The book grabs my eye from across that room, a familiarity about it taking me back to my childhood: the red pixelated image on the cover. I pick it up and stare deeply into the image, and then it reveals itself, a three-dimensionality appearing as if from nowhere. It’s a Magic Eye book. Entranced by the pictures, I sit for a while and look through all the pages, each image easier to see than the last. I put the book on the coffee table and go about my day. Each time I walk past and glance at the cover, the image immediately jumps out. Once it’s seen, it can’t be un-seen.
The same may be said for when I first began to see sex trafficking. I can’t un-see it. It jumps out in my mind without even trying to see. That woman walking along the road with a heavy backpack. That young girl with an older man walking in front of her. The withdrawn child.
My friend Genesis just returned from her trip with Restoring Hope Nepal and her eyes are forever opened, her heart forever changed. Restoring Hope Nepal operates safe houses for young women survivors of sex trafficking. From the website: “Safe Nepal is a home for girls and women who have been rescued from sex trafficking. The home provides love, safety and education for 15-20 women at a time. The women receive vocational training and access to education from a dedicated team of Nepali staff and volunteers. Restoring Hope Nepal supports all of the needs of the Safe Nepal home.”
Here, she shares some reflections. Thank you Genesis!
How did you learn about the organization Restoring Hope Nepal and get connected to this specific trip? How did God work in orchestrating the trip? Did he prepare your heart in any way before you learned about the opportunity to join the trip?
I learned about RHN through our dear friends, Julian and Laura Lopez. Julian has had a deep love for the people of Nepal since his days with YWAM (Youth with a Mission). A few years ago the church he pastors in Montana (Roots Christian Fellowship) began to partner with RHN. Personally, I was never interested in going and I have had many hesitations about short-term mission trips, questioning their efficacy and benefit. Through conversations with Laura several months ago she asked, "By the way, do you want to go to Nepal in June? A small caveat ... I need a firm commitment in the next few days." Something tugged in my heart; I actually wanted to go. This was a surprising feeling for me. My husband was at work so there was a sort of text frenzy but when I asked him he responded immediately with, "Go." I had a list of reasons why I couldn't go and I told Laura it would take God moving mountains to make it work, but He'd ignited a spark in my heart which was, quite honestly, the biggest mountain that needed to be moved. In less than 24 hours He'd taken care of all the rest. To me it was all confirmation that God wanted me on this trip. Even with all this, it was difficult for me to feel excitement, but I would say I was curious and open to exploring that curiosity and to allowing the Lord to work in the areas of my heart that had were hard and cynical.
Before this trip, what was your familiarity with human trafficking and prostitution either in the States or abroad? What was the most surprising part of your trip? Who are some people you met and what were they like?
I had very little familiarity with human trafficking and prostitution previously and it was in preparation for this trip that I began to have a better understanding of trafficking and prostitution in general. Being raised in a place of privilege, as a white middle class American, I didn't think that trafficking or prostitution affected me. It was good and important for me to have this perception challenged and for me to be able to begin to see things with a more compassionate and understanding heart.
I was so surprised by how open and loving the girls in the safe home were. I had expected that they would be closed off, hesitant, even cold. Instead, I found them to be affectionate, longing to be touched, and joyful. They laughed easily, were curious and kind - it was much different than I had anticipated. There were multiple girls from the safe home that had a deep impact on my heart. All of the girls have deep hurts and scars, emotional and physical, and I was surprised by their willingness to open their hearts to each other and to strangers. I know this doesn't come easily (it comes after much prayer and hard work from the house mothers and others who work with them), but it was quite impactful for me to see the healing that has taken place in these girls by being included in a family unit (the safe home family).
Would you participate in another trip like this in the future and would you recommend others to Restoring Hope Nepal?
100% yes. In fact, I hope to return next year and take my daughter with me. The whole time I was with the girls in Nepal I kept thinking how much my daughter would thrive in that environment and how easily she would connect with the women there. The contact in Nepal only accepts teams that come through RHN in order to protect the girls at the safe home and to keep them from becoming a stop for volun-tourism. I'm sure there are other reputable organizations, but I loved that RHN works so closely with Safe Home Nepal, which is run by Nepali nationals. One of my frustrations with cross-cultural missions work is that Americans keep their hands in where they shouldn't. From what I could see, RHN doesn't do that. While they send teams and finances, it is the Nepalis who are making decisions, doing the leg work, the counseling, the ministering, etc. They are the ones affecting change - and they should be.
Do you feel your visit to the safe house was valuable to the women?
Absolutely yes. And this was something I was very nervous about. In my experience with cross-cultural work and short-term missions, my question has been "are we doing more harm than good?" Before visiting Nepal, I had very little understanding of Hindu culture. Our contact explained to me that the girls at the safe home are considered less than human. I thought that meant they were Untouchable. He corrected me and said that, no, they are less than Untouchable; they are less than human. For these women to have others spend the money and time to visit with them, to touch them, and to care for them, shows these women that they DO have value. They ARE human, that they ARE valued, and they ARE worthy of love and affection, honor and worth. The safe home creates a family for these women; many of them have been abandoned and/or abused by their family of origin. The safe home provides a new family and shows what a true healthy family should look like. When we were leaving, many of the girls said "Thank you for being our family." I realized that we were their extended family - like cousins. They were happy for us to come and sad for us to leave, and they desire for teams to return. These women long for connection, the same way we all do, and our visit was a joy to them. Since, culturally, these girls are considered valueless, our visit demonstrated that culture doesn't dictate where our value comes from.
How does your trip make you see human trafficking and prostitution differently now, if at all?
Certainly this trip has made me see human trafficking and prostitution with much more compassion. When I heard the stories of how traffickers look to buy pregnant women, or women with young children (a two-for-one deal), or the price that women are sold for (.30 per visit), or how easily women can be trafficked across the border (a invitation to go party in India), I am filled with a righteous rage. This isn't just a Nepalese or Indian issue - this is a global issue. Women and children (and men and boys) are sold like this in my country, in my state, and in my city. When I read the bios of the some of the girls living in the safe home, they could easily have been my neighbors. This trip has opened my eyes, and they cannot be closed.
How can organizations like Peoria Home learn from an organization like Restoring Hope Nepal?
While Christianity is not illegal in Nepal, it really isn't safe to be a Christian. The safe home takes many precautions to keep the girls and staff safe, not just from traffickers, but also from those who believe that Christianity is dangerous to the ancient and deeply held Hindu and Buddhist beliefs in Nepal. In spite of this, the safe home has created a family atmosphere that is modeled after the family of Christ. Each girl that comes in is treated as a new creation. While she is required to give an in depth intake interview to the safe home staff, once she is admitted, she is never required to talk about her past, unless is desires. No one is required to make a commitment to faith in Christ, but each person hears and sees the Gospel of Christ lived out with kindness, patience, and peach as they are loved unconditionally and challenged in their new life. I think that Peoria Home, as well as the rest of us, can learn so much from this model. When we allow others the freedom to heal from their wounds and their past, treat them as new creatures regardless of their past, and give them the tools and resources they need to move forward in healing and to thrive in new life, and give them the community and family they need to be successful when life gets difficult, while always pointing people to Jesus...it just seems like a successful formula.
Are your eyes opened?