"And women of the world, I ask one more thing of you: speak. Speak as if your lungs require you to do so, each moment of your life. That is a vital first step in a solution. If you are sexually abused, assaulted, date raped, a victim in non consensual sex or rape—speak."
There are few places I love as much as a night market in southeast Asia. I sat at the tiki-hut bar in Siem Reap completely satisfied, a local beer in hand, admiring the lights and smells and faces around me. The atmosphere was euphoric.
And then I saw him. One of the many white foreigners traveling through Cambodia, never without a local woman on his arm, later to be led to his bed.
Except this man had three. I attempted to look away, disgusted, heart broken, infuriated, when he began yanking one of the young girls by the back of her arms. She struggled against him to remain seated on the bar stool.
"Let’s go. I paid, now let’s go. I said let’s go."
She continued to struggle and brushed him off, slipped off the seat on her own, and sauntered past him. The two younger girls followed, and the man trailed after them. The girl in the lead walked behind my seat.
As she did, my friend seated beside me disappeared. The bartender vanished. The foreigners were irrelevant. The man trailing behind the girls was invisible to me.
All I could see and sense and focus on in that impulse moment was the young woman passing me, and the one moment I had in my grasp, and the one moment that could pass by along with her.
Without thinking at all, I reach out and grab her wrist.
"Hi. Hi. Can I buy you a drink?"
The girl is astonished. Her friends back away and giggle.
"Oh, no no. We already had drinks."
"Oh. I’ll buy you orange juice. Please just sit with me."
The man chimes in.
"I really wish you wouldn’t do that."
I ignore him entirely.
"I’m new to Cambodia, I just got here, I would love to hear about Cambodia from you!"
"No, no thank you. We have to go."
"You don’t have to go with him. Please just stay, sit with me."
I’m not convincing her, but the man steps in again anyway.
"Hey, where are you from?"
I turn my attention to him, hoping the girls will walk away as I hold his attention.
"I’m from America."
"Oh yeah? Me, too. Portland area. You?"
My adrenaline is surging as I look at him. I’m afraid of him, but my fear fuels my fire.
"Yeah?! Me, too. Used to live in Beverly Hills. Until I got black listed, that is."
I can tell he isn’t sober. But the talk is boring him and he only wants to distract me. He begins to step toward the girls again, so I cut him off.
"Oh, really? Black listed, huh? What’s that?"
"Well, you know. You do one wrong thing in Hollywood and your whole career goes down the drain."
"Oh gosh, wow I’m sorry. So are you living in Portland now?"
The girls still haven’t moved. They’re hovering a foot away, intrigued by the situation but getting noticeably antsy.
The bartender has moved to the opposite side of the bar.
The foreigners are casting wary glances.
My friend must be somewhat terrified.
"No, no. I’m uhh, actually I have been living in Cambodia. Just going where the wind takes me, yuh know?"
In a second my perspective of the man shifts.
He had a life, and lost it. Now he is floating through Cambodia as a sex tourist. He’s broken. As broken as the girls, perhaps.
"Oh wow. Well I would love to sit and reminisce about America with you. Can I buy you a drink?"
Anything to keep him from taking these girls to his room. Maybe even a chance to share Jesus with him.
"Awh, well you know these are actually my friends that I am traveling Cambodia with. I would hate to make them wait. Thanks though."
"Sir. Whatever you plan on doing with these girls tonight,"
He cuts me short.
He raises his hand to pause me.
"Don’t worry about it."
Turns to the girls.
"Have a goodnight."
And walks away.
I broke. The only way I can kind of accurately describe it is, my bones shuddered. I knew I had several eyes on me, I knew I had already caused a scene. But it didn’t matter. I bowed my head on my hands and cried. And shook. And prayed.
I don’t know if what I did made any impact. I don’t know if the man even remembered me in the morning. Or if the girls understood why I bothered to step in. After they walked away, all I could do was pray and declare in faith, that somehow, someway, something would come out of it. That the girls would be protected. That the man would have opened eyes. That something would be changed.
I still have faith in that prayer. For those girls, that man, every girl, and every man. That the love of Christ would rain on the hearts of all the men and women held captive by the shackles of the global sex industry, that one drop by drop of Christ’s love would move and work and change, until His love would flood and break down every barrier and chain holding captive those imprisoned by lust, greed, brokenness, poverty, desperation, need, self-hatred, ignorance…
At the very least, I know that God put my courage to test that night. He presented an opportunity to me, a situation that asked, “Do you really care to set the captives free?” I believe that in the moment that my fingers grasped the young girl’s wrist, I answered before God and before myself that my passion for justice is genuine. Not a fad, not a bumper sticker, not merely a political perspective.
God placed a desire in my heart to set the captives free. And in moments like these, and so many more that I have come to recognize in my life, He is training me in Courage, to be prepared to boldly live out my calling.
"For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery."