One of the best things about the Olympics is the road to Rio stories where we learn about the athletes and all they overcame to make it to the world’s largest stage for an athlete. Michael Phelps is back, Simone Biles is dominating her debut, and Kerri Walsh, the mother of three, is chasing her third gold medal. Hearing their stories makes it easy to cheer them on, but there’s a whole other side to Rio that no one is talking about…but we desperately need to.
Just a few miles from the dazzling new arena where the world’s most elite athletes are gathered for the competition of their lives, there’s a very different world full of poverty, violence and child exploitation. On the ride along one of Brazil’s longest highways, girls as young as 9 years old are selling their bodies for money.
The BR-116 runs for 2,800 miles between Fortaleza in the far north, down to Brazil’s largest city and home to the 2016 Olympic soccer games, to Sao Paulo in the south. The road is nicknamed Rodovia de Morte, or Highway of Death, because of its mortality rate due to accidents and unstable weather conditions along the route.
The real death isn’t in the fatalities though. The real death is found in each of the 262 truck stops along the way, where children are sold for sex.
From a young age I’ve been shown the Olympics every two years (summer/winter), often with commercials that encourage against using drugs. At their young age, these girls are shown pornographic films, paid to touch men and addicted to crack cocaine, heroine and Lord only knows what other substances. Everything about this completely blows my mind.
It blows my mind to think of the night and day difference from the 32 shiny sports stadiums filled with world class athletes to cocaine addicted 9-year-olds being sold for as little as $4 to perform sexual acts. You’d think they’re worlds apart, but no, they’re literally separated by a fence.
I feel helpless.
What I CAN do, and what we all can do, is pray BOLD and God-sized prayers for these people. Pray for the girls who from the age of 9 are only taught that their bodies are a source of income, instead of the beautiful house that God created to hold their heart and soul.
Pray for the men who pay money for children, simply for satisfaction. Pray that they would lead their country and communities in the way God designed, rather than abusing and assaulting helpless children.
Pray for the Highway of Death. Not only that it would be radically transformed, but also a Holy place where God is very clearly at work, and using His children for His glory.
Along with bold prayers, we can actually do something to help. Organizations like A21 are the catalyst of change when it comes to sex trafficking. They work hard with the goal of abolishing injustice in the 21st century. Their website has 21 ways you can help, as well as a plethora of information to educate yourself and others.
I don’t have any plan to stop watching the Olympics. In fact, I hope to take in even more of the jaw-dropping performances.
But now, I DO have a plan to pray for the girls, and intentionally lift them up to our mighty and powerful God.
I’m in absolute awe of the talent that we are witnessing on the world stage. So I can’t imagine the absolute wonder I would find myself in when God shows up, and with the whole world watching, and transforms lives in a place that desperately needs Him.