The sun burned down on my head and the homes plastered in manure. Its heat indiscriminate, baked us each a golden brown. Hiking on rocky trails from home to home I tried to take in the sights, the people, the stories. But as each hour on the field passed, I felt myself becoming anesthetized. By the evening of the second day, I could no longer feel my gut. I know exactly the moment it happened. I had used the Priceless cube to teach a group of 23 people in the Bahir Dar region of Ethiopia about the realities of human trafficking. I had talked about slavery, abuse, rape-for-profit. It was clear. It was concise. At the end of the presentation I asked if there were any questions. Two young women called from the back, “Yes, how do we get our sisters back?” Their plea cut me deep. The only way to bear the pain of that moment and continue to function was with a spiritual epidural. I couldn’t breathe. I didn’t know even if I wanted to. I found myself once again like a child who must become numb to survive. With a deep breath, I explained to the women that there are people doing investigations and rescue all over the world but that our only real hope is in Jesus. I assured them that he loves their sisters even more than they do and that He is the God of rescue.
Our trek took us over ground cracked deep and into families broken by deception. In every place the stories were the same.
“They took my nephew when he was 8. We have never heard from him. That was three years ago.”
“I just got my passport picture yesterday and I am supposed to leave for the Middle East in two days.”
“I sent my daughter two years ago. She only called once. She was afraid and wanted to come home but the phone went dead. We have not heard from her again.”
Place after place the sadness washed over me, it pooled deep. My tears lay in wait, themselves waiting to be released from captivity. This morning, as if resurrected from an ancient tomb, my heart came throbbing back to life, swollen and bleeding. We listened first in Amharic then in English as a government agent explained what they know is happening to the women and children trafficked from this region into the Middle East. He told us of people being tightly packed into shipping containers with no food, water or toilet. When these containers are shipped by land as many as 50% of the people will die in the container before reaching their destination several days later. Others are taken through the desert to Djibouti and then shipped by sea to Yemen. Often the ships are overloaded with human cargo and they become unstable in the journey. The traffickers then throw a number of the children to their death into the sea. When arriving in Yemen, the ships don’t land in a seaport but instead in the desert. Those who have survived are met by men who like lions eagerly await those whom they will devour for a profit. Shopping through the “human merchandise” like cattle, they bid pennies for the bodies of children.
And it came like a tidal wave crashing through my defenses. I wept. I wept for those who have gone. I wept for those stripped of their humanity and packed into shipping containers. I wept for the children somewhere on a storm tossed sea crying out for mothers they will never see again. I wept tears of relief for those who mercifully die in route before the unthinkable happens and then happens again. And I cried for young girls and boys who are desperately learning how to survive by appeasing the lust of beasts dressed as men.
I am compelled to my knees crying out for mercy. “Father, forgive us! How have we let this happen?” The tears come, they wash away the red clay crust of the week.
Our team was welcomed into 120 homes over four days. We saw more than thirty families with plans to send their wives or children commit instead to protecting them, keeping them home. We saw young women with recently obtained passports changing their minds and refusing to go. We witnessed the courses of these women and children’s lives changed forever. In every home we shared the hope we have in Jesus. I told them of His power displayed in my own life to bring rescue and healing. We invited them into a personal relationship with him. 465 people over the course of the week accepted that offer, not only for hope in their present lives but also for eternity.
Our final two days in Ethiopia were spent helping to host a conference on human trafficking. 70+ leaders were trained and equipped with the Priceless cube. We were also able to work with the staff of Compassion International-Ethiopia equipping their staff with training and Priceless cubes.
The trip pulled and stretched me in many different ways. It broke my heart and if possible, even further solidified my stand. When asked by a national church leader, “if we take a stand against human traffickers will it not be dangerous?”
I answered, “Jesus was innocent of any sin but he was crucified for you and for me. If I am threatened or hurt for taking a stand to protect those who are defenseless, then that is nothing in comparison to what Jesus did for me. We must protect the vulnerable because every one of them is made in the image of God.”
Truly, after the experiences carved into my soul this week, I can say along with famed abolitionist William Wilberforce, “Your sufferings have been the theme that has arrested and engaged my heart.”