Jennifer Tunehag-Roemhildt

How do we handle pain in our cities? This was the main theme in the city-track at Hope for Europe 2011 conference in Budapest.

Living in the affluent city of Rotterdam, I enjoy all the good things the city has to offer, but it’s tempting to ignore the hidden pain and injustices that are going on. Human trafficking is such a thing.

The pain of the city can effect us personally. Jennifer Tunehag Roemhildt gave us a personal example of the way it can effect us, while working in cities. She is internationally involved with the World Evangelical Alliance, battling human trafficking. Presently she lives in Stockholm, but while working in Athens among trafficked prostitutes, she met Anna. The pain of Anna’s life has effected Jennifer deeply.

Anna’s life; a painful story

Jennifer met Anna in a brothel in Athens. This bright young woman who spoke at a young age already several languages, came from small Polish village. In the village she had little possibilities to succeed. At a local pub she earned a few euros per day. One day a former school friend, who lived in Athens asked her to come for a visit. “Come stay with me and have a holiday,” she suggested over the phone. “You might even find a job here.” After a couple of weeks in Athens, Anna’s friend mentioned that her flat was not very big, and suggested she went to stay with a friend of them. The friend came to get her. Anna soon found out this wasn’t a ‘friend’. The guy locked her up and raped her repeatedly over the course of several weeks. After he was done with her, he began to take her to a brothel. “You’ve been sold to me,” he told her. At first Anna couldn’t believe what he told her. “You can’t ‘sell’ people!” she answered, but reality dawned on her.

While one day visiting Athens brothels Jennifer was drawn to Anna’s winning personality. “Is there anything I can pray for?” Jennifer asked. Anna didn’t respond, but while praying for her, Anna started crying. Jennifer had to leave the brothel, but left her contact information with her. “If I had a change, I would run,” Anna told her later. “I knew now that I had a place to go.” Three days later, Anna noticed that her pimp didn’t lock the door when he left. She didn’t think twice, but grabbed her stuff and ran down to the street where she caught a taxi to the address on the card Jennifer had given.

But, this is not the end of the story. Anna wanted to get home to her grandmother as

soon as possible. “I will be safe there,” Anna told Jennifer. They helped her go home, but four months later Jennifer met Anna again in an Athens brothel. In the Polish café she received 4 euro for a day’s work, and she knew she could make 200 euro a night in Athens. She had now an Albanian friend she was living with. Jennifer witnessed over the next years Anna’s deterioration. Anna found out after a few years that she had several sexual related deceases, also syphilis. The bright, attractive lady Jennifer first met, was after just a few short years become a woman with a ravaged body and spirit. After she found out about her deseases Anna disappeared. The emotional and physical toll of prostitution had done its work. Anna had been unable to break the chains; the connection to money and other addictions.

We identify 

Although this happened more than ten years ago, it is clear that the sad story of Anna’s life is still affecting Jennifer. We identify with Jennifer’s struggle. How do we deal with it? While sharing Anna’s story, the fifteen participants in the city-track are quiet. They know what Jennifer is talking about. Some of them are Hungarian, Gipsy and Moldavian pastors ministering among people with little hope for a better future. Joshua Lupemba, a young pastor from Berlin is in close contact with migrant youth in this city. He also identifies with the pain of his fellow citizens.

city-trackWe can’t ignore pain

“It’s a struggle,” Jennifer continues. “It is tempting to pull back and disengage from the pain. We know that we can’t safe people, there is only one Savior in the world and we can’t control people and their decisions either. But, how and when do we separate ourselves from others people choices; at what point becomes that a hardness of heart?”

‘It is Anna’s decision’ we can think, ‘it is her problem, not mine’ and go on with our lives. But we can’t ignore it. Steve Thrall, pastor among artists in Paris reflects with the group. “Isaiah 53 describes Jesus as a man of sorrow. God incarnate, is described as a man who knew grief deeply. Isaiah 63:9 says that in Israel’s suffering, God also suffered. They suffered because of their own sin, but their suffering was deeply felt by God himself. We can’t say either ‘they brought it upon themselves’.  Of course they brought it upon themselves, by their own sin and the sins of others. But we can’t turn away from it.”

Other participants city-track:

From Hungary: Géza Takács, Dr. Dissananyake and Preg Mihaly

From Romania: Florin Grecu, Andrei Popirda and Bianca Esposito.

Moldova: Anatol Dunas

The Netherlands: Jet Weigand-Timmer and myself.

Hereby a big thank you to those leading the track: Robert Calvert (Rotterdam), Axel Nehlsen (Berlin), Steve Thrall (Paris), Andrei Madly (Romania).