TRUE STORIES OF WORLD CHANGERS WHO STARTED ALONE: This month we share stories of individual Christians who couldn’t wait for others to tell them when to help the hurting and share the gospel. Their clear vision of a pressing need pushed them to do what they could as soon as they could.
RAPHA HOUSE / www.raphahouse.org
By Stephanie Freed
Ten years ago, I walked into a junkyard in Cambodia, near the Thai border, and came face-to-face with an enslaved child for the first time in my life. People who lived in and operated the junkyard owned her. She was theirs to exploit in any way they saw fit. She was not human to them. She was property.
In that moment, every statistic about slavery I had ever heard died a fast death. Slavery had a face—her face. From the moment that child grasped my arm and begged for help, I haven’t been the same. After long, tense, and scary negotiations with the slave owners, I walked with her out of the junkyard that day. Both of our lives were forever changed.
I have told her story many times over the past decade. It has become a big part of my story too. Holding that little girl’s hand as we walked out of the junkyard into freedom is a blazing parallel of what Christ does for each of us as he leads us out of our junkyard of slavery and into the light of freedom.
Too Weak, Too Small
When my father, Joe Garman, first challenged me to research modern-day slavery and to take a research trip to Southeast Asia, I was very reluctant. I had two little girls of my own at the time, and as I immersed myself in research, it was difficult to relegate the accounts of little girls being abused, exploited, and enslaved in the worst possible ways.
I couldn’t fathom the gross lack of protection and justice for these victims. What I learned broke my heart wide open. I argued with God that I was too weak, too small, and too unqualified to do what I knew he was asking me to do.
Frankly, I still have that dialogue with God quite often. He has been patient and faithful to remind me time and again that he can use weak, small, and unqualified people as long as we keep our focus on him. The Rapha girls don’t need me to be their savior. Christ has that covered. He just wants me to use my voice on their behalf. The bottom line is he wants my obedience. He wants our obedience.
Ten years ago my father and I could never have imagined what God would do with our dreams to offer safety and hope to a small number of victims of trafficking. Truthfully, it is probably a good thing the Lord did not reveal his big plan right away! He took our small seed and grew it into what he wanted it to be—a quality internationally recognized program that holistically meets the needs of his broken children. Hundreds of former victims have found safety, hope, and healing through the Christ-centered, safe house programs of Rapha House. We now have four safe house projects in Southeast Asia, with plans to launch a fifth safe house in Haiti next year. Additionally, thousands of lives are being changed through Rapha prevention projects in targeted areas where children are at great risk, and also in prevention projects through native churches.
We have learned many lessons along the way! At Rapha House, we seize times of trial as opportunities to critique our programs and to provide the best care we can for the children with whom we are entrusted.
Working with broken children is dangerous for the heart. Great joy and devastating pain cannot be separated in this ministry. We live in a fallen world, and at Rapha House, we clearly see what the degradation of the fallen world does to children.
Freedom . . . and Bondage
Recently, I watched a group of Rapha girls play in a monsoon. It was truly the picture of freedom! Running, dancing, laughing, screaming. . . . The little ones were giggling as only tiny children can. It was like Heaven on earth. I breathed it in. I wanted it to last forever.
A few days later, I was sitting with two Rapha social workers and a former Rapha girl whom I desperately love. When she lived in our safe house, she was excited for her future. She said it was the first time she had ever felt safe and loved. She sang praises to Jehovah Rapha (our God who heals) with her beautiful voice.
Three years ago, she left the safe harbor of Rapha House to return to a life of prostitution. The addiction of drugs coupled with pressure from her family to support them dragged her back into a trap from which she has been unable to break free. She is of age now and can make her own decisions. She is not a child any longer, but in her eyes I still see a lost and scared little girl, and it breaks my heart.
We sat with her for hours, presenting options to her, throwing out every lifeline we could think of. We begged her to choose to leave prostitution—to choose to live and not to die. But by the end of our conversation, it was clear she was not ready to change.
And so we drove down a dark and muddy street where drunken and drugged men stagger around aimlessly, and girls in high heels and short skirts stand on sand piles to keep their feet out of the mud. We returned my daughter there; we took her “home.” I have wept many times as I remember this precious child of my heart walk into darkness and death and away from light and life. And I realize this personifies how God’s heart must break in watching his people choose death over life every day.
Rapha House will continue to dance in the rain in those joyous times of ministry, and we will continue to chase after our lost sheep. Just as Christ never gives up on us, we will never give up on our girls.
Ten years ago we set out to love, rescue, and heal children who have been victims of sexual exploitation in the developing world, but God had something bigger, better, and more impactful than we could ever have dreamed. Jesus said he came to free the captives, and as Christ followers, this is exactly what we want to do too.
Stephanie Freed is cofounder and U.S. director of Rapha House, based in Joplin, Missouri. Rapha House employs almost 100 workers in four safe house locations throughout Southeast Asia. It has ministered to hundreds of child victims and reached thousands in preventative efforts.