As crowds of spectators celebrated the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio, injustice was alive and thriving as traffickers sold girls on the streets with no fear of punishment.
In view of this imbalance, an anti-human trafficking PEACE team from Saddleback Church headed to Rio to fight human trafficking. In an effort to help the victims, their goal was to raise awareness and partner with two local Baptist churches—Igreja Batista do Inga in Niteroí, and Igreja Batista Carioca in Rio. They knew God had prepared the right connections. One of the Purpose Driven churches in Rio asked the Saddleback team to visit and share with locals during a Celebrate Recovery meeting.
The PEACE team consisted of Damon, a teacher, Sharon, a physical therapist, and David, a travelling nurse—all normal people equipped with a passion to make a difference. They know they can’t fix everything, but they had to do something. They were informed of instances when people tried to talk about abuse but were forced to move because they were shunned by the church.
“When we shared our own stories,” Damon said, “the people were able to see that we were broken, but that God was still using us in amazing ways all over the world. It’s amazing what God does through normal people, even if they’ve been hurt from abuse in the past.”
They met with a young girl, Tatiana, that was also working to raise awareness about trafficking in Rio. Tatiana was a victim of abuse at the hands of her own family. At a young age she was handed over to traffickers, her body sold for sex and constant physical abuse. When she ceased to be of value to her trafficker, he beat her face, crushed her jaw, and shot her eight times, leaving her for dead in a ditch. When she regained consciousness, locals discovered her body and helped her get medical care. It’s a miracle she survived, since most trafficked victims don’t escape. Tatiana was lucky.
“For many of these girls, death is the only way out,” Sharon said.
Now, Tatiana’s only goal is to help other victims. The PEACE team also travelled to the Olympic village and venues where athletes were competing. They wanted to reach out to girls being sold on the streets in the midst of the busy crowds. Traffickers stood on the street next to their girls, renting time with them in their cars, right next to the local police providing security for the Olympics.
Away from the crowds in the busy streets, the team found girls working in the Olympic Village without their traffickers hovering over their shoulders. They were able to briefly talk to some of these girls, pray with them, and gift them with flip flops decorated by volunteers.
Attached to each pair was a special message, reminding them they are loved, beautiful, and valuable — no matter how anyone treats them.
Damon, Sharon, and David knew that simply being there, praying for these girls suffering from this crime against humanity, was making a difference. During their time in Rio, they connected with several churches and trained people in simple ways to raise awareness and help the victims of trafficking in and around Rio.
“Everything we do is church-to-church,” Sharon said. “We hope those local churches can keep going after we’re gone. Anytime we go on a trip, we partner with local churches.”
As the team moves forward, they will continue to serve alongside churches—locally and globally—to train people to reach out to these girls and boys that are suffering on the streets. This crime affects nearly every country across the globe. The need is massive, but the team believes God is guiding them and is making significant headway to achieve justice for victims. The process is already under way to partner with churches for the 2018 Winter Olympics in Seoul, South Korea, and the team plans to send another group to the 2020 Summer Olympic games in Tokyo.
“You just have to be willing to take a step and trust that God can make it happen,” Sharon added. “We can’t help everyone, but everyone can help someone.”
To learn more about becoming a Purpose Driven Church, visit pd.church/start.