This is the tale of a city. This city is a small immigrant village outside the capital city of Cambodia. It is a very poor village, with dusty streets and corrugated tin huts. Though humble in appearance, it was once known all over the world, if you ran in certain circles. If you got into a cab in Phnom Penh and told the driver you wanted to sleep with an 8-year old girl, he brought you here.
Brothels lined the streets, with girls outside actively engaging cars as they drove by. It wasn’t a secret, it wasn’t hidden, and it wasn’t bashful. Overage, borderline age, underage, children, you could have anything you liked. It was the appearance of a five-year old girl in an undercover video that helped spur action from an organization created to bring justice to unjust places. And that in turn ultimately led another organization to start a church to bring the light of Jesus to a very dark place. And in turn Jesus has begun the process of transforming the village.
There is still much work to be done. Many of the children are still trafficked or sexually abused at home or put into labor at the local brick factories. There are still brothels. Svay Pak is still a small immigrant village. It is still a very poor village. It is still humble in appearance.
But, brothels no longer line the streets; there are not as many, and they are not as open. Girls no longer surround cars on the boulevards. The community is being educated that sex trafficking is an evil, not a normal way of life. Agape International Mission has brought Jesus to Svay Pak, and it will never be the same.
This is the tale of a building. This building was going to be one of those brothels that lined the streets. But it was going to be far more than that — it was going to be the biggest brothel in town. A three-story brick monstrosity of a brothel in a town where a 150 square foot house was living in luxury. A building that would allow dozens of girls to be raped, abused, and prostituted on a nightly basis. A building that would be not only the talk of the town, but of the country and the world.
But a funny thing happened on the way to the forum. When I first saw the building, it had its outer brick shell, the roof, and parts of the interior, and that was it. The inside was a bunch of brick and trash. This crown jewel of brothels had been abandoned by its owners soon after the first justice raid in the city. They quickly determined that the winds were shifting, and the opportunity for profit out in the open, conspicuously out in the open, had past.
I’m back in the building again this week. Where once there were piles of bricks and trash, there are now beautiful classrooms with hand-painted walls, and a huge space where a kids club meets during the week and a church of almost 400 meets on the weekend. There is a large space for lunch for a host of kids, a bi-weekly medical clinic, and a discipleship program to turn Cambodian youth into Cambodian adults that will help change their country. AIM has brought Jesus to Rahab’s House II, and it will never be the same.
This is the tale of a man. This man was a husband, a father, and a drunk. When he was drunk, he would often try to rape the in-house older daughters from his wife’s first marriage. He persisted enough that his wife was forced to send her daughters to live in another city with a former neighbor. He refused to go to church, because, as a Vietnamese, he was convinced he would not understand the Khmer spoken by the church pastor.
I met the man today, and his wife, and the two kids they have together. I saw the pictures of Jesus and rainbows on the wall of their house that their two kids had colored at the AIM kids club. I heard the story of how the man had finally come to church one week, and understood everything the pastor said, and how he had come back every week since. I saw he and his wife both smiling huge toothy smiles, and saw their beautiful son and daughter laughing and showing us the pictures they’d drawn. I heard his pastor say that the man was not where he needed to be, but he was better than he was. At that moment, I realized anew that grace’s net casts far wider than I understand. AIM has brought Jesus to this man, and he and his family will never be the same.
This is a tale of a woman. This woman is very attractive, speaks six languages, dresses very fashionably, and is well-known throughout the village. She is also a professional trafficker. She sells girls of all ages into brothels, and is smart enough that she has not yet been caught, even though everyone knows who she is and what she is doing. She is nondescript enough that you would not notice her if you passed her on the street (we didn’t).
AIM has not yet successfully brought Jesus to this woman. But they’re working on it.