I’ve been sending my husband into brothels for the past year now. Into girly bars and strip clubs and “massage” parlors, too.

And when we got married thirteen years ago, when I wore white and pledged purity, I never expected to find myself at home praying for my spouse’s protection while he texted me about the prostitute on his arm. I never dreamed I’d watch video footage of him asking for sex from a minor, in the same day he played baseball with my son and kissed me in the kitchen. And I never envisioned the greatest tool God would use teach me about his Light would be a world of covert cameras and mafia circles, a world of pushy pimps and dancing bar girls.

**********

When we moved overseas to Asia several years ago, we were burdened by two things– the plight of impoverished women and children and the injustices of human trafficking. And after a year of managing a Girls’ Home, we began to delve more specifically into the issues surrounding the underage sex industry which are so rampant in that part of the world. My husband sat in meetings, we went to conferences, we networked, we got on-the-ground experience. And we began learning of a glaring hole in the fight to rescue girls and boys out of brothels. While the legal system is in place to prosecute traffickers in the country we were living, there were very few tips and credible evidence handed over to the authorities. With small police budgets and a culture of acceptance for the sex industry itself, it was very difficult for victims to be found, raids to be undertaken, and criminals to be prosecuted.

And several months in, my husband got a phone call. It was from an NGO he had worked with before– loving women who set up shop in the heart of a red-light district in a major city, building friendships with prostitutes and providing them with job opportunities. And these women asked my husband if he knew of anyone willing to go into a nearby bar which had suspicious pictures of children on the back wall. They wanted him to send a trusted man in to ask good questions, to see why the bar owner displayed photos of little girls for his tourist customers. And so my husband, Matt, began calling those he knew in the community of NGO’s we were working with at the time. He finally landed on two of our friends– men with brave wives– who said yes, they’d spend the money, ride the plane, pose as tourists and get the real story on those children behind the photos.

My husband and I breathed a sigh of relief.

Until they asked him to go, too.

And suddenly, all of ideals we had left the States with met the pavement. Theoretical justice begged for practical action. He was a youth pastor who had held strip clubs at arm’s length our entire married lives. We had only known intimacy with each other, and in many ways, we were both fairly innocent sexually-speaking.

But, we kept coming back to this idea that children might be trapped in abusive situations, and that we might be some of the only people who knew where they were. We became haunted with this idea that if it were one of our own daughters, we would praylikemad that another courageous man would have the guts to look for her– even if it meant posing as a sex tourist in a popular strip club, even if it meant an assault on every fiber of his moral being.

And he decided to go. And I decided to send.

And that weekend of investigation began a year of covert surveillance into brothels for my husband and I. He began wearing a covert camera, attempting to capture the actual sale of an underage girl, in order to pass that evidence on to the trusted authorities. He met women and girls and men who were broken and desperate, in some of the darkest of places. He saw nearly-naked bodies and utterly-lonely souls. A lot of them.

But he tasted God and the Kingdom in richer ways than he’d ever experienced before, too.

And so did I. At home but in a foreign country, with the children peacefully sleeping but their mother fearfully awake, in a state of isolation but not truly feeling alone.

Because God met me in tangible ways during those nights when my husband was visiting bars. I learned about courage and trust, about justice and light in new ways, surprising ones. And I saw a Jesus who very much entered the brothel to rescue us– the prostitute, the pimp, the broken man looking to pay for sex, thinking he might find love.

We began understanding the Gospel in terms of the brothel, the rescue of us in terms of the police raids for them, the kingdom of God in terms of a justice and love that’s always, always pushing in.

 

——
*Note: Obviously, I in no way promote the brothel as a typical place for an average man to frequent, nor do I desire to belittle the damage such sexually-charged places can cause to marriages. Such investigative actions should ideally be done with clear purpose and accountability for both the husband and the wife.

Laura Parker is a freelance writer who currently works for two counter-trafficking organizations, Nvader and The Exodus Road, the coalition of investigators her husband formed during their time overseas. The Exodus Road has just launched a new website where you can read more stories from the undercover operatives in the field {brave men Matt has worked with personally} and where you can find out how you can help rescue children trapped in sexual slavery. She blogs at LauraParkerBlog and tweets from @LauraParkerBlog.

65 comments

  1. Laura, thank you so much for writing this, for bearing witness, for the work you and your husband have done. Thank you.

    Reply
  2. “…..even if it meant an assault on every fiber of his moral being.”

    Like Jesus.

    Awesome. Amen. Thank you. Praise Jesus.

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    • Absolutely, Rebekah Grace,

      LIKE JESUS– who stooped low and got the muck of humanity splattered on him in the process. One of our good friends, actually one of the guys that went on that first trip, made the comment that soldiers in war tend to get bloody. A pretty strong image, but I think I get this– to really enter in sometimes means fallout.

      Reply
      • It’s powerful is what it is!! That, to me, is faith. Being willing, by surrender and humility, to enter into another ugliness, whatever that may mean for them on any given day. If we are Christ living in us, their humanity and sinfulness should not be such a surprise to us, it wasn’t to Him. He knew, He knows…..He loves anyway.

        Reply
  3. I was to thank you and your husband for going, doing, and answering the call God placed on your life. I work at an orphanage that helps kids that have been rescued from situations much like these. And I couldn’t imagine what this world would be like if they were still in them. So thank you.

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    • How neat that you are in the midst of saving girls, and boys, from these situations– so honorable! And I know that when you have a little one in the flesh, the motivation to save them from hard places is even greater . . .

      Thanks for your deeply good work with children, Lauren.

      Reply
  4. anna

    What a ministry. Ideals meeting the pavement indeed. May we all be so bold, so brave, so full of grace.

    And may God free those in bondage as He promised. Praise Him for people like you and your husband.

    Reply
    • Thanks for your kind words– but really, don’t think too highly of us. I have no doubt most people would do the same thing if they were handed the same set of circumstances we were.

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      • anna

        No, God gets the glory, and in this area it is through you that He is working. I do hope that others would respond as you have done, and it’s ok that I’m grateful for the work you’re doing =)

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  5. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

    I work for an NGO that rescues and rehabilitates trafficked victims from Asia’s largest red-light district. I have seen my fair share of people who get incensed about injustice and want to wear a tshirt or bracelet or show a film, but it is few and far between who actually go in and do the hard work, the dirty work, the deep work, the long hard work with seemingly little return. Love hearing this. Thank you.

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  6. Very moving. Our dear friends sent their teenage there for a mission trip last summer to befriend the same type girls in bars, I admired them and their daughter for their Faith in doing so!

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  7. Thank you for sharing this. I second anna’s sentiments: “May we all be so bold, so brave, so full of grace.”

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  8. This floors me, Laura. God has been getting a hold of my heart for some time on this issue, both domestically and globally.

    Such as story of faith and courage; willing to give of your beloved and place your trust in Christ in such a mighty way. A couple of months ago I was reading a story from Beauty From Ashes about the street teams they send into strip bars and I had wondered, “how in the world do the men going in there stay above the pervading temptations and shield themselves?”

    And now you have shown me a real-life example of how, through the power of Christ, it can be done. I look forward to reading more about how God is working through you and your husband.

    Reply
    • Great question about men staying above “temptation”– I think it’s a really tricky one for this particular line of work. I know for us we found that when he was spiritually centered and really walking with the Spirit, he was able to see through the lie everyone was selling that girls want this. And when you can see the real slavery for what it is, the abuse, suddenly it doesn’t seem so sexually appealing/glamorous. He did begin to view it professionally– like a doctor would I guess.

      Great questions– if you’d like to read more, check out Daniel Walker’s book, God in a Brothel. It’s a great read with lots more stories about the investigative world.

      http://www.nvader.org/god-in-a-brothel

      Reply
  9. Jessica

    This is the kind of life I want to be unafraid to live.

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  10. Human trafficking is a cause that is close to my heart. I pray for the men and women trapped in this life often, and I just want to tell you how much I admire you and your husband for being willing to be vulnerable and unsafe in the hope of saving some of them. God will send His angels to protect and to hold you both in His hand. You have my prayers. I’d like to know if there is any more specific way that I can help?

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  11. You now have another soul praying over you both.

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  12. Thanks, Chantel–

    It’s a pretty awful reality for millions “on our watch” in this generation. Thanks for your prayers. Honestly, in our area of Asia, there are some really brave men who continue to do this gritty work– we have such respect and admiration for them.

    To Do More– I think in this particular area of investigations, you can check out our site, http://www.theExodusRoad. The new site should be up sometimes August 28 (today!) and on it there are ways you can actually FUND an investigative mission and then get reports on what was discovered or what rescues came from it. It’s pretty exciting stuff. I think its a really tricky thing to try to connect people to being hands-on in ministry with . . .. we are still praying about new ideas in that.

    I know that the movie Nefarious is out now and that you can host viewings in your hometown of that– might be a neat way to stimulate awareness in the community.

    Reply
    • Thank you, Laura! I went to the site earlier and it seemed a little not ready. That’s why I asked. But what you mentioned sounds wonderful! I will definitely be checking into it when your site goes live. :)

      Reply
      • Hi there, again. It’s up now. Still has some tweaking to do, but the basic jist is live now– sorry that the timing wasn’t perfect, but I reckon that’s life, right? :)

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  13. David

    Salt, light, valour…beautiful. Thank you.

    Reply
  14. So nice to see you here, Laura. And I add my thanks to all of these – to your husband, to you – to all who do this frightening work on behalf of the lost, the littlest, the least of these.

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  15. You have always been one of my favorites, Mrs. Parker. Good storytelling and… ouch… and blessings… and all the rest of what goes along with it.

    Reply
    • Oh, geez, thanks, Mr. Haines.

      Now that we are stateside maybe we’ll bump into you guys in the flesh at some point.

      Reply
  16. wow

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  17. Goosebumps. Thank you for the work you and your husband are doing, Laura.

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  18. Thank you for sharing so bravely. Thank you for allowing the work of God to get messy. Thank you for remaining faithful. Thank you.

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    • Shae– isn’t that the truth of it? That when we step out in authentic Christ-following, we have to expect the crap to hit the fan? The mess to splatter? Absolutely.

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  19. What an amazing piece. You two are so brave – a fantastic illustration of the armor of God!! My blessings to your husband and family :)

    Kristina
    Nook & Sea

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  20. Wow. Just…wow. I held my breath through this whole post because I can’t even imagine. But yes, this is it, the hard and down and dirty love that does what it takes. This is Jesus love. Amazing.

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    • Cara, YES, isn’t that it? The image we kept circling to was that the brothel is this perfect picture of humanity and that Jesus very much had to enter it and get splattered with the mess of what we make of life. But he did, in an attempt to find us, to seek us out, to Rescue.

      I have really relearned Gospel in entirely new ways this past year, for sure . . ..

      Thanks for your kind words.

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  21. Laura…wow. Thank you for sharing. Your story of faith has brought tears to my eyes.

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  22. This is so well written, Laura. (And talk about a lead paragraph! If that’s how you start your grant proposals, I imagine you’ll be funded in no time.)

    I’m so grateful for people like Matt, for people like you, willing to see Jesus where we sometimes least expect him. “What now? What will you do, now that you’ve found me?” You gulped, prayed and stared evil right back. Praying for you, now and always.

    Reply
    • Oh, man, you are always such an encouragement, Kelly–

      You know, honestly, we didn’t feel brave at all, and I imagined ya’ll would have done the exact.same.thing or something equally as brave. You already have and are on behalf of children.

      I love that idea of “staring evil right back”– gosh, I wanna do that consistently in my life, regardless of where I am.

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  23. Jesus rescued me from the filthy brothel that was my heart. And he got very dirty to do so. You are his greatest ambassador. Well done, servant. Well done.

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    • Oh my this was beautiful and perfect:
      “Jesus rescued me from the filthy brothel that was my heart. And he got very dirty to do so.”

      Gosh, I just really really loved that you wrote that, Missy.

      Thank you for that. So, so true. It’s so easy to point at “them” and forget the “us”– us all being in the same boat and all of desperately needing rescue.

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  24. Tanya Marlow

    I’m thinking wow and amazed at your courage – both of you, and I’m also blown away by the fact that this has given me a fresh insight on the cost of Jesus’ incarnation. What you are doing, the going against every fibre of your moral being- that’s given me such a clear picture of what it must have felt like for Jesus. Thank you for sharing your story – it has been a gift to me,

    Reply
    • Thanks, Tanya–

      I totally agree that it has given me a bigger, clearer Gospel picture than I ever tasted before. And when I see that I am the prostitute or the pimp and Jesus the Rescuer, it helps me to look at others in the “brothel”– figurative or literal- in different light.

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  25. What a testimony of your obedience.

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  26. Thank you so much for sharing this!

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  27. Laura, thank you so much for sharing this. I spend some time in Asia this summer after God began burdening my heart for these enslaved women several years ago. I don’t think I ever understood the darkness until seeing it up close, hearing the stories. Thank you for your faithfulness to send your hubby into it—to serve well at home and pray without ceasing. Praying for your family!!

    Reply
    • Thanks, Courtney.

      There is darkness there that is so much more intense than anything I had ever seen, too. But, really, I think we have the same darkness, ours is just masked to look prettier and “safer” maybe, you know?

      Love your heart for women in Asia– that is beautiful and God-honoring.

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  28. Wow.

    Power, this.

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  29. I’m reminded of God’s servant Samson who thought he was strong enough and ended up getting his eyes gouged out. Let’s join in prayer for God’s direction and protection for those ministering in the sex trade.

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  30. Kate

    I admire your courage to post a story like this. I admire your faith and your willingness to serve with your whole lives and your whole heart. I sincerely thank you for your sacrifice daily and for the witness and convicting us all to be better servants for Christ.

    I must admit, however, that I am a bit surprised at your chosen course of action. When Jesus went into the temple and found business being conducted there, he turned over the tables in fury and rage. He did not join in and collect evidence. I think your spirit of service is in the right place, I just question the means- Do the ends REALLY justify the means?

    Reply
    • Kate– Thanks so much for your comment! I appreciate your kind words and appreciate your question, too. I’ll try to answer your question as best as possible in “blog comment” format without overloading you with too much backstory or detail . . . :)

      As we were working the counter-trafficking arena, specifically in the area of intervention is that the local police needed help with gathering tips. It’s an expensive process and typically the local authorities do not have the funds or manpower to do it, and so sometimes the NGO community will step in and help– groups like IJM, for example. Our work was not really “missionary” work, it was more “assistant police work”, if that makes sense. In other words, we were helping rescues happen by assisting the local government to attack a problem they didn’t have the resources to attack themselves.

      Honestly, we tried creatively to think of other ways to reach/find girls in such situations, and eventually landed on the reality that the most effective way to find them was to be in the places where they might be– namely, brothels and bars and other rougher places. It is a very hidden thing oftentimes and can take months of undercover work to find and gather the evidence that results in an official rescue and prosecution, which research shows is one of the most effective ways to slow the machine of the trafficking industry– to make it costly and risky for the criminal.

      On a personal note, we did find, too, that the stigma we as Christians had on “those types of places” was really off, too. Yes, bad stuff happens there. Yes, there is sin. But, also, we began seeing that the people in the brothel were pretty regular people a lot like us– trying desperately to make money to survive. Actually, many of the people my husband met there inspired him in many ways, so it definitely wasn’t all bad/evil to walk into that world.

      I reckon I will stop now, don’t want to bore you too much! Thanks again, so much for your question. I think it’s a really valid one, but I do think that how Jesus interacted with the money changers is a different situation than the NGO community interacting with a culture on the social/legal/justice issue of trafficking and sexual slavery. Yet, on the other hand, this path is not to be taken lightly and might definitely be harmful/not right for many, maybe even most. It’s just the one we as a couple landed on and felt God leading us into.

      Thanks again– hope I haven’t talked too much. :) Have a great night.

      Laura

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      • Thank you for answering her question, Laura. As the wife of someone who is feeling led that direction, every explanation I read from you helps me. I support my husband 100%, but it’s still scary.

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  31. jimmie lee

    Amazing story. I am in tears. I couldn’t do it. I am thankful that God will protect us when we allow him, when we need Him to. I pray that God continues to protect you and your husband and the work that you do.

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  32. Thanks so much, Jimmie,

    As you are praying, pray for the brave men who are still doing this work– many of them ex military and former police officers with amazing hearts to protect and rescue.

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  33. Laura – bless you & your husband! This is reaching out beyond your comfort zone. This is effective for changing lives. This is love in the name of Jesus. Praise God!
    On the question asked by a commenter or two about the temptations to men in such an environment… I wonder if the brothel is just the reality punch that many a good man might need, to help him in his struggle with lust.
    My husband told me that when he was a young man on business in Amsterdam, he chose to go to the red light district, to see what the reality of lust really is. Yes. He was a good virgin Christian guy. He told me that he thinks that is the sort of view that many young guys need. To be there, in the scene where vulgar men are treating hurting young women like they are toys to be used. This sort of place shows what the heart of lust is. Take away all the shiny & pretty wrappers & see – lust is about using someone else. A person is in that body, who deserves respect.
    Your husband sees that these are hurting souls. He loves them to want to free them. That is the opposite of seeing some pretty flesh of a young girl & wanting to use her.
    (I’m not sure if that made much sense… But, that is to say, I believe in what you are doing!)

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  34. Erin, thanks for commenting! I can really see where you are coming from,and I see it played out in our story. Honestly, going into those places is a huge testing place and I think long term could be really dangerous because I think it would be easy to let the lie {that the girls want it} creep in. Thankfully, because we were only in it a year, it was all pretty fresh and stark the realities of what was going on– like your husband felt in that red-light district. Maybe because it is so “shocking” it makes it easier to resist. Maybe the harder issue with lust would be the woman right down the street or at the gym, because there is a subtlety there that is deceiving.

    Thanks for your kind words.

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    • I see what you are saying, Laura. Surely you are right. We can acclimated to our surroundings & what seems normal, whatever they are. Above all, we need to keep watch over our hearts!

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  35. So nice and so honorable You are so amazing Laura I sit here and ponder over the emotional, spiritual, marital tug of war that plays on your mind whenever Matt is involved, let alone the danger. I admire you so much, and Matt equally. This requires a solid Marriage and a solid stand with the Lord. God bless you both forever and ever. We love you. Sincerely

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  36. Tears! so moved by your words. I am still chewing on this. My heart hurts. I have a lump in my throat. I can’t breath. Wow! I love Jesus. I too want to go and do what He calls me to do.
    I’ll follow your journey…and I will pray.
    thanks so much for sharing!

    Reply
  37. Laura (and Nish),

    I wanted to let you know that I mentioned this article and linked to it in my blog post just now entitled, “Of Brothels and Cameras.”

    Thank you for your work in fighting human trafficking.

    Jennifer Dougan
    http://www.jenniferdougan.com

    http://www.jenniferdougan.com/2013/09/of-brothels-and-cameras.html

    Reply
  38. This moves me…and terrifies me…and fires me up with rage and excitement and almost intolerable desire to GO NOW.

    Last week, I told my husband that I’ve been accepted to blog for Exodus Road. His reaction was clipped and shocked and very odd and out of character…and less than 12 hours later, he told me that my announcement had rocked him because only hours before, he had accepted that God wants him to go into private investigation with the goal of working to help the fight against human trafficking and sexual slavery. He had no idea that organizations like Exodus Road even exist, and it was confirmation for him when I told him about it.

    Fighting for these girls (and boys) is near and dear to my heart. I was a victim of childhood sexual abuse for nine years. My father…well, he’s in prison now. I got the justice so few see, from a legal perspective. But the man he gave (or sold, I find that more likely for a number of reason) me to when I was nine never saw any justice, and still lives in the same house he took me in. And if my fragmented memory can be trusted, he’s not the only one.

    It’s not the same as being sold to a brothel…but I do know what it’s like to be betrayed and sold and used. And if there is anything I can do to help others in those situations, I am willing to do it. Even if it means sending my husband into brothels. Doesn’t mean I’m not scared.

    I just wish I knew how this would play out, and understood more what it actually looks like in practical terms. Your articles help, but I wish I could just sit down with you and talk it out.

    Reply

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