She stood in tears looking at me.
I quickly noticed the name of a man branded on her arm, most likely the gang member who “owned her.”
She had a terrifying fear in her eyes and a cloud of darkness surrounding her. The pain on her face was so real and evident it nearly brought me to my knees in grief as my spirit wept.
But she wasn’t the only one.
Dozens of women just like her lined up in caged doorways down the middle of a gang-controlled district in central El Salvador awaiting their next “customer.”
And surrounding the caged doorways stood groups of male “customers” glaring at us.
Somehow emboldened by the Spirit, I approached one of the men directly…
Okay but let me back up first.
You’re probably wondering why I was walking down the streets of El Salvador lined with gang members … and you probably think I’m even crazier as a white American female to approach one of these men directly.
But just hear me out.
You might remember my earlier story about going into the central district of El Salvador to reach the street children. Well that very same day, we went to find the women of El Salvador and invite them to a medical campaign at the church.
We came armed with Gospel tracks and the love of Jesus to meet these women directly where they were and show them the love of Christ. On top of that, we wanted to provide something tangible. Realizing many of these women lacked adequate healthcare we had a team of doctors and dentists ready to provide services to these women.
In order to even approach them, we had to get permission from a lady who “controlled” access to these women. Knowing we were providing medical services and given the fact we were with a veteran mission leader who lived there full-time, she allowed us to talk to these women.
Sadly in El Salvador, many people have forgotten about these women, or simply dismissed them as “just prostitutes”.
And as our team approached these “caged doors” to speak with the women, I saw their conditions. The tiny room behind the caged door had a single, dirty bed. It was dark, there were no windows. No light. No hope.
And their price?
$7 for 15 minutes.
And since the gangs owned the area and “rented” the rooms to these women, many women could never make up the price of rent, and therefore stayed trapped in a vicious cycle. They would “service” customers, get money, pay it to the gangs, and repeat. Day after day. Night after night.
When I approached the women, they had shame written all over their faces and could hardly make eye contact. My heart wanted to immediately “rescue them” from this lifestyle and take them away.
But I knew I couldn’t.
I had no resources to rescue trafficked women in El Salvador living within a gang neighborhood. Where was I going to take them? Who was I going to call? How does one even begin to undo the decades of trauma these women have endured?
Once I was zapped back to the reality realizing all I had was that very moment, I sprang into action.
While I couldn’t physically rescue them, I deeply wanted these women to know how much God loved them, and how valuable they are to Him. So I stepped up to each doorway and personally hugged each woman, and told them “Jesús te amo” which means “Jesus loves you” in Spanish.
I hugged every single one of them and looked them straight in the eyes not with pity, but with genuine love and compassion.
I wanted them to know that Jesus loved them. He saw them.
And after I hugged them, I handed each one a Gospel track praying they would read it. Hoping that just maybe a supernatural breakthrough would happen and free these women.
And maybe, just maybe even if only for a brief moment, these women would feel reminded of their inherent worth and value.
As for the men, I sensed some were suspicious we were trying to stage some sort of rogue rescue action, so in order to disarm the tension I walked directly up to them and handed them a flyer inviting them to attend our medical clinic too.
They seemed to relax some. But I also wanted them to have Gospel tracts too. After all, without the demand, there would be no supply. If these men turned to Christ and stopped using women as sexual objects, if they no longer desired to abuse these women, that would be the catalyst for change.
I met probably 20 to 30 women that Tuesday morning in El Salvador. And I admit, I was doubtful any of them would actually show up to our medical clinic.
But I was wrong.
Yet again, as He always does, God came through! Praise the Lord, He brought almost every single one of them to the medical campaign!
After the women saw the doctors and before they got their prescriptions filled, they sat through a Gospel presentation. Loving volunteers prayed for them, over them, and with them.
It was reported a few of the women were even open to having a personal relationship with Jesus! Only the Lord knows what happened in the hearts of the women that day, but they heard the Gospel multiple times and had the chance to experience the love of Christ. In addition, these women were treated with dignity and respect.
You may still be wondering why we even bothered to go if the women were going to simply just return to the streets.
I’m convinced if Jesus were walking the earth today, that’s exactly where he would be.
I doubt he would be relaxing on a couch watching football or shopping on Amazon to buy the “latest and greatest” new gadget.
Let’s look at how Jesus lived and model Him.
He chose to walk into the darkness and chaos of the lives of those who were broken and lost. He was with the woman at the well and the woman who was about to be stoned for committing adultery.
After all Jesus said himself in Matthew 9:12 “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick”.
And while many people still dismiss the women “working” the streets as “just prostitutes”, I knew God had not forgotten them. God saw these women trapped in bondage – both physical and emotional. And I’m confident without a shadow of a doubt He wanted us to go to them and share His love.
Sadly, these women are just a snapshot of the larger human trafficking problem in El Salvador. The State Department reported a trafficking profile for El Salvador and it is utterly horrifying. A highlight of the report (edited for length) states:
“As reported over the past five years, El Salvador is a source, transit, and destination country for women, men, and children subjected to sex trafficking and forced labor. Women, men, and children are exploited in sex trafficking within the country..
Traffickers are increasingly recruiting victims in the regions of the country with high levels of violence and coercing victims and their families through threats of violence. Gangs actively recruit, train, arm, and subject children to forced labor in illicit activities—including assassinations, extortion, and drug trafficking—and force women and children to provide sexual services and childcare for gang members’ children…
Corruption and complicity, including within the judiciary, legislature, and local government, remained a significant obstacle to law enforcement efforts.”
While the statistics look bleak, we serve a great God who has proven over history His ability to set the captives free. And while we can’t all go to El Salvador to physically pray with those caught in a web of darkness, we can pray right where we are.
The battle to break the chains is fought in the spiritual realm and as Christians we must intercede on behalf of those who are weak or unable.
So as you go about your prayer time this week, please keep the women in El Salvador in your prayers. Pray that God puts people into their lives that can help set them free from their bondage. Pray that they come to internalize their true worth which is given to them by their Creator, not a man on the streets.
Just as important, pray for the men! Pray for the enemy’s stronghold on their hearts to crumble and for those caught up in the gang lifestyle to turn their lives over to Christ.
And please pray for corrupt law enforcement and politicians to be exposed and punished for complying and even participating in human trafficking taking place right in their backyard.
Let’s pray with boldness and confidence that God is who He says He is, the Great I Am, our ultimate Rescuer.
What stood out to you most in the story about the trafficked women in El Salvador? What are some prayers you can type out right now to provide encouragement for a woman who might be struggling with this very same issue right here in America?
Tell us your thoughts in the comments below and please share this article with your family and friends so other believers can join in praying for those in El Salvador too.