I just returned from a week-long trip to Panama City, Panama. The main purpose for the trip was to put on a girls conference for girls 13-25-years-old as part of an effort to combat sex trafficking in the city. Human trafficking is the second largest global organized crime today, generating approximately $31.6 billion USD each year. Trafficking for sexual exploitation generates $27.8 billion USD annually. 80% of trafficked victims are women and over 50% are children.
Panama City is one of the gateways to human trafficking in Central America. It is estimated that 1 in 5 containers that travel through the Panama Cannel carries trafficked girls in it (approximately 30 container ships pass through the canal each day, each carrying an ave. of 3,500-7,000 containers). Incest is prevalent in many homes in the city and has become an open door for a culture of human trafficking to thrive, for girls literally do not want to go home at the end of the day.
Panama City officials are beginning to take steps toward making their city a safe and life-giving place for these girls to grow up. A year ago, they began to work with missionaries Gerritt and Tara Kenyon to host a conference for thousands of young girls in the city this summer. Public schools have even been opened to the Kenyon’s for the Gospel to be shared in the classrooms because of the kind of positive difference God’s Word is making in the student’s lives (this is not a Christian government).
While in Panama, we got to put on assemblies in their high schools and elementary schools leading up to the conference. It was unbelievable to watch the responses of the students! 30-40% would acknowledge having needs in their lives, issues with their families, the desire for life to be better and the need for God in their life. As we prayed for these students who were truly humbled and often weeping, I was reminded of two things: 1) God is not limited by culture nor language, and 2) prayer literally changes things.
As leaders, neither of these should be surprising. But sometimes it takes an experience where these two principles cannot be denied to shake us to our core and remind us just how big God is and just how powerful our conversations and relationship with God are. Even though I could not speak Spanish, when I prayed over the young girls there, I watched God literally minister to them in those moments. God’s presence, power and love were undeniable.
While we may not be daily faced with the inability to speak the same language as those around us, there are countless times when we do not know the right words to say, nor have the wisdom needed for a situation, and yet, God always knows. Even as leaders, all too often we go to prayer as an afterthought, instead of before speaking our mind.
This week, I pray that each of us would spend more time on our knees (literally and figuratively) and invite God to speak to people who cross our paths and into situations BEFORE we do. Our all-knowing God has wisdom for every situation; are we letting God speak?