Bayside pastor goes undercover to help girls in sex trade
Robi Quick watched the documentaries, read the books, heard the stories, but standing in the karaoke bar waiting to be served left him terrified.
“Nothing could have prepared me for 30 to 40 girls coming out. Each had a number on them. They say, ‘Pick your girl,’” he said.
Quick, 29, of Loomis, is the college ministry pastor at Bayside Church in Granite Bay. He returned from a two-week trip to Cambodia on Nov. 21, where he and seven other adults assisted a Christian ministry called Agape International Missions that works to eradicate the sex trafficking of children.
Although hard statistics are difficult to establish, most estimates put the number of trafficked women and children between 700,000 and 1.75 million worldwide.
This was Quick’s second trip to the Southeast Asian country, but he still wasn’t ready for what he encountered when he and a few other men performed undercover work as patrons of “karaoke bars” where young girls are sold as prostitutes.
This is one way they attempt to rescue these girls by masquerading as American men on the hunt for sex, before secretly passing on business cards with Agape’s phone number. Quick struggled to get in the right mindset.
“I’m super nervous and stressed out,” he said, recounting the experience. “I really didn’t know what to expect. I have to be in actor mode. I’m an undercover agent.”
The men were led to a small room. The girls brought them drinks and food, sometimes trying to initiate a move as they have been taught to do.
Quick spent most of the evening singing karaoke songs, including the Beatles’ “Let it Be.” He had to hide his tears, he said. One man kept retreating to the bathroom to cry.
“It’s the reality of it, you know?” Quick said.
‘It broke my heart’
In 2005, Agape International Missions pastor Don Brewster and his wife moved to Cambodia. The organization is registered as a nonprofit in California and maintains an office in Roseville.
The Brewsters work in the village of Svay Pak, outside the capital city of Phnom Penh, known as “Pedophile’s Disneyland.” In 2007, Brewster’s organization established a combined medical clinic, church and community center in the village, and a restoration center, which is a safe house for girls escaping trafficking. Some of the girls there are as young as 5 years old.
“I told (my group) we’re not going to go in and in two weeks solve the problem,” Quick said. “So my goal is to always ask what does the ministry there need us to do?”
Lindsey Rogers, 24, of Rocklin was part of that group. She raised $3,000 to pay for her first journey to Cambodia.
“I knew going into it that it would be really heavy on my heart,” Rogers said. “But going there you actually see the faces and it had a new meaning to me.”
The Bayside group ran the kids club in the community center, leading the children in arts projects and games. She also taught guitar lessons. About 400 kids visit the center daily.
“There are little kids I’m playing with who were being sold by their parents at night,” Rogers said. “It broke my heart. It lit a fire inside of me. I’m going to fight this for the rest of my life.”
She said people should find creative ways to become involved. Roseville resident Susan Bushell, for instance, organized a Sew Fest in October to make pillowcase dresses for girls in developing countries.
The Bayside group brought 400 of those dresses to Cambodia.
“It’s unbelievable,” Bushell said. “It just gripped my heart. The innocence of these poor children — it’s happening all over the world, where these young girls are not valued. This dress helps them feel loved and that someone somewhere cares about them.”
About 60 girls currently stay at the Agape restoration center, where they learn English and undergo vocational training. They can also earn their high school diploma.
Because the girls are underage, Agape staff needs parental consent to house them, which is often difficult as most of the children were originally sold into prostitution by their parents, Rogers said.
“Seeing what I saw, I expected to come home and be depressed and sad,” Rogers said. “But it’s given me strength and pushing me into a level of action. They’ve cried enough. I’m not going to do them any good crying.”
Agape also runs SilkWorks, a center where young women are employed to make hand-quilted silk pillow cases. They earn a living wage in hopes that their parents will not longer resort to selling them into sexual slavery.
Rogers said it was bittersweet to leave Cambodia and she can’t wait to return.
“It’s really easy to turn away from it because it’s horrible stuff done to children and people don’t like to talk about it,” she said. “They turn a blind eye to their reality. But we have to talk about it and that awareness will compel us to action.”
Sena Christian can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter at SenaC_RsvPT.