By Mark Ellis
They cross the U.S.-Mexico border for a night of pleasure in Tijuana, buying sex and illegal drugs. The dirty little secret is that some of the Americans cross the border to buy sex from children as young as six and seven-years-old.
Jodie Mac Lean was on a prayer walk in the red light district of Tijuana as part of her Youth With A Mission (YWAM) training in 2010 when her small group encountered something unexpected.
“There was a man selling two little girls, and they were six or seven-years-old,” she recalls.
Amid the bright lights and crowded streets, the man offered the girls to the YWAM group. He said, “I will give you these two little girls for the price of one.”
It took Mac Lean a moment to fully comprehend what was happening. “I thought I was just going on a prayer walk, but on that one night the course of my life changed,” says Mac Lean, now a full-time missionary in Tijuana and founder of Relentless Pursuit.
“When you come face-to-face with trafficking, you’re changed,” she notes. When Mac Lean went home to Michigan on a break, she couldn’t get the girls’ faces out of her mind. In 2011 she started her ministry, affiliated with the International Fellowship of Christian Assemblies (IFCA). She also partners with YWAM, The International Network of Hearts, and a local church in her outreach efforts.
More than 16,000 children a year are exploited in Mexico. Many times these children are trafficked to the U.S. and other countries. Across the border on the U.S. side, San Diego is considered one of the top U.S. cities for trafficking.
There are red light districts all over the world, including the U.S. “In the U.S., it looks different,” she notes. “Here it is really in your face.”
After ministering in the red light district for more than three years and participating in almost 300 prayer walks with other committed missionaries, Mac Lean has several observations about life in the streets.
“The number one customer in the red light district is the North American man,” Mac Lean says. “Most American men are not here for a godly purpose.” Many visit the red light district to buy a prostitute, illicit drugs, weapons, or items in the black market.
But some are actually pedophiles, searching for youthful prey. “How can a man come to a foreign country and buy a seven-year-old little girl?” Mac Lean sees layers to this twisted world, and believes some of the men were probably abused themselves and repeat a pattern of depravity.
“The number one thing that grieves my heart is it’s the American dollar that keeps it going,” she adds.
Current conditions in Mexico – primarily a lack of government support and endemic corruption — make rescue operations close to impossible for anyone. Mac Lean hopes this may change in the future. “We know and believe God came to save and rescue and he will be faithful to reach into that darkness. It is a point of prayer for each of us.”
In spite of the obstacles, Mac Lean has found many other avenues open to those who want to make a difference. At her weekly prayer walks she hands out toothbrushes, soaps and other toiletries wrapped in Scripture to prostitutes. “We pass out 100 toothbrushes in 45 minutes. People swarm us to get a bar of soap.”
“We pray with the prostitutes, have conversations with them, and gain their trust,” she notes.
Mac Lean also meets in a park with poor mothers and their children, the kind of children who might be at risk for trafficking. In partnership
with YWAM’s “Zone Kids” prevention program, they teach the children Bible stories, play games, do arts and crafts. “Let’s raise up a generation of kids who don’t have to fall into the trap of trafficking.”
At the same time the children are nurtured, the moms learn English. “One mom wants to be a teacher and the other wants to start a Mary Kay cosmetics business,” Mac Lean notes. She wants to know their personal dreams so she and her ministry partners can provide options for their futures.
Recently, Mac Lean started working with International Network of Hearts, an organization that just opened a safe house for underage girls who have escaped trafficking in Tijuana – only the second such safe house in the entire country. The other safe house is in Mexico City.
The houses have the backing of the government and include children funneled through Mexico Child Services.
The homes provide a safe, nurturing environment with food, education, medical care and counseling. There are three girls in the home with a fourth on the way. “One girl has dreams to be a beautician and another a surgeon,” Mac Lean says. “Although they have suffered too much for their young years, God is healing their hearts and is close to the brokenhearted,” she says, quoting Psalm 34.
“My heart is to do restoration with the victims.”
There are some positive developments in Tijuana, which Mac Lean believes flow from the presence of God’s people there. “In 2008, drug violence and crime was sky high,” she recalls. “There is a real reduction now, because God is sending a lot of missionaries here.” She noted a recent news article asserting that Chicago has higher violent crime than Tijuana.
“God has given us incredible favor in this community,” Mac Lean says. “The Spirit of God is really working, and He is doing something special, bringing people to restore the city.”