We spent a few hours this morning at AGAPE restoration center. The restoration center is where the girls begin their journey out of hell.
Don and Bridget Brewster came to Cambodia on a short-term trip years ago and were appalled to hear about the prostitution and human trafficking. “Someone should do something about that” became empty for them so they looked in the mirror and said “enough.” That was the beginning of cultural change in the community of Svay Pak (suburb of Phnom Penh). Years later, more and more young girls and boys (boys are not left out of the brothel scene) have hope.
As we drove through Svay Pak last night, it was overwhelming to see girls of all ages all dressed up standing outside the karaoke bars. This is their culture. It is as normal as Sunday NFL football in America. It’s just the way it is. To make it worse: in this culture, there is little forgiveness or forgetting about the past. Damaged goods are permanently damaged goods.
Now before you think you’re better than these heathens, think about the last time you had to work in a brick factory (and not a nice one like you’d find in the states with air conditioning and health benefits), or had to make the choice between a bill equal to your annual income or your spouse dying. And then pay more to the loan sharks who “helped” in the first place. Or when was the last time you needed your 7 year old to go to work so your family could eat?
It’s just not as simple as: “don’t treat people like objects,” here’s some money, pick yourself up by your bootstraps. The girls stay at the restoration center as long as they need: 3 months to a few years. After the restoration center, many go work at one of the AGAPE employment centers where they make bracelets, T shirts and the like. The end goal is complete re-entry into society without dependence.
Stacy and I love simply being around each other. We’ve been together 24/7 for the past 11 days and we’re still snuggling as we sit here on our flight from Phnom Penh to Taipei. We talk about everything. However, we haven’t said one word about our time the last few days. We’ll need some privacy to have a joint breakdown. In fact, we took turns diverting our gaze away from each other the last two days-one look into each others’ eyes and we know we’d lose it. It’s been an unspoken between us 🙂
Back to the restoration center: there were 40 girls there right now ranging in age from six to mid 20s. A three year old was there as part of prevention: based on her family life it was only a matter of time before she became the next victim.
We heard the story of a young girl who took longer than usual to get out: 22 days meant an extra 190 rapes.
The girls were screened before we arrived to prioritize those who really needed eye care. It was surreal to hear, “we need to add this one because she wasn’t here a few days ago for the screening.” A new birthday for her! Girls are continually being rescued and rehabilitated. Fortunately we were able to see all the girls and the staff.
We managed the entire process without me touching them at all. If I needed to look closely at their eyes, we’d have Stacy pull down (or up) on their eyelids…and made it all seem natural like that was the normal way of doing things. We moved so quickly that I didn’t have time to think about a few of the girls who came in with their heads down and holding each others’ hands-obviously terrified. Frankly I was terrified of doing something wrong (and I’m sure Stacy was too) but God is good, we didn’t let that fear control us.
To glance into the eyes of a six year old (the same age as our Lilly) and imagine what she’s been through-incomprehensible. But there’s hope! People like Don, Bridget, Kim, Becki, Rachel, Isaac, Kelly, Carol, Krista and others are bringing the light of Jesus Christ into the darkest pits of hell.
The most incredible thing about the people I listed is that they are normal people. They have simply decided to follow Christ to places where I’d say “not me.” I’m not saying everyone is called to Svay Pak, Cambodia but many are and we all need to be listening to the call. Whether that call is to Cambodia, Canada or California.
I truly think that MLK Jr., Mother Teresa, Jim Eliot, and others were normal people. Just like you and me.