Fighting human trafficking. How it began

Local Perspective: Anti-Trafficking Organization Compassion First Turns Numbers Into Names.
By Courtney Brown,
Oregon writer

Mike Mercer came home one night to his wife Kymra watching Oprah. The episode was about human trafficking. “I think you’re supposed to do something about this,” she said. After that, the former pastor in charge of missions at Beaverton Foursquare Church in Beaverton, Oregon, had what he calls, “an increase of compassion;” his eyes were now open and he was motivated.

According to a 2010 State Department report, at least 12.3 million people worldwide are living as slaves. Fifty-six percent of these are women and children, usually forced into prostitution. Overwhelming numbers often become simply just that, a number, but then one of these numbers became a name to Mike Mercer. While doing a country assessment in Indonesia with James Pond of Transition Global, a national and international anti-trafficking organization that specializes in after-care, he met Eka, a former trafficking victim. It was a tipping point for Mercer; once he knew her name, Eka became more than just a statistic. “Her story inspired me,” he said. “These people are about as broken as you can get. I felt that I held the privilege of knowing her name, her face and her story; helping her had become our responsibility.”

The idea for an aftercare program in Indonesia, based in Beaverton, Oregon, was born. Made up of over 7,000 different islands, Indonesia is not only the fifth largest country in the world, but the world’s largest Muslim country. There was nowhere to go for trafficked victims once they were rescued except a temporary government shelters. Without long-time aftercare, without the education or emotional tools to move on, most people return to trafficking because they have no other choice. “I saw doing something about it as the only option,” Mercer says, quoting Micah 6:8, Proverbs 31:8-9, and 2 Corinthians 5:14-15 as reasons for why he does what he does.

The Portland metro area is no stranger to anti-trafficking organizations. “It’s a blessing to be here in Portland. People are so aware of what is going on locally and intentionally. It’s a city where people fight for human rights,” says Bickey Lloyd, local communications director for Compassion First, who got involved for a simple reason: “These people are human beings, and they shouldn’t be treated the way that they are being treated. It just makes sense.”

Compassion First is unique in that they specialize in individualized, long-term aftercare and are heavily volunteered based, made up of a staff that loves Portland and the world-the entire body of Christ. Sarah Moshofsky started volunteering with her husband when their daughter was just fifteen. “When you look at your daughter and realize what is happening to young girls your daughter’s age,” she says, “you are very compelled to move forward and help. Girls are trafficked so easily out there. What we do impacts worldwide wherever we help.”

In September 2010, Compassion First opened its doors in Indonesia, under the direction of two Portland natives, Keren Baldwin, a missionary and teacher in Indonesia who had a heart for trafficked girls, and Becky Davis, another missions pastor at Beaverton Foursquare. Davis says her decision happened almost overnight: “I just felt called. I prayed about it and the next morning it became overwhelming to me this was what I was supposed to do.”

The transitional care center in Indonesia provides everything from housing, medical care, counseling, education, food, clothing, legal services, and twenty-four hour security. Furnished like a home and designed for up to twelve girls, it has two live-in “house moms.” Designed for minors age 13-18, the care does not stop once they reach eighteen. “Once a client, always a client,” says Mercer.

The house’s four current girls, whose names cannot be shared to protect their privacy, are between the ages of fifteen and sixteen and all have unique stories. Girls are typically recruited from villages or poverty-stricken areas with the promise of education or work. When a girl arrives at her destination she is told she owes money for travel expenses. She is then forced to work in pub or brothel as a sex slave to pay off the debt bond. Isolated far away from her family and friends, usually not even knowing what island she is on, the girl is unaware of her rights. She cannot free herself, either thinking she truly owes the money, or from fear of what will happen to herself or her family if she runs away. Often the families are complicit-conned into letting their daughters leave or selling them, desperate to feed their families. For this reason, when clients are taken in, they are cautiously reunited with their families.

The road to healing is a long one. After being rescued by the police or a rescue-based trafficking organization, girls receive immediate care. These girls come in with terrible physical and emotional scars, their bodies and souls having encountered unspeakable traumas for sometimes years. Safety comes first and then the slow process of building trust, not an easy process when everyone in their lives so far have only shown them violence, deception, and greed. “We find out their hopes and dreams, and get to the heart of the trauma,” says caseworker Chika Salindeho, who is native to the area the shelter is in.

Daily routines are crucial in restoring a sense of normalcy for these girls. A typical day might consist of going to school-two of the girls attend public school- or having tutoring and counseling sessions at the house. They learn everything from English to basic job related skills such as typing, and life and household skills such as cooking, doing laundry, healthy living, and learning to budget. Later that day might consist of chores or helping one of the house moms make dinner. Community is stressed; girls are encouraged to share their feelings with staff and each other, as well as journal and reflect about their goals, but then just as importantly, have time to hang out together and just have fun. Each plan for the girls is specifically tailored to their needs and dreams. “It’s kind of like if they were your own kids-what would you pursue for them as loving parents? We try to start them moving towards healing and getting them back on track to where they need to be as teenagers,” says Davis.

While Compassion First adheres to Christian values, no girls are ever forced into this. “They’ve already had their choices taken away from them,” says Baldwin. “We provide prayer and discipleship, but it has to be their own desire. We love them regardless, and accommodate them to where they are at in their healing process.”

Davis agrees. “Our prayer is that they would want to know Jesus Christ. We are a Bible believing and praying staff and we know ultimate healing comes from Jesus, but it has to be a personal journey. Our goal is to help them discover who they are, know that they do have an identity, and ultimately discover who God is making them to be.”

After a few weeks of being at the shelter, the walls come down. An angry or reserved girl laughs or smiles. The healing process is starting, God is moving. “The best thing is when they have internal motivation to change- they start to make those personal decisions to move away from past and look to the future. They have the ability to hope again,” says Baldwin. “Our donors in the States don’t get to see this, but seeing them sit down and have food at table, seeing their eyes light up when they get a new pair of shoes , hearing them say they are interested to learn or they have a talent for this or that-is pretty much priceless.”

Back in Beaverton, Oregon, the possibilities are endless when it comes to getting involved. For example, a youth group or Bible study can sponsor a girl monthly, both financially and by praying for her. Fundraising events are always looking for volunteers, participants, and corporate or individuals sponsors. Golf enthusiasts can look forward to the next big event, the second annual 100 Hole Golf Marathon, which will be held on June 6, at The Reserve Vineyards and Golf Club. The 2011 “From Numbers to Name Banquet” will be held November 6th at the Red Lion in Janzen Beach. The second annual banquet held this past November included over eight hundred guests and more than ninety volunteers, including Senator Bruce Starr and Commissioner Elect, Loretta Smith on behalf of Senator Ron Wyden. The funds raised went directly to trafficked victims in Indonesia, as well as local Portland area organizations that reach out to trafficking victims such as the Oregon Center for Christian Values and Scarlet Cord, and to promote awareness here in the Northwest and the rest of the country. One such awareness campaign is Make Her Beautiful Again, aimed at the beauty industry. Local beauty suppliers and stylists will partner with CF to raise money and awareness, including billboards with the National Trafficking Hotline. Interested persons can text 4Her to 20222 to donate to the cause.

The Portland community has been good to Compassion First too. A defective heart valve landed twenty-year-old Chika in the hospital in Indonesia last fall Chika was very ill, but money and time were both an issue; the surgery would cost over $100,000, and it normally took months to get a visa. Miraculously, Senators Bruce Starr and Ron Wyden got Chika to Portland in less than a week, and Providence at St. Vincent Hospital in Portland covered the surgery. It was a success. “I never thought I could get surgery to save my life,” Chika says. “I knew that my family couldn’t pay it. It’s a miracle. God saved my future.” Currently, Chika is embarking on a series of speaking engagements throughout the northwest and other parts of the country.

Compassion First’s vision of the future lies beyond Indonesia. “Our long term growth plan is to have multiple sites and multiple centers, but the numbers (of trafficking victims) are huge,” says Davis. “This year we want to get another organization in here to do rescue and support the police department, as well as fill the shelter with adequate staffing.” Other goals include developing the therapy program for clients, promoting awareness in the community about trafficking to help break the cycle, and developing stronger legal advocacy for clients. “Sometimes we feel in over our heads but He brings things in just the right time-we see God answer prayers,” Davis adds. “I long for the day when we are able to tell the story about a girl who has been through the program and they turn around and help other girls like them. To see a girl completely whole and healed from her past.”

Check out Compassion First’s website at for more information on events, speaking engagements, and ways to get involved or help financially. You can also call them at 503-207-1320.

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