“‘And now, you—what have you done? First you turned back to the right way and did the right thing, decreeing freedom for your brothers and sisters—and you made it official in a solemn covenant in my Temple. And then you turned right around and broke your word, making a mockery of both me and the covenant, and made them all slaves again, these men and women you’d just set free. You forced them back into slavery.
“‘So here is what I, God, have to say: You have not obeyed me and set your brothers and sisters free. Here is what I’m going to do: I’m going to set you free—God’s Decree—free to get killed in war or by disease or by starvation. I’ll make you a spectacle of horror. People all over the world will take one look at you and shudder. Everyone who violated my covenant, who didn’t do what was solemnly promised in the covenant ceremony when they split the young bull into two halves and walked between them, all those people that day who walked between the two halves of the bull—leaders of Judah and Jerusalem, palace officials, priests, and all the rest of the people—I’m handing the lot of them over to their enemies who are out to kill them. Their dead bodies will be carrion food for vultures and stray dogs.'"
-Jeremiah 34:15-20 (Msg) [emphasis mine]
Today we conclude with the final installment of Anna's Story. For previous portions click: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4
When Anna woke up the next afternoon, the same dull ache enveloped her body and thoughts. She had been dreaming of her brother and sisters just moments before. They were running to school together, dodging traffic and laughing at one another's folly, lightly teasing her youngest sister as she struggled to catch up. To wake from that to the dim flickering of the bare bulb over her head was a fresh wave of pain as her life dawned once again from her dreams. She would never laugh that way again; never see those precious siblings.
But then, she recalled the man named Carl from yesterday and her heart skipped with a prick of hope. What if he really did come for her today?
Shoving that thought back down with a shake of her head, she said to herself aloud, "He won't." She began to eat the bowl of cold noodles on her table, sipping the broth as it cooled her throat.
Later, when shouts of voiced and sounds of tables and doors came from the floor below, it was truly a shock of terror and not hope that swept over her. Grabbing her jeans and sweatshirt, she quickly dressed and hid in the corner by the bedpost.
When a local police officer barged into the room, followed closely by Carl, Anna didn't believe her own eyes. He had kept his word? Was this hope? Would Kristof and Rurik chase her and her family down? Would she ever be truly safe, even if Carl could take her away?
As the men in uniforms ushered her and several other girls into the police van, her mind protectively went blank. All she could see were the raindrops on the window as they drove through streets and highways. When they arrived at the safehouse an hour later and Anna met the eyes of a kind woman in a habit, she finally let the tears of hope well up.
"Welcome to Hope Haven," she said, opening her arms.
After a couple days of rest, Anna asked to make a call home to her family. To her surprise, she was immediately handed a phone. Dialing the number carefully, she shakily brought the receiver to her ear. When her little sister, Tatyana, answered, Anna could not speak through her tears.
"Hello?" Tatyana said again.
"Taty?" Anna finally managed.
"Yes. Who's there?"
"It's me, Anna."
"What! Anna! Where are you?" Tatyana screamed on the line. "Ma - it's Anna - she's calling!"
When Anna's mother got on the other end of the phone, she sounded frantic also.
"Ma - I'm alright," Anna calmed.
"Where are you?"
"I was taken. I think I'm somewhere in Asia - maybe Bangkok. I'm safe now. The police came to get me out."
"Darling - what did they do to you? How will I ever get you home from Bangkok?" Her mother flooded the line with question after question, not waiting for an answer. When she finally stopped, Anna realized she wasn't yet ready to tell her the whole thing.
"I have to stay here for a few weeks, Ma. They need my testimony against the kidnappers. I don't know how I will get the money to get home, but I will call soon, alright?"
"I don't understand - " her mother pressed.
But Anna quietly promised again to call soon and said good-bye.
She missed her family more than ever, after hearing their voices. If she ever got home, she vowed never to leave them again.
Over the next few weeks, Anna told her story to more people than she thought possible. It grew easier to do so as her words were met with compassion and tears, but her shame held like a scar and it took huge amounts of courage every time an investigator or counselor asked again to hear how she had been kidnapped and sold. A nurse named Holly was among the caring staff at the rescue home of Hope Haven, and Anna surrendered to her treatment every day as she cared for her cuts, bruises, and ravaged body. On one particularly difficult day, Holly had a pained expression as she entered Anna's room. The news she delivered about Anna's test results was devastating.
"You have both gonorrhea and HIV, I'm sorry."
While Anna cried in Holly's arms, Holly explained the treatments and offered what little hope she could. While far from a death sentence, Anna knew the effects of her horror would never really be over. She might always be afraid of men who stood behind her, and it was possible her night terrors might never fully pass. Though she was safe and healing, Anna knew her journey back to life was far from finished.
After two months at the safe house, Anna felt strong enough to accept the offer from a representative from a Non-Government Organization who helped victims of human trafficking to return back to her home in Russia. With reassurance from the police that her captors were imprisoned indefinitely and could not harm her or her family, she began to pack her meager belongings in preparation to return to her mother, grandmother, and siblings. She only wished she could pack the pieces of her heart as easily as her clothes. Fear still haunted her every waking hour and terrorized her dreams every night, but at least she had her hope back. The pain in her abdomen and pelvis had waned to a dull ache, and she began to finally want to dream about her future. When a representative named Sue, who was from the same NGO that offered to pay her flight home and accompany her back in safety, also gave her a substantial financial gift, Anna could't believe people could be so kind.
Funny, she thought, some humans can be so cruel and horrid, and others can show such love.
With courage she didn't know she had, Anna asked Sue what made her show kindness that way.
Sue replied with a faint smile, "Let me tell you about my God. His name is Jesus ..."
Today Anna owns a bakery of her own in her home town. With the money she received from Sue's NGO, she made an investment, and the assistance from her own government through an anti-trafficking initiative has allowed her to pursue an education in business. On the week-ends Anna attends a church with her family and does what she can to tell everyone she meets about the horrors of human trafficking and the hope that people can offer, if only they will see and give.
Click here to learn more about the hope of real-life rescues in Southeast Asia