After learning about the issue of sex trafficking in Cambodia in 2005, Don and Bridget Brewster sold their home, Don gave up his position as Executive Pastor of Adventure Christian Church in Roseville, CA, and they moved to Cambodia to lead Agape International Missions (AIM).
Since 2005, Agape International Missions has been focused on stopping the cycle of sex trafficking and exploitation in Cambodia by preventing human trafficking and rescuing, restoring, and reintegrating survivors.
Our first project was focused on restoring girls who were rescued out of sex trafficking. Today, we have 12 programs that stop human trafficking through a holistic strategy. Learn about our programs here.
AIM's US staff are based in California and support our 300+ local Cambodian staff.
Realizing the horrible truth
Everything seemed eerily normal.
It was 2003, and Don and Bridget Brewster were making their first trip to Cambodia. Other than poverty, there didn’t seem to be any major problems. In fact, Cambodian pastors from 13 different provinces assured Pastor Don everything was fine when he visited them, because the problem was hidden even from their eyes.
Within two days of returning to the States, Don and Bridget learned the horrible truth when Dateline NBC aired their first of many specials on an unthinkable reality: children were being trafficked for sex in Cambodia.
“The very children I held hands with and saw running in the streets were not just trying to survive poverty. Many were living in hell, enduring torture,” says Don. “I couldn’t believe it was right under my nose and I didn’t even know it.”
Far from hidden, the community of Svay Pak, in particular, is a notorious haven for international pedophiles where girls as young as 8 brazenly wave foreigners toward brothels and karaoke bars to purchase sex. These children were trafficked from Vietnam, kidnapped from rural communities, sold by impoverished family members or exploited by members of their community. Once a girl is controlled by a pimp or brothel owner, she is forced to sell herself up to 12 times a night.
It was the time to act
UNICEF reports that across the world, there are over one million children entering the sex trade every year and that approximately 30 million children have lost their childhood through sexual exploitation over the past 30 years1. Hundreds of thousands of these children are in Cambodia, enduring what Gary Haugen of International Justice Mission (IJM) calls, “the ugliest, most preventable man-made disaster on the globe today.”
When facing the truth of this disaster in Cambodia, Bridget explains, “Our hearts broke realizing the largeness of the problem and we wanted to offer our help any way we could.” It was time to act.
After selling their home in 2005, quitting their jobs, conducting weeks of research and building a team, Don and Bridget, along with a start-up team including James and Athena Pond and their three children, Ashley, Gabe and Alexis, moved to Cambodia and began the anti-trafficking initiatives of Agape International Missions (AIM).
Their first goal was to meet the greatest need they had seen; quality aftercare for rescued girls. “We learned that undercover operations that rescued girls and shut down brothels were no longer effective because there was nowhere for a rescued girl to go. She ended up in a cycle of hopelessness that put her right back in a brothel.”
AIM Restoration Home (ARH) opened in 2006 as a beautiful, safe haven for rescued girls to get the holistic rehabilitation they need to live full, healed lives. After just a year, they had 52 rescued girls on the road to recovery.
“One of our girls who had been through unthinkable things was healing so beautifully. She no longer believed she was worthless but knew she had value and a life ahead of her. I went to her home city, Svay Pak, and was walking around looking for a job and home for her reintegration, when a pimp who I recognized from undercover footage said he had hundreds of girls available and asked if I wanted to buy one,” recounts Don. “It was incredible. This was her neighborhood, where selling the innocence of children was acceptable. How on earth was I supposed to just throw my daughter back into that?”
The Brewsters believed that the best way to prevent trafficking would be to bring holistic reform to the community and provide a safe place for children to gather, so they founded Rahab’s House, a Community Center in Svay Pak, in 2008. Here, the community receives healthcare, education, necessary items and a safe place for children to spend time. Most importantly, they build relationships with Christian and Buddhist Cambodians who learn the value of their children and how to protect them.
The results were unprecedented. “The transformation evident on those streets today is simply extraordinary,” says IJM’s president, Gary Haugen. “Rather than being peddled for rape, children are now accessing educational opportunities, health services and community building activities, from art to break dance, provided by Agape International Missions within the community. Their steadfast commitment to Svay Pak and its children has created a vibrant sense of hope, and brought life to a very dark place.”
Now with the goal to Prevent, Rescue, Restore, and Reintegrate, AIM has expanded to multiple Rahab’s House community centers, a Lord’s Gym reaching potential pimps and traffickers, AIM Employment Center (AEC) giving young women a career in textiles, and a network of Cambodian Churches who are now educated about the issue they didn’t even see back in 2005. The AIM SWAT Team rescues girls and women trapped in the sex trade, and AIM equips churches to fight trafficking in Cambodia and the USA with a Sex Trafficking Prevention Workshop.
“Our goal is to defeat child sex trafficking. We will fight until we’re victorious,” says Don. “We need as many soldiers as we can get.”
Join the fight!
1“Commercial sexual exploitation position statement.” UNICEF UK. (2004, January 28)
Photos courtesy of Sacramento Bee 2010 ©