Pat Bradley stared out the back car window at 70 displaced people huddling together under a few trees to escape the blistering African heat. They had fled their village in South Sudan in the middle of the night as it was destroyed amid a bloody civil war that had indiscriminately claimed the lives of young and old family members alike. As these desperate, mourning survivors became smaller in the back window, they grew ever bigger in Pat’s heart. He knew they wouldn’t survive unless someone did something―and quickly. But he was just a normal guy―a formerly divorced recovering alcoholic who worked at an ad agency. What could he possibly do?
From that moment forward, Pat Bradley refused to do nothing. His book, Born for Rescue, chronicles harrowing stories of tragedy and restoration across multiple continents. This is one of the stories from his book.
Bringing It Home
Why not you, and why not now?
One of the first moments when God brought the game to my own backyard occurred, ironically, while I was in East Africa. I was still a partner in an ad agency with over 180 employees. When I was overseas, things could get hairy when my email inbox filled up with problems back home. I finally told my team that I would not be checking email when I was out of the country, so to please not send a lot of messages. If there was an emergency, my wife knew how to reach me. Despite my best intentions, I still made the mistake of checking my email one day and there was a message from an assistant at Crisis Aid that read something like this:
Hey Pat! Hope you’re having a great trip. Quick thing: the FBI called and they want to meet with you when you get home. Thanks!
I immediately called her on the phone. “What is going on?”
Realizing that her email was a little light on details for such a heavy message, she said, “Oh, I think they just want to talk to you about our work with forced prostitution.”
I laughed out loud. “Well, you could have said that!”
When I got home, I went to meet with someone who turned out to be a bigwig—one of the FBI leaders over the eastern half of United States. The FBI had begun cracking down on sex trafficking, becoming more and more serious about addressing what was becoming a huge problem in the US. He opened by asking me to tell him a little about myself. I said, “Well, since you’re the FBI, you should probably know that I regularly wire money to Afghanistan.”
He laughed. “Pat, we not only know that you do, but we have records of the exact amounts and dates. We’re the FBI.” We both laughed, one of us more nervously than the other. “We know what you’re doing over there—and we think it’s a great thing.”
We chatted a bit more, and then he asked me what I knew about sex trafficking in the United States. “Well, I’ve heard that a lot of foreign girls are being brought over and forced into slavery,” I said.
“You’re right,” he said, “but do you know about the American victims?” He went on to enlighten me to the enormous problem right here at home. More than 300,000 American children were at risk of sexual exploitation every year.
I had always called it forced prostitution while working overseas, but he told me they no longer call it that. The reason is simple: In America, when we use the word “prostitution,” many people will automatically think there’s a degree of participation on the part of the girl or woman being forced into the situation.
These are not prostitutes; these are prisoners. He continued telling me the statistics and how many minors were being affected around the country. It was devastating to hear. When the FBI was able to rescue the minors, their only option was to put them into protective custody, which was basically equivalent to juvenile detention—jail. There were not many other options at that point in time. He said there were only three organizations in the United States that were taking in young American girls rescued from sex trafficking, which equated to only forty-nine beds across the whole nation. He was sick of putting girls into detention centers to keep them safe. He told me that two of the three organizations that were helping girls find other places to stay were of such low quality in terms of facilities and programs that he wouldn’t even meet with them. They needed someone new to step up and begin providing a place for these girls who were being rescued.
Once again, I had no idea what I was doing, but I didn’t think it was necessary to stop and pray before saying yes.
We had scheduled a forty-five minute meeting. Two-and-a-half hours later, we were still talking. I left and agreed to fly to Washington, D.C., to meet with more FBI officials to keep discussing the problems and possible solutions. These agents were genuinely sick and tired of seeing these girls mistreated while having so few options to help them in the long run. It moved my heart to see their level of empathy and their willingness to act.
They said that they were talking to us because they loved our organization and the way we were conducting ourselves in other areas of the world. They wanted us to help them find more solutions here as well, specifically with our holistic approach to asking better questions, though they didn’t say it exactly that way. They weren’t allowed to officially ask us to do anything, but they made their case clear enough that the inference was evident. They said that if we were to ever open a home in the D.C. area, every single one of the agents present would volunteer to help the girls who came in.
Honestly, these FBI agents were refusing to do nothing—and it was inspiring. We told them that, unfortunately, the only way we could pull something off was to begin the work out of our home base in St. Louis. With that, our odyssey of working to rescue girls from sex trafficking in the United States was underway.
We immediately began planning and trying to raise funds to open our first home for girls in St. Louis. Honestly, with the statistics and stories we were telling, as well as our connection to the FBI, I thought people would throw money at us, but for more than three years, people seemed to not want to hear about it at all. For whatever reason, Americans seemed to avoid addressing this issue in their own country. Our efforts felt like trying to plow through cement.
We had other financial challenges as well. It costs ten times more money to put a girl in a home here than it does overseas. For the first three years, I said that we wouldn’t open the home until we had a full year’s worth of operating cash in the account. I temporarily forgot that God had never before waited until I was ready or equipped to start using us. When we couldn’t get over the hump, we knew that girls needed help now, so we scrapped our “responsible” plan and got our first home open and running on faith that God would provide.
God is still changing the lives of girls rescued from the sex trade through multiple Refuge Homes, but it is far from enough. The problem continues to grow. We need many more people who will refuse to do nothing about this problem. As my story proves, you don’t need to be qualified or resourced—you just need to give what you have of yourself and God will make good on the investment in ways you never dreamed, mainly because they are impossible.