I first met Sonya* at the 2014 Girl’s Getaway. She was among a blur of faces that week, girls and women who had been offered a week of rest and relaxation in Puerto Galera far from the blaring music and flashing lights where they spent most of their nights in the bars, dancing for potential customers.
If I knew the effect she would have on my life I might have paid more attention, wanting to clearly remember every interaction I had with her.
I find it’s usually that way. Often the most extraordinary people do not seem so at first. They blend in with the crowd until, slowly but surely, they find a place in your heart. Or at least that is what happened with Sonya.
When I first met her, there was no way I could have known the impact she would have on my life– and on so many others.
Since then she has been responsible for over a dozen women leaving the bars to join Wipe Every Tear. But that is for later in the story.
About two weeks ago I got to see her again for the first time in almost a year. The difference was almost night and day.
You see, a year ago, she would wake up with terrible nightmares, struggled with self-harm, and would smile at you a lot, but it seemed to just barely mask the storm raging just below the surface. She was desperate for love, and it sometimes showed in her relationships.
It made sense that she struggled with these things. From the bits and pieces I knew of her story, her aunt had forced her into the bars. That was the only family she had, so considering what had happened to her, her behavior made sense.
Sonya and I became close. She soon became part a small group of women with whom I regularly spent time, watching the Voice, going to the pool, or just trying to survive the Filipino heat. After two months of living with her, I knew there was something special about her, and that God had big plans for her. I just didn’t know how she was going to get there considering all of the obstacles she faced.
After I left for America, we talked a lot on Facebook chat about school and church and Bible verses she had found.
This year when I got to see her, she was completely different. She was glowing from the inside out, and when she smiled it was authentic.
Instead of running to others for her affirmation and worth, she really got it from the Lord. And it was contagious.
Spending time with her somehow made you feel like you were a little closer to God, and I could tell that the other women looked up to her. When she worshiped, it wasn’t out of show. It was out of a deep love of the Lord and gratitude of what he had brought her through. She memorized worship songs and scripture and was ok with herself. Her cutting had stopped, and I could tell that her roots had grown deep in the Lord.
She amazed me, and one day I asked her if I could sit down and listen to her story and write it down because I knew that the Lord was going to use it powerfully.
So one hot afternoon, Sonya, Gretchen (a friend who volunteered to translate so Sonya
could tell the story in her native Tagalog), and I gathered in a small sweltering bedroom, and she told me her story, for the first time, from start to finish.
Her words were interrupted with gut-wrenching sobs that came with being sold by the very woman she called mother. Memories of abuse and poverty and pain spilled across the room, and I held her as she cried, stroking her long black hair over and over again.
For two hours, we sat like that as she continued to speak the tragedy seemed to get deeper. But there is hope at the end.
Oh, how there is hope.
Over the next four weeks, I want to tell her story bit by bit. So that you may understand the plight that many southern Asians face when they live in poverty, but even more so, the hope and promise that God provides to go after the one lost sheep.