Friday Jul 25 2008
Fighting the sexual slavery in Asia from Sacramento
Bryce Jessup, Columnist
When we hear the news reports, it seems impossible to believe: girls, some as young as 5 or 6 years old, being sold as sexual slaves in distant countries. This summer, the distant became up-close for me, as a trip to Cambodia put images in my mind that will never be erased. While in Cambodia, I visited the Agape Restoration Center in Phnom Penh, where former Sacramento area residents Don and Bridget Brewster and their team of Cambodian nationals care for more than 40 girls, ages 8-17, who have been rescued from sexual slavery. Because sexual slavery is an underground crime, it is difficult to quantify, but estimates are that as many as 30,000 young girls may be sold as sex slaves to adult men in Cambodia every year. Many of the men who purchase these girls come from the United States. I heard stories of children being raped and tortured by one pedophile, then passed on to another. Sometimes the girls’ families sell them into this slavery and are complicit about their plight. Others get tricked into believing their daughters will work in restaurants, not brothels. All are mired in poverty. In some poor villages, every girl can expect to be sold into prostitution by age 10. In a situation like this, we wonder and ask ourselves, “Can I really make a difference when there is such rampant and overwhelming need, like that in Cambodia?” Well, the Brewsters and their team demonstrate that people of compassion who are self-sacrificing can and do make a difference in the lives of children, all of which are important. The girls at Agape Restoration Center receive intensive cognitive therapy, education, medical care, vocational training, voluntary spiritual guidance and unconditional love. Many have grown up without consistent access to food and are shocked when they receive three meals a day. Kaign Christy, the Southeast Asia regional director for International Justice Mission, a faith-based human rights agency in Washington, D.C., describes the Brewsters’ shelter as making a significant difference in the lives of the juvenile sex trafficking victims at their center. I visited one former brothel which was shut down by International Justice Mission in 2003. The brothel remained a chained, empty building until it was leased by Agape International Missions in August 2007 and transformed into a community outreach center called Rahab’s House. Rahab’s House is now being used to show compassion to a desperately poor neighborhood. Some of the girls rescued from the torturous prison of that building are now cared for at Agape Restoration Center and return to Rahab’s House weekly to teach, provide spiritual direction, distribute food and give counseling and encouragement to young children who would otherwise have no hope for their own future. The clinic is staffed by a volunteer nurse from Great Britain, who has made a two-year commitment to Rahab’s House, which includes training a Cambodian national to take over her position before she returns home. Soon, there will be a school with certified instructors, teaching the children and adults to read and write. The Brewsters travel back and forth from Cambodia to the Sacramento area to tell the story and hopefully transfer the burden for these deeply wounded children into the hearts of others. Within the past two years, teams have gone forth from Adventure Church in Roseville and Bayside Church in Granite Bay, which are partnering with the Sacramento couple to restore hope for these children’s future. These churches sent teams to the center again this summer to provide health care, mentoring for the workers, and food distribution. Plans are being made to expand the center into other areas of Cambodia as resources become available. The need is great and many locals have committed to provide assistance. Some go to serve with their professional skills, including doctors, dentists, counselors, business professionals, while others go to serve by simply providing whatever needs to be done, be it sharing compassion and love with the hurting, lonely, and troubled girls, or encouragement for the staff. I left Agape Restoration Center wondering if, perhaps, this center could become the new model of how to rescue the children of the world out of sexual slavery. So many images linger in my mind and will always remain with me. I cannot be the same after having seen first-hand the precious, beautiful children whose innocence was stolen and were destined to a life of despair, and are now smiling, singing, and radiating a hope for their future. The answer to the question, “Can I make a difference in such an overwhelming situation?” is Yes! The need is great, but if we will all do our part, together we can make a difference in our world and in the lives of hurting, otherwise hopeless children. – Bryce Jessup is President of William Jessup University, a Christian liberal arts university in Rocklin. For more information on the Agape Restoration Center, please visit www.aim4asia.org.