What if your 15 year old daughter just….disappeared?

Think about that. Really, what would you do?

What if you came home from work one night and your daughter wasn’t home like she should be. You might wait a little while, thinking she may have just left school late or stopped at a friends house. You might call some family members or neighbors. Maybe her school or friends. Maybe you would drive around the neighborhood or go to the school.

As panic sets in, eventually you would call the police. But they don’t know anything and can’t find her….or maybe they really don’t care…

You would call the media…all of them.
“Tell the world she’s missing! This is my daughter!”
You would print pictures of her and put them up all over the city.
She’s important!
You would call the media again…even the national news outlets.
She’s valuable!
This is your daughter. You raised her. You love her. Her brother cries every night wondering where she went.
You would drive around the city every night until 4am, looking for a sign she might be alive.
She means something to you and your family!
Walking the cold streets along the seedy parts you’ve never seen at night, you would risk walking up to strangers, asking them, “Have you seen this girl? She’s my daughter and she went missing two weeks ago.”

What if your 15 year old daughter just…disappeared?


Well, it happens every day to certain teens….but few notice.

Over the last few days, our team has visited several orphanages and tech schools throughout the Kirov region in Russia. Children’s Hopechest has a fantastic team here that ministers to the orphans, provides counseling, helps with education funds and creates church partnerships that allow church groups to come alongside the kids and minister to them….usually with week-long trips to the orphanage and tech schools.

Orphans have proven to be the most vulnerable when it comes to sex trafficking. With no family, little education, poor social skills, and nobody to depend on…they are the perfect target. In many parts of the country, Russian orphans “graduate” from the orphanage between 14 and 16 years of age. With no where to go, traffickers pray on their vulnerability, offering lucrative jobs…usually out of the region or country, and often overseas.

When the victim goes missing, few people notice…because they have no family.

They often just…disappear.

Nobody knows they’re missing. Maybe a few friends might notice…but chances are, they’re orphans too. Nobody comes looking for those who disappear.

They’re just….gone.

This is the reason Hopechest works with orphans…to help them.
Teach them.
Warn them.
Love them.
To give them tools to understand and protect themselves.
To show them they are valuable and important to God.
Care for them.
To give them hope.
To teach them about Jesus.

This…is what James 1:27 means.
This…is what James 2:14-17 means.

And this is why we’re here.

Still Alive!

We’ve moved on to Russia and have been here a few days. I’m a bit behind in updating the blog. The internet has proven to be quite sketchy in some places throughout Russia. By far the largest country in the world, it’s difficult and expensive to bring fast internet to all of it. Compare this to Moldova…where we got free wifi in the middle of the park!

Will update more soon. In the meantime, here is some pictures from our ride on the Trans-Siberian Railway.




15 Years

Lena was born in Moldova. She became an orphan early in her life…it’s not clear why. She grew up in an orphanage and developed a close friendship with another girl there…Sveta. As teenagers, they left the orphanage together and both accepted jobs that would take them to Ukraine. Hopes were high for a new life as they arrived in Ukraine.

And that’s when it started.

Their passports and papers were taken from them. They were threatened, beaten, and force to do manual labor out in the fields.

Days turned into weeks.
Weeks into months.
Months into years.

One always asks, “Why not run away? Why not fight? Why not do whatever it takes to free yourself?”

The answer is always fear. Fear that becomes so strong, so engrained into the daily life of a trafficked person, that sometimes rational thought barely exists. Traffickers will resort to a wide range of fear tactics. Fear of pain is the most widely used. Fear of being killed. Fear of starving. Fear of rape…or more rape. Fear of being forced to work more with less sleep. For many…its the fear of all of these.

For those who have family, the traffickers will often threaten the victims with telling their family that they’ve become prostitutes…creating a fear of shame. This is quite effective in many cultures. Others will threaten to harm their family members…or simply kill them. For those who do put up a fight, they’re often just drugged into submission. As a result…the victims stay where they are and take the abuse…and do what they’re told no matter what it is.

For years…and years…and years.

Just ask Lena and Sveta. After being trafficked into manual labor for several years, they thought it couldn’t get worse…but they were wrong. Very wrong.

Their handlers raped them in the fields.
And in the sheds.
And this just became their normal routine.

Lena isn’t sure how long it went on for, but the best calculation is around 15 years.

15 years…just think about that. 15 years.

As I was listening to her story being told, it wasn’t clear to me what finally prompted Lena and Sveta to try and run and escape. Maybe it was explained but I was still too focused on the 15 years. Regardless, they escaped and ran through the fields. Not even sure where they were, they happened across the Ukrainian/Moldavian border and were caught by police. With no papers, no possessions, and no believable story, the police held them for several days. Eventually, they were released to the custody of Beginning of Life in Moldova.

Lena liked it here. It was peaceful. The people liked her and seemed to care about her. She could learn new trades and rebuild her life. But Sveta saw it differently. Angry, aggressive, and demanding, Sveta couldn’t stay put. Her dominating personality over Lena prevented both of them from starting over…from forgiving…from learning what their new possibilities were. In order to protect Lena and the other girls in the home, Sveta was eventually asked to leave.

In her new temporary home, Lena is a new person. Formerly very hard, cold, and bitter at the world, she has softened. She’s a leader in the home. She’s joined a tech school and is learning a new trade. She has a part time job. Most importantly…she has become a Christian.

Lena lost 15 years of her life, but Beginning of Life gave her a second chance and a new future. Jesus will give her eternity.

As for Sveta…she has never come back to the house.
And nobody knows where she is.

A Bottle of Vodka

The stories are varied, but all end up the same…abused…hopeless…worthless. Nothing but a product to be sold and used.

Like every young child around the world, the girls living in the restoration home we visited started out life full of hopes and dreams and wanting to make an impact in their community and the world around them.

Wanting to have a purpose.

But for all of these girls, their dreams were cut short.

Some were orphans. Some had families. All of them had tragic experiences they only hope to one day forget. I cannot share their real names or post pictures of their faces, or tell you of their exact location in Moldova. But I can share their stories…their triumphs…their fears.

One girl (we’ll call her Anna), was raped by her father at 8 years old. At 12, her alcoholic mother sold Anna’s body to a man for a bottle of Vodka. Just one bottle.

But the bottle ran dry.

Mom needed another bottle. So she sold her again.
And again.
And again.
Anna had a purpose…but it was not the one she hoped for as a child.

And again.
Anna lost count.

With a venereal disease and a pregnancy…Anna was no longer “useful,” so she was cast out on the streets.

Convinced by her friends to abort the baby, someone referred her to Beginning of Life, the organization we’ve partnered with here. Staying in the restoration home, learning how God loves her and the tiny life inside, she decided to keep the baby…which is now several months old…and as cute as could be.


Anna attends church with many of the other girls she lives with, goes to school and learning a trade. Her baby is well taken care of (by all the girls who live in the home) and she is building a new life for herself.

Not able to remove her past, Anna is able to create a new future…for herself and her child. She has dreams of becoming a social worker and helping others like her. She has developed a relationship with Christ…and attends the prayer meetings with the other girls. She has aimed to help break the cycle of trafficking.

She has a new purpose. A new life. A new hope.

And it doesn’t involve a bottle of Vodka.

4 percent

20121006-212034.jpgKarina and Artom…two of the beautiful kids we visited.

The tea here is wonderful. Similar to Russia, Moldavians don’t drink much coffee, but offer it to visitors anyway…hoping you’ll ask for tea instead. I enjoy a nice hot cup of tea at the end of the day while debriefing with the team and checking my email, Facebook and write.

Pulling off my shoes from my tired feet, we discussed some of the things we learned and experienced. We are learning many interesting things on our trip. About Moldova. About the culture here. About their struggles.

About trafficking.

Moldova is an interesting blend of first world and third world lifestyles. Considered to be the poorest country in Europe, it also has the third highest (and most widespread) internet speed in the world. In fact, WiMax is currently installing its 30 megabits per second wireless system in much of Chisanau, connecting everyday people wirelessly to the rest of the world in an unprecedented way. Yet, the poverty in many places is so great, that one third of all Moldavians live outside the country in order to make more money and provide for their families. Two of the families we visited today didn’t have running water in their home, one didn’t have electricity and another didn’t have glass in the bedroom window until recently…only a plastic sheet. Did I mention it snows here in the winter and gets down to zero degrees regularly?

Zero degrees. Snow. And 1 millimeter thick clear plastic between you (and your family) and that zero degrees snow.

Although not all Moldavians live in this kind of poverty, it’s sadly not uncommon. Which is why the youth who are just beginning to look for work, will do nearly anything to get out of the country. The internet has provided a “rest of the world” view and many have decided they will leave the country…at any price.

At any price, means more than 100,000 people have become victims of human trafficking and 30,000 girls have gone missing.


In a country of 3.5 million, that means nearly 4% of the population has become enslaved or disappeared.

4%…..of an entire population. To put that into perspective, that would be well over 12 million people in the United States.

And here I am…writing on my iPad in a nice warm hotel, with my stomach full, a great cup of tea by my side, and able to video chat with my kids back home without a single blip on the video feed.

The internet really is fast here.

20121007-083335.jpgA view of the stairs in our hotel.

Before meeting the girls at the restoration home today, we were given some guidelines (think of them as psychological and social rules for trafficked victims) that would help us better connect and work with them. As victims of severe abuse, many are untrusting of others, don’t make eye contact or prefer to not be near men.

Arriving at the restoration center, a set of two new buildings just outside the main city, we introduced ourselves and began teaching a couple crocheting crafts. Brandy led the teaching and I simply helped with problem solving if someone needed help. A couple of the girls have young babies and were excited to make their own warm hat for their little ones.



The goal was to teach them some new skills that would allow them to make hats and scarves that they could sell, earn money, and build their confidence. Although our time was short, our team feels they will be able to take these skills and build upon them. It will be interesting to see how far they take these ideas and what they will ultimately do with them.

We learned of some of their stories, although never directly from the girls. They’re never asked to share their stories with strangers or in a public setting. Getting a partial tour of the facilities, one of the counselors shared a few of the more horrific stories with us. I share more of what we learned in another post.

Our team consists of five people…two of us are men. In order to make sure the girls never feel any sense of personal space violation, we men were not allowed to tour the inside of the restoration house. Instead, we stayed in the meeting center and continued working with the girls on their hats…laughing with the girls, explaining that these hats were so simple, even a man can do it.

20121007-100955.jpgHere’s a picture of Rob, a member of our team, working on a baby hat.

There’s so much more I want to share….like what else is being done with the 4%.

And what about the other 96%? What are they doing about this? Do they even know and understand what is happening to their own people?