Note: Ai Jin is part of a small grassroots movement of Christians from the underground church joining the fight against human trafficking in China, the world's most populous nation. But it may take a while to change the mindset of house church Christians to view the works of social justice as part of their mission. However, when the Chinese church, made up of more than 100 million believers, embraces the fight against trafficking and prostitution, they could be the biggest global force in abolishing human slavery.
The following is a continuation from the first part of the special coverage on human trafficking in China and what the church in China is doing to fight against it:
Stories of hope
During my recent trip to China as a philanthropy advisor, Ai Jin helped arrange interviews for me with former prostitutes and pimps.
Meet Mei Mei. It's nothing short of a miracle that she's dreaming again. She dreams of living on her own. With her trendy auburn highlighted hair, meticulously applied make-up and green hoodie, the jovial 23-year-old could fit right in at any campus or trendy hotspot. But Mei is a survivor of bride-trafficking. At the age of 14, instead of studying for school, she was tricked by a family friend of her classmate in her village, taken by train to a distant place, trapped in a house with high walls and slowly starved for two weeks. She screamed for days, but finally told her captors, 'I'll marry whomever.'
The couple watching over Mei brought in several men to inspect her like a piece of meat and sold her to the highest bidder for less than US$1,600. The man was a middle aged farmer who couldn't afford to marry the traditional way. He took Mei back to his home village and chained her like a dog until he wanted to have sex with her. Mei eventually became pregnant and gave birth to a baby girl at the age of 15.
Soon after, Mei ran away and was recruited by a pimp to work in a brothel. She was sent to prison for six months for working as a prostitute. "When I got out of jail, I felt so much self hatred and was too ashamed to return to my family, so I went back to prostitution." A year later, Mei contracted HIV, something she had never heard of.
The staff at Mercy Outreach helped pull Mei out of a dark pit of drug addiction and suicidal thoughts. They gave her shelter, counselling, training in jewellery-making, a regular job and made sure she took her HIV medication. It was with the help of staff at Mercy Outreach that Mei was able to make a decision to walk out with a new faith in Christ. Today, Mei is smiling and she has regained a sense of hope.
Meet Bing Li. Tears rolled down her face as she told the story of how she shut down her brothel business after she came to Christ. She had had two abusive husbands and a succession of boyfriends who cheated her out of money. She ended up in prison for 6 months for running a brothel. "In jail, many times I wanted to kill myself. One night, in a dream, an older foreign man told me, 'When you're out of prison, things will be better. I believe Jesus appeared in my dream," she said.
Despite the hope she felt from the dream, Bing Li was hardened and ready to infect her abusive second husband with HIV-tainted blood. Then she met staff from Mercy Outreach and experienced God's love. "Before I met Christ, I became angry easily and worried about money," she said. "But not anymore - I know God now." She has forgiven the people who have hurt her and has shared the gospel with her mother.
Chinese Christians Fighting Trafficking
From Beijing to Hunan to south west China to the Tibetan plateau, courageous Chinese Christians are fighting the scourge of sex trafficking and slavery. A new base for Chinese missionaries engaged in anti-trafficking will be set up by Target Ministries in Chiang Khong, a city in Thailand, where a highway is being built to connect with the Middle Kingdom. "This region is in a time of transition and the highway has the potential of bringing even more crime and flow of trafficking victims," said Etienne of Target Ministries who is overseeing building of the base.
On three separate occasions, he has come across bride trafficking in China where women were sold into marriage with much older men. "I hope Target Ministries can be a base for such concerted efforts to help provide refuge for sex trafficking victims," said Etienne, "and for the Chinese Church to make inroads into the Golden Triangle."
God's love compels Ai Jin and others in the groundbreaking work they're involved in. These believers are a picture of what is happening in the urban underground Church in China. Slowly, Christians are wading into anti-human trafficking work, preaching the good news to the afflicted, binding up the broken-hearted, proclaiming liberty to the captives and freedom to prisoners (NASB). But according to Andrew Chiang of Daybreak Asia, it will involve only a radical change of mindset in a shame-based culture to reach this segment of society considered the most "sinful": prostitutes, pimps and the mafia.
It is clear that Ai Jin feels a sense of calling to her work, but she has one other reason: her 14-year-old cousin is a prostitute. "When I found out that my own cousin was working in a brothel and wasn't willing to leave, I was so upset and wanted to quit the ministry. But God said to me, 'If you quit, other families will ask you 'Why didn't you help my daughter," she said with tears in her eyes. "This makes me believe God called me here. If God is calling me, I want to do this ministry for the rest of my life. It's an honor, not a duty to work here."
Jung Y. is a journalist and philanthropy advisor in Hong Kong. As a Fund Manager, she has directed investment to anti-trafficking, orphans, migrants and AIDS programs in mainland China and Asia. She is coordinating donors and NGOs for anti-trafficking work and care for children-at-risk from China to the Middle East.