I write from a coffee house on an overcast day in Southeast Asia with my sunglasses on because after a week over here I can not contain the tears. I realize that if you just go off my instagram feed it seems like such a fun trip. But I have seen in the last several days far too many children being sold and exploited to hold in this sadness. So many girls that should be in high school or jr high school drinking cheap taquila and smoking hookah non stop to numb the horrid reality of their employment. Night after humid smokey drunken night being exploited and used by greedy and gluttonously lustful men. Here in front of me is a beautiful girl with her little sister or her friend or her cousin. She’s marginalized. She comes from the north, one of thousands in a mass migration of the countryside’s daughters into the red-light districts of the tourist cities. She is coerced or tricked or manipulated or forced into this industry. And here I am with her – pretending to be a potential client – another damned selfish carnivorous exploiter.
But I’ve learned to pretend to be such a man and I attempt to do so in the kindest way I can, with subtle and loving gestures hinting at her worth – her internal value and beauty. She has dreams or had them at one point and I want to hear about them. She is precious and I want something better for her. So I talk to her with love but I’m there to capture evidence (through conversation and covert equipment). Evidence of her age and of the system that has taken her captive. Evidence that could someday lead to her freedom and the imprisonment of her oppressors. But then I have to leave that girl. I might hug her before I leave only to look back for a second as she’s exhaling apple or mint flavored hookah smoke out of her nostrils. And she waves to me in the way one of my own daughters might. Maybe she thinks I left her to find a girl I think is more attractive. Or maybe she is too scared to even look me in the eyes the whole time I’m in there or maybe she doesn’t speak any English so we can only communicate through hand gestures. Sometimes she only drinks a coke. Sometimes she’s drank more than a grown man could handle. Maybe one of her handlers is suspicious of me and I’m worried my cover is blown or that they are on to me and know that I’m wired up. Maybe she’s listening on in horror as I’ve negotiated with her handler on the price to take her with me for an hour or two and she’s relieved when I leave alone. Or maybe she’s disappointed when I leave without her because she really needs to send money back home to her parents or uncle who is profiting off of her employment. Sometimes they’ve been manipulated by the mafia or a loan shark. Maybe they know what she’s doing but don’t care. Maybe they’ve been tricked to believe that she’d end up doing hair or working at a nail salon.
Whatever happened that brought this precious child here is irrelevant at this point though. She is here now and she shouldn’t be here in this hell. And the majority of the world cares enough to maybe tweet about it every now and then or share a horrific article. But I met a man named Matt Parker. He and his wife have devoted their lives to finding these girls and boys. They uprooted their family from the suburbs of Colorado to come over. I was on a motorcycle with Matt yesterday doing some reconnaissance on a potential area where children are trafficked or exploited and it was raining. We rode down a street and there in the middle of the road was a lady that had turned her motorbike over and was laying in the middle of the street. Cars and motorcycles continued driving by in the rainy traffic. Matt stopped the bike. I moved towards the cars and forced them to give us more space as Matt and a couple other ladies helped this wounded woman out of the middle of the street. We picked up her bike and pulled it out of the street and made sure she was taken care of. I met a man that pulls over when he sees a woman laying bleeding in the rain on the concrete. He didn’t keep on driving. But so many do. Are we afraid of getting bloody? Are we afraid of the inconvenience of getting out of our comfortable sedans to get wet in the rain? We’ve got places to go. We’ve got things to accomplish. The comfort and the insulation of our suburban dream.
Matt talked this morning about the day when he and Laura decided to start this work and the birth of The Exodus Road. History will remember men and women like Matt and Laura Parker. Along with the few – the nameless ordinary people who did not look the other way when they saw someone bleeding. Ordinary people who learned skills usually reserved for nation’s agencies protecting military secrets. Ordinary men who spend nights out in brothels with prostitutes while their wives wait with courage and resilience of spirit. Ordinary women who give their lives and their youth to the rehabilitation and the repatriation of the victims of this industry. Women that stay for months and years in an effort to restore the dignity and value that seems hopelessly lost. I read about a man from the ancient town of Nazereth that was known for, among other things, drinking and spending time with prostitutes. They called him a drunkard and took issue with the company he kept. They took issue with the way he did things. You see a lot of men that claim, in word, to be “followers” of this man. But also claim that the call or the passion for justice and freedom is reserved for merely a few. It’s not a call. It’s a ancient command – Seek justice. Learn to do right. Arrest oppressors. Defend the cause of the afflicted. This is what Matt and Laura do. We were all intended to participate in the freedom of other human beings. There is something about the very fabric of our soul that longs to be involved – I know you can feel it. It whispers in a deep chamber of your heart that you barely know exists. Because we’re destined someday to bring the extension of a kingdom of freedom to the farthest reaches of the universe. But for now – we’re called to be men and women of sorrow – to be intimately acquainted with this grief. To leave the temporal shores of safety and comfort through the tempest tossed waters of the resistance in the direction of freedom.