“Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.” – Psalms 23:4 ESV
I saw her lying there, silent on the floor of the garage.
Her body was limp, legs twisted underneath, arms curled over her chest, clutching a thin, crumpled sheet.
A bed sat in one corner, sheets and pillows had fallen to the concrete floor. There had already been 12. Twelve customers today, three yet to come. She would lay there until they were finished with her and the day’s work was done.
I remember when it began. She was four years old when the man walked into her bedroom; her uncle, trusted by the family, always so kind and caring. He was the one who brought the best presents on birthdays and always had a kiss when she climbed onto his lap. He was the one who closed her bedroom door behind him, and began the process of destruction that would continue until she was fifteen.
I remember the handsome college boy she met the summer her uncle was done with her, and how she felt the first time he looked at her. The flutter and flurry as her heart sailed out of her chest. She couldn’t believe it. She didn’t feel worthy. No men looked at her except as a piece of meat, no good to anyone for anything else – but this man was different. He seemed to look straight into her soul and told her the beautiful things he found there.
I remember the first time he held her hand, the first time he professed his love, the first timid, intoxicating kiss. All the times he looked into her eyes and, holding them in his, told her how beautiful and special she was, just as she was. He wasn’t just a handsome older guy – he was her protector, champion, crusader. He made everything else fade away.
I remember the night he waited for the moon to sail high in the sky and drove her down miles of moonlit-dappled lanes into the deep countryside. He pulled up to a lake and parked, a vista of evergreens, starlight and water. For a while he said nothing, both of them gazing out at the view, holding hands in comfortable silence.
They had been dating for three months – the only months of her life she had felt safe and protected since she was four years old. He brought her fingers to his lips, tracing each with a kiss. “I want to marry you,” he whispered. “I’ve wanted to marry you since the moment I saw you.” Her heart thundered so loudly she was sure he could hear it.
“Why don’t we?” She asked, her voice a whisper. “We need money to be together,” he said, “Will you help me get the money we need to start our new life, just you and me?”
I remember how uncertainty began to creep in at the edges while she listened to the plan he unraveled. He said she was beautiful and special – so beautiful and special his friends would pay money to experience her. Her mouth went dry. She had heard this before.
I remember how she suddenly bolted out of the car, horror clouding her vision, and how he grabbed her by the arm and pulled her back in, bearing his weight down on her while he told her what she had to do to pay him back for all the months he had given to her, all the beautiful things he had done for her. She tried to run again – he circled around and pinned her to the car, hitting her over and over. She owed him. She had to pay him back. She would do this for him or her entire family would be killed, leaving her to watch.
I remember when he took her to the hidden house and introduced her to the other girls, the others he had wooed and captured. She learned he had been planted in her city to begin concurrent relationships with young, vulnerable, abused women who were starving for love. He rescued them with love and affection, only to turn them over to his bosses and begin again in another city. The traffickers put her and the other girls in many situations over the years. Sometimes they were taken care of in big, comfortable houses, other times herded like cattle in cages and beaten severely.
And now, twenty years later, she lay on a musty garage floor, dank and sweltering in the June heat, waiting for the last three customers of the day.
I’ve been watching her since she was a little girl.
I’ve been watching every moment of her life.
I was watching when the door closed behind her uncle, when she was taken to the secret house, when her heart and soul and mind and body were broken in a thousand ways on a thousand different days. I watched as she turned twenty-five, the girl inside still fifteen and screaming to escape and be free. I watched as she turned thirty-five, her hand brushing away the graying hair in the mirror, her eyes those of a woman three times her age, knowing her life was coming to an end. The traffickers would have no use for her soon. They would discard her like all the rest, turning her out once the brutality of the last twenty years took over her body. She would be killed or tossed onto the street, a woman in her late thirties with no experience except slavery.
I’ve watched the other things, too. The times she managed to run away when the young new recruits came in and took the attention off the older women, when she steeled herself with bravery and ran into the night, boarding buses that took her to new cities. With no high school diploma or work experience she ended up in homeless shelters around the country, a new one every time, nothing the same except the dull realization it would only be a few weeks before they found her again.
It was at one of these shelters that she first heard my name, first imagined the reality of me.
I stand in front of her now, looking down at the limp body, her eyes pure devastation. Alive, but not alive. I remember when they sparkled, so many years ago.
She doesn’t know I’m here. I kneel on the floor and curl up next to her, folding her into my arms. The haze of drugs has rendered her half unaware, but she begins to stir.
I whisper into her ear.
I know you.
I’ve known you since the day you were born. I’ve been there every step of the way, every day, every minute. I’m so proud of you.
You are loved. You are marvelous. You are everything to me. This is not your destiny.
Her breath begins to slow, finding a steady rhythm. Her eyes open, looking into the space I occupy. She doesn’t form words, but she speaks to me all the same, speaking in the space between words and thoughts, as I am. She speaks her gratitude, and I continue.
Your life will not end in this prison. You will fight back. You will speak the truth about the ones like you, you will fight for the ones like you, and they will be transformed by the power within you. One day, I assure you, your purpose will be revealed, and I will help you make it known to the world. …..GOD
The allegory above, portrayed as God might describe it, is based on an actual account a victim of human trafficking shared with us. This dear sister explained how she had suffered the hideous abuse of modern day sexual slavery for many years. Until one afternoon, during unspeakable suffering and hopelessness, she experienced the comforting presence of God. This encounter would change her life forever.
Today our friend and sister continues the recovery process of coming to understand her true worth as a precious creation of God. Her journey to this realization is still a work in progress, but she is determined to walk out her true destiny, one that God conveyed to her that day when He said, “Your life will not end in this prison. You will fight back. You will speak the truth about the ones like you, you will fight for the ones like you, and they will be transformed by the power within you. One day, I assure you, your purpose will be revealed, and I will help you make it known to the world.”
We stand with Sara as she fights the demons of the past. We pray for her, walk alongside her, and cheer her onward, as she embraces her true identity and purpose in life: to help set other captives free. Today Sara is working to assist in the recovery of victims of human trafficking. Please pray for Sara and the many others like her.