E. Benjamin Skinner, author of "A Crime So Monstrous: Face-to-Face with Modern-Day Slavery," has a painfully powerful piece in Time this week about AIDS-infected teenage girls plying their bodies in the shadow of a stadium that this summer will host the World Cup. The stories of Sindiswa and Elizabeth, two teenage prostitutes, are heart-breaking. Even more so when you consider that they are just two of the estimated 38,000 children trapped in South Africa's sex trade.
Skinner focuses on single man fighting to free these girls from a shortened life of poverty and prostitution: Andre Lombard, a 39-year-old pastor at the Christian Revival Church.
We don't learn much about Lombard's faith or beliefs, except that he "became a born-again Christian" at 17, and this was apparently related to a hard childhood with a violent drunk for a father. But the details Skinner provides about Lombard's ministry are supreme:
He began a street ministry in April 2006 and recruited some 60 volunteers to distribute food, blankets and Bibles to the dozens of women and girls selling sex within a 10-block radius of the stadium. They also preached to clients and traffickers. Fights were commonplace. Lombard allowed his volunteers to carry firearms, and several wound up in the intensive-care unit of the local hospital. Lombard acknowledges that most of the prostitutes were not enslaved. Still, in a controversial move, he purchased bus tickets home for more than two dozen women as a way to "escape the streets." With no comprehensive rehabilitation, however, several wound up back in prostitution. Mainstream antitrafficking organizations often decry such tactics as reckless. In response, Lombard says, "I'm a goer. If you drive by and just talk about it and don't do anything, you're actually justifying it."
Sure, this is missing some religious exposition -- I'm particularly interested in the theological questions raised by allowing church volunteers to arm themselves and more than a bit curious about these "fights" that led to the ICU -- but when was the last time you were treated to a preacher helping a teenage girl recover her prized possessions, namely clothes and a Bible, from a Jude The Pimp's "fortified crack den?"
Jude had convinced her that he would perform witchcraft on those items, to track and punish her if she again attempted escape. We drove to Jude's fortified crack den five minutes away. Lombard and I followed Elizabeth into the darkness behind the compound. We were joined by Shadrack, a kung-fu-trained church volunteer who worked as a financial adviser by day. Elizabeth tapped a secret knock, and after Jude ushered her in, Shadrack wedged his foot in the door. We pushed into the dingy flat, which bore the medicinal odor of crack.
That's right. I didn't even tease the best detail -- that one of Lombard's volunteer's is a ninja named after a man who walked around inside a furnace.
This is not the type of story I'm used to reading in Time. It's just too ... good.