Today, we visited Hagar International and International Justice Mission (IJM). At both places, we heard this Cambodian proverb:

“Men are like gold; women are like white cloth.”

The implication of this saying is that men have great inherent value and women have much lower worth. Furthermore, if gold gets tarnished, it can be polished clean and retain its worth. But if a white cloth is dirtied, it is difficult to clean and loses its worth. This is just one piece of the historical and cultural backdrop to human trafficking in Cambodia.

We started our morning with a team devotional and then headed to Hagar International. Hagar is an organization that works with boys and girls who have been victims of the most extreme forms of abuse, including sexual exploitation and physical abuse, including or bordering on torture. At Hagar, we heard a general presentation where we learned that they focus on four areas: rescue/restoration, personal transformation, economic empowerment, and community reintegration. This presentation was followed by a talk from two young women who went through Hagar’s programs themselves and now mentor other girls in similar circumstances. It was very inspiring to see these young women smiling and dreaming about their futures.

For lunch, we went to Hagar’s catering facility and ate with Hagar staff, the two mentors, and several young women who are currently in Hagar’s programs. There was a lot of laughter as we learned about the girls’ interests, heard about their studies or work, and learned a bit of the local language. We all felt very thankful and encouraged by the time together, especially seeing how young women who have been through so much are so resilient and even joyful. God has given these girls strength and vibrancy. Please pray for their continued healing and eventual successful reintegration into community.

After our time at Hagar, we went to visit the IJM office in Phnom Penh. “IJM is a human rights agency that brings rescue to victims of slavery, sexual exploitation, and other forms of violent oppression. IJM lawyers, investigators, and aftercare professionals work with local officials to secure immediate victim rescue and aftercare, to prosecute perpetrators, and to ensure that public justice systems effectively protect the poor.” In the last few years, they have rescued many young men and women from Cambodian brothels or sexual predation and have successfully prosecuted perpetrators or human trafficking in the country. The staff told us that in large part as a result of anti-trafficking efforts by organizations here, the trafficking landscape has changed drastically. Five plus years ago, there were brothels openly lining the streets, with underage girls in view. Now, those establishments have largely been replaced by karaoke bars and beer gardens that employ girls who can be taken out as “escorts” off the premises. These arrangements make it much harder to prove and prosecute exploitation. While the police/IJM have power to investigate those they and catch “red-handed,” they do not have the legal power to investigate these more indirect methods of soliciting underage or forced prostitution. For example, they can pretend to ask for on-premises sex in a bar and record the conversation where a girl states she is underage. But they cannot request to have an underage girl delivered somewhere off-premises and then arrest the individuals who deliver her when they arrive. Until these investigative rules change, the police will have little way to break through the illegal networks that have become the preferred method of exploitation. This new landscape has also increased the risk of overt rape among the girls being taken out, creating another layer of injustice and further complicating the issue.

It is really encouraging to know that Menlo Park Presbyterian supports both Hagar International and International Justice Mission in their work. What a difference these organizations are making!

All in all, this has been a wonderful day of learning (and recovering from jet lag).

This evening, we will be going out with an organization called Men in the Sex Trade (MST) to reach out to foreign men who are in Phnom Penh soliciting sex. More details to come about that tomorrow!

We are all excited to see what God will do this week. Please pray for energy, continued team unity, and successful ministry as we move forward!

So this was my second time volunteering with MST - one year later. I was feeling uneasy all day, trying to figure out if I wanted to go or not. I took away so much from last year and truly understood the importance of obeying God. For some reason though, I was engaged in some kind of spiritual warfare during the day. I kept comparing last year's experience to what potentially could be this year's. I began to fear a lack of "success" with speaking to men. I didn't want to go just to have a more "successful" time than last year and go with the wrong intentions. There was more, but the point is, I finally got myself there that night and was suddenly very charged and ready to go out. The prayer room that night needed more people, so I stayed. Immediately I felt resentment against the people going out. Why did I feel so strongly about wanting to go out and yet God held me back? 

So the groups went out and our group of 6 or 7 walked around one street in the red light district praying. We came back and prayed for 2 hours. God calmed my heart and anger. I realized through our two hours of praying without ceasing, praying with one common goal, praying for people we had never met and may never meet, that God was slapping me in the face (gently), reminding me, "Hey, this isn't about you." Even though this post is about my experience in the prayer room, that is just a means to express that God's love is selfless. And that selfless love is what we want to share with these men. Praying together that night centered us on the purpose of bringing God's light into the darkness of the streets. It isn't about us, but rather about how God uses us - to God be the glory.