Join me in welcoming back Linda Bello-Ruiz. Last month she shared with us how God spoke to her when she asked Him for a sign. Please click here for that story. Today she will tell us about her adventures in Costa Rica, helping the young girls in The Red Light District.
During prayer one morning, I asked God what plans He had for me. I was not yet twenty-three-years old, but desperate to do God’s will and find meaning in my life. I remained quiet, waiting, seeking. The heavens didn’t open with a shout from the Almighty, a burning bush didn’t appear before me, nor was there a resounding trumpet announcing God’s voice. Instead, that still, quiet voice that I had come to know as the voice of God spoke to me. The voice came from within, as if I were talking to myself, and yet I wasn’t. Separate from my own inner voice, I heard the clear voice of the Lord: “Return to Costa Rica and setup a Christian halfway house for young girls.”
“Okay,” although the idea of returning to Costa Rica had never occurred to me. Not for a second did I question or doubt the message I had received.
Three months later, January 1974, I stood in the Red Light Zone of San Jose, Costa Rica, between two Catholic priests. Father Solano directed our attention to several young women leaning against a second-floor balcony wall. They looked down at us with curiosity as we walked by. The sight of two priests and a tall, redheaded American girl (me!) walking through their neighborhood at night must have been an unusual sight. Behind the girls, a red light shone against a closed, thin curtain.
Father Solano pointed toward a doorway a half block ahead of us. Two young girls, maybe thirteen years old, peered out from the doorway, wearing short skirts, halter-tops and high heels. Huge colorful earrings completed their sexy attire. They’d painted their young faces with far too much makeup and looked like little girls playing dress-up in their mommy’s lipstick and clothes.
“Oh, my gosh,” I said. “They’re so young.”
“Yes, they are,” he said. “Unfortunately, prostitution is legal in Costa Rica. But the girls must be at least eighteen. These young ones are either not registered or they’re working with falsified documents. Police enforcement of under age prostitution has been lax.”
An older man approached the two young girls in the doorway ahead of us. They exchanged a few words. I watched in dismay as he put his arms around their small bodies and walked inside. I tried not to think about what they were being asked to do by that man, and what their lives must be like everyday.
Seeds were planted that night, which would bring about The House of Hope, a Christian safe-haven for underage prostitutes–founded by Padre Solano, Joe Pent (an American missionary) and myself. My faith was bigger than my resume. I possessed NO experience for directing a half-way house. NONE! So I had to rely on faith, prayer and guidance by the Holy Spirit. And maybe that’s why God chose me. He knew I had to rely on Him.
The first five girls arrived from a detention center a week after opening our doors on April 1, 1974. By the end of that first month, four of the girls had run away, after (in my absence) holding a friend of mine at knife-point and stealing all they could carry and run.
“This is a test to see if I’ll pack up and go home,” I told myself that night. “Well, I won’t.” The experience made me stronger and even more determined to succeed—I wasn’t going to let four misguided street girls stop me.
With each day and each experience, good and bad, my faith grew. With a determined faith, I walked through the Red Light District, made friends with prostitutes, negotiated territory with pimps, and won the confidence of young girls working in the sex trade.
Although barely ten years older than most of the teens that came to The House of Hope, I felt like their “mommy.” I too, had lived a tumultuous past, and I knew God could and would change hearts and lives. Which He did. On average, sixty young girls came through the doors of La Casadela Esperanza per year, over a nine-year period—young girls who were given the opportunity to change from the inside out.
The underage sex-trade continues in Costa Rica (and around the world), but a higher awareness exists of its devastating consequences. The “sex-trade” is now morphed into “sex-trafficking” and I will be returning to Costa Rica in October of this year to visit a new safe-house, Saving Hearts – dedicated to rescuing and rehabilitation of self-trafficked minors.
Do you have questions? Do you have a heart to help? Contact me. I can direct you to some wonderful programs around the United States and the world that exist to stop the sex-trafficking plague.
Linda Bello-Ruiz is the author of the award-winning memoir, From Tears to Triumph, My Journey to The House of Hope. Visit her website at: www.lindabelloruiz.com