We rounded the corner of the narrow street. Our van honked outside a large iron gate, and it creaked abrasively as it slid open. Even before our van could pull inside the gate, we heard squeals and screams of delight and anticipation, all in very bold unison, coming from the home in front of us.
As our van parked a swarm of beautiful, excited and super loud (like, sensory overload volume) girls surrounded the van. I had never received such a warm and ecstatic welcome. Each girl took a moment to welcome me, “Hi SIS-TER!!!!” They all greeted me in English with the most precious accents I have ever heard. Even now as I type, their faces flood my memory one by one.
Their faces are precious memories I strive to hold on to. For security and safety reasons we didn’t bring any phones or cameras into Sarah’s House. So, I tried to memorize each of their bright and beautiful faces. I pray that the memory is seared in my mind forever – I never want to forget.
I had been praying for months leading up to this trip that God would prepare my heart to love well and to be able to carry whatever weight I felt in the safe homes with grace. I didn’t know how I would emotionally respond to being face to face with girls who had been rescued from the sex trade. I had no frame of reference. All that I did know, was that the girls I was going to be with were the same ages as two of my daughters… and that weighted heavily in my spirit as I prayed and prepared for this part of our trip.
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A little backstory.
Before our time at Sarah’s house, our team had the privilege of visiting Compassions First’s new safe home – Grace House. They have incredible staff that are working tirelessly to get this space ready for their first rescued girl.
As we walked through the amazing facility we could see all the effort that had already been poured out – every detail had been anticipated and prepared for to the best of their ability. It was all hands on deck. You could sense the unity and camaraderie of everyone on staff as they were getting so close to being ready.
Being able to observe the all the effort and hard work that goes into preparing the homes for their girls was in and of itself an incredible and inspiring thing. There are about 30 staff required to operate each home; trauma counselors, case workers, teachers, cooks, and around the clock house mom’s, and guards.
It is an astounding feat of an operation.
The work that all of these beautiful humans do is definitely a calling. It requires strength, resilience, and perseverance. It is heartbreaking, exhausting, detail oriented, hard work. What was absolutely astounding to me, is that even with the weight of their roles in these girls lives, each staff member serves with enthusiasm and immense joy. It was a blessing to be able to interact and engage with the staff as our team helped with projects around the house. There is already so much life and laughter in that home – they are certainly ready to embrace and lavish love on the girls who are to come.
The staff strive to make the homes safe in every possible way, but also work hard to create a space that feels homey, warm and comforting. As we walked through Grace House they explained each and every aspect of security. When entering the home you have to pass through two security gates, a tall cinder block and cement wall surrounds the home, there is a locked door that leads to the offices upstairs, the balcony upstairs has floor to ceiling decorative iron bars, there are no mirrors, nothing sharp, no standing water, no metal or glass dishes or utensils (they use tin cups and plastic plates and cutlery) – every aspect of the home is carefully and tediously thought through. All of these precautions and safeguards are in place to provide healthy boundaries, safety, protection and security for the girls.
There is so much more that goes into every single rescue then I could have ever even imagined. Most of the girls have been so grossly manipulated by their traffickers that they are heartbroken when they are seperated from them. There are invisible chains that tie them to their traffickers. There is a period of grief and confusion as they process their feelings of being taken away from the person who has promised to love them (may have even married them illegally, as the girls are under age), promised them security, protection and provision. Many of the precautions put in place are there to keep the girls from trying to run back to their traffickers. Other precautions are there because once the girls begin to adjust to a new normal the process of unpacking where they have come from and the truth of what their experience has been can be overwhelming for them. Unfortunately, some of them try to end their lives.
There are 6 requirements that must be met to be brought into a Compassion First Safe house.
- Must be a girl
- Under the age of 18
- She has been sexually and commercially exploited
- She has experienced multiple sexual trauma
- She has been legally rescued by the police
- She cannot return home (Either a family member sold her into trafficking or she has no parents to go home to.)
Throughout this trip I became more educated and aware of all that goes into the rescue, after care and rehabilitation of each girl.
It is A LOT.
Compassion First has 30 staff in place and ready to serve at Grace House the very moment that their first girl is rescued. It takes all 30 staff to facilitate the rescue and aftercare of one girl.
Is it worth all of the man hours, all of the effort and all of the expense for one girl?
YES, it is. Without a doubt.
I have never seen a more tangible example of the love of Jesus. He set the standard – HE always comes after the ONE. That message in and of itself communicates the value and worth of each and every human. All the staff in the safe homes communicate that same invaluable worth to each girl that enters in. They are worthy of rescue.
Back to Sarah’s House.
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The girls immediately put me at ease. They watched my face carefully when I spoke. I could see some of the girls studying my movements out of the corner of my eye. A couple of them immediately invited me to join in whatever they were doing in the moment. The newer girls were a little more reserved, the ones that had been in the safe house for longer were confident, curious and inquisitive – asking me questions in their broken English and taking me by the arm to show me things.
“Sis-ter, sis-ter, come see!”
“You play? (pointing to a guitar) You sing?”
“You have pretty lipstick, sis-ter. I like makeup!”
“Why you not wear your hair straight sister? You should maybe try wear your hair straight.”
(I learned you can always count on these girls for complete honesty when it comes to beauty tips.)
“Sister, You like chicken? You like spicy?”
I am not going to lie – what I thought would be heavy was so joyful. You could not be in their inquisitive presence and not laugh, smile and feel so warmed by their kindness and enthusiasm. The girls were just content and happy to be in our presence and we felt honored to be in theirs.
The second day that we visited the girls, the squealing welcome was the same. We all gathered in their family room and sat in a circle on the hard tile. Each of us on the team had brought our own skill/gift to share with the girls. As a collective, we had set aside time with the girls for basketball skills class, painting, a card game and makeovers. Day two began with the painting class led by my new friend, Ed. We passed out canvases and papers and Ed gave them a few instructions and we all watched their creativity flow. They all began painting their canvases, while one of our other team members, strummed his guitar. I was watching them paint, each picture unique – some dark, some bright. One graveyard was painted, a beach scene to my left, and the girl across from me painted the lyrics “You unravel me with a melody, you surround me with a song.” across her canvas. As she painted the lyrics, all the girls began to sing ‘No Longer Slaves’. Not quietly – without any inhibitions, they were wholeheartedly singing with all that was within them. The melody and harmonies filled the air as they continued to stroke paint across their canvases. It was one of those moments in life that you just sit in, absorb and take in deep. No one on our team even dared to make eye contact with one another – the beautiful tension in that moment highlighted the reality of where they had come from and it was almost too much. What we sing every Sunday about our spiritual chains – they sang literally, powerfully and sincerely. They meant every word.
We quickly found out how competitive the girls were during the basketball clinic and the card game. It was hilarious and precious all at the same time. Their intensity and the sheer volume of their voices kept us all laughing and engaged with their enthusiasm and joyful spirits. So much life, so much character – they were bright and beautifully brave. Shy at first, but not afraid to try new things. Refreshingly vulnerable.
Lastly, was Sarah and my make over time with the girls. Sarah sat on the tile floor with the girls while they all took turns picking out nail colors and painting each others nails. I sat on the couch and did makeovers one girl at a time. These moments were absolutely precious to me – Maybe some of my favorites of the entire trip. As I gently brushed sparkly eye shadow over their eyelids, I prayed. As I swept bronzer under their cheekbones, I prayed. As I applied blush to their cheeks, I silently prayed specific prayers over each of them. One at a time, as I held each girl’s face to carefully apply glistening pink lip gloss, I prayed. I prayed sincere prayers, big prayers, brave prayers. For those God ordained moments, that I had each girl sat right in front of me, I prayed my heart out for them. I spoke truth over them. I looked each of them in the eye and told them how beautiful they were. It was protected, sweet and powerful time together, doing fun and girly things in the presence of Jesus.
The rest of the afternoon was spent circled up on the couches letting the girls lead us in worship. All the girls play instruments, and they love worship music. So we sat together and sang our hearts out. One of the girls clearly has an extraordinary gifting in leading worship. It just exudes and flows from her effortlessly. At the end of one of the songs, I looked right in her eyes and said, “Sister!!! You are a worship LEADER!!” She took my hand and smiled. Then in her raspy voice she replied, “YES sister! If Jesus wills!!!! He is SO good to me. He IS good! Right sister? SO good!!” Her face was bright and her eyes sparkled.
That was the thing.
The remarkable thing.
The shocking thing.
All of the girls faces reflected the beautiful glory of God. It was one of the most life changing experiences I have ever had. These girls have been through more devastation, brokenness and pain then any human should have to endure in a lifetime. Here they are, bravely processing their pain in a safe place, surrounded by incredibly dedicated staff and dreaming of who they will be and all that their futures hold.
These girls are absolutely in love with Jesus. They have experienced His love coming after them, pursuing them, rescuing them. They know their worth, value, and preciousness.
Each girl knows what it was like to be the one that He relentlessly came for, never gave up on, found in the darkness, and brought into the light.
They are evidence of a powerful Saviour, a miracle worker, a God who pursues each of us. A God who can heal our deepest wounds and bring freedom to every aspect of our lives.
Each one of them are worthy of rescue and valuable beyond measure. Their joy is inspiring, their laughter contagious, their worship is pure and their faces beautifully reflect the love of a Savior.
My sisters at Sarah’s House are the essence of tangible, bright redemption.On our last day, the girls gathered around us, hugged us and held us as we said our goodbyes. As our van pulled out of the driveway, we all sat in silence for awhile. Our hearts were heavy. We had all seen, with our very own eyes, the transformative power of Jesus’ redemption – and it had changed us all. I don’t think any of us really wanted to drive away that day. We all fell in love with our sisters. I think it’s safe to say, that we also left their beautiful presence more in love with Jesus Himself then ever before.
He rescued them – and He is rescuing us.
He came for them, He came for me and He is coming for you.
Bright & tangible redemption is for all of us.