A couple of weeks ago, I was fortunate enough to be invited to SE Asia to see first hand what human trafficking looks like and learn about the work of a ministry called The Exodus Road. The lingering impact of this trip is still haunting me, it wasn’t like any other form of injustice, or brokenness, or poverty or devastation I had seen before. I’ve seen human brokenness before and felt the hopelessness, but what I experienced in red-light districts of Thailand felt like pure darkness. The kind you want to run away from, that you don’t want to stay near because it feels scary, and dirty, and like you don’t know what’s really going on; or what’s being hidden. A darkness working against everything you know and believe in.
I went to Thailand to face my fear of the dark, but I discovered more about the power of the light.
Truth be told though, I’m genuinely confronted by the stark reality that it’s easier to move on from the brokenness I witnessed, than to stay in it. The painful truth is it’s really difficult to allow our life to be interrupted and inconvenienced by what real change means for us. My natural instinct is to simply stay away from the darkness.
But I can’t. I have to keep choosing to face it, to acknowledge it, to keep talking about it. I need to give words to my experience in Thailand – to share the stories and keep spreading the light.
Darkness can be equally difficult to explain to someone who’s caught in the midst of it, as it is to someone who simply can’t see it.
There are forces of control & exploitation that aren’t obvious. The poverty, the hopelessness, the desperation, and the greed all come together to provide the perfect breeding ground for human trafficking to exist. This is true all over the world, but it is especially true in SE Asia.
After receiving a day of training and preparation for the week, we spent our first night in Thailand in the brothels of the red light district where we saw.…a lot. Broken people, humanity being exploited, de-valued, used, discarded, it was empty, and numb. It was devoid of any light or hope.
For me, the reality of facing this kind of darkness, is that it’s lonely and it’s broken and empty. It’s really dark, and it’s really scary. It’s overwhelming and suffocating.
Afterwards when I was back in my hotel room, I sat trying to process all that I had just experienced. And my overwhelming emotion turned to a feeling of guilt. A feeling that I had done something wrong, that I had been where I should not have gone. This feeling really challenged me. I wasn’t sure why I felt that way and I struggled with it a bit.
But then it hit me. It’s human nature for us to be scared of the dark, for us to want to stay away from it. And growing up as a Christian, in many ways I’ve been conditioned with a moral compass to stay away from certain things, to not engage in certain behavior.
When we go on the other side of the wall, we begin to shed the light on darkness & our paradox begins to change. Matt Parker, The Exodus Road
This statement Matt had made in our prep meetings suddenly began to make sense.
I watched the commitment of Matt & Laura Parker and The Exodus Road team as they went into the darkness offering hope. They were willing to go where most of us would not dream of going, and do the hard, dirty, dark work that is required to be able to free men and women, and more horrifically, girls and boys, from the clutches of evil.
“…and I searched out the case that I did not know, I broke the fangs of the wicked, and plucked the victim from his teeth” Job 29:16-17
My friend Dawntoya read this verse on our trip and it sums up how I saw The Exodus Road operating. They go and search out those who are victims, and they do what it takes to break them free of the control and exploitation they are under. They are lights shining into the darkness.
And is this not exactly where Jesus would have been? Going into the darkness to shine the light to those who need it the most. Jesus came to the ultimate darkness to sit with us and bring redemption.
I believe that, both as a Christian and a person of privilege on multiple levels, I have a call and a responsibility to both face the darkness and consider my complicity in systems that allow much of it to exist.
I honestly had to do a re-alignment of my mind. Yes it’s dark, and it’s scary – but The Exodus Road team showed me that I also have the light, I have the capacity to show the way out, and if we go into the dark holding the light out in front of us, it’s a completely different experience. I walked the street again a couple of nights later from this vantage point, and it all looked a whole lot different. What I had to bring and offer was suddenly something with so much power that could push away every hint of darkness.
I saw a lot of darkness in Thailand, but I also saw a whole lot of light. I saw hope.
So then, what are we doing with the light that we have? Are we using it to bring more light to those who already have light to see, or are we taking it to the dark places to show the way out. Do we even think about how we can spread the light or do we just keep it to ourselves and, perhaps unintentionally, allow it to cast just a little for those close to us and forget about those that are further away but are in desperate need of it.
The darkness will be overwhelming where there is no light.
The mechanisms that allow for trafficking & for slavery, (and for all kinds of injustice), must be dismantled in order for all of humanity to be able to flourish. We can’t keep looking away because it is too hard or too dark. What we have in our hands can be used to bring light and hope to people lost in the darkness.
So, what can we do?
1. Be prepared to face the darkness and sit in it
Don’t ignore it because it’s too hard or too overwhelming. Love the person right in front of you. Be present
2. Tell the stories
When the problem becomes abstract, it loses its humanity. We need to find the individual stories and share them, and keep finding and sharing them
3. Ask God what He would have us do
I genuinely believe that if we are passionate about a particular area of injustice, or brokenness, and we find out all we can about it, we pray fervently about it, and we open our hearts to what God might say to us, He will reveal the part we can play in bringing light where there is darkness. It may be a trafficking victim in SE Asia, it may be our neighbor facing their own darkness, and maybe we just need to go and sit with them. Whoever it is, or whatever it is, I believe we all have light to shine into darkness.
The Exodus Road are looking for people to join the front lines of the fight against human trafficking. Their Search & Rescue team is poised to impact the lives of hundreds of young women and girls, sold into sex slavery throughout the most impoverished areas in rural India. They are called the BRAVO Team, and they need partnership with those who cannot physically go to the front lines to continue their rescue work. This team is comprised entirely of nationals and includes female social workers who are present during every raid and provide follow-up with survivors. Here’s how you can help:
Become a BRAVO Team Member. A donation of $35/monthly can sponsor one night of local investigations (you can sponsor more than one night, as well!). You may not be able to storm brothel doors, but you can send someone who can. All missions have strict oversight and protocols and all work is done in partnership with local police partners. To date, The Exodus Road have worked with police to deliver 336 girls and boys from sex slavery in India alone. By joining BRAVO Team, you’ll receive a welcome packet and updates throughout the year, specific to BRAVO Team’s work, as well as other teams in the Search & Rescue Program.
Find out more and sign up to be involved here.