Up until now, human trafficking was always a foreign concept to me. Like most people, it is so hard for me to even wrap my head around the fact that it happens everyday, right before our eyes.
Flashback to the Fall of 2015, I was sitting in Capen Auditorium at Illinois State University, where my campus ministry, Encounter, was held. This night happened to be missions night, where they announced the different trips that Encounter would be making that year. As I was sitting in my chair, the word “Cambodia” kept coming to mind. I began to feel confused, mostly because I had no idea where this place even was. This brought up many thoughts and questions.
So, I began to pray.
“Okay God…….. What’s up? What are you trying to tell me? Why is this place so strong on my heart right now…?”.
They began announcing the trips, starting with the ones that take place in the U.S. I was still sitting patiently, praying and asking God what He was trying to tell me about this Cambodia place. While I was praying, I heard “and for our international trips we will be going to Kenya and Cambodia”. WOW!
Isn’t it amazing how God works? God makes His plan known to us so vividly, all we need to do is listen, pray, trust, and follow.
They touched on what we would be doing on each trip and explained that we would be working with an organization called Rapha House while in Cambodia.
The week leading up to the application deadline, all I did was pray about and research Rapha House, which led to the topic of human trafficking. Thoughts and questions flooded my head. I frequently told myself this wasn’t real and that this awful act does not happen. But within those thoughts, I knew that God was calling me to go to this place, experience and learn what I did, and then come back and be an advocate for those women and children that do not have a voice of their own to stand up and say that this is not right.
While in Cambodia, my life changed, as it should have. I vividly remember one night driving back to our hotel and our trip leader pointing out the Red Light District. This is where a lot of the trafficking happens. I remember driving through and my heart absolutely breaking while seeing these children sitting outside the brothels, waiting for their next client. This is not how a child should live. They are not allowed to be children. They are not allowed to play in the streets and laugh with their family and friends. But what they are told to do is sit, wait, entertain their next client, and repeat.
My heart was so heavy the days and weeks following my trip. I began to ask God what can be done about this. God placed on my heart that this issue is not going to stop and that it is so important to be an advocate. Thinking back, I never thought I would have enough knowledge on trafficking or have the courage to go share my stories, but the thing is that wasn’t up to me. It’s not up to me to decide what I can handle or what I am capable of, because the truth is God doesn’t give us more than HE can handle.
I began to do more and more research about the problem internationally because, like most people, I thought this only happened overseas……. Because why would it happen in the United States, right?
In doing more and more research I came to learn that it is just as prevalent in the United States as it is internationally. This blew my mind. Each year, between 14,500 and 17,500 people are trafficked into the United States. This often occurs around international travel-hubs with large immigrant populations. This can look anything like services offered in a massage parlor (also known as an illicit massage business), in bars, and in nail salons.
After being stuck on what God was calling me to do, I was introduced to Catalyst Ministries. A ministry IN the United States that provides a community and safe place to live for women in recovery from trafficking and exploitation. This is when everything became real to me. I was no longer trying to convince myself that trafficking did not happen in the United States, let alone in the city that I call home. For so long, I was completely blind to an act that happens in our everyday lives, in places you would never expect.
When talking about the issue with friends and family, so many questions get brought up. One thing I encourage you to do is ask those question and do your research so that you too can be an advocate and speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves.