Three years ago this June, I stepped off of a plane in Southeast Africa with little to no thoughts or understanding about words like Human Trafficking, Prostitution, Gender Based Violence or Sexual Exploitation. The few ideas I had were largely constructed by the media and culture around me as a 23-year-old kid growing up in America. These words were distant words. Words that felt miles away from my life. Words used in the punch lines of jokes or the plots of movies I’d often watch. Words that ostracized and judged people in my mind. Words I rarely used with my friends, at school, or in church. Words that had little meaning to my life. They were just words to a 23-year-old kid.
Then I stepped off that plane, and for the first time in my life, these words that seemed so distant, so unbelievable, so surreal, now had a face. They were no longer distant words. They were now the face of my friends 2-year-old daughter, who, if statistics hold true in her home country of Malawi, Africa, will have her first sexual encounter at the age of 12… unwillingly. These words were now the faces of the prostitutes we passed on the streets at night, forced in to this lifestyle at a young age after losing their families due to abandonment, abduction or death. These words were now looking me back in the eyes, describing, but not defining, the numerous girls and young women I met in Malawi who have been victims of trafficking, gender based violence and exploitation.
Then, after one month, I returned home. Back to the United States, still the same 23-year-old kid, but with a slightly new perspective on the world out there; the world beyond my country, my city, my community and myself. But “out there” is not the way God works. And “out there” is not where the injustice of sexual exploitation only exists. I quickly learned that sexual exploitation is a “right here” problem. Right here in our country, our community, in our schools and churches, and in each and every one of our hearts. Sexual exploitation is not an us and them issue, it is an every one of us on this planet issue. And it begins in each and every one of our hearts.
When the Saints is a ministry that recognizes the depths of injustices like human trafficking, prostitution and sexual exploitation. But more so, it recognizes the greater depths of the healing and redeeming power of the love and grace of Jesus Christ. When the Saints’ focus is on defending those who are poor and oppressed for the glory of Jesus Christ and to challenge to church, the Bride of Christ, to rise to its potential to help love and defend.
When the Saints specific calling in ministry is to girls who are victims of sexual exploitation in Malawi, Africa. Here, gender based violence and sexual exploitation is very prominent. In 2010, there were nearly 3,500 documented cases of sexual abuse in one district alone! It is an extremely poor country, with a deep need of physical, emotional and spiritual healing. And this is the place that God has called When the Saints.
The ministry is focused on bringing girls off the streets, out of prostitution and other sexually exploited circumstances, and offering them healing, training, encouragement, love and hope in the name of Jesus. When the Saints is very close to opening a rehabilitation home (the first of its kind in Malawi) for these girls where they can receive food, shelter, medical care, counseling, schooling and vocational training, teaching from the Word of God, and unconditional love. The hope is to help these girls begin the journey towards healing that can only come from a relationship with Jesus first and foremost, and then the skills necessary to support themselves and family in society (vocational, education, etc…).
The ministry does not stop here however. When the Saints realize that the injustice of Sexual Exploitation will never truly be eradicated as long as there is a demand for it. So another huge focus is on sharing the love and forgiveness of Jesus with the men who are exploiting these girls in Malawi. Until these men experience the redeeming power of Jesus, there will continue to be girls victimized and exploited to meet the demand. When the Saints hopes to partner with local ministers and even local hotel owners to begin awareness raising, Gospel presentation, and discipleship to these broken men who need the love of Jesus equally as much as the girls, and you and I.
The third phase of ministry that When the Saints focuses on is raising awareness of the issues of exploitation and trafficking here in America. As I stated at the beginning, sexual exploitation is not just a problem in Africa, or Asia, or Europe. It is a problem here in America, in our cities, and even in our own hearts. When the Saints has created a documentary about the ministry and also about the ways that we, as individuals, add to the global injustices of human trafficking and sexual exploitation. By showing people the truth of the depths of brokenness and sin within pornography, seeking fulfillment sexually, and looking for our identities in others instead of God, When the Saints hopes to begin the fight against sexual exploitation globally, at home, in each and every one of our hearts. The ministry is trying to open people’s eyes to the fact that exploitation doesn’t just happen “over there,” it is happening much closer to home… Possibly in our own hearts!
I pray that you will participate with When the Saints to help bring healing to this hurting world. Healing to the girls in Africa with the joyful laughter and deep brown eyes, who, despite the suffering they have experienced, light up a room with their smiles. Healing to the men who have victimized these girls from places of brokenness in their own hearts, may they know the love and freedom that Jesus has for them as sons of God. For the church to rise up in the Power of the Spirit to put to death the sins of pornography and exploitation and begin defending the rights of the poor and oppressed, and healing in our own hearts that comes from knowing the love of a Father who cares so deeply for His children.
You can participate with When the Saints by purchasing a “Defend the Weak” shirt from VIVE clothing. The purpose of VIVE is to serve customers and community initiatives by offering the highest quality goods to raise awareness/funds for a just cause. This month VIVE will donate $5.55 of every item purchased to When the Saints’ cause. You can shop now at wearvive.com and check out whenthesaints.com to see the amazing work they are doing in Malawi and here at home.