River to Redemption

Ann H. Gabhart is a masterful writer.  I knew this about her, but I didn’t expect this book.  It was wonderful.

Orphaned in the cholera epidemic of 1833, Adria Starr was cared for by a slave named Louis, a man who stayed in Springfield, Kentucky, when anyone with means had fled. A man who passed up the opportunity to escape his bondage and instead tended to the sick and buried the dead. A man who, twelve years later, is being sold by his owners despite his heroic actions. Now nineteen, Adria has never forgotten what Louis did for her. She’s determined to find a way to buy Louis’s freedom. But in 1840s Kentucky, she’ll face an uphill battle.

Based partly on a true story, Ann H. Gabhart’s latest historical novel is a tour de force. The vividly rendered town of Springfield and its citizens immerse readers in a story of courage, betrayal, and honor that will stick with them long after they turn the last page.

I’ve always loved American Civil War era stories, and so to find out that not only was this book set in the years leading up to the war, but that it was based on a true story, I was even more in love.

In some ways it made me a little bit furious, as it always does, to read stories of a time when people could be bought.  It just baffles me that this was acceptable practice at any time, and then it hits me that it still happens, but that’s a post for another day and time.

This story about young Adria Starr growing into a strong, fiercely independent woman who will fight for what she knows to be right deep down in her soul is refreshing.  Along with historical fiction, I also love stories about strong women, especially in time periods where being strong, outspoken, and an advocate was not only not encouraged but actually discouraged, frowned upon, and called out.  Adria Starr did indeed have an uphill battle in her quest to set Louis free, but she had to try to do what she knew to be the right thing.

This story will warm your heart.  It’s a wonderful read from beginning to end, and I highly recommend it.  I’ve known Ann H. Gabhart to be skilled at character development, and this story is certainly no exception.  You’ll fall in love with these characters (where you should) and be apprehensive about the others instantly.

To grab a copy of this book on Amazon.ca, click here!  Or head to your favourite book retailer to check this out.



Book was provided courtesy of Baker Publishing Group and Graf-Martin Communications, Inc.


One Dress. One Year. For Freedom.

When I was in high school, and most specifically, when I was 16 years old… not only was I completely unaware that human trafficking and slavery were still an issue, but I doubt I could say that I’d have gone to the lengths that Bethany Winz did on her journey to raise awareness and money toward justice for human trafficking victims.  Even as much as I now abhor the idea that slavery still exists, and that humans can take such an evil stance against other humans, I don’t know that I’d do something as bold as to wear the same dress for an entire year.


This book was beautiful — it’s fresh, as it’s written by a teenager (a talented one at that) as she walks through what this passion for fighting injustice looks like for her.  She shares her experiences, her emotions (some of them heartbreaking), statistics, shocking facts, and updates on her funding as she goes through her year-long journey wearing one black dress.  She hopes to get people to ask her questions about what she’s doing.  She explains that victims of trafficking don’t get many choices, so she has done what she can to limit some of hers so she can experience even a fraction of what they go through.  Ultimately, she’d like to live in a world where humans are not sold for any reason.

You’ll smile.  You’ll chuckle.  You’ll want to cry (and if you’re not as averse to crying as I am, you just might).  You’ll get angry.  I find I can’t be faced with the reality of human trafficking and slavery and not be furious.  I’ve written about it in this blog in the past, partnered with an organization called Exodus Road.  Check out my categories and look under “Human Trafficking” to find anything I’ve done there.

“When I’m exposed to evil, I want to …. pretend I never saw it in the first place.  The problem is that I did see it.  I know it’s there.  That makes me responsible.  If I don’t face it, then who will?”

It’s easy to assume that someone else will take up the call to fight for those who can’t fight for themselves — but what if no one else does?  Then what?

I loved following along with Bethany on her journey, and I’m glad to read that she had such a supportive network behind her as she embarked on what was likely a difficult year.  It doesn’t seem like such a big deal, but especially for a teenager battling peer pressure, hormones, social pressure, and the like — I’m sure it was very challenging.  High school was hard enough without intentionally trying to make myself stand out.  I can’t imagine.

I think Bob Goff — founder of Restore International, an organization that Bethany worked closely with — was absolutely right when he said:  “You are going to do magnificent things with your life!  It will be fun for all of us to watch!”  I remember thinking not even all through the first chapter that Bethany Winz was going to be a name to watch out for in the fight against human trafficking.  It’s great to know that I’m not the only one who thinks so, and I’ll definitely have my eye on her.

If you can’t stand the injustice in this world, and want to read a real, authentic, and uplifting account of a girl who can’t stand it either, I highly recommend this book.  It’s a quick, easy read, but it will impact your heart at the same time, just like it did Bethany’s.

“The dress is inviting me to change.  It’s inviting me to let Jesus transform me into the person he created me to be.”

Book has been provided courtesy of Baker Publishing Group and Graf-Martin Communications, Inc.

How to Free a Sex Slave


So this picture speaks for itself here.  January is Human Trafficking Awareness Month….

And if you’re anything like me, the idea that there are children being sold into slavery and sex work, not just in other parts of this world, but also all around us… that idea makes you want to vomit, and you feel really helpless.

Just over a year ago, a friend of mine introduced me to The Exodus Road, and informed me that they were looking for bloggers.  Naturally, I jumped on that chance… and here I am.  I’m sharing information with you today about what it takes to free a sex slave.

Matt and Laura Parker, who both work for The Exodus Road, wrote an article together for Relevant Magazine about what the process is like to get a sex slave out of their awful situation.  I encourage you to read the entire article.  It’s powerful.  You’ll have to create a Relevant account to read to the end, but it’s worth it.  Do it.

Here are two excerpts that really hit me:

“For the criminals, any arrest or prosecution is disruptive. Legal fees, jail time and loss of business make the sale of humans a less lucrative trade. Regardless of the verdicts, raids and arrests send a message to the local community that sexual slavery is not acceptable. When we apply pressure to the trafficking mechanisms from a legal standpoint, we slowly force modern-day slavery into the category of higher risk and lower reward. This is potentially one of the greatest steps we can make as a community fighting this injustice.”

“Every day, I find myself wishing that rescuing a sex slave was a simple, inexpensive, quick process. But it isn’t. It might take a village to raise a child, but it takes an entire army to free one.

So here it is… please read this.  Because I can’t say it any better than this. (click the picture)


Also, possibly of note to you:  The Exodus Road has signed a band called Remedy Drive as their first artist.  I’d never heard of them before, but I checked out their website and gave their stuff a listen, and I have to say I liked what I heard.  I encourage you to check it out.


And finally, a few quotes to let you reflect on the heaviness of this situation (geeky side note:  Anything said by Abraham Lincoln has to be worth its weight in gold, right?):

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One Word for 2014. Some goals, and my favourite posts from 2013.

I had actually already thought about my New Year’s Resolutions for 2014 when I read She Loves Magazine’s One Word idea for the year.  I’ve decided to combine this with Mama Kat’s writing prompts, and add in my top 12 blog posts from 2013 and to talk about some Resolutions, or anti-resolutions if you will.

Here’s what I love about this one-word idea, to get myself back on track.

You pick one word for 2014.  Not a bunch of New Years’ Resolutions.  Not a bunch of lofty probably unattainable goals that you’ll be discouraged over later.  No.  One word.  I had already thought about it.  I had already given 2014 enough thought to decide that the only thing I’ll be ‘resolving’ is this:  value.  I will value myself.  I will value those around me.  I will refuse to devalue myself on account of things of this world.  I will wrap my value up in things of Christ, knowing that that’s where my true value is to be found.  I described this idea to my parents as “I will be less hard on myself,” but when I saw the One Word idea put out by She Loves, I wracked my brain for one word.

So the things I’m not resolving to this year, because I’ve resolved to them every year and failed:

I’m not going to put a number on weight loss.  Instead, I’ll value myself enough to make healthy choices, and if that results in weight loss — awesome.

I’m not going to put a kilometre goal on running.  I haven’t been able to run in such a long time because of a stupid ankle injury from LAST CHRISTMAS that I may stick with boxing and take up swimming instead anyway :p  I will value myself enough to know that I don’t need to obsess, and that if I don’t get in a certain number of kilometres or minutes or whatever… accomplished in a week, that doesn’t mean I’m a failure or that I should be so hard on myself.

I’m not going to put a ‘I hope to be in a committed relationship before I’m 30’ marker on this year, because that doesn’t value my singleness or myself AS a single individual.  I will instead recognize that I have value whether single or coupled.  Besides, I’m currently rocking the preferable term, ‘independently owned and operated.’

I have a few things I’d like to accomplish this year, certainly, but these things have less to do with beginning a new year, and more to do with being a person who likes to set goals for herself.  Most notably, I’d like to rock the violin this year.  I’m starting a 52 week money saving challenge with the end goal being a stellar (probably refurbished) violin which was not made in China and which will not break as easily (mine’s currently with a repair guy and I have a borrowed one.  Handing it over to a stranger was like turning over my baby.  It was sad).  I actually may have a resolution for 2015… I’d really like to enter the Canadian Open Fiddling Competition held every year in Shelburne.  I went with my Grandparents for the first time this past August… and I was enraptured.  I don’t think I’ll be ready for this August.  Maybe next year though 😉

Ann Voskamp summarizes really well my thoughts on heading into 2014.  I want to fall forward, not stumble backwards.  Check this out.  Wonderful words, here.

And as I get ready to usher in 2014 with One Word, I’m going to bid 2013 farewell with a few of my favourite blogs from this year (both my posts and those that I follow).  I’ll do 12 of each.  One for each month, I suppose.  Check out Sarah Bessey’s post along the same idea.

First:  Blogs I followed.

Tim and Olive, Olive To Run, A Holy Experience (Ann Voskamp), Jen Hatmaker, Sarah Bessey, Megan Gahan, Sometimes Screaming Helps (Sarah Richardson), Holley Gerth, She Loves Magazine, The Young Woman’s Bucket List, Mama’s Losin It, Darcie the Kindred Spirit, The Road To Rome, Avoiding Neverland (I know… that’s 14.)

Second:  My top 12 posts from 2013.

1.  My ‘2nd Blogiversary Post — I Will Not Humour the Cray Crays.‘  I wrote this just kind of summarizing my most recent dating experiences, and didn’t expect it to get kind of out of hand.  Blog Her picked it up and featured it and it got like 1300 views or something insane like that.  For a fairly newbie blogger, it just blew my mind.

2.  I Am Not Bible Barbie.  This was another one that kind of blew up on me.  I had decided that I’d had enough of being held to this impossible standard by potential suitors, and some friends and I were talking about it at church, and this happened.  And then 450 views happened.  It was my first big post, and the first one that blew up without help from anything else.

3.  The More Boys I Meet, The More I Love My Dog.  I’d been on an AWFUL date.  Seriously, read the story.  I decided that I’d better channel it into good writing that would get new readers, lest I sit around and mope.  It was good therapy 🙂

4.  I Don’t Want to Marry Bible Ken.  The day after I wrote I Am Not Bible Barbie, it occurred to me that I had picked on guys for holding us women to this impossible standard, when we do the same thing to them, and that I don’t want to keep looking for the ‘perfect’ guy.  Read on to find out why 🙂

5.  Singleness is not a disease, nor a curse, nor an affliction… nor is it a problem of mine for others to solve.  I wrote this post about a year ago.  Someone obviously had a ‘solution’ to my singleness problem.  I haven’t re-read these posts, so I don’t remember what prompted it, but it sounds angsty.

6, 7, 8, and 9 were parts 1, 2, 3, and 4 in a series of stories I wrote about a girl named Anna (fictional) who was sold into the sex trade.  I wrote it for The Exodus Road, an organization which works to spread awareness about sex trafficking and the work that’s being done to combat it.  Read Part 1 here.  Part 2 is herePart 3 is hereAnd Part 4 is here. Please read them.  They were hard to write because the details were supplied by Exodus Road, and I knew they were technically fictional, but it was gut-wrenching to think that even though I was making this up, it could very easily have happened in real life.

10.  How I Feel About Endings — A Tribute to My Buddy, Jack.  Hardest post to write this year probably.  I wrote it in the days before we had to have one of my Mom’s dogs, Jack, put down… he was very sick, we had no choice, really.  But it was really hard.  So hard.

11. A Picture’s Worth A Whole Lot… Apparently.  I updated my profile pictures on the dating sites I was registered on because a friend of mine showed me how to use makeup…. and like magic, I had a whole bunch of interest generated.  It caused me to reflect on the value we place on looks.

And tied for number 12 (yes, I know that means I have 13… but I have 4 tied into one story that took 4 months to finish, so I think it’s fair.  Also — it’s my blog.  #idowhatiwant)  “My ‘come-to-Jesus’ moment about Rob Ford’ and ‘A Duck Call for Love.’  Both of these posts were written in response to public figures blowing it in view of the entire Western World, and how I feel like there has to be a better way to do things than we’ve been doing it.  As Christians, we’re called to love, and that’s what both of these posts are aimed at.

favourite TV

Bones, NCIS, NCIS Los Angeles, Nashville, Chicago Fire, Rick Mercer Report, Elementary, Castle, How I Met Your Mother, Big Bang Theory, and… apparently there are only 11 of these.  That’s ok.

Books:  Confession ~ I didn’t read anywhere close to 12 books this year.  I’d like to read more in this next year.  I guess that comes with valuing my intelligence and not squandering so much time on Facebook?  We’ll see how that goes.

Pirates of Savannah, The Sacred Search, 7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess, Made To Crave, Every Body Matters, The Sweet By and By, Love Lifted Me, Softly And Tenderly, Flabbergasted.  I can’t think of any more that I read this past year.  There might be more, though that number in itself kind of shocked me.  I have a giant stack beside my bed to get through still, so… we’ll see how that goes :p  Next on the list, which I’m really excited about (just have to finish The Sacred Search first), is Real Men Don’t Text, by Ruthie Dean.  Can’t wait.

Movies: I should preface this — I’m not super picky when it comes to movies.  I’m pretty easy to please.  The only one I really didn’t like was The Heat.

The Hobbit, Frozen, The Butler, Captain Phillips, 12 Years A Slave, The Family, Oz the Great and Powerful, Gangster Squad, Safe Haven, Olympus Has Fallen, 42, Runner Runner.  Those are just ones I saw in theatres.  Like I said, I’m pretty indiscriminate.

Music:  I could never pick just 12 songs.  I guess I can pick 12 artists, though.  Note:  I fell in love with Eastern Canadian Folk Music this year.  So…. get ready for this.  That’s right… The Rankins are in there.  Classic, 1990s Rankin Family.  On repeat in the car for the last 5 days.  Straight.  Legit.

Charlie Worsham, Natalie MacMaster, Leahy, The Rankins, The Band Perry, Luke Bryan, Third Day, Dixie Chicks, Sugarland, Duelling Fiddlers, The Piano Guys, Lady Antebellum, Lindsey Stirling.  I know, I know, that’s 13.  It’s the best I could do.

And that’s it, guys!  That’s it for 2013!  Stay tuned for January.  Another NaBloPoMo kicks off January 1.  Am I insane for taking the challenge during a Report Card month?  Probably, but it could lead to some really entertaining (albeit brief) posts 😉

Someone Free — Stretch Marks of Faith

I’m not going to say much to introduce this video that The Exodus Road emailed us this month.  I don’t think my words could summarize it adequately.  I profoundly admire something in every poet, because that has never been my strength, and this girl is no exception.  It’s worth 7 minutes of your time. 

That being posted now, and hopefully you’ve watched it (seriously, do it; it gave me shivers), I’d like to draw your attention to something else that The Exodus Road has for us this month. A job opportunity.
Do you know someone who you think would be ‘just right’ as an undercover investigator?

The Exodus Road is currently seeking qualified individuals to join our investigation teams in SE Asia.  This role serves as a key function in The Exodus Road’s targeted intervention initiative, which is to support local authorities and governments in the identification of human trafficking victims and their traffickers.  Agents will work on a team of investigators to manage and advance current case loads and intake of new cases.  All agents will work underneath the authority of the Operations Manager/Investigative Lead and the Country Field Director. For more information, go to the job application page: https://www.theexodusroad.com/exodus-road-employment-opportunities/

Sex Trafficking 101 – Part 2

Continuing on the heels of last month’s Sex Trafficking information post, here are some more absolutely stunning, heartbreaking statistics for you.  It hurts my heart and my brain to read them.  I hate that I live in a world where this is allowed to happen, and where it’s so hard to stop it.

At The Exodus Road, they really want to focus on the heart of the issue this month.  These are kids.  KIDS.

* Human rights investigations have discovered that minors can be typically sold an average of 10-15 times a day, 6 days a week, totaling between 9,360 and 14,040 sex acts a year. The girls received none of the money.   (Source: Shared Hope International)

* According to the California Child Welfare Council, kids as young as 10 are being peddled for sex every day in Los Angeles County … the average life expectancy of children who enter the sex trade is seven years. This means, on average, a child forced into prostitution at age 12 will be dead by 19.  (Source: http://www.dailybreeze.com/general-news/20130902/a-call-to-crack-down-on-those-who-pay-for-child-sex )


Doesn’t that break your soul to shreds?

I found The Polaris Project’s website interesting… and I headed through a few of their links.  If you’re interested in more information, check them out.

A Word about “Rescue” from the Exodus Road

In the counter-trafficking world, there are varying understandings of the term “Rescue” and how it is used to describe an activity a nonprofit is undertaking. While the term is ambiguous at best, we wanted to briefly define what we mean when we use it in our organization.

When we at The Exodus Road say “Rescue,” we do not mean offering a prostitute a job, preemptively saving a girl from a possible trafficking situation, or saving a child from poverty, lack of education, or a risky future. These are all noble and important tasks that many are doing well. And we applaud and support their good work, absolutely, because it is necessary to this fight for freedom. (Truly, the modern day slave needs all of us committing to finding solutions to their injustice from a myriad of varying angles.)

However, when we at The Exodus Road talk about “Rescue,” we are referring to the removal of a person from either:

  • an actual trafficking situation (ex. raid with police of a locked brothel) or
  • sexual abuse to an underage victim (ex. pedophile abuse).

The “rescues” we support involve situations where the victims are being sexually exploited and do not have the power to leave on their own accord, whether by force, threat, violence, coercion, debt, etc. As per UN guidelines and definitions, any girl or boy under the age of 18 engaged (even “willingly”) in prostitution is technically a trafficked victim since the international community deems a minor not old enough to make the choice to sell themselves for sex.

(Source: The Exodus Road: About https://www.theexodusroad.com/about-us/)

In this last picture, I know they’re all American statistics, but it doesn’t change the heavy weight of them, or how badly something needs to be done.  It happens here in OUR backyard in Canada, too, I just don’t have pretty ‘eye-catching’ statistics images for you.


Also, check out Jamie the very worst Missionary’s blog…. This speaks far more about what the folks at The Exodus Road do than I ever could.

Stay tuned in early November for information about a book tour Laura Parker’s book, also called The Exodus Road, which you can get on Amazon in Kindle edition if you’d like!  I don’t have a Kindle… I’m going to need a way to get a paper copy (I won’t go into why I firmly believe paper copies should never die in this post), but it looks like a solid read regardless.  Laura Parker works with The Exodus Road.


Sex Trade 101 ~ Part One

Sex Trade Education: As a part of the back-to-school season, The Exodus Road (remember, the organization that I blog for to try to help fight sex trafficking?) is starting a Sex Trade 101 series for those of us on the blogger team. Education is a foundational element for people who are committed to the modern day anti-slavery movement. The more we know, the more we are empowered to empower others.  Have you ever wondered what all of this chatter is all about?  Well, over the next few months Exodus Road is providing me with information to give to you, and I’m pretty excited to share.

I’ve admittedly slacked hardcore on this particular section of my blog.  In fact, I’ve slacked pretty formidably on the entire thing since I spent my summer writing for Camp, but we’re all settling back into routines now, and it’s time to get back into this as well.

Let’s get this going with some info graphics.  I think these pretty much speak for themselves, so I’m not going to say much more.  Make sure you watch the couple videos at the end as well.


Did you catch that??  25,894,000,000 pounds are generated

each year by the sex trade.  That’s 42,705,679,500.00

Canadian (42.7 billion) or 41,554,691,200.00 US… 41.5

billion dollars.  Per year.


Check out this video where a girl named Alex who was

rescued by the FBI from the sex trade shares a bit of her



And also — this video — the one you’ve probably seen spiraling virally all over the interwebz, the one of a bunch of Dutch dancers dancing in some windows with some very entertained onlookers — until they flash some sobering stats up at the end.

You don’t need to be Batman, Abraham Lincoln, or Jason Bourne…

You don’t.  You don’t need to be any of these epic heroes to rescue people.  More specifically, you don’t need to be one of these epic heroes to rescue slaves.

When I started blogging for The Exodus Road, back a few months ago now, I felt kind of overwhelmed.  I started reading the stories about rescue happening all over the world, and then the stories about people NOT being rescued, people that were still stuck, and I felt very small, and very insignificant.  I mean, sometimes I can picture myself with covert ops training, running into a building with my SWAT team uniform and a Kevlar vest and a sniper rifle (and I know I just combined several different occupations and you’re probably all cringing…), but then I remember that I’m the girl who tells her grade 4s to pay attention to how she cuts a hole through the centre of a circle without cutting herself…. and cuts herself in the process.  I know these are not skills that I possess.  For a deeper look into this idea, click HERE!  Make sure you watch the video that goes with it.  Exodus Road Executive Director Matt Parker talks about the work being done.

Also, if you’re feeling particularly keen on following all of the links that are stemming from this blog post… I know, there are a ton… Read this.  Personally, I can’t help but admire the Batman analogy from this writer who talks about wrestling the contrast between slavery and the suburbs.

Remember, too… that the life of one child plucked from the Hell of slavery is important, and that absolutely any contribution you’re making to that is phenomenal.  Check out this video on what The Exodus Road crew is doing on an ongoing basis to remind themselves of the importance of what they’re doing.  I’m writing for change.  I’m hoping that hundreds of people start reading my blog and all decide that they need to get involved somehow, too.  I’m using a gift I know I possess to the benefit of a cause I deeply care about.  What could you do?  Your possibilities are endless.

This dilemma isn’t new.  Slavery has been around for years and years.  And slavery is hard for us to talk about.  It’s almost politically incorrect, and I think a lot of that stems from the horrible injustices done to African slaves in the 18th and 19th Centuries.  At least, that’s what we know about, so that’s what we resonate with.  It’s hard to talk about for the same reason that when you read Romans 1:1, the word we now see as “servant” but should have been translated “slave” if you look back at the original Greek word, has been altered.  It’s uncomfortable because of where North American culture has seen slavery.  But it should be uncomfortable.  It should hurt.  It should make us squirm.  That feeling is telling you to act.

Anyone who knows me at all knows that Abraham Lincoln is my Earthly hero.  He certainly doesn’t trump Jesus, but he’s pretty high up there in my books.  He even trumps Batman.  Exodus Road shared this video with us in our April newsletter update.  It’s called I’m With Lincoln.  Fair warning:  It’s a bit graphic, and it wretched my heart a little bit.  But I like the idea behind it a lot.  150 years ago, Abraham Lincoln freed the slaves of his day.  It got him killed, but he did it anyway.  It didn’t immediately eliminate the issue, but look how far we’ve come.  We need to do it across the globe.  If Lincoln could do it in the US, then surely many many people united on one cause can make an impact around the world.

Also check out (if you’re not yet tired of my link frenzy) Made In A Free World, the producers of the I’m With Lincoln video.  I just learned about them today, but I like them.  Interested in knowing what your Slavery Footprint is?  That is, how many slaves were used to supply you with your lifestyle?  Take this survey.  I did, and I hate the answer.  I came out with 46, which, to be honest was better than I expected, and I know that the survey is subjective and imperfect, but still….. Time for some change.  You with me?

That’s it for today.  Thanks for reading!


Hope For Anna (Part 4 of Anna’s Story)

Recap:   Anna is a teenager from Russia who dreamed of better things for her Mother and siblings, so upon seeing an advertisement for nanny jobs in the US in a shop window, she applied and was prepared to leave her family and her country/continent in order to send $1000.00 per month home to them.  She was scared and excited, all at the same time.

Unfortunately, favour was not smiling on Anna, and she was put on a bus that was supposed to take her to the airport and on to America, but instead took her to Laos where she was sold into slavery, and abused in every way imaginable.

She had begun to feel as though there was no way out, and that this was her life, and every ounce of life had been sucked out of her, when a young man came into the shop at the house she was a slave in and saw something fishy.  He reported what he thought he saw, and following a well orchestrated raid, her abductors were imprisoned and she was rescued into a rehabilitation home for girls and women just like her.

This is where we pick back up in Anna’s Story.  In today’s fourth (and final) installment of this fictional account of events (that are all too close to the truth of what happens all the time), we’re going to find Anna in a much better situation than she was in before.  Find parts One, Two, and Three of the story here if you haven’t already read them.  A reminder:  Though I’ve clearly never been through any of this myself, I did my best to use the information that Exodus Road gives in their monthly newsletters to their bloggers to empathize and create a piece from Anna’s point of view.

Read on for Part Four!!

I sat straight up in my bed, lightning fast.  I looked around me.  I didn’t know where I was.  The previous 36 hours had been a blur, and as the details started to focus in more clearly, I vaguely recalled commotion, being yanked out of the house I’d been in for the past 8 months, and being semi-assured, in barely comprehensible, broken Russian, that everything was going to be OK, that I was safe.  I was supposedly taken to a facility designed for post-abduction/slavery rehabilitation, run by social workers.  They gave me clean clothes, a hot meal (I hadn’t had one in months), and clean water to drink.

I looked around me.  Could this be real?  As my eyes focused in the faint glow of the sliver moon shining through the window, I observed that I was in fact safe, by all appearances.  I looked across the room at Kalina, sleeping soundly in another bed.  She looked peaceful.  She looked comfortable.  I laid back down.  I pleaded with God that this could be real.  I’d stopped talking to God a few months prior, feeling like a loving God would never have let me get where I was in the first place… but maybe it’s like my Mom always said…. maybe He works ALL things together for my good… and maybe this had a purpose.

I fell back into a peaceful, rested sleep.  When I woke up, Kalina wasn’t in the room anymore.  I noticed in the daylight what I hadn’t noticed in the early morning hours.  There were many other beds in the room.  All were empty and remade.  I looked at the clock on the wall.  10:45 am.  I hadn’t slept that late in months.  No one had let me.  I felt an incredible sense of peace then, knowing that I must not be there for someone else’s gains, but for my own good.  These people could truly have meant it when they said they’re here to help me.

I found the clean clothes I’d been given the night before and shuffled quietly, still waking up, down the hallway, looking and listening for anyone I could find.  I remembered more details from the night before, and recalled that the only Russian anyone spoke was broken at best, and so if I hoped to communicate at all, I’d need to find Kalina.  Her Laotian developed far faster than mine when we were stuck in that house.

The hallway ended at a large common room.  The sun streamed in through open windows.  Birds sang, and girls all around me smiled when I walked in.  Kalina spotted me and pointed me out to the woman she was sitting with.  I was intercepted by a young man who lead me to a line of so many choices of food to eat.  I’d never seen so much in one place before… or at least, not that I was allowed to eat.  I took my food and sat down with Kalina and the woman.

Kalina introduced the woman as our counselor.  She explained that they’d flown her in from Russia to make sure that we received the best care after all we’d been through.  Our counselor, Kasia, just smiled.  “I’m here to help you,” she said.

“What happens now?”  I asked.

“We have a doctor waiting to you,”  Kasia explained.  “You’ve been through a lot.  We want to make sure you’re alright.”

I nodded.  “Then we set you up with a counseling schedule, and we’ll introduce you to the girls you’ll be doing group therapy with.  You’ll all have an opportunity to talk to others who’ve been through similar situations to your own, and you’ll be able to find strength in your recovery together.  We’ve made sure that you and Kalina both are in a group with girls who also speak Russian.”

I nodded again.  “When do we get to go home?”  I asked, and tears welled up in my eyes.  I had stopped thinking about home around 3 months into this whole ordeal.  It was too painful, and I couldn’t let myself do it.

“There’s a process around that,” explained Kasia, “Your case needs to be cleared through the legal system here in order to effectively prosecute those who took and sold you.  We’ll get you home as soon as we can.  In the meantime though, there are several phones scattered throughout the facility where we’ll be happy to get you connected to your family so that you can talk to them and tell them you’re OK.  You can talk to them for as long as you want.”

Until that point, I’d been determined to remain very strong.  Kalina was the only person who’d seen me cry, even when being beaten and abused.  I had stuffed every emotion so far down that I had occasionally forgotten they were there.  I had decided that it took some of the sport out of abusing me if my abusers couldn’t see how it affected me.  I couldn’t keep it in anymore.  I just wanted to talk to my Mom.  Tears flowed freely down my cheeks.

“Can I call right now?”  I squeaked out.

“Of course you can, let me show you to a private phone.”

Ten minutes later, I was sitting eagerly with the phone receiver pressed against my ear, praying my Mom would answer as the phone rang and rang.

Finally, I heard the ringing stop and her voice came over the speaker and into my ear.  “Hello?”  Came her familiar voice in Russian.  I couldn’t get any words out.

“Hello?”  She said again.  “Is anyone there?”

“Mama?”  I croaked out.

“Anna!?”  She cried!  My mother began to sob into the phone.  “Anna, is that you!?”

“Yeah, Mama, it’s me,”  I sniffled.  “I’m here.  I’m safe.”

“Where are you!?  Where have you been?  I’ve been worried sick?  What happened to you?”  My mother had more questions than she knew how to ask, and who could blame her?  For all she knew, I’d either abandoned my family or died trying.  I was sure she’d lost hope by now, only to have it all come flooding back with one phone call.

“Mama I miss you so much!  And my sister!  Alexis!  I took her for granted.  And even those little brothers… my heart broke when I thought that Liev and Zasha might think that I abandoned all of you.  I didn’t, Mama, I didn’t.  I wanted to come home.  I wanted to break free, but they wouldn’t let me, there was no way out!  When I got on that bus, the man…. he, he, he… he sold our passports and he took us to Laos, and Mama I’ve been here for 8 months?  I lost track.  I don’t know what day it is!  But Mama… I’m safe.  A man, he… he came to the store, and he reported what he thought he saw to the police, and they rescued us!  Mama, I’m safe now.  I’m still in Laos, I’m pretty sure, but I’m safe.”

My mother just laughed.  “Sweetie, my dear Anna, we never thought you abandoned us.  We knew something was wrong.  We prayed for you every night.  Even Liev and Zasha, they were on their knees and they talked to Jesus.  Just last night they asked him…. they said they were pretty sure he was there, and it made sense that he cared about them, but that if he really wanted them to believe that he loved them, they wanted their big sister back.  I tried to tell them that bargaining with God doesn’t work like that, but they were sure that they had to just tell Jesus what they really wanted.  And they wanted you.  Safe, and home… they wanted you.”

We both sat on the phone crying without words for several minutes.  Finally, my Mama quietly asked the question I dreaded.  One I didn’t really know the answer to.  “When are you coming home?”

“I don’t really know, Mama.  I hope soon.  They said something about making sure that process was followed, and that I can’t leave until that’s happened… I hope soon.  But they’re taking good care of me.  I have a comfortable bed, clean clothes, warm water and hot food.  I can call anytime I want.  They have social workers to help us deal with… all of this, and they’re letting me stay with Kalina, a friend I made in the house where we were held.  We live really close to each other in Russia, too.  As soon as we’re cleared through the system, we will be home.  But I’ll call every day.  And I’ll call tomorrow after school to talk to Alexis, Liev, and Zasha.”

“My dear Anna.  You are so strong.  I love you, you know.  So much.  I love that you tried to make a different path for us, and that even though you were intercepted while trying, and I can’t even imagine the horrors you’ve seen, you still have that Anna spark in your voice when you talk to me.  We never gave up on you.  We NEVER thought you abandoned us.  Never.  That’s not you.  We know that, baby.  We know that.”  She sighed.  “You keep calling.  We will see you very soon!”

That was the first of many phone calls filled with tears that I’d share with my Mother and siblings over the coming months.  Through some intense therapy sessions and counseling, I was able to regain a great deal of the trust of strangers that I’d lost.  My therapists and counselors said that it would make sense if I had trouble sleeping at night without remembering the horrific things I’d been through, but after 7 weeks I finally had a different dream.  I remember waking up smiling.  I had dreamed up my wedding.  I was getting married, and my family was all there.  Kalina was there.  Kasia was there.  I had found a man who loved me for me, with my strong personality that wouldn’t be pushed around that developed as a result of what I’d been through.  He loved me despite how I’d been treated, and he never let me feel used and worthless, even though many girls in my situation would feel that way.  I woke up smiling because I didn’t have a nightmare, and I’d slept right through the night.

That morning at breakfast, Kasia came to sit with Kalina and me to talk to us about our next steps.  She explained that all of the legal red tape was cleared up, and we were able to leave the country freely now.  Our flights had been paid for by a charitable organization in Vientiane driven to support the rehabilitation of human trafficking victims.  My face whitened though.  The last time I was supposed to get on a plane to something that sounded too good to be true, it turned out to be just that, and I was sold into slavery.

Kasia put her hands on mine.  “Don’t worry, child,” she tried to soothe the fear she could see plastered on my face.  “Hey, Anna, look at me.  You’ll be safe.  There is a volunteer from the organization paying for your flight who will be flying with you all the way to St. Petersburg, and you will not be out of his sight until you’re with your family again.  We promise.”

I relaxed.  Kasia had become a great friend of mine in the past 2 months, even though she started simply as my therapist.  She also explained that the Laotian government was going to give me $1000 USD with which to travel, but that since my flight and transportation were all covered, I could save it and use it for my own purposes.

When I got home to Russia a week later, I was met by my Mother, Alexis, Liev, and Zasha at the airport to be taken home.  They hugged me so hard I thought I’d stop breathing.  I had never been so happy to be squished by hugs in my life.

Over coffee and breakfast the next morning at a new house, my Mother told me that the local church had just given her two jobs.  She and my siblings moved out of our old house two days before I came home.  She would be their secretary and she would clean for them.  They didn’t want to hire the same person for two jobs because they felt it was too much work, but my Mother explained to me that before she’d gone to the interview, she’d prayed for a long time for a job that would provide the amount of money she’d need to stop being a prostitute, as well as to make sure that Alexis, Liev, and Zasha could stay in school without having to quit to work.  She knew the number, but wouldn’t tell any prospective employers without being asked.  She interviewed for the position as secretary, and when she was offered the job and told the salary, she started to cry.  It had seemed so good, but it wasn’t good enough, because she knew she couldn’t work at a church during the day and be a prostitute at night.  So she decided to tell the church her story, knowing that it was shocking and she may lose the job, but also knowing that in her renewed faith since I was rescued, she felt confident that this was the job her Lord wanted her to have.  She explained that she was willing to do anything, but that in order to leave her current job which was killing her soul, she needed to make a certain amount of money.  The Church leadership team’s eyes widened when my mother told them what she had to make per month to get out of prostitution, because it was, to the cent, the exact amount of money they were prepared to offer for both positions combined.  The church immediately offered to give her both jobs, and arranged to have her immediately moved from where we’d lived all my life to keep her safe from those who’d go looking for her.  Prostitution can be terrifyingly difficult to escape.

I then told her about the thousand dollars I’d been given, and that I thought I would like to pursue business school.  The life we’d been living was behind us now, and it was time to move on and forward.  We were excited about our new lives.  My sister and brothers would get to stay in school, I would get an education, and my Mother could stop selling her body and her soul to the highest bidder.

Flash forward five years, and I’m sitting in my office in my very own bakery writing you this story.  I’ve been fiddling with a ring on my finger for the past three weeks because I can’t believe that I got married.  I met him in business school, which I successfully completed, and with his help and support, I bought my own little shop.  With the skills I learned working in a bakery before being sold to Laos, I make specialty breads and desserts that are popular all over St. Petersburg.  I’m currently looking into expanding into a second location.  The girls who work for me are at risk to end up in prostitution themselves, because I vowed that I would never willingly let someone go through what my family has been through.  I’ve been working closely with social services for the past three years, making sure that I can provide a constructive environment for girls who need a strong role model.  I offer free seminars on cooking and baking which double as support groups for these young girls, because they draw out older women who will mentor them, and I’m active in the community providing education about the dangers of human trafficking, how to recognize it, and how to stop it.

As I look out the window in my office, the thought hits me that some dreams really do come true.  I’m reminded as I write this story that I will never hang advertisements for American nanny services in my windows, and that I’ll always do my best to be a welcoming beacon for the troubled and the needy in St. Petersburg.  This needs to end, and I plan to help stop it.  Even if I only save a handful of girls, it’s still a handful of girls who never have to see the things I’ve seen.

The End.

Check out this video that Exodus Road sent us bloggers in our newsletter this month.  It’s called Is Justice Worth It?

And think about it…. Is it?  Is fighting for justice worth it, even if it only saves a handful of people?  I think so, don’t you?

Rescue is Here. Anna’s Story: Part 3.

A brief synopsis of where we’ve left Anna:

In Part 1, We find 15 year old Anna living in St. Petersburg, Russia.  Her mother is a prostitute just to keep food on the table for her and her siblings.  She sees a sign in a shop window advertising nanny positions in America for $1000.00 a month, and she sees a way to save her mother and family from the poverty and wretched circumstances that they live in.  She applies, but as she gets on a bus to go to the airport, she’s driven off the wrong way, and her passport is sold to a Chinese man who boards the bus as they cross the Chinese border.  In Part 2, the bus continues moving.  One of the other girls on the bus tries to escape but is shot three times for trying.  The bus arrives in Laos, and Anna and one of the other girls are sold as household slaves to a wealthy man/family in Vientiane, the Capital city.  By the end of Part 2, Anna has become numb from abuse (physical and sexual), threats, manipulation, loneliness, and desperation.  She felt lost and hopeless, because no one even knew where she was.  She feared that her family assumed she was having such a great time that she forgot about them, and she wanted to die.

The sun rose and shone through the cracks in the wall of my bedroom.  The birds outside chirped, and if I didn’t remember that I was a slave, beaten and prostituted for sport, I think I could have liked Vientiane.  I’d been there long enough that I’d figured out that the house was owned by a very rich man.  From what Kalina and I could pick up, everyone appeared to be masquerading as employees who worked for this man, Palani, in a fairly small business that designed and sold athletic clothing.  A team of graphic designers designed the prints that would go on the clothing and accessories, had everything printed and shipped to the house, and from there it was sold.  There was a storefront at the main entrance of the massive house, as well as several small offices that we were responsible for keeping clean.  Kalina and I did not run the store, as neither of us spoke Laotian, and I was usually too severely beaten to stand and face customers.  I haven’t looked anyone but Kalina in the eye for months, anyway.  It would likely blow the cover they have set up for the drug smuggling and human trafficking operation that they run behind the scenes.  It seemed so obvious to me even from the start that this could not be a legitimate business.  Such a small storefront could not possibly sustain such a large home attached to the back with so many employees living right on site.  I quickly came to the conclusion that no one, not even government officials, cared about what was going on.  I would see police officers standing in the shop as I walked past from time to time, but they stood talking quietly with Palani.  They were there to be part of the corruption, not part of a solution.  They would usually leave with drugs.  Sometimes, they would come in through the back entrance and Palani would leave them alone with older, more experienced girls.  They left with gifts of drugs, smiles on their faces, and substantially less money.  Whatever hope I had of rescue evaporated the day that a uniformed Laotian police officer walked around the corner in the house and nearly bumped into me while I cleaned the hallway, looked me right in the eye, winked, and stroked my bruised arm before leaving the house.  I meant nothing to him, and he was not there to be my rescue.  One tear slipped down my cheek — more emotion than I’d let myself feel or express in months.  It was a tear of utter despair.

Months passed again with the cycle endlessly repeating itself.  Girls would come and go through the house.  They were often sold again if they could get a higher price than what had been paid.  I watched while two girls who’d only been in the house a week were stuffed into the back of a large black van, bound and gagged, and taken only God knows where.  I must not have been worth much, because no one ever wanted to take me out.  I suppose I was fine with that.  At least here I was fed and had shelter.  This endlessly repeating cycle had become my life.

Early one morning, I was cleaning in the storefront when a man walked in.  I hadn’t made eye contact with anyone, not even Kalina, since the police officer had leered at me.  He was tall and white.  Apart from Kalina, I hadn’t seen anyone with white skin since I left Russia.  He had an athletic build and I tried not to stare, but he looked so out of place that I couldn’t help it.  I couldn’t help but wonder what he was doing in a fake athletic shop in Vientiane, Laos.  He made eye contact with me and smiled.  I looked away and left the room quickly.  I feared he’d be asking for me later.  I stayed closer than I normally do during a business deal to the store.  He didn’t speak Laotian, so the girl running the store had to get Palani.  Palani spoke to the man in broken English, and the man sounded so relieved.  I don’t speak English, so I don’t know what was said, but something felt different about this man.  He purchased a pair of shoes and he left the store.  I wondered if it were possible that he really was only there to buy running shoes.

Weeks went by again, and I had nearly forgotten the man’s kind face.  I was outside pruning a bush in the blazing hot sun.  My pale skin was burning, I could feel it.  I asked to come inside but no one listened.  I was shoved back outside.

I looked around, stretching my back and wiping my face free of sweat.  As I looked around, I saw his face again.  He was walking on the sidewalk past the house.  It surprised me that the backyard area of the house wasn’t more closely watched, but this was the first time I’d been out of the building since being brought to it.  My best guess is that I’d been there roughly seven months.  I walked slowly closer to the sidewalk.  He stopped to tie his shoes and as he looked up, he saw me watching him.  He smiled and walked toward the fence.  He said something in English that I didn’t understand.  He looked right into my eyes, and I looked at my feet.  He looked closely at the bruises and scars on my arms.  I stepped backwards.  He said something else in English, quickly, and he walked away.

Later that afternoon, a uniformed officer walked into the shop.  I was cleaning the shop and the officer said something to me in Laotian.  He handed me a piece of paper that I gave to Palani when he entered the room.  He motioned for me to leave, but I stayed just behind the door.  I heard an argument, but I understood only a few words.  I heard them coming toward the door so I fled.  A few minutes later, there were several uniformed police officers throughout the building searching rooms, talking to girls, and taking pictures.  I was so confused.  My experience with the police has not been positive in Laos.  I tried to go find a place to hide, but the police were looking in every room.  I backed into my own room… dank and dark.  I hoped they wouldn’t find me.  But they did.

A police officer took me by the hand and told me something in Laotian.  I saw Kalina down the hall and I tried to run for her.  The police officer kept talking to me in Laotian and I started to panic.  Kalina said something to the man who had her in broken Laotian.  She must have paid closer attention than I did in the past seven months.  The officer who had me looked down and looked me in the eyes and smiled.  I was terrified.

He took me around the corner and I watched in utter confusion as Palani and all of his employees were handcuffed and being taken away.  I also saw the man from outside and he smiled and waved.  I still didn’t understand.  The officer put Kalina and me in a car and we were taken away.  I didn’t know whether to feel relief or dread.  Could this really be over?  Were these police officers the same as what I’d already seen?  Or were they different?  Were they really there to help?

Kalina asked me the same questions in the car.  The officers said nothing, but we assumed they didn’t speak Russian.  We arrived at the police station and were met by people who spoke Russian who could talk to us.  We were given clean clothes, showers, a big, hot meal, and we were allowed to sit together.

The man who came in to talk to us sat down at the table.  He introduced himself as Kapono.  He told us that the man who had bought the running shoes, Lucas, had seen the bruises and scars on my arms in the store that first day and he had suspected that something wasn’t right, so he had gone to the police.  Kapono had explained that over the couple weeks since the first time Lucas had come in, several officers had come in in plain clothes, looking around, building a case, and ready to raid Palani’s ‘business’ efforts.  He also explained that between the trafficking, the drugs, the kidnapping, and the abuse and rape charges, Palani and his men wouldn’t be able to hurt anyone again.  He said we’d be moved to a center for girls who’d been rescued run by an organization specializing in rehabilitation for girls who’d gone through what we’d been through.  I still wasn’t sure that I trusted any of them, but the word rescue sure sounded promising.  This was a temporary measure, Kapono explained, until we could be returned to our families after some counselling, but they would inform our families if at all possible of our whereabouts.

Kalina and I were taken to the facility that night.  I had a warm bed, clean clothes, clean sheets, and people who seemed to care about me very much.  I hoped this would last, because it sure seemed too good to be true.

Stay tuned in March for details about Anna’s care at the rehabilitation facility.  For more information about organizations that help rescue people like Anna, please check out The Exodus Road.  There, you’ll find plenty of stories about people just like Anna, rescued from slavery and returned to their families.  Want a way you can help?  Check out Exodus Auctions.  You can get in contact with Exodus Road and if your product meets their requirements, they’ll help you sell it.  All proceeds would go to rescue victims of trafficking.