Freedom for captives

Anneretha Grobler | International

Rhani*, 12, has experienced more suffering than most people would in a lifetime. Her mother, who died five years ago, was a jogini [1] in India—a child dedicated to the temple to be used as a sex slave, like her mother before her. She had Rhani when she was only a teenager, later taking her to religious festivals where she was given alcohol until she passed out. Sexual abuse was part of life. When her mother died, Rhani was left with her last partner, a cruel man who tried to hang her. Finally, Rhani was taken to a shelter founded by the Freedom Challenge, an OM initiative.

Rhani's story is one of an estimated 30 million others. Women everywhere are trafficked into the sex industry, while children are forced to hard labour or to become child brides. The details may differ, yet the underlying issues leading to exploitation of women and children are the same: ancient cultural practices, lack of education, poverty, orphan issues, lack of government enforcement and more. Eighty per cent of those in slavery are female; 53 per cent are children. Rhani is part of only two per cent who will ever be rescued [2].

As global trends shifted over several decades, and the ‘digital era’ became firmly established, the world has experienced more fluidity than ever: Borders are crossed more easily (legally or illegally), money flows more freely, and the divide between rich and poor widens. In such circumstances, injustices like human trafficking flourish, becoming the most lucrative trade worldwide, generating an estimated 32 billion dollars annually.

OM's ministry of justice

In Bangladesh, Nuri* married at age 12. Becoming pregnant soon after, she was unprepared both physically and emotionally. When her baby died at birth, Nuri was left with severe physical and emotional trauma. Divorced by her husband because of stigma surrounding her injuries, Nuri was without hope. Elsewhere, dreams of a good job and securing a future for her son lured Grace* from Nigeria to Ghana. To her dismay, she had been tricked, and debt trapped her in sex slavery. For many women in Zambia, especially for a widow like Jane*, life is bleak: Fighting for survival without proper education, they are vulnerable to exploitation.

At the heart of missions lies a passion for justice. OM's work covers primarily four areas: prevention, development, rescue and restoration. Identifying issues that lead to oppression and exploitation and working to prevent them is a main focus. The Tabitha Project in Zambia and the Namana Project in Madagascar, as well as the skills training centres in rural Bangladesh and in Bangalore, India, are examples of prevention/development projects that help vulnerable women to generate their own income.

In Bangladesh, Nuri* found hope after treatment in OM’s centre for fistula patients. She received tailoring training and now supports herself. The orphan schools at Lake Tanganyika, Zambia, and Ntaja, Malawi, provide education and feeding schemes to orphans, preventing them from being trafficked into slavery. Guatemala's Operation Rescue [3] is a development programme targeting economically disadvantaged families vulnerable to unemployment, and who suffer from malnutrition, domestic violence and lack of educational opportunities. Abigail was a malnourished four-year-old suffering from hepatitis when she joined the programme. As Operation Rescue ministered to her whole family, her parents came to know God, and today Abigail is a joyful primary school student. 

Grace*, from Nigeria, was rescued by OM, along with several other sex workers, and given the opportunity to be rehabilitated and reunited with her family. Similar stories of rescue and restoration come from the work done by OM with sex workers in the Balkans, Mexico, Hong Kong, Italy, Austria, Singapore, Latin America and elsewhere.

Prayer movements worldwide, gaining momentum, intercede for the end of slavery. Within OM, prayer is the foundation for all justice initiatives and has yielded an increased focus by the media and many government institutions on exposing and eliminating modern-day slavery. Five years ago, God planted a vision in the heart of OMer Cathey Anderson [4] that has grown into the Freedom Challenge movement.

The Freedom Challenge

In January 2012, what was first known as the Freedom Climb was launched with 48 women from 10 countries climbing Africa’s Mt. Kilimanjaro. Their purpose was (as still is) to raise global awareness, funds and prayer for women and children oppressed, trafficked, enslaved and with no voice. Several international climbs have followed, including the Base Camp of Everest, the Rockies, the Alps and Machu Picchu, Peru. Through these climbs, over three million dollars have been raised for women’s and children’s ministries throughout the OM world.

All over the world, captives are being set free. Broken hearts are restored and light is replacing darkness. God is using those who pray, give and go. In India, Rhani's life has been changed forever because of freedom she found in Christ. Despite the horrific abuse she endured, Rhani grabbed the opportunity to a new future with both hands. She is doing well in school, and her dream is to be a social worker, helping to set others free who are trapped in similar circumstances.

Anneretha Grobler did her doctorate in community-specific creative writing, focusing on the role of orality and identity in the promotion of community-specific word art in South Africa. Anneretha served in communications with OM in Africa from 2009-2013. During this time she compiled and edited Followers and Fishers: stories of the Emerging Mission Movement in Africa.

*Name changed

[1] Jogini are women forced into prostitution by a religious custom known as devadasi in India. Young girls are married to a local deity after which it becomes their religious duty to provide sexual favours to the local men, usually of the higher castes. This religious practice was banned in 1988, but the law is not enforced in all parts of India.


[3] Operation Rescue is one of six projects in Latin America supported by the Freedom Challenge, including projects in Argentina, El Salvador, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Mexico and Panamá.

[4] Cathey Anderson passed away in December 2015.

Published: Thursday, 19 October 2017
Credit: Anneretha Grobler
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