope flair on her face when our entrepreter would mention that there was help available to her. Because Donna, Josh and I were halfway in the room and halfway out, we began drawing attention. Two more men approached, asking what we were doing? It became obvious we were running out of time, drawing way too much attention. I wanted to grab that girl and hug her tightly, telling her how God loves her, sees her, tell her that we care, we want to help. Without the time, or the right words, I was unable to do so. It was difficult to just walk away! I sensed Pat's frustration as we headed toward the bus. He was responsible for our safety, so the girls would have to stay behind tonight, with the hopes of another opportunity on another day to get them out. That night ended without a dramatic rescue, all of our hearts were heavy as we headed back. But we all left hoping to reach some of the girls the next night.
In comes Mercy Chapel the following night. Our team had a wonderful day Sunday, with much anticipation for our service on Sunday night with the girls. We had invited so many, along with the girls that were currently living in the SAFE homes, we anticiapted a large crowd. As our team walked into the building Sunday evening there must have been over 100 girls. Some had babies, they all chatted, you could feel the anticipation. I came in from the back and right away I spotted the girl we had spoke to the previous evening. I approached her, and said hello, giving her a tight hug, telling her how happy I was that she was here tonight. I could go on and on about the amazing servcie we had, the gifts, the poems read, the food and even the next day when we visitied the SAFE homes. But the most important point in my mind? That one girl came to the service. I don't even know her name, but she came. That day it rained hard all day. This girl had to walk a long way, in the rain, to get to Mercy Chapel, probably risking much to do so..but she came. What did that say to me? These girls, the forgotton ones, are desperate for a way out. Some of the girls rescued already have described how they asked God everyday to help them out..when Pat or someone else from ICA showed up asking, "do you want us to help you?" The answer is YES, they want help! Who will give it?
Girls rescued by ICA in Ethiopia at one of our SAFE homes: