Heaven and Human Trafficking (Imago Dei, Part 2 of 2)

by Elizabeth

(You can read Part 1 here.)

I’m not a crier. At least, I wasn’t, until I moved to Cambodia. I witness more pain and injustice here than I’m really equipped to handle. Consequently, I spent most of this hot season crying.

At the beginning of April, a new girl moved into the rescue house on our street. Her head was shaved, and she had no front teeth. She, like another girl already living there, speaks almost no Khmer. The little Khmer these girls do speak is extremely slurred, and they seem to have some sort of developmental delay.  They communicate mostly through actions and motions. They are teenagers, but they play like little girls.

I found this new girl sitting in a corner, self-mutilating. A teenage boy, giggling, took pictures of her with his camera phone. I had been uncomfortably watching the neighbor kids gawk as she made herself bleed, but I didn’t know how to intervene in a culturally appropriate way. The picture-taking was too much for me; culturally appropriate or not, I gave the guy an evil look and squatted down next to the girl. I told her my name, and that I live next door. I told her we play outside and she can play with us, too. She looked at me with tears in her eyes.

I couldn’t bear for her to be treated as a freak show, and not as a person made in the image of God, worthy of dignity and respect. Let me be clear: I have no training in trafficking work. I’m not in any way qualified to help. I know nothing about the complexities of trafficking or its solution. But I know pain when I see it. And I can love her beyond the language difference. I can love her beyond the trauma difference. I can smile at her when she smiles at me. I can wave at her when she waves at me. I can bow at her when she bows at me.

I can be her neighbor.

That night over the supper table, I broke down and wept. Right there at the dinner table. Right there in front of my young children, who cannot even imagine the atrocities their neighborhood playmates have experienced in life. I wept for little girls who endure violence and abuse. I wept for little girls, made in His image, who have been hurt, over and over and over again, with nobody to protect them. I was angry, and I was sad.

Face in my hands, I couldn’t stop crying.

I know there is evil in this world. But it’s just that for most of my nearly-32 years on this planet, the palpable effects of evil have not been right outside my doorstep. I can’t help but believe that Jesus weeps with me. That the God Who Sees, sees her. The Jesus who wept over his friend’s death, who grieved over his capital city, who welcomed children, and who just couldn’t stand to see His Father’s house misused — I believe that Jesus weeps over this girl.

And every other trafficked girl.

The pain of living near this much suffering overwhelms me at times. How can I live with this kind of injustice for 20 more years? There are people in this country who work in anti-trafficking, day in, and day out, and they carry the pain and the grief with them, every minute of every day, and I wonder how they live or even breathe at times.

I can’t handle this much pain very often, yet sometimes I can’t escape it. Sometimes, after driving one too many times through the red light district to pick up guests from the airport, after spending one too many afternoons with post-trafficked girls, you might find me in church, weeping.

Because in church we sing that God is light when the darkness closes in. And I start to wonder when the light will come to dark Cambodia. In church we sing of the time when there will be no more tears or broken dreams, forgotten is the minor key, when there will be no more sin and sorrow ever known again. And I long for heaven, with an intensity I’ve never known before. I ache for a time when I won’t have to cry over sin and suffering anymore. And I ask God, WHY, WHY, WHY?? Why does brokenness have to hurt this bad?

Why do we have wait so long for redemption? If Jesus came to this earth and died on that cross, and is strong enough to fix this place, why is it not fixed yet?? Why am I still crying over the pain?

Yes, I’m still crying over the pain. Even as I write this blog post, I’m crying again. But I wait, too.

I’m waiting for You, Jesus.

Come quickly and save us.


For all creation is waiting eagerly for that future day when God will reveal who his children really are. Against its will, all creation was subjected to God’s curse. But with eager hope, the creation looks forward to the day when it will join God’s children in glorious freedom from death and decay. For we know that all creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. And we believers also groan, even though we have the Holy Spirit within us as a foretaste of future glory, for we long for our bodies to be released from sin and suffering.         Romans 8:19-23


*Songs referenced are Forever Reign by Kristian Stanfill, and Endless Hallelujah by Matt Redman.

7 thoughts on “Heaven and Human Trafficking (Imago Dei, Part 2 of 2)

  1. Elizabeth, just read this and part 1 together, directed here from Jonathan’s June newsletter. Not sure why I haven’t had you in my RSS feed before, but you’re there now.

    Anyway, goodness. These posts were both hard to get through. You provoked so much emotion and pain and crying out in me, and yet the reigning emotions I feel are gratitude, appreciation, and admiration for you and Jonathan and even your children, and the work you feel called to and are faithfully carrying out in Cambodia.

    Thank you for sharing so openly about your eating disorder. I didn’t know that was something you used to struggle with. I also didn’t know that Cambodians consider dark skin to be ugly. Have you explained to them that many women in America view white skin as being ugly? It’s so similar to the age-old blonde/brunette debate, which is “better,” when there is no such thing as better. God must be so grieved to have been so creative in the creation process and then have us, in essence, piss all over it by saying his work is not good.

    Oh, if we could see ourselves the way he does. The entire world would be different. Perhaps viewing others the way he does is a good start toward seeing ourselves that way too.

    I pray that you bring light to the dark world of female self-image around you in Cambodia. I pray that you offer them an example of what inner beauty looks like, beauty born of God’s love and redemption, not good skin or healthy hair. Thanks for your faithfulness. It’s so encouraging to the rest of us. And thanks for sharing your journey so openly.

    • Thank you for your sweet message, Audra. I really did cry all through hot season. I’m glad to know that I’m not alone and that people will cry with me. And yes, we’ve told Cambodians that Americans think dark skin is beautiful, and they just laugh at us and tell us they don’t believe us. ~Elizabeth

  2. Pingback: Realities… | Journey of Faith

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