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Project # P-0240

They Think We’re Crazy: Empowering and Loving Sexually-Exploited Women in Bulgaria

By Andrew Shaughnessy, Dec 31, 2018

Trafficked women line the highway in Bulgaria. No matter the weather, in pouring down rain, snow, or scorching heat, they stand every few hundred meters, forced to sell their bodies to the lusts of men.

Mimi* was one of those girls.

She was rough around the edges, a bit older than most, and seemed to know every pimp and every woman on the street. At first, MTW missionary Beth Stanton wondered if she might be one of the madams, but it turned out that she had simply been in the business long enough to be independent—no longer working for a pimp, but still trapped in a life of exploitation.

“We saw her every time we went to the road,” said MTW missionary Katherine Long. “Every single time.”

Through the MTW outreach Daughters of Bulgaria, Beth, Katherine, and others in their group visit these women every Sunday. They bring coffee and tea and books. They hang out with the girls, talk, offer to pray for them, and move on—a slow building of relationships that extends beyond the limits of the highway.

“We are invited to birthday parties, baptisms, births,” Katherine said. “We become friends with their families … carefully. Some of the men [the pimps] don’t like us. But some bring us Christmas presents. They take coffee. They trust us.“

“Why are you here?” the pimps ask.

And Beth and Katherine just say: “Oh, to tell the girls that we love them, and to give them coffee and tea and Bibles to help with their literacy.”

“Basically they think we’re crazy,” Katherine laughed.

Where’s the Rest?
Mimi could read, so they started bringing her books. Not just Christian books, but literature, fiction. She loved them. She was easy to talk to, and very open about spiritual matters. Slowly, the friendship developed.

“We cultivated this relationship for about four years before she started to respond,” said Beth. One day, Mimi asked for a Bible, so they brought her a New Testament. When they came the next Sunday Mimi was waiting for them with her hand on her hip—angry.

“You only gave me half of it!” Mimi said. “Where’s the rest?”

“She’s feisty,” Beth laughed.

Over the course of their many conversations, Beth learned that Mimi had a skin disorder that embarrassed her and and made it difficult for her to speak clearly. Helped by a generous donation, Beth was able to bring Mimi in to a dermatologist and get the skin disorder sorted. Every two weeks for the next three months, Beth or Katherine would take Mimi to the doctor for a checkup and then take her out for coffee. Through those conversations, Mimi eventually said: “I want to learn more about Jesus.”

Mimi plugged in with a group of Bulgarian ladies who led her through a program that walked through the Bible and explained who Jesus is.

“She flew through it. Absolutely flew through it,” said Katherine. “Her answers were better than most people in the church’s answers would be.”

Eventually, Mimi became a Christian, and the Daughters of Bulgaria team continued to walk with her through faith and supply resources. But still, she was trapped in the sex trade.

Empowering Change
One day, sitting together over coffee after a Bible study, Katherine commented on the beautiful bracelets that Mimi wore all down her arm. Mimi had made them herself.

“You should do that for a living,’” said Katherine.

Mimi looked Katherine straight in the face: “I would do anything besides what I’m doing right now. I would scrub toilets if it could pay my bills.”

That got Katherine thinking—they could teach Mimi and the other girls skills to become employable in another trade or start their own businesses. They began to develop a plan for a business apprenticeship program. They would teach the girls Business 101, dress for success classes, and skills that would prepare them for some other occupation—in Mimi’s case, jewelry making. Soon, Katherine added counseling and anger management courses, helpful classes for women used to working the streets.

Eventually, with the partnership of the Servants Anonymous Foundation, the program morphed into the Rose Garden Project, a holistic project of long-term recovery and reintegration for trafficking survivors. It’s slow growing, but the ultimate dream is to have several, fully-staffed houses for women in the program throughout Bulgaria.

Mimi graduates from the program in spring 2019. She’s now equipped with business skills and is well on her way to starting her own jewelry and handcrafts business. Freed from the chains of forced prostitution, Mimi has found new life in Christ, new opportunity through business skills, and a new community among MTW missionaries.

This story is about just one of many MTW ministries addressing injustice and working to empower women trapped in poverty and oppression. With Daughters of Bulgaria and the Rose Garden Project, these children of God come with tears and leave with hope—hope for the present, and the eternal hope of Christ’s redeeming grace.

This year, MTW’s Year-End giving is focused on empowering the livelihood of women like Mimi around the world. Will you join us and be a part of these church-driven efforts to empower women economically and reach them with the hope of the gospel? 

Help change the lives of women around the world through the 2018 Year-End Gift: Empower Women’s Livelihood. Give now. 

*Name has been changed.

Andrew Shaughnessy

Andrew Shaughnessy is a long-time word slinger who spent nearly six years as MTW’s staff writer, gathering and telling impact stories from missionaries across the globe. These days, he’s off working as an analyst and editor in the publishing industry, writing fiction, and mountaineering. He holds a B.A. in history and English literature from Covenant College, and an M.S. in political science from Portland State University.

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Give thanks for the many lives impacted by and among missionaries in Sofia, Bulgaria. Pray for the ministry to continue to multiply.

Pray for Bulgarians who are building friendships with missionaries to become interested in the gospel and drawn to Christ.

Pray for the Daughters of Bulgaria ministry and for women trapped in a life of sexual exploitation to discover the hope of Christ.

Pray for the women and children of Bulgaria caught in the dark world of trafficking and exploitation, and for the Daughters of Bulgaria minstry shining the light of Christ.

Pray for the MTW team in Bulgaria and for those they serve.

Pray for those in Sofia, Bulgaria, who will be exposed to the gospel through our sports ministry. Pray that many would be drawn to Christ as a result of relationships built with believers.

Pray for those coming to faith in Bulgaria. And for those who can't yet believe due to a background deeply rooted in communism and atheism.

Pray for Bulgaria, whose population is considered to be 95% "Orthodox atheist" (Orthodox in name only). Praise God for Bulgarians who are coming to faith and helping to plant churches!

Pray for college students in Sofia and Plovdiv, Bulgaria, to grasp God's deep love for them and surrender their lives to Him.

Pray for the young Bulgarian women who are introduced to Christ through small group discussions, Bible studies, and English language classes. 

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