“Where was your God when I was raped at age eight
because my mother sold me to a man?” (Ukranian girl)
“No one was looking for me. I ran away and no one cared.”
“We can’t tell these kids theology;
we have to live it into their broken lives.”
(Ukranian Christian who works with children trafficked on the streets of his city)
The Fall of Communism
Eastern Europeans greeted the fall of communism with optimism and confidence. It was a chance to start over. To create new legacies. However, their expectations were quickly crushed. Millions of people in Eastern Europe face day-to-day struggles and hardships that were absent even during communist times. The social network system in these countries has all but collapsed, leaving the most vulnerable segments of the population—the very young and the very old—to bear the brunt of this hardship. Despair and frustration is the common mood of the people.
Kostya Voloshyn, Project Director of Humanitarian Aid Relief Team (HART) in the Ukraine, was one of the guest speakers at the Human Trafficking Conference I attended this past April in Sabadell, Spain. He told us how many children became orphans as their parents died of hunger and disease. Or, even worse, parents abandoned their children because they could no longer care for them. Children were left defenseless to wander the streets, scavenging to survive. They became easy prey for traffickers and pedophiles.
It was the plight of these children that led Voloshyn and other Christian leaders to begin ministries to protect these children. One of these ministries is HART, a Christian Relief Aid and Missions agency dedicated to serving the poor and equipping/empowering the Indigenous church in Eastern Europe. Another is an organization called Otchiy Dim (Father’s House), a charity organization founded by Roman Korniiko in 1996 to respond to the problem of children’s homelessness in the Ukraine.
Voloshyn pointed out that many of these children have experienced such horror in their short lifetime that they are full of rage and despair. Initial acts of love and acceptance by Christian counselors are usually met with suspicion and rejection. It takes months and months of consistent action on the part of the counselors to slowly chip away at the survival tactics necessary to live on the streets. But as one young girl commented at age 13, “I realized one day that they truly did love me. That their God was real.”
Can Success Be Measured?
Those of us on the outside looking in sometimes want to ask questions like “How do you measure success in a program like this? How do you know you’re making a difference?” We fail to realize how nonsensical that question is. Wounded children, wounded lives, should not be measured by words like success, failure, gains, losses. Some wounds go so deep that it can take years of love and therapy to heal. But that doesn’t mean we give up. Every small step gained is taking back territory from Satan’s playground. As one volunteer for HART said,
“We talked about the glorious ways the ones who’d been raped, sold, and abandoned learned how to smile and shed a giggle every now and again. And we looked at their thick hair and golden eyes and we knew. Success cannot be measured by the resiliency or complexity of the human heart. But in bits and in pieces, we watched where the healing had begun.”
Not Someone Else's Child
Perhaps we who are on the outside become more authentic in our discussion about Human Trafficking when we move out of the us/them mentality. We stop thinking about trafficked children as someone else’s children in someone else’s country. And we begin to think about every child as part of our extended family, God’s family. James 1:27 says “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.”
Pastor Francis Chan said at an Anti-Trafficking conference in 2012: “We have to realize these are our daughters who are being taken not, their kids. I tell you, if I found out that my seven-year-old daughter was stolen to be trafficked to dozens of men a day, I’d be consumed with finding her and bringing her home. We are called to live a life consumed.”
A Life Consumed
When I think of a life consumed, I think of Jesus. Jesus, the God-Human who agreed to suffer with us and for us. Richard Rohr, in his book Breathing Under Water, said, “Many of the happiest and most peaceful people I know love a God who walks with crucified people, and thus reveals and “redeems” their plight as his own. For them, Jesus is not observing human suffering from a distance but is somehow in human suffering with us and for us. Would any of us even learn to love at all if it was not demanded of us, taken from us, and called forth by human tears and earthly tragedy? Is suffering necessary to teach us how to love and care for one another? I really believe that it is—by observation.”
How would you answer an abused, trafficked Ukrainian girl when she asks, “Where was your God?” Would you attempt to offer her safe, rational, theological words? Or, would you desperately pray for Holy Spirit wisdom and attempt to be, to act, grace and love as she gives you glimpses of her wounded heart? Would you be Jesus and suffer with her? Would you see her as one of your own? Would you love her no matter how much she fought you on every level to hide and protect her hurt?
We all need to struggle with the answers to these questions. Because these girls, these children, are not just in the Ukraine. They are in our cities. They are in our neighborhoods. They might even be in the house right next door.
i. Website for Humanitarian Aid Response Teams http://www.hart.ca/
iii. Website for Otchiy Dim http://otchiy-dim.org/en/
iv. Deanna on http://hartministries.wordpress.com/2013/06/14/measure-of-success/
v. Rohr, Richard. Breathing Under Water. “An Unusual Postscript: Only A Suffering God Can Save”. 2011. Ebook.