Do you remember a time when you faced a problem too big for you to solve? I don't mean a "How am I can going to eat that entire 'Death by Chocolate'?" sized problem (that's easy, one bite at a time). I mean a "How are we going to solve world hunger?" kind of problem. A problem so big in scope that most of us usually don't actually face the problem, we avert our eyes and hope that our not looking at the problem will, if not solve it, at least make it go away. (This is similar to how small children play the "hide" part of hide-and-seek. They cover their eyes, assuming that if they can't see you, you can't see them, either. It's also equally as effective.)
One of those times for me was in late 2008/early 2009. 121 was in the final stages of what we then called "The Amos Project," and it looked like we were going to choose sex trafficking of minors as the justice issue for the project. We had done some initial research, and subsequently had a couple of conversations with International Justice Mission (IJM) about their work in eliminating trafficking in Cambodia.
If ever there was a time to avert our collective eyes, this was it. We didn't, not because we were particularly brave, but because we knew that God had led 121 to "such a time as this," and therefore we knew we had to keep moving forward, no matter how intimidating the problem might look. However, I'm not sure how many of us really expected to see much progress during the project's lifetime, and maybe even in our lifetime.
In the early 2000's, Cambodia was known world-wide as the place to go for young minors. While our research team was doing their research on sex trafficking, no matter who they talked to, the conversation almost always came back to Cambodia. This was a really big problem, in a country halfway around the world.
(To be sure, we weren't on the leading edge of this problem, an enormous amount of work had already been going on in Cambodia, for several years, before we got involved. But at the time we entered into partnership with IJM and AIM, the problem was still very large and still looked very intractable.)
Six years later, what's happening with trafficking of minors in Cambodia?
Before we find out, let's define a few terms.
- Minors: ages 17 and younger
- Young minors: ages 15 and younger
- Border line minors: ages 16 - 17
Research from the early 2000's reported that 15-30% of the total sex workers in Cambodia were minors, with one study reporting that up to 15% in some areas were young minors. In other words, of one thousand representative sex workers, between 150-300 were minors, and up to 150 were young minors, i.e. aged 15 or younger (and often much younger).
According to a prevalence study conducted this spring by IJM in the three cities where the vast majority of children have been trafficked in the past, those numbers are now 2.2% and .1%. That is, of one thousand representative sex workers today, only 22 would be minors, and only one would be 15 or younger.
From one hundred and fifty, to one.
(I'll pause a moment while you celebrate that in whatever loud, boisterous, obnoxious way you deem necessary.)
One of the main reasons for that remarkable decrease is that the Cambodian government has taken more ownership over the fight against trafficking, which has resulted in increased pressure on places that once made minors available. Several of the establishments stated they didn't have minors any more because the police consistently checked on them. In other words, shutting down place A because they offered minors didn't just affect place A, it also affected places B and C because they decided they didn't want to be shut down, so they also quit offering minors.
In addition, the courts use more victim friendly procedures in trafficking cases, the aftercare system in Cambodia has grown, which has led to higher restoration rates and more options for survivors. And, the local church, the Cambodian church is now praying, studying God's word about His heart for justice, and ministering more to vulnerable people (which includes reporting crimes against them).
In short, the goal of "justice system transformation” is happening!
That progress is the result of many, many people offering many hours of prayer over the past decade, a government that has been willing to learn and be taught and to get involved, literally over a hundred NGO's (Non Government Organizations, what we would call non-profits or 501C3's), countless missionaries who have moved to Cambodia to be part of the work, and...
What did you do? Well, I'm so glad you asked.
If you were a part of the original Amos project, you helped guide and pray 121 through the process that ended up in our choosing children at risk in general, and sex trafficking of minors in Cambodia in particular, as our justice project.
If you donated specifically to the original Amos project, you helped 121 fund some of the work that IJM and Agape International (AIM) has been (and is) doing there.
If you donate or have donated to IJM, AIM, 121's missionaries, or any others who are doing work on the ground in Cambodia, you have helped them do what God has called them to do to bring justice to the vulnerable in Cambodia.
If you donate towards 121's budget, you've helped us commit part of our mission budget towards the work there.
If you've been a part of a 121 short-term mission team (STM) that has gone to Cambodia during the last six years to serve our partners and families there, then you have been a huge help and encouragement to those on the ground.
If you've prayed for 121 as we worked our way through the Amos project, for the work in Cambodia, for 121's families living in Cambodia, for the people at IJM and AIM, for the STM teams, for the girls, for the government, for any part of this work, then you've been a part of bringing this issue before the only One with enough power to make this happen.
So, for all who have been a part, in whatever way you've been a part, Thank You!
Now, this celebration of the phenomenal progress that has been made is not to imply the job is done, because evil is never done. We have to continue to be vigilant in our prayers and support for the ongoing work in Cambodia. There are still unjust people at work there, and there are still at-risk children (and adults) who need help and/or rescue.
One of my favorite interview moments was one in which Bill Hybels asked Chuck Colson what really bugged him. Mr. Colson paused for a moment and said, "People who don't have a big enough idea of what God wants to do through them."
Thank you for being part of a church body that has a big enough idea, and may tomorrow find us engaged in even bigger ones.
(If you would like to read more, you can find IJM's summary of the study and more here.)