Let me introduce you to one of my newest friends, Phea. She's 17 years old. As soon as I met her, we connected, never mind the language barrier. Phea's laugh was incredibly infectious, and her joy was contagious. If you met her with no knowledge of where she came from, you would never know what she's experienced in her short life.
I met Phea during my trip to Thailand and Cambodia; she currently lives in a project home of Destiny Rescue. Phea was a victim of child sex trafficking.
A combination of societal pressure for her to support her family as well as a cultural acceptance of working in the sex industry led to her being trapped working for KTVs (Karaoke-Television bars) at a young age. It led to older men leading her away from this establishment every night for their own pleasure. It led to her life being defined by how she could sell herself and thus by how much money she could make.
Phea's story didn't end there, though. Phea was rescued by Destiny Rescue, an organization committed to rescuing underage girls caught in sex trafficking in Southeast Asia. Rescuers work undercover to befriend girls at the bars in order to rescue them.
Their work continues after the rescue, too: girls can choose to go through the rehabilitative program where they are counseled, educated, and finally trained to be able to work real jobs in hospitality, food, or hair and beauty. Phea is choosing to go through hair and beauty because she loves making other girls feel beautiful.
I've shared before how we should not let our pasts define us, and Phea's example reaffirmed this lesson. We are no longer our pasts because Jesus has claimed our futures.
Phea and I, along with the rest of the girls from this particular project and my own team, hung out for an afternoon and swam in the midst of a thunderstorm. We didn't care, though, and I'm sure we were a sight to behold: twenty girls splashing and screaming and laughing in a swimming pool while rain poured down on us.
My team and I stood in a circle with several other girls, including Phea, playing "Down By The Banks", and at one point, Phea stopped. She looked around the circle and said one word: "Jesus?" Immediately, we nodded our heads with an emphatic "Yes!" We repeated that same name back to her: "Jesus?" Her face lit up with a grin. "Yes!"
My heart could not have been happier at that moment. This sweet face. This girl, who has experienced such oppression and darkness, was my sister in Christ. In my short time with her, I don't think I ever looked at her and thought, "Wow, she has gone through so much," because I was too busy laughing and playing with her. This is how we should look at our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ - not labeling each other by what we have gone through but by where our identities now lie. Phea is no longer a slave to her old life; she is a child of God.
Phea recognized this. Before we said our goodbyes, she told me this: "Jesus is freedom." He is, indeed. She gave me her bracelet, and I gave her mine - a reminder of one another every time we look at our wrists.
Stop living in fear of who you were; Paul says in 2 Corinthians 5:17 that "if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!" Because of Jesus, we can live in freedom. Because of Jesus, we can celebrate being redeemed, even if it means risking getting struck by lightning in a swimming pool.
If you want to learn more about Destiny Rescue and the awesome work they continue to do, you can check them out here!