I’m standing on El Cajon Boulevard with a teammate on a cold night behind a makeshift hot chocolate stand that my team assembled before dispersing into the crowd to watch over me. Now we wait. I can feel the eyes. Some are safe eyes. Some are not.
We are here to attract the girls forced into walking this street. I’m hoping my hands around this cup, my smile and a large “free” sign will get them to ask me for hot chocolate so I can offer to get them off the track, as it is called.
The night is growing colder. The girls are busy; slow-driving johns are everywhere. I continue smiling at each girl, these modern-day slaves. The Rock ministry I lead has had little luck. In six months we’ve had only one girl let us take her off the track.
Who can blame them?
Usually taken as adolescents, pimps offer love and security. They are masters at earning the girls’ devotion and offering loyalty in return. To let someone else in, like me, is the ultimate betrayal. The pimps will rape and beat their girls; starve them and deprive them of sleep. They will say they love the girls, but they’re nothing more than products in a buy-and-sell business. They are bodies and no more.
I can’t possibly be the right person for this role.
Suddenly I get a text from a teammate. A young girl has agreed to our offer and is coming toward me. “She wants off,” the text says. Another message comes. It describes her.
Wearing white shorts
I go into high alert watching for her, in the 6-inch heels the pimps demand. Slaves used to wear chains. Now they wear stilettos.
I see her coming on the other side of the street. She can barely walk in those things. Her feet, to her knees, to her shoulders project pain. She looks like she’s been on for hours trying to work off the last $200 of her $1,600 nightly quota.
She gets parallel to where I am but suddenly enters a diner. Perhaps she knows I’m watching and will follow her. I leave my post and run across the street to find her inside looking like a fugitive. When our eyes meet, her brow furls a bit, almost like she recognizes me.
“I’m Lynn,” I say as I offer my hand.
“Carli,” she says. “You’re from the church?”
“Yes,” I say. “Can you sit?” New at this, it doesn’t occur to me I had no business asking that. The girls cannot take breaks. I am asking her to risk her life. Still, she plops down in the first booth.
“So you’re ready to get off?” I ask.
“Yeah. I don’t think my body can do it another day. So when can we do this?”
“Now. I have to be clear; your life is going to flip upside down. You realize that, right?”
But does she? Girls in the sex trade usually have never finished school and have no skills to offer an employer. They struggle with reading. Their social skills are underdeveloped. They don’t know how to walk in a way that doesn’t sell their bodies. They are usually in a terrible physical condition. They have been under pimp-rule for nearly every need and can’t fend for themselves. It’s like they’ve been plucked from another time.
Her phone dings.
“I have to go,” she says.
“He knows you’re here?”
“Of course. He even knows I’m talking to you.”
My fear skyrockets.
“So are we still going to do this?” she asks.
“I’ll pull up in a silver car. Walk up like I’m looking for a date. Get in, and we’ll get out of here, alright? I just need to get my car.”
As I hurry out, I gesture to my team, and one of them runs toward my car up the street. As I look back, I see Carli entering a fast food joint. It must be where she has been ordered to meet for reprimanding.
I pray, knowing that what I have just set in motion could lead to torture, and worse if we get it wrong. What skills do I have to be leading these girls along the edge of death? Please protect her. Help us to get her out of here.
I meet my teammate. We drive around the block in a roar and then at a snail’s pace at the fast food joint. We do not see her. Carli, where are you? Traffic pushes us forward. I take a left and head back around in a panic. I don’t know if she is coming or has been pushed out the alley door of the restaurant and is paying for her sin. Lord, please watch over her.
Suddenly, I see her. She is quickly and painfully walking toward me. I look in her eyes. I see a glimmer of hope. That a girl! I stop my car. She approaches.
“Carli, hi!” I say out of breath.
“You ready?” I ask.
We speed off knowing the boulevard has eyes. Thou, Oh Lord, are a shield about me…
As I speed, I fear I will see an angry car fill my rearview mirror. My driving is a blur of glances forward and back.
Suddenly, away from the boulevard, I realize no one is coming. I rush her to a safe place and begin putting her future together. I call every contact she provides. I find relatives who will take her.
As I am about to put her on a bus, she takes my hand and then takes me aside.
“I saw you, you know,” she says.
“What do you mean?”
“About two years ago. In a dream, I saw your face and heard your voice.”
“You did?” I ask.
“Do you know what you said to me…in the dream? You said, 'Hang in there; you’re worth it.'”
“I said that to you?”
Chills cover my skin. “Wait. When did you say you had the dream?” I ask.
“Two years ago.”
Two years earlier I had just started attending the Rock. I didn’t like large churches but felt the Holy Spirit tell me it was my new home. I joined the sex trafficking ministry and was eager to help, but never once felt equipped for it.
Now, through Carli’s dream, it appears that before I decided to join the ministry, God had already decided my steps.
As Carli’s bus sped away, I had to bow my head and shed a tear. The boulevard did have eyes. They were God’s all along.
To find out more about Rock Church's Human Trafficking Ministry, click here.
Sign up for the 2 Day Human Trafficking Awareness Seminar on May 31-June 1.