While in Peru
I went to Peru in May. For real. We’re talking South America. (I never thought I would be able to go!) The honors college at my school paid for it. Those guys are fantastic, no joke.
It was the first time I traveled outside the U.S. just for study. Something like 9 days filled with tours, and free time was for more tourism. We learned about the Inca. We saw the iconic ruins of Machu Picchu. We bought alpaca wool sweaters, we spoke Spanish all day, and we ate guinea pigs for dinner. And then one day we went to an orphanage.
I have always known human trafficking was a global problem, especially sex trafficking. I knew it in my head, at least. I didn’t expect to run into it on my Peruvian paradise vacation.
When we went to the orphanage, our tour guide told us there was a building that was dedicated specifically to victims of trafficking. My professor and I exchanged a look and asked if we could meet them. He ushered us into a courtyard with a volleyball court, and we waited for the girls to finish a lesson of some kind in an adjoining classroom. I felt nervous–at that point, I had never met a “victim of trafficking” before.
I took in the facts. These were girls, ages 12-16. We were told that they had been rescued from the surrounding mining areas. The girls were trafficked by women who had promised them jobs babysitting or cleaning. The women pimped out the girls to men working in nearby mines. (Not-so-fun fact: women can be pimps, too. In fact, a lot of pimps are women.) It was a perfect opportunity for profit: lonely men living in terrible work conditions looking for diversion. Fortunately, we were told, the Peruvian government has been cracking down on the trend. There were 6 girls currently at the refuge, but the women running the program knew there were many more.
And then “Julia” came running out. Seriously–she ran to greet us. She was beaming, elated, warm, radiant, and beautiful in every way. She hugged us earnestly like old friends. She laughed and rejoiced and set an example the other girls followed. She was startling. I guess I pictured victims of trafficking to be a little more… victimized. Not so. She smiled, she charmed, she blew me away.
She told me about the boarding school program for the girls. I asked her which classes she liked best. She told me she loved to read. I asked her what she read. “La Biblia.” She ran away for a moment and came back holding a pristine black leather book with gold leaf pages. A missionary had recently donated it to her, but she treated it as though it were an invaluable heirloom. She flipped through the pages, searching for something in particular, when her finger came to a stop. “Here! Revelation.” The Apocalypse? What a weird book for a kid, I thought. And then she read aloud, “The one who testifies to these things says, ‘Yes, I am coming soon.'” She looked at me with a great deal of satisfaction in her eyes and said, “See? Christ is coming back for me.”
She shook me. I marveled at her hope. Pure, deep, unyielding hope in the face of tragedy. Something so honest could only come from a place of healing. I loved her. They begged us to stay. She pulled at my heart. How could I say no? I have thought of her often. Sometimes I feel burdened by the tragedy and loss involved with human trafficking. I feel silly making art, as if that could provide any significant measure of change. And then I remember a girl raped and abused totally changed by the hope of the Gospel–she needs the best I have to offer. Her story is redemption and it deserves to be told.