Nearly six years ago, I spent a summer working as an intern with the Home of New Beginnings, an organization that reaches out to sexually exploited women in the Red Light Districts of Bangkok, Thailand. I had several responsibilities in my role, but of all them, teaching conversational English classes to women who worked in these districts was my constant privilege. I loved getting to know these women. However, I was always conflicted by the “Catch-22” these lessons presented. On one hand my teaching served as an amazing way to develop relationships with the women who were working as prostitutes in local bars and massage parlors and earn their trust. On the other hand, I was keenly aware that their desire to learn English was rooted in their desire to better communicate with the Western, English-speaking men who bought their bodies nightly.
These women and girls were an immense source of joy for me that summer. They came to my class giddy, excited about learning and spending time getting to know me. We would smile and laugh together as I would gently instruct them on the proper pronunciation of words from a stack of 1st-grade-reading-level flash cards. They were possibly the kindest, most genuinely thankful people I had ever encountered in my life. Yet every night, as I tried to fall asleep, I couldn’t let my mind get over the fact that their work for the day was just beginning. The spark of life and exuberance that I had seen in their eyes, only a few hours earlier, was quickly replaced by the desperate, hopeless reality that they would again have to face a night of degradation, shame, and exploitation. How could I go to sleep knowing that within a three-minute walk, hundreds of young women were selling their flesh to men two or three times their age? How could I go to sleep knowing that these women with whom I had spent the afternoon were now clad in chintzy costumes, dancing lifelessly in front of men who saw them only as the numbers adhered to their skimpy outfits rather than as the kind, compassionate women I had grown to know, respect, and love?
Fear gripped me each night. Fear that I would somehow forget the reality of their pain. Fear that I would go back to my comfortable home in Virginia and would allow myself to let these women become a distant memory. Fear that I would forget the vastness of the issue and let my resolve to stand against it evaporate. Fear that I would not live with the same sense of urgency as I felt living in the midst of it all.
It was this fear that led me to write a journal entry to my future self. The excerpt below, composed on August 3, 2008, was written when my time in Thailand had just concluded. The dream of Freedom 4/24 had been conceived only days before, and I wanted to write something to remind myself of the heaviness that still had a tight grip on my heart from all that I had seen and experienced in Thailand.
“Christine, when you re-read this, recall how absolutely vile and disgusting [this industry is]…. Christine, right now hundreds of thousands of young girls your age or older - perhaps as old as or older than your own mother - are selling themselves, giving parts of themselves away forever. Don’t forget it, Christine. Let it soak in. Choose daily to bear this burden. Don’t turn your face. Lord, show me how I can be used…. Don’t let my insignificant [distractions] keep me from what you want me to do… Use me now to make this an unavoidable moral issue of my time and to be a help, support, and blessing to the Home of New Beginnings."
When I wrote that journal entry, I had no idea what would become of Freedom 4/24 and my humble desire to make a difference in the lives of exploited women and children. I had no idea that Freedom 4/24 would expand its impact to include countries around the world. I never anticipated that Freedom 4/24 would reach thousands of Americans by hosting events like Run 4 Their Lives and building partnerships with local anti-trafficking organizations around the country.
In founding Freedom 4/24 I did something simple: I took a step of faith. At the time I did not feel I possessed all the tools needed to start and run an organization, but I trusted God would grow what He birthed in my heart. Today I invite you to join me in taking a step of faith.
Maybe that step for you is hosting a Run 4 Their Lives race in your city; maybe it’s becoming a monthly donor to Freedom 4/24; maybe it's taking the first step toward using your unique gifts to help end sex trafficking; whatever your step of faith is I encourage you to take it. Turn your awareness into action and help change the lives of women and children around the world.
“You may choose to look the other way but you can never say that you did not know.” - William Wilberforce
- Post contributed by Christine Gelatt, Founder and Board Member