Last month, Family Life Radio hosts Stacey and Johnny Stone visited World Concern’s work in Bangladesh. The following post was written by Stacey, who was particularly touched by the life and dedication of one young girl she met.
I’d traveled a long way to visit with young Prishna.
I had heard many amazing things about this girl and she now sat on an office chair in front of me. It was an exciting moment, and the room had filled with people all eager to hear her story.
The first thing I noticed about this precious girl was how thin she was. She was much smaller than other teenage girls, and I discovered afterwards that it was because Prishna had been severely malnourished growing up. This was my first introduction to how invasive poverty can really be.
As people mingled around her, Prishna’s head was down and her eyes fixed on the floor. But every once in a while she would look up and glance at me. Please God, make my face pleasing to this girl who needs to see your love and compassion through me.
That was my very quick prayer as we settled into the World Concern office in Bangladesh. To my amazement, it was within moments of my prayer that Prishna lifted her head and smiled at me. Thank you Jesus.
Some staff members began to sing, and while they were singing (albeit a little off key), I noticed Prishna start to giggle. Her smile was incredible, and it was an act of worship all of it’s own!
After the short service, Prishna continued to smile and laugh as the men served tea. Maybe it was a shared sense of humor toward awkward situations, but Prishna and I shared something special after that worship service. It was all unspoken but her smile, and determined attitude brought comfort to this weary traveler.
But when Prishna started to speak, and tell her story, I realized my life would never be the same again.
Prishna sat with another woman and started to tell us about her life, and why she was now sitting here with World Concern. Having grown up in a culture where girls as young as 10 become child-brides, Prishna had been one of the few that escaped this shocking cultural practice. Determined to now help other teenage girls, Prishna visits poverty-stricken neighborhoods with World Concern staff.
Since she was just a little girl, Prishna’s family had planned to marry her off on her 10th birthday. It sounded unbelievable to me, but for girls in the poor villages of Bangladesh, becoming a child bride is a dark and frightening reality. Poverty forces families to do the unthinkable, but together with World Concern, Prishna was now showing them how to avoid child marriage altogether.
Prishna is now a familiar face in the villages, as she bravely shares her story of escaping child marriage with other girls at risk. Her encouragement is simple … to say “NO”.
She first rejected child marriage at the age of 10 … then 11 … and each year after that. By the time Prishna was 14, she was so determined to make something of her life that she was fully enrolled in school, safe from being married off, and helping other girls find their voice.
Today, Prishna wants to finish her studies and become a doctor. Her dream is that she will return to this community and ensure the families here have access to good health care.
As I listened to Prishna speak, I become even more empowered to stop this terrible practice. Through her courage, and in the face of such poverty, I could see that she was just the beginning of generations of young women who will stand up, and say, “God made a way when there seem to be no way.”
The strange white car pulled up beside me as I walked to school.
I was only a few hundred yards from home and remember turning to see if my parents were still out the front of the house, waving me off. But they had long since gone inside.
My heart started to race … I was all alone.
The car pulled in front of me and the passenger door immediately opened. The smell of cigarette smoke filled my nostrils as a man I’d never seen before extended his hand and offered me a ride to school. He wore a thick black sweater with faded white graphics on the shoulder, and smiled politely through yellow and crooked teeth.
I was close enough to also see that another man sat in the back seat … watching … a large black garbage bag balled up on his lap. Almost 35 years later, I can still see this second man’s face—unshaven beneath a dirty baseball cap—his eyes fixed on me, waiting expectantly for me to join him.
I was nine-years-old when this happened.
A week or so later, I was playing safely in my bedroom when my parents told me that the police had arrested a local man fitting the description I had provided. I can’t imagine how different life would be had I stepped into that car.
I’ve thought a lot about that encounter recently, and realized that my experience is the terrifying daily reality for many of the world’s poorest children. And for these kids, the stories don’t always have a happy ending. They may not have parents to run home to, a safe place to hide, or any local police keeping an eye out for them. But most of all they lack the knowledge, and are easily tricked by evil men.
Throughout the month of May, World Concern is focusing its efforts on raising awareness of child trafficking, and giving you the opportunity to protect a vulnerable child from the threat of exploitation, abuse, and slavery.
It started with an event—the 8th Annual Free Them 5k—a family fun-run that attracted more than 1,400 participants and raised more than $200,000 to help stop trafficking. And this effort now continues with a special initiative that allows you to go one step further, and help cover a child in God’s love and protection.
These children live in poverty, so when something happens you won’t see their stories featured on the evening news, or an article written about their disappearance in a local newspaper. An Amber Alert won’t interrupt your television program, and you won’t see their faces on the community notice board at the local grocery store.
From an early age, I was taught about the dangers around me. I was educated and kept safe in a loving home and nurtured by a community of people that cared and looked out for my well being. But in villages across Southeast Asia, children don’t have this blessing, or the awareness that potentially saved me all those years ago.
So when I think about the men in the white car, and what could have happened that day—it makes protecting a child an easy decision.