30 July is marked as the World Day Against Trafficking in Persons. Pastor Glordia Goh shares stories she has heard and things she saw when she embarked on her work against the sex trafficking of girls.
In 1901, Amy Carmichael, a missionary from Ireland, met a young girl named Preena in Dohnavur, India. The 6-year-old had run away from the temple where she had been sold as a temple prostitute. That opened Amy’s eyes to human trafficking, in particular, sex trafficking of children.
For the next 56 years, Amy stayed in India doing rescue work. She founded the Dohnavur Fellowship and devoted her whole life to fighting trafficking. She set up homes and schools to empower the children she had rescued.
She fought against the culture and religion of the country and was taken to court many times. Eventually, Amy’s efforts paid off when India outlawed temple prostitution in 1948.
THE FIGHT AGAINST HUMAN TRAFFICKING
Almost 100 years later today, the world is still battling the same issues that Amy had fought her whole life. According to the United States Department of State, an estimated 27.6 million people are currently victims of human trafficking. One third of these are children. Seventy percent of these people are trafficked for sex, with the remainder in forced labour and marriage. The United Nations has marked 30 July as World Day Against Trafficking In Persons, with this year’s theme being “Reach every victim of trafficking; leave no one behind”. This day was established to raise awareness of the plight of human trafficking victims and to promote the protection of their rights.
According to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime’s website, global crises, conflicts and climate emergencies are causing wide gaps in socio-economic status, leaving millions of people vulnerable to exploitation by traffickers. “Those who lack legal status, live in poverty, have limited access to education, healthcare, or decent work, face discrimination, violence, or abuse, or come from marginalised communities are often the primary targets of traffickers,” the website states.
Amy’s story inspired a pastor in City Harvest Church, Glordia Goh. “When I was much younger, I read this book by Amy Carmichael,” the Harvest Kidz pastor shared. “I find her life very admirable, and the book changed my life—I want to do something like that too.”
Another story that shaped Pastor Glordia’s ministry was an Indian American documentary film, Born Into Brothels: Calcutta’s Red Light Kids. The film features a documentary photographer’s efforts to teach photography to the children of prostitutes. The children’s work was exhibited, and one of the boys was sent to a photography conference in Amsterdam.
Pastor Glordia relates, “He couldn’t get out of the country because his birth was not registered and had no birth certificate. They (the production team) had a hard time getting him registered and got him a passport, but eventually, he made it to the conference.
“It made me think: if a non-Christian can do something like that to help the kids, what about us Christians? I always felt that I want to give these children hope and a future. That film got me on a journey to start looking for ways to do it.”
In 2018, Pastor Glordia chanced upon an opportunity to learn from an organisation in Indonesia that reaches out to children of prostitutes. “During the day, their mothers are tomb sweepers but at night, they prostitute themselves,” the pastor explained. “They would conduct their business right there at the cemetery. This organisation is a kid’s club that provides education so that the youths do not follow in their mother’s footsteps.
“The teenagers come to the club and do activities. The organisation gives them tuition and shares biblical principles with them. From these interactions, some of them will get to know God,” Pastor Glordia says. There is also a club for the mothers where they teach them skills in the hopes of getting them out of the sex trade.
On her visit to Indonesia, Pastor Glordia heard tragic stories and witnessed demonic rituals. “I’ve heard that their parents sold them off because they wanted to buy a mobile phone; others were tricked into the trade,” she says.
One of the saddest stories was of a 13-year-old girl from a good family in Jakarta. Being a teenager, she was a little hard to handle. A family friend suggested to her mother to let her bring the girl back to her city, where she would mentor her. The family friend was a respected intercessor, so the mother agreed.
Sadly, her trust was misplaced. The teenage girl was sexually abused and pimped off as a sex worker. Being fearful of her abusers, the girl did not dare to retaliate or to reach out to her own parents. Her mother only found out when someone visited the girl and noticed that something was wrong. The person reported that the girl was depressed and withdrawn. She was immediately brought back to Jakarta where she told her mother about all that had happened to her.
Pastor Glordia also visited a town where the children are groomed to be sex workers. “The whole mindset there is that there is nothing wrong with it,” she says. “Then how do we change it?”
THE DESIRE TO SEE LIVES TRANSFORMED
When she returned to Singapore, Pastor Glordia started Street-Light, a ministry to sex workers that comes under City Harvest Church’s Church Without Walls initiative. Street-Light collaborates with Geylang Ministry, an organisation that has been conducting outreach in the area since 2008. While the sex workers in Singapore enter through work visas and are not trafficked, they too are vulnerable to sexual abuse, health risks and physical assault.
Because of Covid, the red-light district was closed for a long period of time and the sex workers left Singapore. During that time, Pastor Glordia and her team would visit the areas in Joo Chiat and Geylang to befriend the pimps and the mama-sans (female pimp or woman who oversees the brothel). They invited them to join in English classes and provided them with masks and information on Covid.
Through their efforts, the Street-Light team became familiar with two mama-sans who were more open to them. They would have meals with them, fellowshipping and telling them about Jesus.
In July 2022, the brothels re-opened and the Street-Light team began their outreach to the sex workers. However, the groundwork was tough because most of the girls come from poorer nations, and may not understand English, making communication a problem. Furthermore, they would be under the careful watch of the pimps who are wary of what the team tells the girls.
The girls themselves also tend to be suspicious and are not open to the team. “One of the Christian organisations that runs an outreach to sex workers said that out of 1,000 sex workers you reach out to, only 200 or 300 will be open to you. Out of these few hundred, only 10 will accept Jesus. Out of these 10, only one or two will truly follow Him,” Pastor Glordia shares.
Regardless of the low odds, the team would visit the girls once or twice a month, just to talk to them. “But we can’t actually talk for long because their pimps are watching,” the pastor reveals. Sometimes, they would celebrate the girls’ birthdays and pray for them. On one such occasion, the mama-san and one of the girls accepted Jesus.
Right now, the road ahead is long for this nascent ministry. Pastor Glordia acknowledges that more work needs to be done and to do so, she needs more manpower. “We need volunteers who can commit to serving consistently for at least one or two years because it takes a long time for the girls to start trusting us,” she explains.
The work against human trafficking and prostitution also invokes opposition in the spiritual realm, and the team must come together to pray often.
Even though the work is challenging and the battle is a long-drawn one, Pastor Glordia is determined to continue helping the sex workers.
“What keeps me going is the vision of seeing them live a new life. I am provoked by the low salvation rate,” she says. “The gospel is a demonstration of the Spirit and they can be freed from all this—they can be free to live the Christian life. I don’t just want to get them saved, but I want to see their lives transformed… them, their children and their future generations.”