We're in a flat fronted van in rural Nepal, headed to the Himalayan foothills. Our driver only speaks Nepali and our host broken English.
"These lower caste." He says, his arms spread wide, encompassing everything we can see from small, square windows. A shanty-town, blue tarps, brown ground, bloodshot eyes, this was the price they paid for their last name.
"So there's no getting out of this?" I ask. "Not even if they get an education?"
"Education? No. These lower caste. No education for them."
"So how do they get out? What hope do they have?"
He shrugs, looks forward again. I wait for an answer. "Sometime they get jobs out of here, out of Nepal. Thailand. India. You know?"
It's a few years later and I am meeting a girl named Rehka. She shares a last name with that of my Nepali host years ago, but she's traveled to America from India. I ask her if she is Nepali. "Yes!" She nods, her eyes lighting up. "You know Nepal?"
"I know Nepal," I say. I remember the shanty town, the tarps, the hopelessness of faces caged in by genes and a system so unjust to my western ethnocentricity.
Rehka is beautiful, with the light, gentle look for which the Nepali are known. Her wide set eyes are bright, her skin clear, her smile brilliant. She laughs easily and is comfortable immediately among us. She sits gracefully on the floor of our office and tackles a menial task I've been putting off in the busyness of the week. She chatters in Hindi and English, switching easily between the two, even though neither are her native language.
She seems like royalty in joyful servitude. A humbling juxtaposition.
And yet, Rehka was sold by her older brother into a scheme more complicated than she could have ever imagined.
The caste system is as unjust as it seems to any westerner raised in an equal-opportunity culture. If "If you can dream it, you can achieve it," is the our mantra, then "Keep your eyes down, and get what you're given," is the mantra of the lower castes. Illegal activity, therefore, seems to be the only way for them to get a little pocket change—which is all her brother received in the trade for her life.
Rehka was drugged repeatedly and driven to Asia's largest Red-Light District in Mumbai, India. Passed from person to person, each one a different link in a chain that closed more tightly around her over the next week, until she was caged completely.
For the next few weeks Rehka was drugged intermittently and beaten regularly. When her resolve and will were finally perceived to be broken, she was delivered the news that she now owed an insurmountable debt to her captors which could only be paid back one way: sex.
In five years, a child goes from infancy to speaking in full sentences, writing simple ones.
In five years, a gangly middle-schooler graduates valedictorian.
In five years, a hard-worker at a blue collar job in America can make $125,000.
In five years, Rehka was raped an average of 20 times a day. About 36,500 sexual assaults. At the equivalent average of $1 an act, and yet she still could not pay the fullness of her "debt" to her captors.
When she met the director of our rescue program in Mumbai, she was broken and void.
I met her seven years later, carrying herself like humble royalty.
As I ask her about her story, she glows, recounting how excited she is to be a part of a ministry that is rescuing girls like her and rehabilitating them, loving them, counseling them, offering them something that supersedes any caste system: the gospel.
When she says this, I realize that the rescue of trafficked victims is so much more than beating a system, shutting down brothels, arresting pimps, madams, pornographers, and greedy older brothers. The rescue of trafficked victims is the reflection of the heart of the Father.
The Father says, come to me, all you who are weary, burdened, heavy laden.
All of you.
The caste system seems to be the most unjust system of any religion I see around me, subjecting humans to begging, stealing, and selling humans. The sex-trade system seems to be a system of dogs, beating children into submission to horrific acts. The rescue of these girls seems impossible, 60,000 women in this one Red-light district ALONE. The finances insurmountable, a $32 billion a year industry globally.
But for the gospel.
The gospel breaks into these Hindi castes and levels them, setting free captives in Red-Light Districts and in shanty slums. The gospel breaks into my western ethnocentricity and levels me at my heart—these are humans, living, breathing, thinking humans, no different than me. The gospel is the only thing that can penetrate the hearts traffickers and victims alike—the only thing that can free them from the cage of greed and the brothel cage.
Sower of Seeds International—working to rescue and rehabilitate girls (full-disclosure: I'm employed here, but they didn't make me write this).
Unearthed Pictures—producing media to raise awareness.
International Justice Mission—a non-government organization working to shut down the illegal trade of humans globally.