Franklin Graham sees horror of human trafficking in Asia

by Karen L. Willoughby, |
In Cambodia, Franklin Graham met with victims of human trafficking, modern day slavery, and their families. | SAMARITAN'S PURSE/screen capture

BOONE, North Carolina (Christian Examiner) – It was not jetlag that got to Franklin Graham after a week-long trip to three nations in Southeast Asia.

It was a lack of human kindness.

Graham, president of Samaritan's Purse and the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, spoke two days after his return from Vietnam, Cambodia and Burma/Myramar to attendees at the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma's state evangelism conference, which took place at First Southern Baptist Church of Del City, Oklahoma.

"It's, it's, it's terrible," Graham said of what he saw and heard, uncharacteristically at a loss for words.

People in Southeast Asia migrate from one country to another, desperate for work, Graham said. A subset of those migrating get caught up in the snare of human traffickers.

Recruiters target the poorest and those who are uneducated, Graham said in what was obviously an addition to his prepared remarks on evangelism, borne out of his recent experience. The promises these migrants are given fade to bleak reality within a few days or weeks, the Christian leader said.

Part of the problem is that these migrants travel without official documentation. Without permission to be in the country they have have migrated, they are at the mercy of the traffickers.

"I wanted to get a handle on this," Graham said. "I wanted to see what Samaritan's Purse is doing, and to see what we can do as missions, to try to reach people caught up in human trafficking."

Instead of earning enough money to send to their families back home, wages are withheld from men who work in factories ostensibly for their room and board. They are essentially slaves, Graham said.

Owners of fishing boats in Southeast Asia get some of these migrants and ply them with methamphetamines "so they can work 18 to 20 hours a day," Graham said. "If a guy can't do it they'll throw him overboard and get another.

"It's, it's, it's terrible," Graham said, shaking his head, at a loss for words. Women, he continued, hired as domestic workers, routinely are raped and mistreated sexually.

"Children? This is what's going on right now," Graham said. "Businessmen from Korea, China, Taiwan, feel it's good luck to have sex with a virgin." A week or two later, traumatized and shamed by their experience, they are sold to a brothel. Some who get pregnant are given forced abortions; not all live. Others have their children sold.

Graham's voice broke and his face crumpled as he said, "Some of these children are taken for organ harvesting," as if he could not believe what he knew to be true.

"This is what's going on," Graham said. "I wanted to go to this part of the world and just see it for myself, and talk with the people."

Samaritan's Purse has a program in Cambodia along the border it shares with Thailand, to develop trainers who will then teach people how to migrate safely. A radio program broadcasts safe migration information.

"We have hundreds of people in these little villages, explaining to people how to do safe migrations," Graham said. "When we go into these villages and begin to share, it gives us an opportunity to share the gospel.

"These people never heard Jesus Christ exists," Graham continued. "They don't know about a God who created them and who gave His Son for our sins. ... It gives us a tremendous opportunity.

Free trade is the reason for human trafficking, Graham said. Businesses overseas are not regulated, which makes it easy for them to acquire a labor force they do not have to pay a living wage, if they pay anything at all. Without labor costs, their goods can be sold for less than those of their competitors.

"There is so much suffering in the world," Graham said. "We need to pray for that area of the world .... Pray that some young people would say, 'Lord, take me and send me to these places so I can be your light in a dark world.'

"Pray that God would send people to work in this area of human migration," Graham said. "It's a real problem."