What ifs can be the point of an arrow, slicing through skin and marrow.
Last April my husband and I decided to travel from Eastern North Carolina to San Ramon, California via the southern route. Our destination was to visit our daughter and her family. Along the route we had friends to visit, vistas to explore and foods to tantalize our taste buds. We had few plans, less agendas, no maps (don’t count GPS), a book for pet hotels, lots of snacks, water, and, of course, our Boston terrier, Miss Lillie.
We set a routine. Get up, do our Bible Study, have coffee, walk Miss Lillie and be out the hotel/motel by 9:00am. Every day, no later than 4:00pm, we would stop, walk Miss Lillie, and head somewhere to eat. I would often spend the last few minutes before we stopped to search for local diners with specialty foods.
One afternoon, we stopped at a rest stop near Henrietta, Oklahoma. It was a beautiful area. We all set out on a walk to stretch our legs and encourage Miss. Lillie to relieve herself. In the distance, I heard a screech. As we continued walking, the screech became a tormenting sound, horrifying. My husband and I turned round and round looking upward, thinking it was a hawk attacking some innocent or ailing animal. The skies were empty. The sound erupted again, piercing and fearful.
We immediately zeroed in on the center of the sound. Below us in the parking lot were two people standing next to a motorcycle. A feeling of wrong permeated the area. The high pitched cries continued as we moved closer. The only other time we had ever heard this kind of penetrating sound was when we attended a hawk exhibition at The Greenbriar in West Virginia. Hawks soared releasing attack cries as they lunged at smaller birds.
Fear escaladed. We finally made out the two figures as a man and young girl. The man was tall, dressed in jeans, a long sleeve white shirt, and had a red-white-and-blue bandanna tied across his head. The girl was slight. Her hair was in a fountain of corkscrews, flying around her face each time she moved. The man grabbed and shook her. When she threw her head back, the deafening noise filled the wind, hitting us painfully in the face.
“It’s coming from that child.” Words flew from me in anguish. “What can we do?”
Before Dallas could respond, the man grabbed the girl, slamming his hand over her face and screaming words we could not understand, but knew were not English. She responded by dropping to the ground, trying to fold herself into a ball as he plummeted her back, legs, arms—anything he could find to hit.
Dallas, Miss Lillie and I rushed down to the parking lot, edging far enough from the scene not to be noticed. That’s when we spied another observer, a Chinese man. Dallas told me to stay put, and he ran towards a utility truck that had just pulled up into the area. My eyes went between watching him run from one person to another in the rest area for help, and the blatant abuse of the child in front of me.
Even now I cannot quell my fear or tears. The images are too real and frightening.
For two years I had been reading about human trafficking. I had a flyer on my desk to check into a new chapter opening near my home when I returned. How could I be standing here watching? Why were my feet immobile? What if I didn’t respond? What if I was the last one to see this child alive?
In my heart, I knew what was happening. I could not believe it. I thought the world and everything in it had crashed into a million ugly pieces. I cannot tell you the horror I saw in that child’s bruised face or his guttural language that left no need for interpretation. The threat was clear and menacing.
Wide-eyed I searched for my husband. Silent screams hung in my throat. Bitter gall rose in open defiance. Then I heard the motorcycle roar. Swinging around, I saw the man pick up the girl, slam a helmet on her head, thrust her onto the motorcycle, and tie her hands to the seat back. She struggled with every ounce of her being. He paid no attention as she kicked at him. He just took off. He left. No one was running after him. No siren was blaring. Only the Chinese man and I stood with frozen looks of horror on our faces.
No one did a thing.
What if I had run forward? What if I had screamed? What if? What if? What if?
I have nightmares. I see young girls and boys in the hands of perpetrators being taken from their homes. People stare. Then they walk away. Uncaring.
My heart died a little that day. And every day since, I see her face, and I go through the same horror. Asking myself the same heart wrenching questions, over and over again.
In November, seven months after that incident, I went to the Women of Faith Conference in Charlotte, North Carolina. One of the speakers was Christine Caine. Her talk? Human Trafficking.
Folks, it’s real. It’s a threat to everyone in big cities and small towns.
Empowerment? Yes. God shared one of his greatest heartbreaks with me. I pray for that child daily. I pray for anyone taken hostage. I’m on the lookout. I will never stand frozen in horror again. Evil is not a figment of my imagination. It is real. I saw it. I have the nightmares to prove it. I am on a quest to learn all I can to be prepared to respond in the future.
In my book, Cries of Innocence, there is a scene similar to the one I witnessed. The ones taken into hostage are called Desmios, the captive ones.
What do you know about human trafficking?
Has it touched your life yet?
Check out Christine Caine’s website and A21.