I Can’t Go Back Now, And I Wouldn’t
The last two months I have questioned a lot.
I have asked myself what it would be like to never have heard the words ‘human trafficking’.
I have wondered what would be if I had never known those who live life by selling their bodies. If I could see the world through the lens of unawareness that there are those who are forced to work for little or no pay. I have questioned how it would be if I had never met a girl sold by her family into the sex industry.
I can’t go back now.
There is no answer for how it could have been.
Instead, I sit here, outside my hostel, wrapped in a hoodie, staring at this screen, and questioning how to tell you the stories of yet another place.
We are in Moldova now.
The first time I learned about Moldova was when I lived in South Africa and I heard this story of a young woman trafficked into Cape Town and held in debt-bondage.
It is a country that has always been coloured through the lens of exploitation in my eyes.
My colleague told me they say when the world was created, God gave every country land, but when he got to Moldova, he had run out, so he gave them a piece of Eden.
It is a beautiful place. They grow the most succulent fruits and vegetables. There are fields and rolling hills, and since I have been here the sun has been shining.
In the space of three days, something I didn’t expect to happen has.
I think I am moved by Moldova.
I am moved by the impressive lunch I was fed in a village church after playing a haphazard game of duck-duck-goose on concrete and broken glass with twenty Russian speaking children. This meal that was made for us by the wife of a local pastor, who despite being a mother and working a full-time job, daily runs an OM sponsored feeding program for local children who would otherwise not eat.
I am moved by the faith I saw light up a mother’s eyes as she told us that every time she feels that her circumstances closing in around her, God always provides. She said that after she lifted her shirt to show us a jagged scar on her belly. A gift from her now-in-prison-husband, who took from her the house they had shared with their four children, forcing her to re-located to another home which burned down in January. Leaving her to work 7 days a week with dangerous chemicals that are destroying her arms while living in a tiny apartment run by her 11 year old daughter as she is away from the house all day. “Like today,” She said, “Today with this food you brought, today He provided.”
I am moved by the hope displayed in Vladimir, founder of Beginning of Life, as he spoke with such authority about their anti-trafficking projects which holistically address the needs of both those who have been exploited, and those who are vulnerable to human trafficking. I am absolutely blown away by the work his wife and him are doing through their church and their love of their country.
I am moved by the beauty of their Art Therapy centre, a building that absolutely exudes healing and joy. Filled with stunning paintings and hand-crafts which serve to bring restoration to victims of trauma and exploitation.
I am moved by the joy of a social worker from Tajikistan who works with victims of human trafficking at Freedom Home, a place of restoration for survivors of human trafficking, most of whom were sexually exploited in UAE and Russia and are returning to a place where they can be home. This social worker said to us in broken English, “Tonight, I will ask our girls to pray for the girls in Amsterdam. That they can get jobs. That they can know Jesus.”
I am moved by the juxtaposition of brightly painted houses and doors next to run-down concrete buildings.
I am moved by the crazy dance party in the park we came across while on an afternoon walk and the four beautiful brides we passed by getting photographed on that sunny Saturday. Of course we crashed their dance party, and probably a few wedding photos too, but it was all so beautiful.
People warned I might feel depressed by Moldova, the poorest country in Europe. I was told it may be overwhelming, to hear the stories of human trafficking when it is so prevalent.
I don’t know if depressed or even overwhelmed would be accurate words to describe my experience so far.
A piece of me is being restored by Moldova.
Moments such as meeting good Eastern European men, like our translator, a man who told us about how he loves the children of survivors of human trafficking, despite the fact that they don’t really know how to behave appropriately around a man because of all they horrible things they have seen and endured. How I needed to hear that there are men who show love the right way in a time where I often only hear stories of men who inflict horror on women.
Time spent with women such as Becky, a Canadian missionary here, who has been seriously the most hospitable person and such an answer to prayer. I have become so cynical of projects, that being shown around by someone down-to-earth and accommodating has been a huge encouragement.
A piece of me was restored when, at Beginning of Life, they shared a story of girl whose mother left her to work in South Africa. After she turned 18, despite ten years of no contact, the mother called her daughter and invited her to come to South Africa. The girl had spent most of her teenage years involved in BOL’s prevention programs and knew all about human trafficking. When she arrived in South Africa, she realised her mother was a Madam at a brothel. The mother had the daughter’s passport, and after a few days she began to pressure the daughter to sell her body, threatening to turn her over to the police if she didn’t. Because of all the education about exploitation this girl had received, she knew that she would not be arrested, so instead she went to the police for help. She was able to return to Moldova and told the people at BOL how their prevention program had protected her from falling prey to trafficking.
This. Moved. Me.
The first time I heard about Moldova it was in relation to a story of horror.
But this is not the full story of Moldova.
I can’t ask what it would be like not to know the stories of sadness, because then I would never grasp the scale of hope. I can’t go back from the day ‘human trafficking’ entered my vocabulary because if my heart hadn’t been broken by those words and the people I have met, I would not experience the hope as pieces of it are restored.
For that I am thankful.
And, I am simply moved.
By food and faith, hope and beauty. By joy and juxtaposition, and moments of restoration I didn’t expect.
One of my travelling companions and colleague has been blogging daily from Moldova, and doing such a good job: You can read her hopeful sum-up of the day here.