Stifling heat vapors appear on the horizon. Laughing hyenas cackle too close for comfort in the bush. Take a step closer toward a dusty canvas tent. Meet Kimberly L. Smith and travel into her desert world as she pulls back the flap door of her "tent of meeting" (Ex. 33:7). In Passport through Darkness: A True Story of Danger and Second Chances (David Cook, 2011), Smith gives you a front-row seat to God's work amid monstrous evil in Sudan, Peru, the Congo, and Romania—and inside Smith's own heart. With courage and transparency, she recounts how God helped her face her fears and live through challenges in her work as president of Make Way Partners (MWP), a Christian anti-trafficking agency based in Birmingham, Alabama.
Kimberly and husband Milton first learned of human trafficking in 2002 while serving as missionaries in the Iberian Peninsula. They found children being trafficked through an orphanage, and spent the next two years learning all they could about what's called the fastest growing criminal industry in the world, one that brings an estimated 17,500 people annually into the U.S. alone. The Smiths gathered information from books and governmental reports but also, most importantly, from spending time with victims of trafficking and those most vulnerable in the streets, sewers, deserts, and jungles. Now Smith is working to build the only private and indigenous anti-trafficking network in Africa and Eastern Europe.
Passport through Darkness recounts the stories of forgotten victims, most of whom have been maimed, raped, and tortured, some of whom are now dead. Many have suffered because of their faith in Christ. With painstakingly loving detail, Smith shares so that others will hear their desperate cries. Among these are three Sudanese: Teresa, Tonj, and Tamar.
During Smith's first journey in Sudan, Teresa, age 6, was brought to her "severely dehydrated, weak from malnutrition, and infection oozed from her right eye." The village where Teresa and her mother had been staying was looted and burned to the ground by the Janjaweed, the Sudan-backed Arab militia that roam Darfur. With no medicine to give Teresa, Smith told her, "I promise you when I get home, I will tell every person I know … I will come back to you with help." By the time she returned, Teresa was dead.
Tonj, a Christian Sudanese man in his 40s, struggled to represent his family with dignity as he told how Janjaweed soldiers "ripped him from his family's arms," beat him, and insisted that he confess Allah as God. The soldiers left him bleeding from wounds hacked by machetes, then went after his family. The soldiers raped his wife and tied her and the children up with ropes, dragging them behind militia horses. The last that Smith heard, Tonj had enlisted in the Sudanese People's Liberation Army.
Tamar, a child of 13, described to Smith how she was taken by soldiers at age 7 and repeatedly gang raped. During their interview, Tamar wasn't afraid to show Smith exactly where soldiers had cut her: "I cannot feel anything down there anymore. Sometimes I just pee … because I cannot feel when I need to go," she explained. Tamar said she is not allowed to live with her family because of she is "marked" by the multiple rapes and the subsequent fistula. Smith promised Tamar that day to "tell everyone who will listen."
After visiting Sudan, Smith grasped the magnitude of God's work, knowing she had to tell others what was happening. She took a full year to share these and other stories at churches in the U.S., hoping they would respond. She grieved when they didn't. She writes, "It seemed that, aside from working to save helpless children myself, the most important thing I could do with my life was to help other people also know God's heart—particularly for orphans—and find their personal steps to the music of his heart."
Despite her experience in some churches, by God's grace and divine appointment, Smith saw him provide in and through a variety of people and means. Important local partnerships allowed ordinary indigenous leaders to be part of the solution, a key to their long-term investment strategy in the children. Make Way Partners now offers short-term mission trips for anyone to go and assist local partners with a variety of needs.
Smith admits, "I've made costly mistakes, but they haven't stopped God. In fact, he has used them to deepen all aspects of me, from my faith to my marriage to how I approach ministry." With faith, she says, "My daily prayer is that God uses both my wounds and transgressions to encourage others to risk losing everything to discover the life God dreams of for them, for you." She encourages readers to find their own "passport out of the darkness of life's—and our own—making." In Passport through Darkness, get ready to find where "God's pleasure and your purpose meet."
Tomi Lee "T.L." Grover is an educator with TraffickStop, an anti-trafficking initiative born from her eight years of work with the Baptist General Convention of Texas.