Mission of Light has worked on the streets, officially, for over two years. But the work began several years before, as God worked on the hearts of many of us here in Naples, Italy, to reach out to all victims trafficked into prostitution. But this blog is not about the history of MOL, not about statistics or demographics. It is about our experiences, a chance for you to see through our eyes, feel what we feel, and respond as God leads you. As always we ask for your prayers.

Our outreach began normally. One team headed out with their driver and “watcher” to the Domitiana, while the other team was assigned a section of road called the Asse Mediano. American military call this road, heartbreakingly, ‘hooker highway’. We try to educate on the reality of human trafficking in our area but changing perceptions is painfully slow.

I was with the second team and six to seven prayer warriors remained at the church and waited for our updates from the street. As our team made their way to the stretch of road we were canvasing, we prayed about our words and our actions. We desire to bring Jesus…His love and His grace…to those who are hurting.

Our first stop was a woman well known to us. The more we meet with the same women the more trust builds and our relationships deepens. This isn’t always easy because women are forced to move to other locations by their controllers and often we never see them again. But we have known S. for about six months and we are always happy to see each other. We shared our gifts with her, caught up on how she was, and asked about her family.

S. is Nigerian, and first told us that she came from Benin City. In reality she came from one of the many small villages that surround the Benin area. She carries the tribal markings on her face, tiny scars in three vertical lines high on each pronounced cheek. She is kind, breaking into a deep smile when she sees us. Moments later several other Nigerian girls arrive and a reunion of sorts begins. Sometimes it is as long as two weeks between an outreach. A lot can happen in two weeks, sometimes a lot of the same thing, which means we are a welcome relief to the sameness of the street. As we talked we quietly rejoiced at the time that was spent. These treasures also weren’t new to us, which we love. Our time together is precious, sometimes only a few minutes, but often longer. While we purpose to never interfere with work it is not uncommon for “clients” to be turned away. A few moments of rest, something that looks more like normal life. We truly care about them and they sense this. We usually end our time in prayer, right on the streets, shouts from passing cars, glares from controllers, irritation from the client.

As our team began to leave one of the women stopped them.

“There is a woman,” she said, “lying in the dirt, and we don’t know if she is alive or dead.”

We aren’t shocked by much on the streets, but this was clearly not expected. Full of fear and confusion the one young woman showed us what she had found. It was indeed a woman and she was African, but not Nigerian. We are beginning to recognize different African ethnicities and this woman was clearly not from Nigeria. She was in a vineyard and only an arm’s reach above her was a ripe bunch of grapes, ready for harvest. Her head was wrapped multiple times in a large scarf, and rested on a small backpack, worn and nearly empty. She wore pants and layered shirts with a jacket despite the Mediterranean heat. Her hipbones were pronounced and visible against the material of her pants. Her arms were devoid of fat and her skin was peeling from her hands.

We tried talking to her, asking her if she needed help, touching her hand, getting her attention. She rejected every touch, she refused to respond, she pushed away the water we set beside her. She uttered one noise in the time we were with her and it was clear she was expressing her desire for us to leave her in peace. She weighed, 40 kilos, maybe less. She was dying. She unwrapped her head. In her emaciation it was hard to determine age…maybe 20, maybe 35, death ages, hunger and disease rob the skin of youth, we could not determine, reasonably, her age.

We did what you would think we would do. We called for help…and no one came. No one wanted to accept responsibility, no one wanted to force a dying woman into an ambulance, the help line we call to assist us with women who have been trafficked into prostitution, “Numero Verde” wouldn’t help us. Why? She wasn’t prostituting herself. I responded, “Sta morendo” “She is dying” Of course she isn’t prostituting herself. I still need help. The answer was no.

She eventually got up. Very, very, slowly she walked, unsteadily, away from us. And disappeared into another hidden side road, another vineyard or orchard, and we haven’t seen her again.

This is the brokenness of the streets. This is the brokenness of the country in which God has called us to serve. This is just a small picture of what we are up against. We went back on Sunday after church and walked vineyards and orchards and looked for her. We didn’t find her but we found evidence of life on the street. We walked past bushes decorated with colorful condoms, women’s shoes hidden in bushes and waiting for their owners to return, a broken down mattress in a small clearing of dirt surrounded by trees. But we didn’t find a dying woman. She lives in the hearts of those she touched that night. And we covet your prayers.