Seeing Lucia for the first time, you would never have known what trauma she had experienced because her smile was so bright. Lucia’s family lived in severe poverty. Lucia and her brother experienced online sexual exploitation by their mother and her partner.
Chris Chappell, former Southeast Asia Regional Director for ANM, met Lucia when she was no more than nine years old. He was visiting ANM’s native partners in the Philippines, including a ministry in Manila that rescues children from trafficking and exploitation. When Chris heard Lucia’s story, he was shocked. He said it was hard to imagine that she had been exploited by traffickers just a few months earlier. One indicator of her suffering was that she clung to someone constantly.
Seeing Chris Chappell tear up as he shared about the plight of children in the Philippines was touching. He said, “The kids are not in school [because of COVID]. They’re not in public places. They’re hidden … unfortunately, people take advantage of that, and they end up in trafficking.” Chris went on to say that a family that doesn’t have the love and the hope of Jesus in their hearts might make a horrible decision to sell their child. He said such a tragedy is beyond his thinking. But unfortunately, it does happen in places where families are destitute. Then Chris said, “I mean, that’s something we don’t hear much about. Financially speaking, you have families that are at a place where it’s live or die. I can’t imagine myself having to make that decision.” He wept, thinking of his own four children.
Help for Lucia
Thankfully, Lucia and her brother were rescued and helped through one of ANM’s native partners. Sol Balbero runs Kanlungan sa Er-Ma (Refuge in Ermita-Malate, former red light district) Ministry, which provides safe homes, education, informal after-school programs, a coffee shop and educational assistance for rescued children. All of their programs provide the opportunity for the children to learn about Jesus and heal from their traumas. At Kanlungan, Lucia is receiving help to heal and prosper. Chris saw the love this little girl had to give and the compassion she was receiving. The love of Jesus has set Lucia free from the horrible things that were done to her.
Lucia will continue to live in the Kanlungan home, where she will be safe and secure. It’s guarded, there are cameras and fencing, all providing a sense of safety. Lucia also receives healthy meals. After school each day, Lucia has access to professional help, like tutoring, counseling, and recreational activities, to heal from the trauma she experienced. She’ll also have help beyond high school to receive further education.
Lucia has worked in the coffee shop serving food and keeping the shop clean. When she moved to the next level of Kanlungan’s Residential Care and Training Center, she was given the best student award. Her comments in her speech at the moving up ceremony reflect what the ministry means to her: “Kanlungan taught us how to be strong, and how to stand again when we fall. They taught us how to love and value each other and to persevere in life…They have also help[ed] develop our God-given talents … But most importantly, Kanlugan taught us that we are not alone in this battle of life. We have come to know the Lord Jesus and have realized that His unconditional love, His grace and His faithfulness surpass all our trials.”
Many young girls and young boys are free and safe today because of what the Lord is doing through this ministry in Manila. Sol works closely with the International Justice Mission and local law enforcement. She has labored diligently to ensure better treatment for children that have been rescued by the police.
The Seriousness of Exploitation
The number of victims/survivors of sexual abuse and exploitation, including the online sexual exploitation of children and trafficking, has increased tremendously because of the pandemic. According to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, the number of victims in the Philippines rose 338% from 2019 to 2020. What an alarming rise in the victimization of children in the Philippines!
But praise God, ANM has partners on the ground like Kanlungan sa Er-Ma Ministry. They are helping to rescue kids out of terrible situations. That’s why their ministries are even more critical during a time like this.
Help rescue and care for vulnerable children like Lucia by donating today.