Beng and I had just stepped off the plane in Bangkok from a trip to Uganda when we received the news that some African women were in jail. During a late night police raid, three Ugandan women were found on visa overstay and arrested.
The next day I stood face to face with a woman at the jail. I reached out to touch her fingertips through the bars of the cell door. The jail was crowded and the bathroom leaked water all over the floor. The women had huddled together over one little dry floor space in the night. They couldn’t sleep. The prison door flaunted their reality. They were not free inside or outside the jail cell.
One of the women, Anita, pleaded with eyes and words for help to get out. Anita’s story followed the patterns of the 26 women we sent home last year. From a poor family in Uganda and abandoned by her husband, she needed desperately to find a job and support her children and aging father. A friend told her of a job at a beauty salon in China where she would earn $100 a night. The agent would make all arrangements for her trip and provide travel documents. Anita could pay her back once she started her job in China. Anita believed that she had finally found the door to financially stability for her family.
In China, a woman met Anita at the airport and immediately collected her passport. Anita was tired and ready to rest, but the agent told her, “You are a prostitute! There is nothing else here for African women.” Anita cried and asked for her ticket home. It had been cancelled. She was threatened and told that if she did not pay back the $6000 debt, she would have witchcraft done against her, or even worse, her family. Anita was given skimpy clothes and pushed out to the street. During her time in China, Anita was beaten and forced to do many things she had never even imagined possible. Anita’s dream of opportunity abroad quickly turned into a nightmare. She was trapped and saw no way out.
When Anita’s visa expired in China, she was sent to Bangkok and to another controller. Other than a change in ethnicity of clientele, Bangkok was not much different. Anita paid a man to get her a visa, but the man stole her documents and the money. Now Anita was even more vulnerable. Anita’s only reprieve was Sundays when she was able to worship in an African church. But Anita could tell no one about her situation. Her goal was to work off her debt and return home with at least enough money to start a small business. She felt ashamed and did not have the courage to tell her family what had really happened. Anita often thought about committing suicide. It seemed like the only way out of her situation.
Then she was arrested. A steel door slamming shut and locking her in. She would not be taking customers, but she could find no comfort in being arrested and possibly sent home as a criminal with nothing but shame to face a hungry and uneducated daughter.
I listened to Anita’s story and explained how we could provide shelter, a ticket home, and assistance with the needed documentation. But Anita was scared because she still owed money to her trafficker. She was worried about her children’s school fees coming due. She wasn’t sure if she could trust us. Anita excused herself for a moment. I heard her sobbing a few feet away. She came back with a wet face covered in tears and agreed to accept our offer.
The Thai policeman willingly released the women into our custody. The prison door was opened and the women walked into freedom. They looked up at the sky and thanked God. God had used the door they thought was sealing their fate to become the very door to freedom.
At our shelter, the women received rest, counseling, prayer, and preparation to return home. My Thai colleague, Beng, worked with the Thai officials and partnering NGOs to navigate through the complicated and unfriendly immigration process. The women have returned to their country in freedom and with dignity. Anita hopes to attend Bible school and become a worship leader.
Globalization has changed the world. There are benefits to globalization, but human trafficking is taking advantage to exploit and destroy women from around the world in our cities and backyards. Such a large and seemingly impossible situation requires kingdom work and partnership. It’s time to rise to the challenge and to join in the fight against human trafficking. In Bangkok, my Thai colleagues are working alongside of missionaries and volunteers who speak multiple languages to reach the vulnerable and exploited, and who would otherwise fall through the cracks of church programs and government policies. We work together with organizations in China, Central Asia, and Africa to break through the systems that hold people captive and to bring holistic restoration.
When it seems like the doors have slammed shut and there is no way out, wait on God – have no fear – God can turn a door of captivity into a door of freedom. What He has shut no one can open; what He has opened no one can shut. The door to freedom is opening around the world. We stand at the door ready to receive the captives with singing. Thank you to all of you who support the work, and have risen to the challenge alongside of NightLight to join in the song of freedom.