KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia - Home at last!
This was the joyful cry of eight Filipino women after arriving safely home in their native land.
Seven months earlier, lured by attractive job offers with substantial wages, they had gone to Malaysia, only to be victimized by the recruiters of a sex syndicate.
The women landed on the streets of Malaysia with a promise that they would get hired as waitresses and maids. Instead, they ended up in sex dens, and according to sources, more than 60 are still languishing in brothels.
"(There are) around 60 girls padlocked in different houses. But the others don't have the courage to escape because our employer always threatened us that we cannot get out of Malaysia alive," said one of the women, 18-year-old April. "But I can't take it any longer. One time I got pregnant and I had to follow their advice to abort the baby."
Margaret, another 18-year-old who worked in the houses, agreed the work was grueling. "We were given seven to 10 customers a day and we were made to work for 24 hours," she said. "There was a time I was too exhausted, I just collapsed."
But there came a ray of hope when the women learned of a nearby Filipino Christian Church.
One day, they jumped from the second floor of the building where they were held and fled to the church for sanctuary.
Despite threats to his life and the congregation, James Bernasor, pastor of the Jesus is Lord Church Worldwide, sought help to return the women safely back to the Philippines.
"We shared the love of Jesus and let them know that there is hope. We started praying and asked for help," he said.
Their prayers were answered when help came through an organization representing several east Asian nations, called the Bimpeaga.
Nida Macasaet is the Philippine representative of the Bimpeaga.
Their lives were in great danger," he said. "All the while, gangsters were stalking on us. We brought the police to the girls only to find out all of them are clients."
God's intervention continued when the women's travel documents, which had been withheld by the sex slavers, surfaced at the perfect time.
It was a miracle that the travel documents were thrown into the church.
"God never fails. In moments when everything seems dark and no help can be done, you can always see the light in the name of Jesus," Macasaet proclaimed.
A week after their escape, the eight Filipino women were finally reunited with their families.
The illegal recruiter in the Philippines, Gemma Manapsal, has been arrested and charged with illegal recruitment and human trafficking.
While Manapsal's sister and other members of the sex syndicate are still at large in Malaysia, Philippine ambassador Victoriano Lecaros says they are closely working with Malaysian authorities to solve the case.
"We don't have police powers or any kind of executive power outside the (Philippines)," Lecaros said. "We rely on Malaysian authorities who have been cooperative with us because it is also of their interest that their country is not labeled as destination of trafficking humans."
It's now up to the Philippine and Malaysian governments to track down the sex slavers and rescue more victims. But as this experience shows, the church also can play a vital role in delivering people from the sex industry.
*Originally aired February 28, 2008.