First-Person: An inside look at human trafficking in Johannesburg
Dec 22, 2011
International Mission Board

Lisha and Kaniz desperately want to escape this life of forced prostitution. So why don’t they leave it all behind?

Their lives are not their own.

“[The pimps] just tell you in your face—straight—‘There’s your house, here’s your wake-up [time], go to the streets next.’ And you can’t say nothing,” said Lisha. “You are far from your [home]. You must go, no matter what, whether you like it or not. It’s by force. … And if you don’t want to go, they beat you well. And you still have to go out after they beat you.”

Alcohol and drugs become the only “relief” in their lives. “Heroin is a very complicated drug,” said Kaniz. “You must smoke it so it doesn’t give you time to think about anything important in your life.”

STRANDED IN SOUTH AFRICA Young men from other parts of Africa travel to South Africa in hopes of job opportunities they find out do not exist. Stranded in South Africa without any savings left, many of these men get into the human trafficking business to make ends meet. IMB photo
The night after visiting Kaniz and Lisha, I found myself standing in an alley with 13 other women. It was after 10 p.m., and most of them had already been working for more than 12 hours. As always, the pimps were within view. I leaned against the fence, absorbing the sights and sounds of the “business.”

Periodically the women stepped away from the curb to join me at the fence for companionship and conversation. “It’s my birthday,” said Najia.* “You’re the first person I’ve told.”

Little did I know that a few weeks later my Christian friend and I would be helping Najia escape from her pimp to join a drug rehabilitation program. I broke into tears the day I found out that Najia’s pimp—whom she called her boyfriend—convinced her to return to him after six weeks of successful rehab. Her need for love made her vulnerable to the very man who bought her, abused her and forced her to sell her body to others.

Many of these girls have never received genuine love. They desperately need to know the love of Jesus.

Southern Baptists’ gifts to the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering and the Cooperative Program help Southern Baptist missionaries around the world share the Gospel. Give to the offering through your local Southern Baptist church or online at, where there are resources for church leaders to promote the offering. Download related videos at

*Name changed. Martha Richards is an IMB missionary serving in Sub-Saharan Africa.

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