The backstory, which is kind of THE story, and the Borders

Throughout our time with Tiny Hands, I have been super inspired by a piece of the organization’s history. Beyond just ordinary growing pains, a few years ago they thought they’d actually failed the vision.  Because of their response, though, this “failure” became the turning point for the ministry and lead to unbelievable growth in Tiny Hands’ effectiveness at the borders. The story essentially reflects our own human limits despite our best intentions, and God’s expansive, restorative power.  When we just can’t, He can.

Early on, after evaluating failed operations at five different border stations, the small team of U.S. and Nepali Tiny Hands staff became frustrated with the apparent ineffectiveness of the organization’s approach. They were intercepting only a handful of girls each year, some months none at all, and felt like they were throwing money down the drain that could be put to more efficient use. They were failing the injustice despite all their best efforts and gallant vision.  What more could they do?

I thought it might have been easiest to throw their hands up and say, “Well, we did our best and it didn’t work!” They could have moved on with a clean conscious, having given it their best effort. But, as I’d read in Terrify No More, they would have been saying, effectively, to the girls being trafficked in Nepal: “We’re sorry. There is nothing more we can do. This is the best the best the body of Christ has to offer.”

Instead, staff described how the founder sent out a manifesto calling on the faith of the US and Nepali staff through an organization-wide rally cry of prayer and fasting. Every Wednesday all staff in both countries prayed and fasted for trafficking and for the effectiveness of their work.

Each person we interviewed shared a piece of this story as they continue to be inspired by it. They directed me to the manifesto entitled Project 58, after Isaiah 58:6 calling us to loose the chains of injustice and set the oppressed free, to break every yoke.  Two seconds into the manifesto, I had goose bumps and felt a new level of perseverance even in my small corner of the world.

Here is an excerpt:

Today around 30 Nepali girls were trafficked into India to be forced into the sex industry. Tomorrow, 30 more will be trafficked. By that time, those who were trafficked today will be awaking to the realization of what has happened to them. They will be locked up, beaten, and raped until they give in and accept the hell that will thereafter be their life. Meanwhile, as these girls continue to suffer, more will be added to their number, at the rate of 2-3 girls every waking hour—and this will continue until the small handful of NGOs who are working on this issue figure out a way to make their work more effective.

While you are working on anything relating to this project, and when you sit down to work and you are diverted and distracted by obstacles and cares, remember the faces of the girls that you know are in brothels now, and those whose lives are in danger of being wrecked if we do not stop it. Gary Haugan, the president of International Justice Mission, points out that the owners of brothels, and those who traffic girls are diligent and determined to succeed in their work. They are at it 24 hours a day, thinking about how to make their work more effective, and how to avoid being caught. Unless God’s people can muster up even greater determinedness, this work has little chance of succeeding. So fight, on behalf of your God and His love for these girls, against every instinct in you to give less than your absolute best, against every obstacle that you will encounter (and you will encounter many) and every frustration that comes your way (and many will come), fight. Do not be deterred by anything, do not let anything stop you from succeeding in each part of this work that you take on. Keep before you always the faces of the girls, and Christ in them, and remember His words and promises, and that He will go before you and after you, and help you.

During the time of prayer and fasting, the organization redoubled its efforts through research and literature. They identified the current director of anti-human trafficking—a former church planter translating some things for Tiny Hands at the time—who, inspired by the new initiative, wanted to get involved.  This was the guy now sitting across from me at the restaurant.

Together the team translated and distributed Border Monitoring Standards to all the stations and sent five staff in five different directions covering each section of the border to fill out the surveys, fill in the maps, and interview police, rickshaw drivers and NGOs.  Bhola, the church-planter-translator guy, emerged as a well-connected leader who took the vision of Tiny Hands to Christian churches along the border. Over the next month, he covered the entire border, setting up subcommittees within the local churches that would oversee 11 new locations with several more to follow.

That was almost five years ago.

Today, 26 local churches are staffing 28 border monitoring and transit stations, intercepting an average of 1600 girls per year!

I couldn’t wait to get to the borders.

Equipped with knowledge of the investigation process and the success the organization had experienced through prayer and research, we were excited to visit the border stations ourselves. This was the front-line fruit of all the prayer and fasting, and the physical halting of the rape business in-progress. I envisioned organized lines, checkpoints, police and high-tech monitoring devices.

I have no idea what world I was imagining. Certainly not Nepal’s.

The dusty Birgunj border
The dusty Birgunj border

It had taken over 10 hours to reach the closest border station on rickety mountain roads, I had sweat through all my clothes, was covered in dust, itching from a dust/water rash, and we literally walked across the border to India without a care by anyone. Any pretense I had about the sophistication or glamor of border work flew out the window. I had not even been there for 15 minutes and I was miserable. It was one hundred degrees and smelled like trash. Yet 100 workers hang out in 26 plywood border stations on the Indian border intercepting girls 12-16 hours per day.  Each border station is overseen and staffed by a local Nepali church, subcommittee and chairman, and Tiny Hands provides the training and funding.

One of the border stations- the brown shack in the background
One of the border stations- the brown shack in the background
Pastor and border staff at Birgunj border station
Pastor and border staff at Birgunj border station

We met with the pastor and staff early that morning and met an intercepted girl who was deaf and on day five of trying to locate family. She spoke a different language nobody could understand, but she was taken care of by the pastor’s wife at a temporary safe house tucked away from the border streets. She is one of 750 women intercepted at this station in four years. The sweetest part is what the pastor said later as we were leaving: though the anti-trafficking work is an essential part of his Christian ministry, his overall goal is to bring the people of Nepal to Christ. Each interception exposes a girl to the Gospel.

I went to bed that night thankful, inspired, and itchy.

The next morning, we drove another eight hours to the next border, collecting another eight pounds of dirt, dust, mosquito bites and hives. There, we found ourselves in the middle of an interception. Even more remarkable than seeing the actual interception process was that the particular border worker who intercepted the young girl was intercepted herself three years ago and now works at the station to help other girls like her. Here is a link to her video.

Another border station at a different crossing
Another border station at a different crossing
An interception in progress
An interception in progress

Again, this is the moment it all became real for me. I had never seen the rape business in progress until I saw this girl’s confused face at a dusty border station in hundred-degree heat in traditional clothes from a faraway village trying not to cry. She read the cartoon drawing posters tacked to the plywood wall describing the lies and actual reality of trafficking. The man she had come with was off to the side, hand in his hair, visibly stressed out.

BRK_0535

At the safe house she fought to maintain composure despite emerging tears. The pastor’s wife and staff fed, comforted and prayed for the girl as we stepped out with the pastor. Almost immediately, he received another call from the border staff about another interception, this time with two women who were on their way to the safe house.

So his days go, this station intercepting 40-50 girls per month, several per day.

I left the borders awestruck at the never-ending work of border workers and the local churches despite harsh conditions and constant threats.

This is an excerpt from my feature that will publish in the December issue of World Next Door magazine.

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