N. is married and started working on the streets of Sofia a few months ago to get enough money for her son to have the surgery he needs. She never thought she'd be doing this kind of work. She believes there is a God, but he does not help everyone because some situations are just too hard. N. asks us if business might be better for her if she went to work in a western European country.
L. left her abusive husband, who then became her sister’s husband. L. feels betrayed and all her family ties are broken. She knows some people who read the Bible, but she thinks it is nonsense. She’s been working the streets for two years. E., a well-educated woman, returned to Bulgaria after being on the streets of a western European country. She had made a commitment to Christ and was looking forward to returning to her home country to find a good job and start a new life. Her family and the economy made that impossible, so she has returned west. But thanks to six different ministries working in four different countries, E. is now connected with a ministry in the country where she is living and learning a job skill which will hopefully allow her to start a new life in that country. But the lure of fast, easy money is still tempting her. Her situation is precarious, at best.
G. has been working the streets for only a few months because she has many debts to pay off. She does not speak to her parents at all anymore. She carries mace to protect herself against violence from drunk or drug-addicted clients.
D., a 40-something-year-old mother and grandmother, came to an outreach in Berlin, wanting to get out and return home to Bulgaria. Working with this ministry, we here in Bulgaria were able to arrange a safe place for her to go and receive counseling once she arrived back home, and the Berlin ministry provided her with a plane ticket. She never went to the shelter. Her pimp had already returned to Bulgaria to look for her, found her, and she has returned to the streets in the west. It seems that escape for women who have been trafficked is next to impossible. But we know we serve a God who can work miracles. Sometimes that’s all that we can hang onto when a problem seems so overwhelming.
You are my lamp, O Lord;
the Lord turns my darkness into light.
With your help I can advance against a troop,
with my God I can scale a wall.
As for God, his way is perfect;
the word of the Lord is flawless.
He is a shield for all who take refuge in him.
2 Samuel 22: 29-31
Each story is different. Each woman’s circumstance is different. But the commonality is that most come from a background of some form of abuse, and all of them are in a desperate situation and see no alternative way of making money to support themselves and the children most of them have at home.
These mostly sad, but true, stories are the reality I have seen as an outreach ministry to women working on the streets of Sofia has begun to develop over the past five months. I am encouraged to find so many other women, and some men as well, who are feeling led to become involved in the fight against the trafficking of human beings. So many things are beginning to fall into place for an active, vitally-needed ministry to begin in this country. I feel like I am witnessing the birth of a new baby, and I can’t wait to see what she will grow up to be!
Beginning in January, several of us have been gathering to begin a street outreach to the girls who work along the Ring Road in Sofia (a highway which runs around the outer limits of the city). The first outreach was a frigid night in early January. We took hot coffee and tea and a small gift bag with some cosmetics and cookies to each girl. Not knowing what to expect or how many girls we might meet, we prepared 16 bags, using up all the supplies we had brought. That evening we saw exactly 16 girls! All the girls were talkative and seemed glad to see us and the hot beverages we had to offer. Most asked when we would return.
We did return twice in February, seeing only five girls total. We believe this is because there was a police operation against the girls and their pimps on that particular part of the Ring Road during that time. We wondered if the girls were in hiding and would return after the operation was over, and apparently this is the case.
In April we had two outreaches for Easter and were able to talk with 15 girls in total. A Bulgarian sister who goes with us brought CD’s of The Jesus Film for children and Magdalena which we gave to any of the girls who were interested, and most took a copy of one or the other. Easter is celebrated widely in Bulgaria since it is an Orthodox country, so this was a great opportunity to talk with them about their plans for the holiday, and then to delve a bit more into the deeper meaning of Easter. We returned home from this outreach very encouraged and blessed by our time with these beautiful Daughters of Bulgaria, the name we are using for this ministry.
But outreach is just one dimension of the whole human trafficking issue. Another aspect which I personally feel called to work in is the area of prevention. I heard a quote recently at a meeting which I attended which sums up the aim of prevention. It goes something like this:
“Let’s build fences at the top of the hill rather than have ambulances at the bottom of the hill to pick people up after being trafficked”.
The Literacy Program at our church is my primary focus in the area of prevention. Teaching these Roma children who do not regularly attend school to read and write, and showing them Jesus’ love in tangible ways, will give them options for their lives. As we prepare for the end of the school year and summer vacation, I’m excited that we will be devoting one of our sessions to talk with them about the dangers of being trafficked, and things they should watch out for. We have touched upon this subject, especially with the teenagers, throughout the year as the situation or conversation allowed.
We will be taking a prevention program which we have developed into some orphanages around Bulgaria, educating these most vulnerable children about the various methods traffickers use to trick them into lives of forced servitude or prostitution.
Churches also need to be educated on the issue of human trafficking. Many of our church people simply do not know, or can’t believe, that this happens in their own country, and the huge extent of the problem. Churches need to learn how to genuinely welcome, love and care for victims of human trafficking who may come through their doors.
Around 50 people from all over Bulgaria and from various denominations and organizations have come together through the Bulgarian Evangelical Alliance to form the Network Against Trafficking. This group is working on educating the churches in Bulgaria about the problem of human trafficking within the country. Their goal is to create a network of churches to join together to fight human trafficking. Churches will be equipped to know how to help through training, printed materials and informational prayer days.
The issue is complex. There are no easy or quick answers. But when people begin to come together, to network with one another, the problem does not seem quite so insurmountable.
“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed people can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”