I looked out the window once again, hoping to see her return, but there was no sign of her. If I’m to be honest, after the major blowup she had before running out, there was a part of me feeling momentarily relieved, but a bigger part of me wanted her to come back.
I met Robi one morning as she was sitting outside our coffee shop. Still wearing her evening clothes, she looked weary, distant, and lost. I found out she had no place to stay, no documents, and no one to go to. Robi was from North Africa and the language we used to communicate was French – neither of us great at it. Robi wanted to quit prostitution, but she didn’t want to return home. She needed a safe place off the streets. Since our shelter was waiting for additional staff and not yet available, I brought Robi home with me. I knew it wouldn’t be easy, but I also knew it wasn’t a coincidence she was sitting on our doorstep. I believe in divine appointments and knew she had been sent to us to love.
Robi had little trust for any expression of love. Even a gentle touch on the arm was mistaken as a threat or invasion. Robi was angry, and for good reason. Robi’s entire life had normalized trauma and abuse. After birth, she was abandoned into her grandmother’s abusive care. By the time she was 8, Robi was working to support three abusive uncles. One of the uncles burned his wife and then burned the house down in a drunken rage. These were the building blocks forming Robi’s view on love and relationships. At 16 Robi ran away and was taken in by a Madame who sold her into prostitution. Arrested by the police, she was sent to a foster home, which she described as the worst experience of her life.
When at 19 a friend connected her to a job at a restaurant in Turkey, it sounded like a great escape to a new beginning. Instead, she was forced to do drugs and prostitution. Robi’s anger taught her to fight and seeing her as a troublemaker, the trafficker sent her to a partner in Bangkok. It was the frequent rapes by the new boss which drove her to run away without her passport. She ran into the arms of another man who continued the abuse. Robi ran away again, and again. Her story reads like a never-ending nightmare. When she paused on our doorstep, she was on the run again with nowhere to go.
At my home, Robi immediately unpacked and arranged her few belongings. She delighted in playing Hide-and-Seek with my children, showing glimpses of her lost childhood. We watched a French movie and laughed together as she forgot her fears for a moment. At night, however, she was haunted by nightmares and disturbing thoughts. The lights stayed on all the time.
We began the process of obtaining documents for repatriation.Image removed by sender. In one of the interviews, Robi tearfully said, “I just want to go someplace where I can be a human being and not an animal.” As the days passed, Robi became more agitated. She questioned when she would go and then questioned what kind of future was ahead of her. We kept assuring her we would assist in finding good options for her, but Robi had no experience in her life to give her a reason to believe.
The day came when Robi exploded, yelling and cussing at the imagined cameras and the men she believed were watching her. She said she was leaving to go find the money herself for a ticket. She began packing her things while cussing and yelling. Alarmed, I called her embassy and the diplomats decided they would intervene by sending her back the next day. Robi settled down, but she wasn’t herself. She dressed in her sexy clothes and went out for a beer to calm her nerves. That was the last I saw of her.
NightLight has given assistance to hundreds of women through the years. While many have success stories, we have had our share of women who fell short of success. It is heartbreaking when they run back to their abusers. It’s easy to feel that we failed them. In the early years of this ministry, I ran after them not wanting to let them go. I have come to understand, however, that there comes a time to let go and trust they are in God’s hands. God gives us the privilege of being part of their journey and our call is to love them the best we can for whatever time they are with us.
We are sometimes but an oasis on their journey toward healing and restoration.
Robi was on the run and God led her to stumble across our path where we would find her and give her rest. Maybe for the first time in her life she experienced authentic love. Maybe this brief experience of love shifted her paradigm just enough to give her hope that true love does exist. Robi left us to continue her journey, but I know another divine appointment watches at the window and waits for her – another appointment with true love.
“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you, declares the Lord, “and will bring you back from captivity.” Jeremiah 29:11-14