Kerry’s voice breaks over the phone as she tells a story that’s straight out of a movie. She’s in her 60s, works as an office manager in the Southern U.S., and in the past couple of years has discipled at least 25 girls held captive by human traffickers.
She’s seen their pictures—“baby faces with the eyes that know too much.” She even met one girl’s mother at church.
Kerry now serves as a chaplain with the Billy Graham Rapid Response Team, but for two years served as a trained volunteer discipleship coach with Search for Jesus, the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association’s (BGEA’s) internet evangelism ministry. It was in that role she led people through a free online discipleship course, offering guidance as they learn who Jesus is and how to live for Him.
The story of the girls in captivity began two years ago when one of them found the Know Jesus discipleship course online.
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The ensuing events had such an impact on Kerry that she’s been involved or in touch with several anti-trafficking ministries since then.
The Girl in a Brothel
Madison* lived in Western Europe when a man lured her and her sister to another country. Like many of the trafficked girls Kerry has gotten to know, Madison comes from a broken family.
In late October of 2018, Madison discovered the Know Jesus course, but said it took two weeks to get up the courage to sign up for it. By November, she was signed up and paired with Kerry, eventually sharing her situation with the discipleship coach.
She also shared the course with several girls in her brothel.
Typically, people go through the course one on one; this time, a special exception was made for some of the girls to go through it as a group.
Since then, at least two dozen who have taken the Know Jesus course have said they want Jesus in their lives.
The girls come from various parts of the world, including the United States. They’re in their late teens to early 20s. Some have children who may be held captive with them. All have stories that could bring tears to your eyes, like a forced abortion done by one girl’s boyfriend, or parents who don’t care about them.
Six have committed suicide.
A Hidden Cellphone
With an online course like Know Jesus, participants like Madison need a computer, phone or tablet. Madison’s go-to was a phone she kept hidden so her captors wouldn’t find it.
She decided to make Christ part of her life in early December 2018—though, in Kerry’s words, “she didn’t immediately start praising Jesus.”
Kerry wondered if this decision was genuine, or if Madison just said she wanted to follow Christ to please Kerry.
Madison assured her discipleship coach that she meant it, and it wasn’t long after that another girl who was trapped talked about a change in Madison. Girls in the brothel wanted to know what happened to her. They noticed a peace about Madison, prompting others to join the course.
So began a team Bible study of sorts. Madison and the others would pass around the secret phone, taking turns reading Bible lessons and answering questions.
At the beginning of the conversations between Kerry and Madison, Kerry wondered who she could contact to help all these girls held against their will thousands of miles away. Police in the area were corrupt and the girls didn’t trust them to ask for help. At least one officer was connected to the trafficking ring.
In response to the girls’ dangerous situation, BGEA’s Search for Jesus team connected with the ministry’s legal team, which then made contact with an anti-trafficking agency. Around the same time, one of the trafficked girls got in touch with another agency, ultimately leading to a raid that freed a group of girls.
Prior to the raid, Kerry was a lifeline for Madison.
“God kept saying to me, ‘Tell her I love her.’ … He knew that she was still going to be there for a while longer.”
Kerry had encouraged Madison to tell someone about her situation, but Madison was afraid. In late December 2018, Madison stopped communicating.
In the meantime, Kerry felt like a mom to all the girls. She was scared for their lives if she found out they were being taken to a party that night.
“You want so bad to get on a plane and fly over there,” she said. “You can cry out to God, beg for Him to protect them, but I am powerless. There is nothing I can do in my own strength without trusting God.”
In January 2019, Madison emailed BGEA to let the ministry know she’d been rescued. She asked to be connected with Kerry again so she could pick up the Know Jesus course where they left off.
A Runaway and a Roller Coaster
Looking back, Kerry sees how God took a terrifying situation and breathed life into it.
“If God had pulled them out of there immediately, all these other girls might not have been saved,” Kerry reflected.
While Madison and her sisters in bondage waited out a rescue, they continued studying the Bible together, and several put their trust in Jesus Christ.
One of them was Sophie*, an abused runaway from the same state as Kerry. She, too, became a Christian through the Know Jesus course. Over time, she brought other girls into a study of the Gospel of John and led a daily prayer time in the brothel.
Kerry said these girls join in “because they’re hurting, because they’re desperate.”
“They’ll say, ‘Well if there really is a God, how could He let this happen to me?’”
Some have been told over and over they’re unlovable, and they start to believe it. Their stories are disturbing and painfully sad.
One girl who was rescued gave birth to a child and two days later was put back to work being used for sex. Another got pregnant while in captivity and was rescued before her due date, but the baby was stillborn.
Some girls have been tattooed as a sign of ownership. They have cuts, scars and cigarette burns. They’ve been threatened, and several have had their children taken away. Some are barely teenagers.
Kerry made it her mission to make sure these girls know God does love them, even in a world where evil exists and things don’t always make sense.
The clearest picture of God’s love for them may be the peace He’s given so many of these young women, even as they cope with enough trauma to last a lifetime.
“It’s been a roller coaster. It has just caused my faith to grow like you wouldn’t believe,” Kerry said.
Nearly two years after this roller coaster began, more than 75 girls have been rescued, and many are staying in touch with each other.
Just because they are rescued, though, doesn’t mean it’s over, as Sophie found out.
It’s Not a Simple Rescue
While in captivity, Sophie’s point of contact with the Search for Jesus ministry was another discipleship coach named Lisa*.
Kerry and Lisa both interacted with these trafficked girls, to the point where new girls joining the Know Jesus course would specifically ask to be connected with one of them.
‘God, Please Help Me’: One Girl’s Earnest Prayer
A prayer one captive girl shared with Search for Jesus discipleship coach Kerry:
I would like God to change me. I still have something inside me telling me I’m not good enough, or why would He want somebody like me? But if He could change me for the better, I don’t have anything to lose and would look forward to the day when I could look back and see a massive difference.
Right now, I still feel the same as I was a year ago—scared, weak, etc., but I’m ready to be taught anything if He can change me.
God, please help me. I would love you to change me totally. However you do it, I know you will be with me and will be gentle and patient with me. Thank you so much for all we are learning about you.
Both women have seen how a rescue doesn’t mean an easy road ahead. Some girls who have escaped or been rescued returned to bad situations.
Some were sold into trafficking by their own parents or siblings. They might come from children’s homes or foster homes and not know where to go. They might go back home where they stay shut away in their rooms, too afraid to leave.
“These girls sit in their rooms with their backs up against the door because they’re afraid someone is going to come in and attack them. They try to go out into public and have a panic attack and pass out,” Kerry said. “That has been the hardest thing. They thought when they came home, things were going to be great, and they’re not.”
When the girls were in captivity, they had each other. Now many are out of captivity but alone.
Kerry stayed in touch with many of them, encouraging them and praying with them.
She thinks of Sophie who ran away from home, and for four years, her mom didn’t know if she was alive. Sophie was eventually rescued from her captor’s home by an anti-trafficking organization and taken to the hospital with a stab wound.
That’s when her mom got the call that her daughter was found.
Sophie went home and her father’s abuse started all over again.
Sophie’s mom, Alisha*, is originally from Europe, but was cut off from her family when her husband moved them to the U.S.
Alisha had no idea her husband was abusing her daughter, even before Sophie went missing. Once home, both mom and daughter endured violence and abuse.
Somewhere in that nightmare, Alisha started going through the Know Jesus course just like her daughter. Lisa guided Alisha through it, eventually leading Alisha to Christ.
Soon after, Alisha mustered the courage to leave the abusive situation and fled to a women’s shelter.
Because Kerry lives in the same state as some of the girls rescued out of captivity, she has invited them to church, even if it’s to watch online.
In October 2019, Kerry connected with Alisha online as well. They met in person when Alisha went to Kerry’s church pre-COVID-19 to attend an anti-trafficking conference.
Kerry’s ministry to the captive girls has expanded to include some of the mothers like Alisha, who has been involved in rescuing other girls.
Group Chat Meets Discipleship
When a group of girls struggling with past trauma planned to commit suicide on New Year’s Eve, one of the girls messaged Kerry and said she was afraid to go through with it.
Kerry then connected with Madison, who wasn’t part of the group plan but lived in the same area as the other girls.
Madison was able to contact local authorities, who found the girls and helped them to safety.
In past months, Madison and Sophie have become the ringleaders for staying focused on God.
They have a group chat going with other girls who have been rescued. Together, these young women disciple each other as they try to move forward, learn about Jesus Christ and grow in their faith.
Not all the girls are in completely safe situations yet, but rely on one another for camaraderie.
One recently got in touch with a pastor, saying several of the girls want to be baptized.
‘Now My Eyes Have Seen You’
“My whole life, I’ve been looking, going, ‘God, what’s the purpose for my life?’” Kerry said.
On August 16, Kerry shared her testimony with her church:
“I have been a Christian for almost 43 years, but I have not been a true follower of God until the last eight. I was always afraid to give God full control out of fear of what He might ask of me. After all, He told the rich young ruler to sell everything he had and come follow Him (Mark 10:17-22). I was very comfortable in my life, and wanted it to stay that way.
“When I recommitted my life to follow Him wholeheartedly, … I knew how easily my heart would chicken out. So I prayed a prayer I had heard a great woman of God pray: ‘God, make me willing to be made willing.’
“When I finally said, ‘Here am I, send me,’ He sent me to a computer screen. I have met amazing girls who have seen the worst evil this world has to offer. They had no reason to believe in a God who would allow that, and yet they have believed and found salvation.
“Because of the miracles I have seen God do through them and for them, I can say as Job says, ‘I had heard reports about you, but now my eyes have seen you’ (Job 42:5).”
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*Names changed to protect privacy