EDITOR'S NOTE: Human Trafficking Awareness Day is Jan. 11.
HAMBURG, Germany (BP) -- Zeina* has been on the streets of Hamburg, Germany, for several years. She came from Africa by way of Spain, where her children live and depend on her income from prostitution for their schooling and livelihood. She longs for her children to have a better life than she has had and works hard to provide that for them.
Her "work" has led her to the streets. As an uneducated foreigner, her options are limited. No others pay as well as the prostitute's wage. Zeina wants out. She recognizes that this life is not a good one. But getting out is not as easy as it sounds.
Uwe is a German man committed to helping women find a way out. His heart is tender and broken over the plight of women caught in the trap of prostitution. For 10 years he has faithfully gone to the red-light district of Hamburg to walk the streets, handing out chocolates and hot drinks and having real conversations with these desperate women.
One night he met Zeina. Their lives have been intertwined ever since.
Uwe and his ministry partner, Ann, have become family to Zeina. They take her to church and help her find other options for work. They encourage her and pray with her.
But even so, she isn't out yet. It's a slow process. Years of abuse and exploitation put her on the streets, and it usually takes years of healing to free someone. When they asked her to share her story with others and to ask for prayer, she was too ashamed to talk publicly about her lifestyle. Uwe was not disappointed with her reaction but encouraged her to distance herself from her life of prostitution and find a new identity. That is a great sign.
Gaby Wentland, who works with victims of human trafficking, works extensively with women who are exploited. She said one common denominator of these women is years of sexual abuse, exploitation and deception from childhood. They have an average of 10 abortions each, and these abortions leave physical and emotional scars.
They are constantly exposed to all kinds of sexual diseases. The daily sexual activity is unnatural and causes emotional and physical problems. Women have reported to Wentland that their body eventually feels dead, leaving them with no natural responses. Others have said when they were raped for the first time, they felt like their hearts were shattering.
"Proverbs describes a man going to a prostitute as a man on his way to death," Wentland explains. "There is a spirit of death involved when you are involved in prostitution."
For this reason, healing takes a long time. "It's a process," Wentland said, "and I think God will take them step by step just as He took us all step by step."
Working through layers of self-deception, self-hatred, low self-esteem, fear, exploitation, abuse and neglect is a process. Wentland encourages victims not to give up the fight.
Wentland is excited and encouraged to watch what God is doing as she sees women finally finding freedom from their past. She said when they are rescued by God they are stronger than most.
"Their hearts are broken, and these hearts can only be restored by Jesus Christ," she said. "He came to set the captives free, to open prison doors. And then when these girls are being restored back to Jesus they are the most powerful women in the world. I'm not even discouraged. I know an army of women and men are rising up and becoming strong warriors for Jesus."
One example is Jana*, a Muslim girl who began to pray to Jesus to rescue her. She had access to a computer and found Mission Freedom, an organization that Wentland works through to provide a safe house for victims. Jana called and asked if they could help. They asked for her address, told her to leave the house, hide for 20 minutes and they would be there. She took the risk, and found freedom.
When Jana walked into the safe house, she knew she was in a Christian place. She told the women there that she had prayed for Christians to save her. She asked for a Bible and soon gave her life to Jesus.
Soon afterward she wrote her whole story on a piece of paper and then burned it. She asked the staff to join her as she took the ashes to the back garden and buried it; she planted a rose bush on top.
"I want to bury my old life," she said. "This is my new life now." It's not simple -- she struggles with some depression, but she's on her way.
Zeina's journey is different but has begun nonetheless. Uwe is sure of God's work in her life.
"Jesus has already started His work in her, and I have a lot of confidence that it won't be long until Zeina can leave prostitution. Because she wants to ... she has decided ... and she lives that out very clearly," Uwe said.
Uwe and Wentland ask for Christians to continue praying for Zeina and Jana and the myriad of other women living in bondage today.
"There's salvation for the perpetrators and there's salvation for the girls," Wentland said. "In the end, heaven is going to be filled with these people and we can be part of it if we join in and help them to find Jesus Christ. So let's pray, and God will do. We cannot do it -- He has to do it."
-- Pray for Zeina to find a job that pays well enough to keep her from working on the streets. Pray for her children in Spain. Pray for her to be healed from the emotional scars that her life has caused.
-- Pray for Jana to be free from depression as she embarks on a new life of freedom and hope. Pray for her to grow as a believer and to become strong in her faith.
-- Pray for Uwe and his ministry to the girls on Friday nights. Pray for his heart to be strengthened as he hears so many heartbreaking stories. Pray for many women to respond to his invitation to get help and get off the streets.
-- Pray for Wentland and her ministry among victims of human trafficking. Pray for God's leadership as Wentland continues to lead in this fight against human exploitation.
*Names changed. Nicole Lee is an IMB writer based in Europe. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress
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