Jesus makes his feelings clear regarding the evil of trafficking and exploitation.
“Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to stumble,” the Lord declares in Matthew 18:6, “it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened around his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea.”
Yet today, there are an estimated 24.9 million people made in God’s image across the globe who are being trafficked. Every single day of their lives they endure horrendous abuse and violence for others’ profit. Each of them is precious. Millions of them are children – and God’s calling His church to respond.
Meet trafficking survivor Ofelia Flores!
Ofelia today is a successful Kern County mother of five with 13 grandkids. She’s 55. But at age 16 she was lured onto a road of heroin addiction and trafficking by her own sister … and she escaped only by the grace of God.
January marks National Human Trafficking Prevention Month. And with “The Exploited” as one of CityServe’s major compassion initiatives, we wanted to share with you Ofelia’s miraculous story of God-given redemption. Here’s part I of a three-part series:
Please tell us about your childhood. Your parents divorced when you were just six?
Ofelia Flores: Yes. After the divorce, my siblings and I were just in the way. It was, ‘Go outside, go play, go hang clothes, go do your chores.” Both my mom’s boyfriend and my Dad’s girlfriend were violent. They hit me and my siblings a lot. It wasn’t about discipline. And I wasn’t properly cared for either. I remember my clothes were never washed and I had lice.
When I was a teenager I was fighting in school and getting in trouble. I thought violence was just what you do. That’s what I saw at home. But I was also angry.
How did things change as you got older?
I went to live with my older sister. At first I did really well. My sister wanted me. She looked me in the eye when she talked to me. She taught me how to cook and about boys. She showed me how to put on makeup. I was closer to her than my mother. I loved my sister. I finally felt wanted.
But ultimately, that moment of hope, of being loved and wanted, only led to more betrayal….
Things changed fast when heroin came into play. Everything changed. She got angry and began yelling and screaming a lot. It was just like home except she didn’t hit me.
She introduced you to heroin?
Yes. She included me in it. A bunch of men started coming over to the house. They told me, ‘Hold my tie.’ With heroin you have to tie off your arm like they do when you give blood. It was like, ‘Go get me some water, go get me a cotton ball.’ So I already knew everything you needed.
One day I asked her, ‘Doesn’t that hurt?’ She said, ‘Oh no, it feels soooo good. I’m going to give you some, probably tomorrow so you can try it. I don’t have any extra right now … but you’re going to love this.’
She could talk anyone into anything. That’s how it began.
Heroin addiction led to trafficking?
One day she told me, ‘I can’t be doing this all by myself. You’re going to have to help me hustle.’ I didn’t know what that meant. She would come back telling all her little stories about how she stole this and stole that. I thought that was what we’re going to do, just burn people. But that wasn’t it….
One day she took me with her. I was 16. She went into the bedroom with an older man while I stayed out with her friend and waited for her.
She came out and said it was super easy, super fast.
‘The next time, you’re up,’ she said. I thought, ‘All right.’ Because I was loyal to my sister. I loved my sister – nobody wanted me but her. And by then I was a heroin addict like her. I thought, ‘We need heroin. Let’s just get this money and get this over with.’ So that was the first time, and that was literally a couple houses down from my dad’s. And it was an old man. They were mostly all older men, like grandpas.
Once the trafficking and drugs happened, I stopped going to school. Nobody ever came to check on me. My mom never came. My dad never came. …No one came.
What happened next?
My sister’s boyfriend soon went to prison and she lost the apartment and had to move in with our mother. I didn’t want to go back to my mom’s. I had another sister who lived down the street. She said, ‘Well, I have an extra room, but it’s going to cost you.’ I was like, ‘Sure, I’ll get you some money. Don’t worry about it.’
I rented out the room at 17 years old. I gave her money. I had a boyfriend – I thought he was my boyfriend, he ended up being my second trafficker.
He was a full-grown man. He was married and had children. And nobody blinked an eye, I was 17 with a 30-year-old guy. I’m sure he saw me coming from a mile away.
It was about two years of heroin and old men. Many things happened during that time and the desire to stop drugs grew. The compounded trauma made me want to get out.
But I couldn’t get off the drugs. I wanted to clean so badly. I didn’t want to be an addict who lied and stole, like my sister. I felt like I was in a hamster wheel. I was incarcerated many times as a minor for using heroin, but there was nobody in my family that I could run to. My dad started using drugs and became a heroin addict as well.
With nowhere to turn and battered by poverty, drugs, and generational family trauma, Ofelia’s young life had turned into a living nightmare. Ofelia seemed destined to become just another statistic on a police report.
But we know with God ALL things are possible. And He would never leave nor forsake this precious, beloved child made in His Holy Image.
Tomorrow, in observance of CityServe’s “The Exploited” initiative, and in observance of National Human Trafficking Prevention Month, please join us for Part II of Ofelia’s ‘God story!’