Now it happened in the month of Chislev, in the twentieth year, as I was in Susa the citadel, that Hanani, one of my brothers, came with certain men from Judah. And I asked them concerning the Jews who escaped, who had survived the exile, and concerning Jerusalem. And they said to me, “The remnant there in the province who had survived the exile is in great trouble and shame. The wall of Jerusalem is broken down, and its gates are destroyed by fire.” As soon as I heard these words I sat down and wept and mourned for days, and I continued fasting and praying before the God of heaven. – Nehemiah 1:1-4 ESV
We at Trihope understand well the brokenness described by the prophet Nehemiah in the verses above. I distinctly remember the day I learned sex trafficking was real and happening in my community. It wasn’t just a dramatic hook in a movie. It was people’s lives being destroyed by lust and greed. Men, women, and children all experiencing life-altering trauma they would live with the rest of their days.
At first, I was shocked. Then came anger and grief growing into an obsession for justice and healing for those affected. And today there is Trihope—Tri-Cities House of Prayer and Hope to use our full name. We chose this name because we were born out of prayer and desire to keep prayer as a focus of our ministry. Prayer for survivors, perpetrators, protection. Prayer for missing children and those in foster care. Prayer to guide our plans and everyday projects.
We believe a select few will be lead to enter the fight full-time. Others will be called to support financially or through the giving of their time. But everyone can pray. Every single person can help bear the burden of pain survivors carry and change not only their futures but the futures of those who may not have even experienced trauma yet. Can you imagine walking through heaven’s gates to learn about all the children who would have been abused but weren’t because of your prayers? This is what we long for.
We invite you to join us before the Lord in prayer. If you need help getting started, you can download our 5 Prayer Points or read our prayer list here. You can also receive our monthly prayer emails by registering on our Prayer page.
The options are many. The need is great. We are believing God for an army of prayer warriors to fight this darkness. Will you join us?
I find myself hearing from survivors, with some frequency, that they believe what happened to them was worth it because God was able to use it to bring healing to others.
Now, if that sounds a little like you–I commend you. You’ve come a long way in your healing journey to be able to say that and mean it. And kudos to you for overcoming evil and shame and denial to be able to share your story and use it for good. Wow. You are amazing. I really mean that. And now let me apologize (sort of), because I’m about to chisel into the next layer of denial you’re hiding behind.
See, considering your story worth it only because it could be used to bring help to others is, well, sorta, kinda, another way of shirking around the fact that you are intrinsically valuable. That means valuable simply because…you are. Because you are a masterpiece designed by God. And you are a dearly loved, one-of-a-kind child of His. And more than that, you are part of the Church–His very bride.
Hard to swallow?
If so, then yes, you are hiding behind another layer of denial.
So let me ask you this, is it enough for you if Christ freed you and healed you just so you would be healed and free and made whole? If that was all you ever got. If you never got to use your story for anyone else. If not one other soul ever benefited from the evil that occurred to you. Is it enough that Christ found you valuable? Is it enough that He came for you? Is it enough that He counted you worthy?
Is your wholeness enough?
Today, Precious One, take some time to bask in the love of God. It is scary to consider that you are intrinsically valuable because doing so means facing the reality of the injustice that occurred to you. It means recognizing that whoever assaulted or abused you, regardless of what kind of person they are or were or could be–they could be Mother Teresa for all I care–that they wronged you. It means you should be angry because someone precious to God was grossly harmed, that injustice occurred, that there is a debt owed to you on account of it. And that you may be asked to relinquish that debt.
It also means you must be vulnerable. You must be bare before God to let Him see into the depths of your heart–all that is pleasing and displeasing–and give Him the option to reject you based on what He finds there, to find that He embraces you. It’s scary. It’s probably the scariest thing you’ve ever had to face. Wow.
But until you do, you will never really live. You will never fully be free until you are fully bare before God. You will never fully be healed until you reveal the full extent of the wound to the Great Physician. And you will never be able to bring to others something you have never realized for yourself.
Now is the time, Beloved. Let yourself be loved.
I walked up to the base of the Fortress of God’s Goodness and, through sobs and tears, began to systemically check its base for a sign of weakness. I searched for a crack or a crumble or an imperfection of any kind, but could find no indication of flaw or frailty. The base of the Fortress seemed enormous, extending far to both my left and right in a perfect concrete arc. Above me, the summit of the cylinder stretched into the clouds, beyond my sight. For a moment I was awestruck at its magnitude. I could not fathom its size. The fortress seemed impenetrable. Desperate, I threw my body against it and beat it with my fists, but it didn’t budge. It scarcely could have perceived my wailing, flailing presence; as though a silo could perceive an ant hurling itself against its base.
Nevertheless, I kicked and beat the wall with all my strength. I cursed it and insulted it and hurled my body against it. Knowing somehow that there was nothing to find, I nonetheless walked the entire circumference of the citadel searching for a symptom of its fragility and at last, when I had no more strength to carry on and no more tears to cry, I sat down on the dusty ground, dotted with golden desert flowers to whimper quietly and rub my swollen eyes.
There was no weakness. The Fortress of God’s Goodness was as solid as something could be. It was unyielding to my protests in any way. I found that, despite my suffering, I could make no accusation against it. And I came to the final conclusion that if it would be so completely unyielding to me, I, then, must be yielded to it.
So I admitted it. The Fortress of God’s Goodness was stronger than I. My experiences were not, as I so wanted to believe, indicative of its legitimacy. I had to embrace that God was resolutely and entirely good and that I was made to suffer at the same time. In fact, I was forced to conclude that my suffering did not detract from His goodness in any way.
I got up then, dusted myself off, and walked home. My spirits were higher at this time, believing then that I had passed the test and, since I had passed it and surrendered to His nature, my sufferings would certainly be ended. I was surprised to find then that the storm blazed on. My sufferings neither halted nor subsided in any way, rather—they increased. I cried out for them to be stopped, but they were not. I commanded the storm to be calm, but it was not. And in the middle of the desert tempest of pain and disappointment by which I felt mercilessly scorched and choked, I heard a small voice call to me.
“Testify,” it said. Everything in me wanted again to cry and to kick and to scream and to fight the powerlessness that overcame me, but I remembered again that it was the Fortress of God’s Goodness that would be unyielding to my circumstances, not my circumstances to the Fortress. So I tore out my broken will and surrendered it.
“You are perfectly good,” I said, through sobs. “I can make no accusation against You.”
I peered back up at the Fortress, expecting an answer of sorts, expecting the small voice to speak to me again. But for that time, the Fortress of God’s Goodness simply remained and did so silently.
I pause my dialogue as I notice the older gentleman next to me begin to go red and his eyes begin to water. “Are you okay?” I ask, thinking he is choking. He merely shakes his head as tears begin to spill down his weather-worn face. I remain silent, dumbfounded. I’ve known this man for over 2 years and have never seen him cry before. “It’s just so heartbreaking.” He whispers as more tears splash down his cheeks. I pause and reflect. It is heartbreaking, isn’t it?
I had just been telling him about the work I do with women who’ve been sexually abused and sex trafficked. It has become so much a part of my everyday life that I have begun to numb myself from the horror I encounter daily. However, that does not stop the reality of how truly heartbreaking the stories from these survivors are. The situations that millions of people find themselves still in today. It is estimated that 70-90 % of sex trafficking victims have been sexually abused as children prior to exploitation. Let that information sink in for a moment.
For many children, the traumas of childhood continue into adulthood. The trauma of their youth gives way to their mindset that “sex is all I’m good for” or “I’m worthless”, “no-one could love me”. These thoughts make them so vulnerable to sexual exploitation from pimps who know exactly what to look for, who know exactly what to say.
Abuse Happens in the Mind and the Body
I observed this pattern happen in the movie Forrest Gump, which I originally thought was only about the achievements of a boy everyone thought would never amount to anything. Jenny, Forrest’s best friend from childhood, was sexually abused by her father and she ended up being sexually exploited in magazines and on stages. She was used and abused by men for years and years because she didn’t know her worth. She didn’t know she was worth more than her father showed her. Her pain was so obvious as she stands on the edge of the balcony, wanting to jump, or as she sees her father’s house, years later, and begins to hurl rocks at it. All the pain and anger begin to come out.
I’m right there with her in that moment. I know many survivors who are also feeling that same pain and rage. But the moment that tears me apart the most, is the moment Forrest asks her to marry him. Forest is obviously head-over-heels in love with this woman. Most would assume she would say no because of his low IQ, but instead she says, “You don’t want to marry me.” In her mind, someone so kind and loving could never want to marry someone like her. She believes she is worth absolutely nothing. She believes she is unloveable.
God Heals the Brokenhearted
I once believed the same things. I once thought the same thoughts. But God, in His great mercy, brought me to a point of healing where the words of my now-husband broke through the lies. I was able to believe his love for me as he knelt on one knee before me. I was able to shout above the screams from my past, telling me that no-one would ever want me, and say “Yes!”.
The reality of sexual abuse and sex trafficking is heartbreaking, but I know a God who is in the business of healing the brokenhearted. I know a God who brings beauty out of ashes. A God who can heal, restore and set free the captives. Do you know Him?
“The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve in Zion—to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the Lord for the display of his splendor.” – Isaiah 61:1-3
When I went back to church for the first time after coming back from Thailand, I was really confused. We were worshiping Jesus, the Majestic, Glorious, Splendid King. And of course He is all of those things. I knew that, but I wasn’t prepared for it to strike me as odd.
I had just come from watching Jesus be the humble, sweet, gentle servant. The last few worship services I had been to were in safe houses, where I listened to the women wail out praise to Jesus their Savior. They were crying. They were bawling loudly and completely out-of-tune. In one house, the two worship leaders wore shirts that read, “Amarican Style Burger–Eat me” to honor their American guests. I mean, how much sweeter can you get?
In a land so broken, so dark, so wicked, and so oppressive, there was sweet Jesus, content to kneel down, cup the faces of the broken in His own broken hands, and hold their gaze. He was there collecting their tears; He was there welcoming them back when they ran back to “the life” then wanted out again; He was there rocking them through addictions; He was there breathing life into dry bones and raising beauty out of ashes. As one woman said, “The community sees us as worthless, but God sees us as precious.”
At church back home, we got to sing with a whole mass of people to the accompaniment of an awesome worship band, in a building with great acoustics and beautiful architecture. But when the songs died down and the sermon ended, it would be easy to go home and get back to life as we knew it with work and chores and family and stuff. Not necessarily forgetting Jesus, just being distracted. But Jesus is not like us. His faithfulness is not fickle. He is there with those women after the soundtrack has faded out, when it is not convenient, when there is no one watching to give Him praise, and when it is no longer glamorous to serve.
So when I came back and we were worshiping Jesus as the Most High, you can see how it just took me slightly off guard. It’s like working side by side your best friend in the ER wearing bloody scrubs together amidst the chaos and wounds of the night and then the next night hearing a familiar voice on the TV, and, looking over, you see your friend there all polished up giving the State of the Union address. Like, “Wait–you’re the president too? Hold on.” So when we started singing this song, I just lost it a little. Oh, my God.
We visited 4 safe houses total, but heard from partners from all over the world who run similar programs. We learned about the methods of outreach and toured the facilities to see where the women were making jewelry, decorating cakes, running cafes, baking goods, and learning other skills to establish sustainability. We met and got chances to talk with and pray over the women. From some, we heard the stories of their extreme woundedness of being prostituted and abused and how God met them in those places and then brought them out and restored them.
At one of the safe houses, a little girl named Foo latched onto me. I’m guessing she was about 10-12 years old. She took me by the hand and showed me around the building and out onto a balcony, overlooking the garden. We couldn’t talk to each other, so we just stood there gazing out at the yard and smiling at each other. Then she brought me outside and led me down a path shaded by a large arbor delicately laced in vines. “Grape” she said to me and lifted the vine to let me examine it. She wrapped my arm around her and led me through to the backyard, pointing to a fountain, sword-fighting me with a branch, and leading me to her “house”, where she brought out to me the jewelry she was making.
This safe house housed children rescued from trafficking as well as those who would be at-risk of trafficking to give them an education instead. I wondered, as I often do, how people could possibly have it in them to harm, to destroy, a child like sweet Foo. I wonder still how broken one’s view of the world and their self would have to be to embrace that level of evil. At this point, my wonder usually turns into anger. And then I start thinking of what I could do with a Samurai sword to all those men in the red light districts and then I see that the depravity is in me too.
But the Lord has not abandoned me to it. And as angry as I get at the perpetrators and as much as I now see the justice of God’s wrath, I am also reminded that if any of those perpetrators would come to the Lord, turn from the destruction, and ask for forgiveness, He would give it. He would raise them up out of the ashes too, calling them “Son”, and never again holding their past over them. I’m not suggesting they wouldn’t have to suffer the consequences of the injustices they practiced, only that He would be willing to redeem them too from the inside out, without question and without guilt.
He did the same for me. He would do the same for you. That is the sweet, humble, glorious One.
Who breaks the power of sin and darkness
Whose love is mighty and so much stronger
The King of Glory, the King above all kings…
I walked into a friend’s house recently and was met with a strong whiff of a very familiar scent, but I couldn’t place it.
“What’s that smell? I know that smell….it smells like Thailand.””It’s incense,” one of the friends offered, gesturing to a little table placed in the corner of the dining room.
Ahhhhhh. Indeed, that was the smell of Thailand. I felt like I could smell it everywhere there, inside and outside. There are shrines set up in every business and home and on almost every single city block, where people offer sacrifices to the images of their gods. I’m guessing it was at these altars that incense or candles were burned and prayers offered and that, due to their great volume throughout Bangkok, if you were paying attention, you could almost always smell incense in some capacity.
Since incense is known to accompany prayer, it occurred to me at some point during the trip that Bangkok smelled like the prayers of its people.
It made me think of Psalm 141, where David says “May my prayer be set before you like incense; may the lifting up of my hands be like the evening sacrifice.” And again in Revelation 5 where it says, “And when he had taken it, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb. Each one had a harp and they were holding golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of God’s people…”
But here…here the people, mostly Buddhist, were offering sacrifices and prayers and worship in order to win the favor of their gods. It didn’t appear that this was a casual, random occurrence either. Altars were literally everywhere, many filled with sacrifices of drinks and food and wreaths. It was very common to see someone at one of these altars, lighting a candle and praying or offering some kind of sacrifice. There were small street booths and carts everywhere with workers making flower garlands, symbols of respect, that were frequently bought and offered on the altars as well. Sacrifices and prayer seemed…part of life.
Never have the goodness and kindness and sweetness of Christ seemed quite so evident to me as while spending time in Bangkok. I was so struck by the fact that people devoted so much of their lives to offering sacrifices and prayer, striving to create positive karma and win them favor in this life and the next. Their lives were built around this belief. But my God, my God offered a sacrifice so I could have His favor. My God was the One who made the sacrifice. Not to win my favor, but to give me His. Forever. Who does that?!
My Jesus asks for obedience on account of favor already given, not in order to obtain it.
I wanted to shout out the windows, “You don’t have to do that! Come to the altar of Jesus and drink and eat food and drinks that were sacrificed for you!”
Oh–I just realized…that sounds strikingly like scripture. God already beat me to it, shouting through the prophet Isaiah in chapter 55,”Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price…”
And I wondered…what if the people of Jesus understood this? Could they even begin to grasp how rare and precious and sweet and incredible this idea is–that God turned the tables on mankind and offered the favor they could never have won through striving? And what if they did, and what if they began to see that prayer and worship and sacrifice are offered not to win God’s love, but in response to it so that our streets and cities could begin to smell like the prayers of Immanuel’s people. Perhaps it wouldn’t be a smell you could sense with your nose, but what would it do to the atmosphere of a place, seeing a people rise up and spend their lives rejoicing in and worshiping a glorious, humble God who stepped off His throne, made Himself flesh and dwelled with them.
I wish people could see others love one another with such devotion that they could ask of a place, “What is that smell? I know that smell.”
And the people of God could answer, “Oh, it’s Jesus.”