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UndauntedDaring to do what God calls you to do
By Christine Caine
ZondervanCopyright © 2012 Christine Caine and Equip & Empower Ministries
All right reserved.
Chapter OneThe Schindler's List Moment
The Greece I found that Wednesday afternoon in March 2010 was not the one I remembered from my honeymoon fourteen years earlier. There were no stunning, whitewashed buildings. No lapis-blue tile rooftops. No festive music. No outdoor market with vendors selling freshly pressed olive oil, mouth-watering feta cheese, fresh cantaloupe.
None of that. This afternoon the streets were empty, black, wet. The normally crystal-blue Mediterranean pounded dark and rough against the Thessaloniki shipping port. Strange how fear, not just the season—this long, hard winter—changed everything.
Is this how they see it? I wondered.
"They" were fourteen young women, mostly Eastern European, recently rescued from sex trafficking. But they hadn't begun their journey as women—they'd been mere schoolgirls when lured from homes in the Ukraine, Bulgaria, Georgia, Albania, Romania, Russia, Uzbekistan, and Nigeria. Sixteen year olds. Seventeen. Eighteen. Girls who should have been giggling about music and basketball games, worrying about what to wear to school—not how to survive the next minute.
Securely hidden in a safe house run by The A21 Campaign, the rescue ministry my husband, Nick, and I had launched just six months before, we were to speak face-to-face this dreary afternoon about a part of Greece I'd never known. I kept reminding myself: This is not a movie. This is not "reality TV." This is real. This is real.
The young women and I sat together in awkward silence. How does one speak of unspeakable depths of shame and agony?
Nadia braved the waters. Haltingly, she told how she had been raised in a village in Georgia at a time of war and deprivation. Her family possessed an abundance of love but not food. Poverty consumed them. For years Nadia lived on dreams: dreams of escaping the hunger, dreams of a world away from the ravaged village, dreams of becoming a nurse. If she were a nurse, like the ones she saw dress the wounds of soldiers in her village, she could get away. She would travel. She would see a beautiful world, a world in which she had a helpful role to play.
But girls in poor Georgian villages did not go to school beyond the second grade. They needed to learn only how to cook and clean, not to read and write. What man, after all, would want to marry a woman more educated than he? Wasn't that all that was expected—to marry, keep house, provide children, depend on one's husband for everything else?
Nadia, an obedient daughter who desperately wanted to please her parents, tried to push aside her secret dream. Yet embers remained in her heart.
So just three weeks before her seventeenth birthday, when a man approached her group of friends at their bus stop and told of opportunities to work in Greece, those embers began to glow brighter. The man told the girls that Greece was beautiful and that people prospered there. He said there were many good-paying jobs for waitresses, hairdressers, shop assistants. He said there were jobs just waiting for nurses.
The man gave her a brochure and said a meeting the following Friday evening would provide all the details.
For the next week, Nadia felt blinded by the light of opportunity. Her dream seemed so possible, so close. On Friday, she arrived early at the village community hall and found a seat in the front row. Several dozen other girls trickled in after her. The room was filled with excitement, chatter. Some men introduced themselves as agents and gave a compelling presentation of the opportunities in Greece. They promised a bright future. They passed out the necessary paperwork for obtaining passports and work visas and patiently helped the girls fill out the forms.
Nadia left the community hall full of hope. She ran home to tell her parents that she had the chance to start a new life. She could not only get education and training as a nurse and live a life of helping others, but she could soon send home money for her entire family.
Her parents were concerned. Greece was so far away. But the embers of hope burned in them too. Perhaps their daughter would be able to get ahead as they never had. Perhaps she could find a profession, earn a good income. She could be their key to new lives too. After much discussion, they reluctantly agreed to let her go. They drained all their accounts, selling what they could, even borrowing, to scrape together the fee Nadia would have to pay the hiring agents for her passage to Greece. Her dream—happiness, success, prosperity—became their own.
Nadia was met at the airport in Greece by a woman from the hiring agency who spoke no Russian. Nadia spoke no Greek. But despite that confusion, she went with the woman to an apartment building, where she was shown a room that she supposed would be hers. The woman left, and Nadia began to unpack.
Within minutes, her nightmare began. Several men rushed in and locked the door behind them. They beat and raped Nadia repeatedly. She tried to fight back. She screamed for help until she no longer had a voice. But for every protest, every scream, she received more abuse, more torture.
Confused, scared, ashamed, in pain, and broken, Nadia retreated to a dark place deep inside.
For two weeks, the beatings and rapes continued.
Finally, Nadia was told about her job. It wasn't in a hospital. It wasn't in a restaurant. It was in a brothel. Her new life was to be a sex slave. "If you do not do as we tell you, we will kill your family," she was told.
Surely, she concluded, people this evil would make good on those threats. Besides, they had taken all her papers, including her passport, and she did not speak Greek, nor did she have any idea where she was. Even if she escaped, she knew she wouldn't get far, let alone make it all the way back home to Georgia. Nadia felt utterly alone, though the men she had believed were hiring agents surrounded her twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. When they weren't in her room, they stood guard just outside her door and sent in a constant flow of customers with whom she was forced to perform unmentionable acts—up to forty times a day.
No longer sure there was a God in heaven—why would he have allowed this to happen?—Nadia pled with him anyway. Let me die, she prayed. Oblivion would be better than this. The silence, the horror, pulled her deeper into despair. No ember of her dream remained, let alone any hope of returning to a life with her family, to things familiar and free.
One day when the guard left her room, he forgot to lock the window. Though her room was on the third floor of the apartment building, Nadia scrambled onto the balcony. Maybe, if I am lucky, the impact will kill me. Oh God, she prayed, let the nightmare end.
A woman passing by saw a girl throw herself from a third-story balcony and crash onto the pavement below. Horrified, she ran to Nadia, who, miraculously, was uninjured.
Nadia heard the woman speak—and was amazed that she understood that the woman was asking if she was all right. Had she died? Was she in heaven? No. Another miracle. This woman was real! And she spoke Russian! She wanted to help! Quickly, Nadia told her of her plight.
The woman gathered Nadia from the pavement and took her to the police station, where they filed a report. Then the police hid Nadia in a safe house to protect her from the traffickers.
* * *
One by one that March afternoon, the girls around me shared stories like Nadia's. Most had been raised in impoverished, ex-communist Eastern European nations. Each had come to Greece expecting legitimate employment. All had brought with them dreams, hopes, and aspirations to do something more with their lives than their own families had ever dreamed possible. All of those tender, youthful dreams had been shattered beyond anyone's worst fears.
What shook me most was the realization that, for each of these young women I spoke to that day, there were hundreds of thousands of others still trapped in the sex slave trade with no way out—hundreds of thousands of women whose unspeakable pain remained shrouded in secrecy. Silent.
Then Mary from Nigeria told her story. She and fifty-nine other young women had come to Greece in a shipping container.
"Wait," I interrupted. "Do you mean you were contained in a ship?" I thought I'd misunderstood, or that something had been lost in translation.
Mary repeated: She and fifty-nine other young women were brought to Greece in a shipping container.
A container loaded onto a ship? Like the one I'd just had an estimate on from a moving company for shipping my household goods to our new home? "A box?" I pressed. "A container used to carry personal and commercial goods, not people?"
That's right, Mary assured me—a box, a container put onto a ship. When she and the fifty-nine other girls arrived at the port the day of their departure, they thought they were traveling to good-paying jobs in a land of opportunity. Instead, they were greeted by hiring agents who said there were complications with the paperwork. Either travel by container, the girls were told, or lose your deposits and any future opportunity to work abroad. Either make the voyage in a shipping container or turn around and go home.
"Our families had given everything they owned to pay for our passage," Mary said.
So one by one, bewildered and frightened, the girls entered the container. When the last girl was inside, the door was slammed shut and they heard a lock snap into place. They sat frozen in darkness.
"Then the bubble broke! The bubble broke!" Mary exclaimed.
The filter, she explained, that allowed oxygen to circulate in the container. It stopped working, and the inside of the cramped box suddenly became not only lightless but airless as well.
I gasped, imagining the oxygen being rapidly depleted, the heat building, the women gulping for air in complete darkness.
The journey in the sealed container was gruesome. Half the girls died from lack of oxygen. The other half, the stronger ones, were near death themselves. They had nowhere to sit but in their own vomit and feces, since they were forced to relieve themselves on the container's floor.
When the men at port opened the container, Mary said, they recoiled, appalled by the smell of death, decay, excrement.
One of the dead was Anna, Mary's best friend. Anna had died an excruciating death, suffocating as if buried alive. But Anna was real, Mary insisted to me that day. Anna had existed. And Anna must be remembered.
The hiring agents preferred to forget. More interested in quickly getting what they referred to as their "shipped goods" from the dockyard, they hustled the living to small apartments nearby, where, like Nadia, the girls were repeatedly raped and beaten.
Before sunrise one morning (Mary had lost all sense of the passage of time), the girls were loaded into small rubber boats and taken across the Mediterranean Sea to a Greek island. This was the first time they realized that the original voyage had not even taken them to Greece. They had been brutalized in Turkey. None of the agents' promises had been kept.
In the boat, Mary felt a surge of hope: The Greek Coast Guard was doing a routine check that morning—unusual for that hour, Mary later learned. She hoped that, unlike the crew on the docks, the Coast Guard could not be bribed to turn a blind eye. Mary's captors showed signs of panic. Though she was freezing, sleep- and food-deprived, broken, and in shock, Mary's hope grew. Rescue! Justice! Once caught, the traffickers would face a lengthy imprisonment.
And for that reason, these men would do anything to avoid being caught.
They began throwing the girls overboard.
Only five of the approximately thirty girls—those who had been strong enough to survive the deadly voyage in the shipping container—escaped drowning that day.
Those five were hidden among their captors when the Coast Guard came aboard. When they finally arrived in Athens, the girls were taken to a brothel, where the nightmare of the Turkish apartment was repeated. Daily, Mary and the others were forced to participate in unspeakable encounters with dozens of men. Mary sank deeper into despair, wishing that she, too, had suffocated in the airlessness of the container or drowned in the Mediterranean Sea.
The horror continued for weeks. Or maybe it was months— Mary couldn't tell. But one day, anti-trafficking authorities, responding to a tip, raided the brothel. Mary and other girls were herded into the back of what appeared to be a police van. Were they being rescued? If hiring agents could be evil, couldn't police be as well? Uncertain and broken, Mary and a dozen other girls were raced to another apartment building. Police rushed them inside, where the girls waited in fear and resignation. But instead of beatings and rape, they were given rest, food and water, peace.
Though no longer in a physical prison, Mary remained silent, constantly tormented by recurring nightmares. The daily horror may have ceased, but the pain screamed nonstop.
Mary was safe but not yet free.
* * *
Stunned, I sat quietly for a moment after Mary finished her story. Around me, the young women at the table remained quiet too, almost reverent. Yet inside me, a storm of thought surfaced. Questions hammered at my broken heart: How could this possibly happen in our world today? No matter how much money is involved, how can anyone be so depraved as to make sex slaves of others—let alone make it an international operation, enslaving not just one girl but hundreds of thousands, again and again and again?
Sonia, a Russian girl who had arrived at the shelter the previous day, interrupted my flood of thought. "Why are you here?" she demanded, her eyes narrowed with suspicion. "Why did you come?"
Her tone was angry, and I felt the distrust behind her question: Was I who I said I was? Was I someone who could help? Or was I, like the hiring agents, untrue, unfeeling, evil?
How can I make her understand, I wondered, that I, too, know what it is to be trapped, enslaved, with seemingly no way out, no way forward, no way back? How can I make her see that, as bleak as her enslavement has been, there are prisons just as black inside oneself, prisons into which Sonia and many of the girls sitting here may have retreated? How can I make each of these girls know that I care in the same way someone once cared enough to come to me in my pain?
Oh God, I prayed. Help me help them! I breathed deep and looked at Sonia for a long moment.
"There is only one rescuer I know," I told Sonia and the rest of the women, "with the power to free us from the darkest prison. That rescuer is the God I love, who loves us so much he left every thing to come for us, to free us. He is the one who made us, each of us, for a unique purpose and a magnificent destiny. He makes right what the world makes wrong. His plans are for good, not for evil. His ways are straight and merciful. He came to give me a hope and a future—and to give you one too. His promises are true. His love is full of forgiveness and peace, joy and kindness, grace. He is the true rescuer. He saves us from any prison, whether physical or emotional or spiritual, the ones we're forced into and the ones we fall into on our own. He chooses us. He can make all things new. He loves us without condition, unrelentingly, forever. He loves us broken, and he loves making us whole again. And he asks those of us who love him to love others the same way. To choose them. To be agents of his hope, his forgiveness, his grace. He asks us to join him in rescuing others.
"That's why I'm here," I said. "That's why I've come."
Sonia's eyes filled with tears. I could see her grappling with the concept of unconditional love, the meaning of grace, of all things being made new. All the whys and hows of what I'd said furrowed her brow. All the what ifs and possibilities had died in her long ago. Yet here I was, resurrecting them. What if there are good agents and true promises and a merciful God who loves me and chooses me and can lift me from the impoverishment, the betrayal and fear, the hurt and horror? What if ...
No! Sonia could not believe all this. It was too good to be true. She knew all about promises too good to be true. The risk of allowing hope to reenter her life, only to see that hope dashed again, was too much. Her anguish turned back to anger, and she pushed back from the table. "If what you are telling me is true," she yelled, "if what you say about your God is true— then where were you? Where have you been? Why didn't you come sooner?"
Why didn't you come sooner?
The girls around me didn't move. No one spoke. But I could feel their eyes on me, their minds screaming that same question. I felt like Mary in that container, the weight of such a heartfelt cry pressing in on me like suffocating, airless darkness. I could barely breathe.
Why didn't you come sooner?
Excerpted from Undaunted by Christine Caine Copyright © 2012 by Christine Caine and Equip & Empower Ministries. Excerpted by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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