Nothing can stomach the sound of petite girls sobbing into their handkerchiefs – girls who’ve seen a different world to us. The bars they’ve been working in are not your usual Weatherspoons. We’re talking decrepit brothels with alcohol that prop up men with nothing but an agenda of meaningless sex and paedophilia.
6 of us were chosen out of the 46 missionaries who travelled to the Philippines, to counsel victims of sex trafficking. Due to safety, we met them at a base a few hours away from the safe house.
We had been trained, questioned, checked, questioned again, counselled and questioned one more time. When dealing with high trauma victims, anything could trigger them, never mind trigger us.
You could cut the air on our first meeting. For them, a team of women had flown from California to love and close some wounds. As the leader of one of the organisations began to share her own story and why she had set up the safe-house, so came the sound….the sound of weeping, sobbing, groaning, shallow breathing and exhaustion. They were about to reflect on the status of their lives and it had just hit us what we are about to face. In the room were intercessors, 4 interpreters, fundraisers, art therapists and counsellors. This was serious. I was about to stare evil in the face. And I wasn’t afraid to spit right into it’s dirty, emaciated eyeballs.
As the girls cried, so did we. Some looked no older than 12. Their bodies reminded me of mine at 11 – the reality being that the youngest was 14, the eldest was 20.
Two months before this trip I began to ask God to highlight a girl or two in the Philippines. To believe in. To love on. So proceeded a dream of a girl with a beauty spot in a particular place on her face. In the dream she seemed a sassy fighter but valued innocence, second chances and a sweet smile. She was personable, could connect and was, most of all, fearless.
As the line of girls faced us, I saw no one in particular showing up to me and alas no beauty spot. They couldn’t look in our eyes – such is the affect of the shame culture in the Philippines.
We had only one weapon on us to obliterate the horrors they had gone through. That Guiding Organiser Designer that punches the lights out of the cruelest evils like a round with Tyson. God was the only thing I could have any hope in at this stage.
Teams of two began to counsel each girl. Despite being 30 seconds away from heat stroke with no a/c in the rooms, we set to work.
‘Are you ready?’ I ask my interpreter.
‘As ready as we’ll ever be’ she smiles and breathes deeply.
I look to my teammate and tell her to chip in at any point. We managed well on facial expressions and sign language throughout these sessions. So we begin and attempt eye contact:
‘I need you to know a few things. Anything you tell me is received without judgement, without condemnation and in confidentiality as long as you aren’t in current danger. If you are, I will need to tell those who look after you. We want to know your story and how you think we can help you. Is that ok?’
‘If you need to stop at anytime, we will. We won’t push you to discomfort. But working through the pain is the most important thing to freedom. There is no way to bypass it at this stage. But only if you are ready.’
The stories begin. I wish I had lined my stomach beforehand. Molestation and rape from brothers, fathers, uncles. Mother leaves or falls pregnant with another man’s baby. No income, not enough for the siblings. So she grabs a job at a bar by the introduction of one of her friends.
She begins to waitress. Develops a reputation for working at one of these ‘bars’ and is soon labeled a prostitute. Rejected now by her family and no education from the ages of as little as 9, she has no choice other than to provide an ‘extra service’ in the bar. Extra service is sex. Just to be utterly clear.
As she tells the stories, my head swells and my imagination gets the better of me. I vision the 6 of the counsellors holding imaginary AK47s pointing towards the line up of evil stories coming in our path.
So this is what going from strength to strength looks like huh? No warning came to tell me it looked this ugly.
The tears falls all over the place, on her jeans, on my dress and right into my own soul.
Some were made pregnant by rape. Then the story is covered up to save the family’s face. Then the child is either to be raised by the girl, or is taken away from her and is given full custody to the rapist. Or should I say uncle?
Screw Days of Your Lives – you want drama? It’s right here. And it’s full of agony, disease and incest. These are the days of their lives. A 14 year old girl, who has had no modeling of a decent father, who are so unknown by their own mothers that their confidante is a wasted man in a bar -who pretends he loves her, until she discovers he’s married.
The only place she feels she now belongs is a brothel. Such is the power of community. But in the midst of the men scouting for girls, comes a rescuer or two. Offering them safety and a heart without the stone.
And here they are, in front of me. First impressions from my paper work to hers would tell you we were worlds apart of a perspective. But in the corners of our minds, we share the same needs. To be known, to be loved, to love others, be respected and to fly in freedom.
‘Shall I tell you what freedom looks like?’ I whisper. She looks into my eyes for the first time. ‘It looks like unchaining yourself from the unforgiveness you have towards the torture you’ve suffered. No more do you stay suffering in silence. It’s time to get this pain out. Cry it out. Punch it out. I’m giving you a journal to get it all down. No names. No locations in case you lose it. Then burn it. Keep going at the pain until you begin to feel different. Then you need to know your worth on this planet. I need you to understand that what these people have done to you is not acceptable, is evil, is dumbfounding, and they are broken. But I want to unbreak you. Lets find a way to make you powerful, strong, a fighter for your own freedom, to become a force for good. We need to start forgiving these people. You needn’t ever see them again, but we need to help you leave the baggage behind. Else you’ll stay in unhealthy relationships, believe you deserve abuse, and you’ll judge everyone and yourself. You’ll live in constant fear and hatred.’
As we went through the process of forgiveness: ‘I want this gone. I want this gone’ was one reply.
Forgiveness is a decision, yes. It doesn’t condone behavior. Bitterness is another poison for self-sabotage. In my life – it’s ruined some of the most beautiful of people. I refused to have this happen for these faces. As they loosened their grip with the pain, and grasped the punishment of fear. I saw smiles for the first time.
That’s called breakthrough folks. And it delighted me more than Rupert Freakin Sandersons. You heard me.
End of Day 1. And I’m beaten with visual imagination and dark dusty rooms with wooden beds and the sounds of continuous, unrelenting rape. The team debrief and cry it out, brush it off (we have to) and prepare ourselves for day 2.
Welcome to the fourth of nine nations with the most child prostitution. Welcome to the gutless mindset of the modern day man and the ability to buy a slave for 90 dollars.
Never underestimate the power of forgiveness, nor the driving force of an ex-slave. I saw it. I saw it in their eyes.
These are not ordinary girls. These are my new heroines.
But where’s my girl with the beauty spot?