When working in the field of human trafficking, it’s much easier when you are able to clearly identify a particular person or group as evil. However, my perception was challenged deeply several months ago.
I was in Cape Town, South Africa attending a conference on the issue of human trafficking. On one night, we went to do some outreach in the city, targeting well-known brothels, which are hotspots of trafficking. I was a bit nervous. It is always hard to go into a new context and area you don’t know well.
We arrived at our place of outreach and divided into smaller groups. So many things were rushing through my head, such as, Will people even be open to talking? As the women in our group were talking to some of the women forced to sell themselves on the street, I noticed one young man looking as the group were talking to these women. My first thought was, “He must be the pimp, the one controlling these girls.” I looked at him with resentment, thinking, “What kind of person does this?”
I decided to walk to him and start a conversation while the rest of the group was talking to the young women. As I approached him, I tried my best not to let my emotions reflect on my face. The young pimp shared how he had come to South Africa because he was promised a soccer contract, but when he arrived, he was forced to sell drugs and girls.
I asked, “Why don’t you just say no and run away?” (as if I could fully understand the depth of his situation). He said he feared for his life, that when he arrived, his traffickers informed him that his choices were to sell or be killed.
I was silent, thinking carefully about what the right thing would be to say. Before I could open my mouth, though, the young man asked, “What are you doing here?”
We were here telling people more about Jesus, I said instinctively. He immediately asked if I would pray for him. That night a group of us prayed for this young man and connected him with a local ministry.
I also met Henry*, a soccer player and a businessman from Nigeria who was promised a better life in South Africa by his brother. Upon arriving in South Africa, though, there was no job for him. His brother hid the fact that he is a pimp and drug dealer, but when life became tough for Henry financially, his brother pulled him into that life of trafficking.
Our group shared the gospel of Christ with Henry, who gave his heart to the Lord but was scared to leave his “job.” For a year, others in Cape Town continued to follow up with him, he finally allowed God to set him free. Today, Henry is a new man. He released the girls he was pimping and has now started sharing the gospel with other men who have been trafficked from Nigeria.
Henry has set up a soccer team, and we are encouraging him in the Lord and supporting his team to start playing tournaments. The trafficked men are excited about this, and more of them are considering quitting the lifestyle of pimping girls and selling drugs.
Through these encounters, I was reminded of Matthew 21:28- 32, where Jesus speaks about the parable of the two sons. In verse 31, Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God ahead of you.”
I realized that I am quick to judge people who take part in the crime of human trafficking. It became clear to me that people who are living in darkness know it. I was so quick to think I understood the circumstances, and because of that I looked at others with disdain. God reminded me that He loves everyone equally, and those caught in darkness might go to Heaven before me.
My prayer continues to be that God would always allow me to see people the way He does, with complete unconditional love, and that I may never think I am better but understand that to be compassionate is ultimately to understand that if one person suffers, so do I. To live a compassionate lifestyle is to suffer together and to act until both people are free from suffering.
*Name changed for safety and protection.