NICK EICHER, HOST: Today is Wednesday, November 18th. Thank you for joining us today for WORLD Radio!
Good morning. I’m Nick Eicher.
MARY REICHARD, HOST: And I’m Mary Reichard. Coming next on The World and Everything in It: an important, yet difficult topic and one that you may consider unsuitable for young ones.
So we want to give you a moment to grab your device and press pause, and invite you to revisit this later on.
EICHER: All right, well, fair warning. And we have another 30 seconds before we start the report. For now, I’ll start to set it up.
The city is Houston, Texas. It’s known for many positive things: the oil industry, aerospace with NASA, professional sports. It’s also known for one very negative thing: human trafficking.
But for the last three years one man has walked the streets of one part of town pointing women from the darkness to the light.
REICHARD: WORLD correspondent Bonnie Pritchett spent an evening with him and other volunteers. Here’s their story.
BOB WICKER: It’s cold out here. You want some warm stuff? We’ve got some gloves, scarves…
REPORTER, BONNIE PRITCHETT: It’s a chilly 60 degrees tonight on a busy, 6-lane thoroughfare on Houston’s east side. Bob Wicker is handing out scarves, gloves, snacks, and the love of Jesus to women walking by.
The dropping temperature is usually a welcome respite from Houston’s oppressive heat. But the cooler weather only reminds the scantily-clad prostitutes that their working conditions will only become increasingly insufferable.
WICKER: So, The Track here is Bissonnet. Most of the women walk on Bissonnet but they get picked up on one of the side streets…
The Track is a mile and a half loop of busy streets where women who hide behind false identities sell themselves to men who don’t care to know who they are.
WICKER: That’s The Track…
Wicker volunteers with Elijah Rising, a faith-based, non-profit ministry that offers women rescue and recovery from human trafficking.
Every Friday night from 8 until midnight—sometimes, later—Wicker and a small band of volunteers join the women on the sidewalks and offer them a kind word, small gifts—tonight its scarves and gloves—and a business card with a phone number for safe passage out of the sex trade. Wicker calls it the Golden Ticket.
They ask each woman her name and offer to pray with her. Most of the women are affable and accept the offer. Others decline, politely, and keep walking. They’re busy.
WICKER: God I want you to show both of them there is nothing they’ve ever done that can possibly keep your love away from them, Lord. That you love them so much…
Earlier, at the Elijah Rising office, Wicker explained how a 55-old husband, father, and security and fire safety director can minister to women whose relationships with men have been tumultuous.
WICKER: I think it’s an advantage in many ways because God has given me a father’s heart. But there are those women that have never known a father’s love and can’t see God yet. And, so, they need a Christian man with a father’s heart to represent that for them so they can see that. And they respond to that.
And there is something that only a man can tell these women.
WICKER: When, as man, I can look one of those women in the eye and I can repent to her on behalf of men for every man that has yelled at her, screamed at her, abused her, raped her, attacked her, beaten her, it has a huge, huge impact. But those women need to know that there are men out there who do not treat women like that because they’ve never seen it. They’ve never seen unconditional love. And when you show it to them, it’s beautiful.
AUDIO: [SETTING UP TABLES AND TRAFFIC]
VOICES: Do you want some snacks…
Back at The Track, Wicker is greeting women passing by.
VOICE: God bless you…
WICKER: We’re busy early. Hang on. Let me get names here for our prayer list. Let me get my notes set up…
He takes out his phone and opens a notes app and types in the names of the four women he’s greeted in the last five minutes.
He can’t recollect the name of the first woman he prayed with, so he types what he thinks is correct…
WICKER: God knows her real name. So, it’s all good. Sometimes they don’t tell us their names and its OK. We make up names for them and God knows their real name.
In the coming week the Elijah Rising staff and volunteers will pray over each name. Before this night is over, Wicker will have 29 names on the list.
Next Friday, he’ll have a new list.
Most of the women walking by the ministry volunteers appear to be in their 20’s. Others look older. Some younger.
Wicker doesn’t excuse the women’s behavior but explained the cycles of abuse have left them with few, if any, choices.
WICKER: When your choices are horrible or horrible and you don’t understand what the choice you’re making leads to until its way too late, it’s really not a choice at all…
He said, his job isn’t to judge them but show them the unconditional love of Christ and help them leave this place.
By 9 PM four more Elijah Rising volunteers arrive. Wicker gathers some gifts and snacks from the table and begins walking The Track. He recounts the history of prostitution in this part of town. He points to a parking lot where he said pimps keep a watchful eye on the women. He prays with them too.
On a dark side street where buyers pick up the women, Wicker offers one woman a scarf. She declines. He asks her name.
BONNIE: Did she give her name?
WICKER: No. She said, “Don’t Matter.” So, I put her down as “Matter” for now. God knows her name…
On Bissonnet, the first woman Wicker prayed with tonight—the woman whose name he couldn’t recollect—approaches and asks for more prayer. He readily agrees, calling her by the name he wrote in his app. Seeing her surprised response, he figures he got it wrong.
WICKER: I’m horrible with names.
WOMAN: You know what? That’s crazy. Cuz I told him…
She had given Wicker a fake name. But he had called her by her real name.
WICKER: Do you know, God often tells us real names out here or leads them to do that.
WOMAN: My God, that’s crazy. But I need it right now.
WICKER: Father, in Jesus name, God, right now, God you know what she needs. God that you would protect her and guide her out of this darkness into your light. In the almighty name of Jesus, I pray…
WOMAN: Thank you guys.
WICKER: Can I give you a hug.
WOMAN: Yes, you can! Because you just…
WICKER: God bless you.
WOMAN: You didn’t no guess my name. You said my name!
WICKER: That happens all the time. They either confess their names initially, and then they go, ‘Oop. I mean. You heard it. It’s too late.” Or, in her case, what happened? So I will note that is her real name.
Reporting for WORLD, I’m Bonnie Pritchett in Houston, Texas.