Thoughts from Abby:
A dirty wooden bench on a dimly lit front patio is protected from wandering eyes by a large tarp. The sound of bass is resounding in my chest from the huge speaker right next to me on the patio. Women, young girls actually, start pouring onto the patio, making it crowded and difficult to move. They get a cup of tea, a pregnancy test, and a gift of hygiene products. Then they make their way to the tiny corner I have set up for HIV testing.
Nothing can be farther from the clean, shiny and new hospital in Los Angeles where I work. But there is no time to dwell on that. Equipped with a small bottle of hand sanitizer, and a box of gloves, I begin performing rapid HIV testing. The girls put on a brave face and smile, but it doesn’t quite reach their eyes. With the help of Fiona, a Ugandan social worker who does night outreach on a bi-weekly basis, I tell the girls the test takes 10–15 minutes to result.
The first three tests come back and they are all positive. I am dumbstruck and sick to my stomach. In my 10 years of experience working as a nurse, I have never before delivered this life-changing news. I bring back the first girl and tell her. Her face is blank. No sign of pain or disbelief. She appears emotionless. Fiona explains to her where to go to get treatment. She walks off the porch. Presumably she goes back to work. It is the same story with the next girls. They can not show emotion because it will hurt their business, their very livelihoods.
Shortly after this, we pack up and leave the brothel. It is 10:30pm. I feel shell shocked. For me, it was a one time experience. I will go home with stories about serving and testing prostitutes in Uganda. For these girls, however, it is reality. There is no choice. They may have been orphaned or abandoned at a young age. They may have gotten some schooling and turned to the streets to earn money when they couldn’t pay the school fees. They are the victims of human trafficking.
Yet some of these same girls sang to the Lord so beautifully earlier that day at the Rahab Drop-In center. In a situation as seemingly hopeless as this, I thank God that He alone brings cleansing and healing. I am thankful for the work of employees at Rahab Uganda who faithfully care for and teach the women skills and trades so that they may get out of prostitution. I pray for every single one of those girls, that they may trust in God, and He will provide a way out. God is faithful.
When I signed up for the night outreach, I had no idea what was in store. Nerves quickly subsided after approaching and speaking with the initial two girls, and as the night progressed I found myself engaged in a conversation with a group of young guys. We talked about their lives, families, goals, beliefs, and even God. For several years now, my prayer in ending human trafficking has extended beyond rescuing children and victims. If we do not stop perpetrators, the demand will always instigate a supply. We must also each these lost and broken people in order to end human trafficking. I believe my conversations with these men tonight were incredibly purposeful and hopefully encouraging them in the right direction.
We were so engaged in the conversation, however, that I tuned out the loud music and people around us. Then Esther, one of the girls I had met earlier in the evening, interrupted us, “party go” and pointed in the direction of the hill we came down on. It eventually dawned on me that she was telling me that my party (aka the team) was gone. As I ran up the hill to catch them, the only thought swirling around in my head was “I almost got left behind.” As I got in the van and the adrenaline wore off, the gravity of the situation hit me. What if I had been left behind? What if Esther didn’t tell me? I had nothing on me — no phone, no money, and no address to the house. And, I was in front of a brothel!
After arriving at home and processing it some more, tears welled up in my eyes as I began to imagine what these girls/children feel after being abandoned, sold, dropped off or left behind when their parent(s) or guardians do not come back for them. It completely broke my heart. God reminded me that night that He is in control and He knows them by name. He loves them and will not forsake them. Psalm 27:10 “For my father and my mother have forsaken me, but the Lord will take me in.”