In thinking through solutions to human trafficking, it can be tempting to reduce the problem to numbers. Human Trafficking 101 tells us that there are three primary parties involved: the demand (johns and pedophiles), the supply (trafficked children and women), and the facilitators (the pimps and the traffickers).
Basic economic theory would argue that if you reduce demand, supply will also decrease or, if the supply decreases, prices will go up such that demand will decrease to align with supply. Finally, if you eliminate the facilitators, maybe there would not be any supply at all. This means that we have to rescue the girls out of sex-trafficking, arrest all of the pimps and traffickers, and arrest, or at least scare away, all of the pedophiles and johns.
Simple, right? Particularly for people who are numbers-oriented, it can be so tempting to reduce problems to equations and to look for the perfect number that will help us solve for X. However, just as an economist will tell you that this works in economic theory but that it gets messier in practice, when you are dealing with people and not simply widgets, suddenly the equation gets much more complicated.
Sokunthy was well-known in Svay Pak for trafficking young girls. He made thousands of dollars each month through sex-trafficking. He was notorious in the community, but each day, he attended the Lord’s Gym in Svay Pak where he was prayed for by the staff, heard the truth about the evil he was perpetrating against these girls and his community, and was invited to attend church.51 One day, however, AIM was called to help two very young girls Sokunthy had brutally raped.
Though AIM tried to pursue legal action with the correct authorities, nothing was moving forward. What should AIM’s response have been? It could have been judgment and hate. It could have been to ostracize him, to condemn him for the evil he had committed. But it wasn’t.
When he didn’t show up to the gym the next day, AIM’s pastor went and said to him, “You know we hate what you did. But the truth is, the gym is the Lord’s gym. And no matter what you’ve done, He’ll forgive you. We want you to come back.”
It is tempting to see arrest, prosecution and condemnation as the answer for human trafficking. In many circumstances, it may be part of the solution. However, in a culture in which one stands to make thousands of dollars per month by trafficking children compared to fifteen dollars per month working in a brick factory, the sad reality is that even where a trafficker is arrested, another will take his or her place.
After the pastor visited Sokunthy, he came back to the gym the next day and agreed also to go to church. At church he stood up and publicly proclaimed, “I know what I was doing was wrong, and I am never going to do it again.” AIM started to disciple him and helped him to get a new job, where he now makes fifty dollars per month.
Thousands of dollars compared to fifty dollars per month. Those numbers don’t add up except where God is at work and His people are willing to sacrifice their time, their energy, and even their anger at injustice to demonstrate agape love to His children who need to know it most.
You may live in a consumer and results-driven culture where it is common to quantify results and transformation: “We led fifty people to the Lord and built five new houses.” In fighting human trafficking, it can be tempting to seek X number of arrests of traffickers, X number of rescues, and X number of pedophiles who will no longer abuse children. The problem with these numbers, however, is they don’t reflect people whose hearts have been changed or communities that have been transformed.
When you go to Cambodia, resist the urge to quantify your results. The change that came in Sokunthy’s life was not the result of arrest, not the result of a perfect church service, and not the result of being offered an “honest” job for fifty dollars per month to replace his livelihood as a trafficker. Rather his transformation came from the moving power of God, working through the lives of the AIM staff and pastor at the Lord’s Gym who consistently poured into and prayed over Sokunthy’s life.
Though it is good to set goals that are measurable and time dated, this should not be our mindset when it comes to a mission trip or the question of how effective you were. Truly, the question should not be “How effective were we?,” but “Were we serving Christ whole-heartedly and loving those around us like He would?”
When we begin to ask about our measurable quantifiers of effectiveness, we take the focus off of Christ and take the power of changing people into our own hands. We begin to look at people as projects and products; we forget that changing lives is a process that only the power of the gospel makes possible.
We must remember that God works in His own perfect time and that it is up to Him where He might use us in His work. In Bill Hybles’ book, Just Walk Across the Room, Bill talks about a close friend with whom he had shared the gospel multiple times over many years, but the friend still had not accepted Christ. One day, however, his friend took Bill’s youth group and one of the youth group’s sponsors out on his sailboat. While out on the boat talking to the sponsor, the friend accepted Christ as his Lord and Savior. At first Bill was a little upset since he had spent over a decade pouring into this man’s life, but Bill realized that God had used him to show this man the love of Christ and to plant a seed, even if he wasn’t the one to see it first begin to grow. 52
Remember that your time in Cambodia is to be about people and process, not projects and products. Spend some time in prayer to ask God that He would prepare you to be a blessing in the community and an encouragement to the staff, however that might look. Ask that He might show you where He is already at work, that you might be used as a tool to deepen relationships, build stronger community, and be a tangible reminder to staff on the ground that God is indeed at work.
51 See page 33 of the Appendix to learn more about the Lord’s Gym.
52 Bill Hybles, Just Walk Across the Room (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2006).