Lying curled up on broken concrete under an aging spirit house, I wondered, “How on earth did I get here?” It was past midnight, and the street light shining through a spider web above me threatened to give away my hiding place.
We had been prayer-walking through a red-light district for several weeks, and God used our time there to help an investigative team identify several children we believe are being commercially sexually exploited and one pedophile. Twenty-four hours earlier, I had sat at the next table and eavesdropped intently, trying to identify his accent, while Kelly captured his photo. Rage boiled in my veins as I watched his seduction of the child dressed in a pink Snow White nightgown and purple glittery high heels. And then he paid his bill and got up to leave…with the child. He picked her up in his arms, and she hung limp like a rag doll. Her arms and legs hung lifelessly and straight, head lulling back.
Nothing could have prepared me for the emotions I felt in that instant, but everything in my past experience had prepared me for what was about to unfold. The idea of allowing them to disappear into the night was an impossibility that I couldn’t even fathom. My heart followed them out, and like a team of wild horses, it dragged my reluctant feet along. Kelly stayed behind to pay our bill and avoid creating suspicion while I walked out into the crowded street. At first, I reasoned, “This is crazy, but the team is all nearby, and the street is crowded.” I rationalized that I was secure in my anonymity. I texted my location to the team and anticipated they would intercept him at any moment. And then he turned off the main road.
“I am turning left at the café.” I texted the team as we moved onto a smaller street. With fewer people and less traffic to provide me cover, fear crept up beside me.
“What am I doing? This isn’t some adventure novel or a fairy tale with a guaranteed happy ending!” Reason shouted, “Go back, you idiot!” The whole pursuit was against my will. It was utterly ridiculous to follow, and yet my body kept moving forward, swept along by the powerful current of justice unfolding.
Again, he turned. Left into a dark alleyway. And then another turns down yet another smaller alleyway. Long shadows extended from high concrete walls. The team was following me via GPS, but still, my heart and intellect were in a fearsome battle. I knew better than to follow him down that alley. I had no way to intervene, no way to defend myself or the child in question. A shouting match was taking place in my gut when a text came, “We are almost there; stay with him if you can.” My heart pounded steadily in my ears, and my feet followed the rhythm. He had put the child down by now and was holding her hand, leading her slowly to his lair. They approached yet another corner, and I was about 15 feet behind when part of the team pulled up to the intersection with the window rolled down. “Don’t stop. Get in.” I did what I was told and realized I had been holding my breath for the better part of the evening. I sighed in relief, and then the crushing realization came.
Again, he turned. Left into a dark alleyway. And then another turns down yet another smaller alleyway. Long shadows extended from high concrete walls. The team was following me via GPS, but still, my heart and intellect were in a fearsome battle. I knew better than to follow him down that alley. I had no way to intervene, no way to defend myself or the child in question. A shouting match was taking place in my gut when a text came, “We are almost there; stay with him if you can.” My heart pounded steadily in my ears and my feet followed the rhythm. He had put the child down by now and was holding her hand, leading her slowly to his lair. They approached yet another corner, and I was about 15 feet behind when part of the team pulled up to the intersection with the window rolled down. “Don’t stop. Get in.” I did what I was told and realized I had been holding my breath for the better part of the evening. I sighed in relief and then the crushing realization came.
“Which way did they go?” the team asked.
But I had no answer. I had taken too long getting in the car, taking my eyes off the child. At that intersection, we lost him. For another half an hour, we scoured the neighborhood on foot and in vehicles while I struggled not to vomit. They had vanished without a trace.
Devastation, despair, and all too familiar nightmares crashed through my soul. Just like that, she was gone. I had lost her. My only comfort was in knowing that whatever darkness lay ahead of her, Jesus knew exactly where she was, and He wouldn’t leave her alone for an instant. It was a dark night, but ultimately Justice will prevail.
The team regrouped. The man had been overheard saying that he would be back tomorrow, so we decided to hold out hope and formulate a plan. The following evening, we met again with an alternate team of investigators and watched. And then he crawled out of the shadows and returned to the bar. We observed him throughout the evening from inside and outside. The inside team casually gathered some critical information about the man. Where he was from, what he was doing here, how long he planned to stay, etc.
There was no child with him this time, just a jovial beer-drinking good ole’ boy. A normal-looking guy, he could have been my neighbor or yours. We waited patiently. This time, he was the prey, and we were the predators. It felt good to be on the other side of the hunt. Just after midnight, we received a text that he was leaving the bar. The team spread out through the neighborhood so that we could track him back to his residence. KJ dropped me off at the same corner where I had lost him the night before and pulled away to wait and watch in an alternate location. I stood alone under a streetlight, sticking out like a sore thumb. We were well off the normal tourist track, and as a foreigner and a woman, there was no way to blend into my surroundings until the Holy Spirit gave me an idea.
“No one pays any attention to homeless people.” I could sit down in the shadows, and people would assume I was homeless or drunk and walk right past. I surveyed my surroundings and found a leaning spirit house that I thought might offer cover and took my place beneath it. A scooter drove slowly up the street, and the driver looked straight at me.
“Okay,” I thought, “A drunk, homeless person wouldn’t be sitting here all prim and proper. They would be curled up, sleeping off their pain.” I thought about King David and him feigning insanity to stay safe from an enemy king and decided to make myself “comfortable.”
So that’s how I got there, laying quietly underneath the spirit house on a dirty side street, watching the spider weave her glistening web and listening for the sounds of a predator’s footsteps. I kept my phone in my hand, tracking the team’s progress as they followed him. He was taking a different route home. And a few minutes later, the text came through, “We got it. He lives at…….”
I sat up with trembling breath, and in the shadows, a tear slipped from the corner of my eye. The police knew where he was. I had done all I could do.
Lest you have any misconceptions or ridiculous ideas about me being courageous, please let me hand you a shovel so that we can bury that fallacy right now. As soon as I sat up, a Princess-Bride-Rat-of-Unusual-Size straight out of the Fire Swamp lumbered out of the corner where my head had just been lying. Seriously, he was the size of a small cat. He squealed angrily at me for being in his way, and I squealed like a girl in return…and did the heebie-jeebie shuttering, dancing thing…and maybe even gagged a little bit…and squealed again.
Jesus is the God of Justice; He alone is the God of Rescue. He has determined to set the captive free. Despite our weaknesses, our fears, and our failures, there are extraordinary moments when Jesus breaks into the darkness and allows us to participate in what He is doing to bring about justice. Those moments are nothing less than a gift of His grace and mercy. May He be glorified in all and through all.