Trafficking victims prompt new Baptist ministry in Moldova

CHISINAU, Moldova (BP)--"Earn money abroad. Waiters, housemaids and managers needed for world-renowned hotel chain. Immediate openings. Potential to earn thousands."

Natasha couldn't believe her eyes. She'd been looking for employment ever since she graduated but there were no jobs to be found in Moldova, a country in Eastern Europe. Seeing the newspaper advertisement, she thought to herself, Why not try it? Most of her friends had found jobs in other countries, why shouldn't she? She picked up the phone and made the call.

Two weeks later, Natasha was sitting in a small, windowless room with a foam mattress on the floor and a bare bulb giving off insufficient light above her shaved head and bruised body. When the door opens, a man quietly slips in and strips. Natasha shrinks into a small ball -– this is not the job she applied for.

Tricked and sold into slavery, Natasha has nowhere to turn to for help.

Over the past decade, trafficking in human beings has reached epidemic proportions. No country is immune. The search for work abroad has been fueled by high unemployment and economic hardship. Traffickers face few risks and can earn huge profits by taking advantage of large numbers of potential immigrants, like Natasha, searching for a better life.

Oleg Turac, an instructor of theology at the College of Theology and Education in Moldova, says the human trafficking epidemic in his country touches everyone.

"Every day we see our youth tricked into this trafficking," Turac, a Baptist pastor, says. "They feel there are few opportunities for them in Moldova, so they search elsewhere. They don't know what they are getting themselves into."

Trafficking in human beings generates billions of dollars a year worldwide, but compiling statistics on the magnitude of the problem is a complex and difficult task due to its "hidden" nature.

Illicit trafficking is not confined to the sex industry, though. Children are trafficked to work in sweatshops and men work illegally in the "three D-jobs" -– dirty, difficult and dangerous.

No matter the job, age or gender, all dream of escaping.

Hoping to make money to help her husband support their family, a young Moldovan woman named Irina took a job in Turkey offered through a friend. Upon arriving there, she was placed in a room of an abandoned casino with three other girls. Periodically, a guard entered the room and took one of the captives to a client. The girls were not paid any money and often were severely beaten by the guard and clients.

One day, Irina and one of the other girls managed to pry open the window of the second-story room and jump to the alley below. A kind stranger bought a ticket back to Moldova for her. Once home, however, she felt dirty and out of place.

For the few victims who escape their captivity, life does not necessarily get easier. Assistance for trafficking victims is a significant problem particularly in countries such as Moldova where resources are limited and, consequently, very few ministries or organizations work in rehabilitation.

Vladimer and Yulia Ubeivolc stumbled into their rehabilitation ministry, called The Beginning of Life. The Baptist couple worked with local schools in teaching about abstinence and drugs, so when police asked school officials if they knew of an effective counselor, the Ubeivolcs' name surfaced. Police had apprehended a pimp and found 22 women held hostage in his apartment, so they asked Yulia, a social worker, to rehabilitate the prostitutes.

"Three have returned to their parents and their parents accepted them," Yulia said. "Three others are trying to stay away from their old life.

"It's a day-to-day thing. They have to get new cell phone numbers because clients call and plead for sexual favors. It's a temptation because of the money and they don't know where their next meal will come from."

Vladimer added that rehabilitation is not only new to them, but to most Moldovans. The first meeting of organizations and churches to discuss how to help trafficked victims re-enter Moldovan society took place in the fall of 2006. Plans are to take workshops to centrally located villages throughout the country in an effort to get churches involved in reaching out to victims, many of whom end up returning to the trade because they do not feel they fit in normal society anymore -– especially those who were sexually exploited.

"We need for churches and believers to rethink their attitude towards these victims," Vladimer said. "There is a large population of Moldovans who have been taken into trafficking and they just need to feel loved."

The Ubeivolcs ask for prayer for:

-- A change in attitude among Moldovan believers, that they will want to reach out to those who have been trafficked and made an initial escape.

-- the victims of trafficking. Pray for ways of escape and that they will find their way back home. Pray for them to find a new perspective on life and find hope through Jesus Christ.

-- pioneers in rehabilitation ministries in Moldova, whose work can be spiritually and physically draining. Pray that training workshops will expand such ministries throughout the country.


Sue Sprenkle is a regional correspondent with the Southern Baptist International Mission Board. Learn more about Moldova in the 2007 International Mission Study, available at www.wmustore.com or by calling Woman’s Missionary Union customer service at 1-800-968-7301.

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