Service // Missions

Harassed by thugs, yet this couple continues to help girls in India trafficked into prostitution

Salt&Light rejoices with OM Singapore as they celebrate 40 years of God's unchanging faithfulness!

by Gemma Koh // September 22, 2021, 1:07 pm

Screenshot 2021-09-22 at 1.02.36 PM

Most of the girls sold to brothels in India are aged between nine and 16. Photo by V Srinivasan on Unsplash.

A pastor in India had 30 women in his flock who needed a job.

These women had become Jesus followers but struggled to leave the sex trade. They did not have an alternative form of livelihood.

Among them was Shanti*, who had been praying for a job for three years.

She had previously worked in a carpet factory in another part of South Asia.

These women struggled to leave the sex trade. They did not have an alternative livelihood.

Like so many women looking for a way out of extreme poverty, she and three colleagues had come willingly to a city in India. Their supervisor promised them a much better paying job there.

Instead, they were sold into prostitution.

Shanti found herself locked in a room for day. She was made to wear clothes she would have never worn. And would be beaten up if she refused to work.

There are approximately 200,000 women involved in the sex trade in this city, according to aid agencies.

Shanti would be the first woman employed by a business set up by Operation Mobilisation (OM) worker, Ling*, in her 50s, and her husband, Thomas*, in his 40s. Shanti would be given a new vocational skill in making handmade aromatherapy products that would be sold around the world. It would also put a roof over her head and give her new hope.

The business would pay for psychological help for women like Shanti who had been through untold trauma – drugged and forcibly taken, or betrayed by people they trusted.

Still thankful for her job, Shanti made the decision give tithe three-quarters of her salary to her church.

Dreams of flowers and vegetables

Singaporean Ling and her husband, Thomas, had arrived in India in 2011. At the time, they had just fled from a part of South Asia where Ling had spent 15 years giving jobs to single mothers through the business of the same name.

Little did they expect that, in India, God would lead them to serve another group of women from that same region.

(Read the first part of Ling’s story below)

She gave $50 to a single mum to learn to sew. This would multiply into livelihoods for 80 more women

In India, Ling and Thomas met up with a pastor who hailed from the country from which they had fled.

“He had a dream that we could come and stay in this village and be the light in this village,” Ling told Salt&Light.

“There are so many big red light areas. Each one could have 10,000 sex workers,” said Ling.

Every year, about 10,000 girls from the country they once lived are sold to brothels in India. Most are between the ages of nine and 16.

Ling had previously focused on working mainly with single mothers who had been abandoned by their husbands. She did not think she had the experience or adequate skills to help women who had left prostitution.

“It was complicated to work with them, given what they had been through,” she said frankly.

“He had a dream that we could come and stay in this village and be the light in this village.”

Then God gave her a series of dreams.

The first dream was about a funeral.

“It was oppressive and dark. Then I heard a couple getting married and the song Amazing Grace being played.

“I wondering where the song came from, so I went up the staircase and pushed open the door. Then I saw a green gorge filled with yellow bell flowers that you can find all over the city where I resided.

“I felt that God was going to do something heavenly with the business I had set up here.”

God would later give her more dreams. One involved vegetables in a high-tech greenhouse, another growing fruits in a dome-like structure, and a third dream involved cacti.

“I feel that God was promising fruitfulness,” said Ling, as she reflected on how God thereafter led her to start different ministries such as two homes for the women and children she had nurtured.

Harassed by thugs

Shanti, the first employee of the business, would bring other women who used to work in the sex trade into the fold. Or they would be brought in by NGOs who helped trafficked girls leave the brothels.

Shanti had an easier time leaving the trade as she was no longer bonded to the brothel; the pimp had made a return on the money they had paid her traffickers.

It could take up to four years for the pimps to earn a return on each girl.

It could take up to four years for the pimps to earn a return on each girl, she revealed.

The more newly-trafficked women, who were high in demand by brothel clients, risked being hunted down by their pimps. Those who had been freed would be escorted by police when they were brought back into Ling’s custody and care.

Ling and Thomas were no strangers to harassment for the work they do.

Once, they offered refuge to a staff member had been burned by cigarette stubs and punched by the man who lived with her. He had forced her into the sex trade and leeched off her earnings.

“The husband went crazy when he could not find his wife. He was high on alcohol and drugs,” said Ling.

He made countless phone calls to the couple. He brought friends to circle their home, yelling abuse at them.

“We were too scared to leave the house,” said Ling.

But God kept them safe.

You keep your money

Ling and Thomas have seen God’s provision time and again.

Many of the women they employed did not have a home to which they could return. 

In 2015, Ling was looking for a second property where these women could live out their retirement years.

Ling was shocked. How could her friend have known that she had gone for a house viewing the day before?

It was then that a friend from the US called out of the blue.

Her friend asked: “Ling, are you looking for a building?”

Ling was shocked. How could her friend have known that she had gone for a viewing the day before?

Her friend asked about her need.

Ling had 80% to pay for a run-down property. She needed another 20%.

Her friend said: “You keep your money. I’ll give you US$100,000.”

It would cover the whole cost of the property and pay for renovations.

From that donation, the first home was built in 2015. It housed the older folks on one floor. At the request of the donor, another floor became a home for children.

Ling and Thomas subsequently took over another home – for the local children – that had been forced to shut.

“We didn’t want to see all the children sent back to the streets.”

Two mums

Ling, who believed that children should be with their mothers, had never wanted to start a children’s home.

But she saw the need: Many little girls – as young as 10 – had been brought into India by their “aunties” who raised them and then sold them to brothels.

The place is currently home to nine little girls.

Many little girls – as young as 10 – had been brought into India by their “aunties” who raised them and then sold them to brothels.

One of the first to live there was a little girl who was just three at that time. Shanti had brought her in from a brothel. “The little girl was weak, asthmatic, and not properly taken care of,” said Ling.

The girl was just 17 days old when her teenage mother, Rita*, took her to India. Rita had been lured there by the promise of work.

She was an easy target. She had been unable to deal with the scorn of her in-laws for giving birth to a girl. In the South Asian culture that she came from, sons were preferred to daughters for socio-economic reasons.

“Rita’s daughter was taken away from her and used as bait,” said Ling.

The pimps threatened to permanently separate mother and baby if Rita refused to work.

Rita, who was still under captivity by the pimps, would come and visit her daughter at the home.

“But she was hostile to the team and doubtful about our intentions,” said Ling.

The pimps threatened to permanently separate mother and baby if Rita refused to work.

When Rita had served out her bond, she left the sex trade for good, and insisted on taking her child back to their country of origin, even though the staff at the home tried to persuade her to let the child continue her studies in India.

“Her daughter missed the house mother, whom she called ‘mother’,” said Ling.

But, unable to find a job in her home country, Rita returned and asked the home to take back her daughter.

They did so on one condition: That Rita work for them.

“At first we thought she wouldn’t fit in. She did not look like a domesticated person,” said Ling.

“We sent her to a counselling retreat and she cried and cried, and gave up that anger, hatred and bitterness. Now she is a happy and cheerful person.

“The daughter was so happy that she could have both her house mother and real mother with her. She has blossomed so well.”

Growing upwards

Ling and Thomas continue to be a light for the women under their wing, embodying Matthew 5:16, “… let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.’

“Since then, there has been no turning back.”

They would share God’s love with these women, with morning devotions and prayers for support through their struggles.

“He accepted the Lord during that retreat. Since then, he’s been ‘growing upwards’. And now, he is doing God’s work.”

Shanti and her husband were one such couple. They had met and married while Shanti was working in the sex trade. He was a former customer.

“Every time we visited their house, she would make sure that her husband was not there,” recalled Ling.

“He didn’t want God and did not like Christians.”

But, two years ago, he was diagnosed with HIV. He was also suffering from tuberculosis and jaundice and was hospitalised.

“We were going on a retreat and told Shanti, ‘If you bring your husband, we will pay for the trip.’

“The trip was very refreshing for him. He accepted the Lord during that retreat.”

Since then, he’s been “growing upwards”. And now, he is doing God’s work.

He helps Ling and Thomas as a social worker reaching out to medically needy people.

Once again, as God has proven time and again, He continues to multiply the fruits of their ministry.

*Names have been changed and details omitted for the safety of the interviewees.

If you’d like to join OM in bringing God’s love to those who do not know Jesus, explore opportunities here, or drop a note to [email protected] if you would like to be equipped and mentored for missions.

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40 God stories

To commemorate their 40th year, OM Singapore has published a book, Unchanging: On Mission With a Faithful God, capturing 40 God-stories of Singaporeans, including Dr Keith Lai, who love God and His mission in many parts of the world.

“The quintessence of OM rests on the premise that God can use anyone, anytime, anywhere, whenever one hungers for Him. It is about giving God a chance to work in and through us,” said Rev Keith Lai, President of National Council of Churches of Singapore (NCCS), who served on board OM’s Logos ship.

“The 40 curated stories in this book testify to this truth. What a motley bunch of most unlikely individuals. What diverse and interesting backgrounds. But all with an underlying common thread – a touch of God’s grace stirring in their hearts to leave home and venture into the fathomless unknown.” 

To purchase the book for yourself and your friends, click here.


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About the author

Gemma Koh

Gemma has written about everything from spas to scuba diving holidays. But has a soft spot for telling the stories of lives changed, and of people making a difference. She loves the colour green, especially on overgrown trees. Gemma is Senior Writer & Copy Editor at Salt&Light and its companion site, Stories of Hope.