Like the rest of the smiling children who sang praise songs with us that afternoon, Liza also tried to smile. But her labored attempts didn’t fool us. Liza couldn’t hide the tortured look in her eyes, nor the conflict of emotion that showed on her face. Something was deeply troubling her.
That first encounter with Liza occurred during my April 2013 trip to the Philippines. I was visiting Hope House Cebu, a ministry with which Heaven’s Family has partnered to help protect vulnerable and neglected children who live in the slums of Cebu City. Many children are trafficked from that “source” city, and the sex tourism industry thrives there. Worse, internet web cams are being employed to deliver Cebu’s exploitation of children to a perverse international clientele via their home computer screens (to read a recent story about children rescued from such activities in Cebu, see http://www.ijmuk.org/node/646).
During that visit, David Wilkerson, the director of Hope House, told me the likely reason for Liza’s tortured expression: her mother’s live-in boyfriend sexually abused Liza when she was 8 years old until he left almost three years later. Her mother knew of the abuse but did nothing to protect her.
David and his staff met Liza when she was 11, soon after her mother’s boyfriend left their slum shanty house. They found a sponsor for her, enabling her to attend school for the first time in her life. She also began learning about Jesus in Bible studies and at church, and she joined in other healthy activities with the kids who frequented Hope House after school. Although many children at the center come from homes of abuse and neglect, no one there knew about Liza’s painful past.
Then, when Liza was 12, David learned that her mother was about to take her to a wealthy man in Manila to be employed as a domestic helper, a job that often includes sexual abuse. But David’s team intervened, and with the support of her new family at Hope House, Liza moved in with her grandmother.
When I returned to the Philippines in January of this year I was again blessed to see Liza, now 14. I was also privileged to watch her tearfully share her testimony in church. She is learning to deal with the wounds from her childhood, and she knows that she was narrowly rescued from a future of sexual slavery. Her smile is real. Even better, Liza has given her heart to Jesus and received baptism last year.
Liza is one of many who have been saved because of the ministry of Hope House in the Philippines. We’re so glad that we can all have a part in every new story of redemption there—through Heaven’s Family’s Human Trafficking/Slavery Fund.