It was late in the afternoon and we all loaded into the van and headed out to our desired location. After several minutes, we crossed a small bridge, entering into a new part of the city, and turned onto the main street. The atmosphere instantly changed as we saw bars lining the road and signs that lit up the names to their dark entrances.
We didn’t have to search long to find what we were looking for. It revealed itself right before our eyes, unashamedly walking the streets or sitting in cafés drinking coffee or beers: white men with Filipino women draped on their arms or sitting at their sides, at their disposal. It wasn’t even dusk yet, when this particular street really comes to life, like a playground with little children just being let out for recess.
Our group checked-in to a nice hotel to set up a base and prepared for a night of watching and filming what takes place in this red light hub, every single night. We split into three groups and started walking the streets. As the darkness approached, the artificial neon lights continued to light up the street and the techno music pumped through the air. The darkness brought out more and more men. Tall men, fat men, scrawny men, old men, young men, business men, American men, British men, Australian men, Irish men, Middle Eastern men, Indian men, Filipino men… they were all there. It felt like Disney World for grown ups. What ride could they go on next?
We went to eat some dinner and then a few of us walked back to the hotel to sit in the lobby and watch. The hotel is known to be a spot where men bring girls for a little rendezvous, paying her to give them any sexual favor they wanted. Sure enough, we didn’t have to sit long before the men started trickling in and out. The hotel conveniently placed an ATM machine right by the entrance. Men came out of the elevator, took out cash, and then headed out to the street… like a kid in a candy shop, coming back a couple hours later with a young girl at his side.
Our team stayed up most of the night, walking the streets or hanging out in the lobby. Our purpose was to be able to show in the documentary what prostitution and slavery looks like in Manila; to show the reality of the lives of some of the girls now at Safe Refuge, before they were rescued and set free. Though our small team got footage of so many different images and situations, there was one significant moment that took place that night that is vividly etched in my mind forever.
I had a very small, high-quality video camera with me as we sat in the lobby, so it wouldn’t be noticeable that we were taking footage. As the men walked into the hotel with a girl, we nonchalantly followed them into the elevator with the camera. We did this a few times, getting good shots, though feeling helpless to do anything, knowing the exploitation that was about to take place.
After a few times of this, we followed one particular husky white man with a little Filipino girl into the elevator. She was no more than 5 feet tall and looked quite young. As we stood in the elevator with them, shame instantly came over her. I don’t even remember seeing her face, as she tightly grabbed the man’s shirt, hiding behind him. She barely came up to his waist. She softly let out whimpers of “oh my gosh, oh my gosh!” along with quiet cries. The man just stood there, staring straight ahead.
I'm not sure why this one struck me more than the others. The irony of the situation was almost unbearable… to see this young girl, practically begging this man to protect her, who is instead about to exploit her. The very person God created to be a protector and provider, was twisted into an abuser and stripper of innocence. When we arrived at their floor, they quickly walked out the elevator doors and we proceeded back down to the lobby.
I’m not even sure how to wrap my mind around such evil… to be so close to it and yet not know what to do about it. I wanted to scoop her in my arms and protect her, because all the men in her life obviously weren’t. I walked out of that elevator with my heart pounding in my chest, barely able to see straight and tears bulging behind my eyes ready to explode.
Only the spirit of God can battle such evil. We definitely knew and literally saw that the longer we stayed in that place, on that street, in that hotel… the forces of evil were stirred up. Because where there is light, darkness cannot bear it and has to tremble and flee.
Naomi cannot save every girl that is enslaved in poverty or prostitution. Olivia cannot capture the stories of every single daughter of Manila. But we can save and capture the stories of the few that we are called to. We’re not asked to meet every need, but we are simply asked to respond to the Call.