Excerpt from The Least of These: One Man’s Remarkable Journey in the Fight Against Child Trafficking by Jeff Brodsky
Seven Seconds of Terror
I think slavery is the next thing to hell.
If a person would send another into bondage,
he would, it appears to me,
be bad enough to send him into hell if he could.
Throughout Scripture God led His people to difficult unknown places where they could share His heart with others. I think of Daniel and the Hebrews exiled to Babylon. God took this young man on a journey to a foreign land and used his obedience to reveal His glory. Then there’s Joseph, sold into slavery by his brothers and taken to Egypt. Joseph’s remarkable story is all about God’s glory shining through Joseph’s life as God used him, ultimately, to save His people. God had a plan for me to go to unknown difficult places as well, and one night He called me, loudly and clearly.
It was 2005. Gail and I were watching television one night when a documentary set in Svay Pak, Cambodia, a Vietnamese village in a district of Phnom Penh notorious for child prostitution, came on the screen. Dateline with Chris Hansen showed one horrific scene after another of little girls who were enslaved in child trafficking and the child sex trade. My heart broke for these children living in a country I had not yet visited.
The documentary showed children as young as five years old offering the “service” of oral sex to a group of undercover men for thirty dollars. They used childlike terms—“boom boom” and “yum yum”—to distinguish between intercourse and oral sex, respectively. Clearly, these innocent children had been taught these English language words. I grew angrier and angrier, my stomach sickened to the core.
When the documentary was over, I turned to Gail and through tears told her, “With all the travel I do around the world to help children, how can this be happening without me knowing about it? How could I possibly have been this blind?”
I couldn’t believe that a man, or any human for that matter, could hear those blatantly sexual words coming out of a child’s mouth and not be appalled. Even worse was the way the innocence of these children had been stolen. They offered themselves to the undercover men like it meant nothing—casually standing there, talking and giggling, like they were playing with other children in the neighborhood.
Need to Know
That documentary started me on a journey of discovery. I read everything I could get my hands on to learn as much about this travesty as possible. I had to know if this horror was actually happening and, if it was, what I could do to stop it. As I researched, I discovered that the sexual exploitation of children, was, in fact, much worse than I had known or imagined. That documentary revealed the extent to which children were being abused in just one little town in Cambodia. I quickly realized that this vile injustice was happening to millions of children all over the world.
I went on what grew to be an insatiable quest for knowledge about the commercial sexual exploitation of children (CSEC, an official term that refers to a range of crimes involving the sexual abuse or exploitation of a child for the financial benefits of any person or in exchange for anything of value).¹ People who saw me back then would probably say I became obsessed with learning as much as I could about this heinous crime. The thought that children were being abused in this degrading and despicable manner completely overwhelmed me. I saw it (and still see it) as the most vile and loathsome crime ever perpetrated against any child since the dawn of creation—by far the worst and most evil atrocity an adult could inflict on a child.
I pored over every article, news report, and bit of information I could find. Each new statistic drove me to search for additional information to develop whatever tools were necessary to fight this horror. I searched especially for anyone who was actually focused on finding and rescuing abused children. So many people were only talking about it; I wanted to see action. I wanted to know that children were in fact being rescued and set free.
My Turning Point
For as far back as I can remember, I have slept, on average, about four hours a night. I normally wake up somewhere between two and three each morning. I seem to be hardwired for minimal sleep, as I somehow wake up feeling rested. During the fervor and intensity of my research into the CSEC, I went to bed one night emotionally exhausted.
What I’m about to share with you is deeply personal—something I rarely share with anyone. In fact, I’ve really wrestled with the decision to write about it. I believe that God speaks to us in many different ways, especially when He calls us to uncomfortable places. You may be able to tell your own stories of how God has gotten your attention in unconventional ways. In order for you to fully grasp why I’m so strongly driven to rescue sex-trafficked children, I share this incident—what I believe was a divine encounter—to give some perspective.
That night around two, I woke up shaking and weeping so uncontrollably that I woke up my wife.
“Jeff, what’s wrong?” Gail was frightened.
I couldn’t speak clearly. Through my tears I managed to choke out, “I need to go and pray.”
I wasn’t sure if what I had just experienced was real or a dream. I shuffled into the living room, unable to stop weeping, and paced the floor. I couldn’t erase from my thoughts what had just awakened me. Even years later, as I write these words, being taken back to that moment of fear draws me to tears.
Several hours later Gail came into the living room and gently asked what had happened. The tears began to flow once more. “Gail, I don’t know if it was real or a dream, but for about seven seconds God gave me the emotion of what a child feels while he or she is being ravaged. I don’t know how to put it into words. It was the most horrible, excruciating thing I have ever felt.”
Silence filled the room.
“Gail, my life as I know it is over,” I told her. “As long as I know there are children going through the pain and suffering I felt for those few seconds, I will devote the rest of my life to rescuing as many as I can.”
I have ministered in churches of just about every denomination imaginable. Since 1976, when I began my walk through life as a Messianic Jew, I have learned that spiritual perspectives vary from one person to the next, and often people’s differences are based on personal experience. If you don’t believe that divine healing is possible, all it takes to instantly change your theology is to experience divine healing from some sickness or witness someone being divinely healed. If you don’t believe in miracles, witness one taking place and again—instant belief. My personal turning point occurred that night as God turned my intellectual understanding into an emotional imperative.
The Seven Seconds
Over my decades in the church, I’ve heard people pray for special gifts from God. Mostly people ask God for gifts of miracles, physical healing, or prophecy. I have begged God to give me a different gift. I have pleaded with Him to allow me to communicate to people, preferably men, what I felt for those seven seconds so that they too can feel it. I imagine women would generally have a better empathetic sense of what it might feel like to be ravaged, abused, and exploited. Men also suffer exploitation and abuse, but for the most part, it is men who perpetrate such evils on others.
If God gave me the ability to transmit the horror I felt, I could raise up an army of people to rescue these children—an army that would know what these children feel not just for seven seconds but multiple times a day. Sometimes between ten and twenty times every day.
If I used mere words to describe my experience, the most vivid phrase would be “brutal agony.” After agony would be “nausea”—the sensation of wanting to vomit from revulsion and gagging. The next would be “terror,” but what I felt goes beyond even terror. I felt a sense of horror and of suffocation, as though I was in danger of dying, unable to breathe. Seven seconds can feel like a lifetime when you’re being choked, and there was nothing I could do to stop the feeling. The agony, nausea, revulsion, terror, and suffocation built up cumulatively, leading to a sense of extreme helplessness added to hopelessness.
Each sensation I experienced went beyond descriptive words. The final sensation of hopelessness was one of complete and utter despair. No one could do anything to help me; I was alone and being ferociously savaged. The sensation of fear was that of being in the grip of stark terror, trapped in the inescapable clutches of extreme evil. The sensation of agony was utterly horrific.
I thank God that it lasted only seven seconds. I’m not sure I could have handled it any longer. Every time I think about it, my mind flashes to one of those children held captive, knowing that her experience of hell on Earth extends way beyond seven seconds.
The Least at Last
Many years have now passed since this experience that changed the course of my life. It took years before I could share it with anyone besides Gail. When I did, I could hardly get the story out, overwhelmed as I was with emotion and worried that people weren’t going to believe me. These days I don’t really care whether or not people believe me; what I do care about is rescuing these children. I know what I have been called to do, and I share this message to recruit more soldiers into this war.
Apart from recognizing that the perpetrators of these crimes serve an evil master, I also realized that I had finally found the epitome of those people Jesus had referenced in Matthew 25. Children who are being used as sex slaves for commercial profit must surely epitomize what Jesus meant when He spoke about the least of these—the hungry, thirsty, stranger, naked, sick, in prison. While I realize that Christians differ theologically as to who “the least of these are” and whether these words apply to believers only or to any people we come across in this world, the Lord used this phrase to capture my attention and called me to minister Christ to children trapped in the sex-trade industry. There can be no group of people on this planet more needy and pitiable than these innocent children. I believe Jesus was speaking about these children and calling His church to enter the darkness where they live. I’ll tell you why.
During Jesus’ ministry on Earth, He traveled throughout Jerusalem and Judea. But the farthest north He ventured was to a region of Caesarea Philippi. It was the only time He went to this northeast region of Israel. And it was a strategic trip. He took His disciples to a renowned center of immorality. In fact, taking the disciples there would have been equivalent to taking them into a redlight district.
In the Old Testament this region was known as the center of Baal worship, and in the Roman period, it was where people made child sacrifices to the god Pan. The most deviant sexual rituals were performed to summon Pan. The site was literally known as “the gates of Hades.”
The disciples would have clearly understood the significance of Jesus’ statement in this place. He took them to the most morally corrupt place—and this is where He laid out a clear message: “You are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:18).
Here, on this rock, the Lord’s church will be established. Here, where the rocks are carved with false gods, He asked His disciples, “Who do you say that I am?” (Matthew 16:15). Here, He first revealed that He was the Christ. Here, in this seemingly God-forsaken place, He emphatically declared that there was no place that His presence and power could not transform, and it was here
that He commissioned His disciples to build His church.
In the most corrupt, morally bankrupt site in Israel, Jesus commissioned His disciples to confront and challenge the enemy on his ground.²
Jesus knew that the only way a child or young woman held as a sex slave in a brothel could hear His gospel was if He called His church to the least of these.
When I started JOY International, I could find very few who were going into these places to tell these children about Jesus. Were these dark places where children are kept captive too evil, too filthy, too dangerous for the average God-fearing person to know about or actually travel to and preach about the love of Jesus? With no one to bring light into this darkness, children were enslaved until they died or were no longer desirable, at which point they were either sold to a “lower” brothel or tossed into the street like trash.
At this stage, according to the myriad of people I’ve talked to over the years who are fighting this evil, one of several things usually happens. These young girls or boys simply commit suicide overdosing on drugs, stepping into the path of a speeding vehicle, slitting their wrists—or they go into survival mode and do whatever it takes to stay alive, usually becoming prostituted. Often they simply die of exposure in the streets or from disease.
No human being should have to endure a life like this. Especially not a child. Especially not Jesus’ least of these. I knew I had to do something to intercede and take action. But little did I know that this new journey would take me into the darkest corners of the countries I had already visited as Snuggles. This time, however, I would not be wearing a clown nose or floppy shoes as I traversed Thailand, India, and Cambodia. I was embarking on a new, much riskier adventure that would require me to take on new roles and use new tools.
I had found what I believed to be the least of these. Now the work had to begin.
Dr. Jeff Brodsky is the founder and president of JOY International, a non-profit organization devoted to the rescue and restoration of children from commercial sex trade. For over 38 years, to raise funds and awareness, he has performed as (the now retired) Snuggles the Love Clown, ridden a bicycle solo from California to New York City, led ten 101-mile walks across Death Valley, and traveled to over 70 nations. Learn more at Joy.org