By Luke Billman
What would make two young adult United Methodist men move their entire families to one of the “Sexual Tourism” capitals of the world? What would make them leave the comfort of family and convenience in America to live in Brazil? Only a move of God!
Both Nic and I grew up in The United Methodist Church. We were surrounded by great men and women of faith our entire lives. Our father has served in the Eastern Pennsylvania Annual Conference for over 30 years, along with our uncle, grandfather, Nic’s father-in-law and my mother-in-law.
You can imagine the amount of United Methodist activities we were involved with from birth! While we enjoyed growing up in this atmosphere, we felt God moving us in a particular direction outside our comfort zone. Nic was working as a youth pastor at a UM congregation in the Susquehanna Conference and I was working in construction in Philadelphia. Two totally separate career paths, but God had placed a calling on our family line long before we were born.
“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations” (Jeremiah 1:5). I can picture the Lord giddy over our spirits before we were born seeing the things that we are going to bring to fulfillment for His kingdom, but I never thought that I was going to play a part the way our families are now.
In October 2008, God spoke to me and touched my heart in a supernatural way in my car on the way home from work. I was left with the overwhelming feeling that we were supposed to move to South America. I called my brother Nic to tell him about the awesome experience I just had and he answered the phone saying, “Dude, I’m in Brazil on a ministry trip, my phone is on airplane mode. I don’t know how you are talking to me now!” I proceeded to tell him what God had just told me and he said, “The Lord just showed up here too and told us to move to Brazil. He showed me all the child prostitutes on the streets and I saw them as my own daughters.”
It was clear to me then what God was calling us to do because what the Lord showed me was an old dilapidated sanctuary filled with mostly children and my arm was stretched out over them declaring freedom, deliverance, and healing. But how were we supposed to do that? How was that supposed to come to fruition?
Human trafficking is the illegal trade of men, women, and children – mainly for sexual slavery or forced labor. This evil practice takes place all over the globe – even in the United States. After the World Cup and Olympics, the Super Bowl is a close second to bringing in trafficked women and children for the purpose of sex. Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott claimed, “The Super Bowl is commonly known as the single largest human trafficking incident in the United States.”
Its atrocious that it happens anywhere but the numbers in Brazil are staggering. The number of homeless children in Brazil is between one and two million. We have encountered more children between the ages of 8 and 12 than any other, and have seen new born babies in cardboard boxes.
Traffickers target the favelas (slums) and attempt to buy children from their parents by convincing them the money could help them provide for their remaining kids. Brazil is also the fourth strongest economic power in the world right now, so these numbers don’t just exist in Africa or India like where I always pictured missionaries serving. It’s so prevalent in Brazil that certain travel agencies in the U.S. and Europe organize “sexual tourism” trips for groups of men to be able to purchase the services these precious children.
Because Brazil is such a sexualized nation they turn a blind eye to these things for the most part. There are even concession stands on the beaches that will direct Westerners to whatever it is they are looking for sexually. We work with investigators on our team that pose as “sexual tourists” asking where we can find underaged children and no one has ever acted disgusted by what they are asking for, and always direct them to a brothel or a corner where they can be found.
Because prostitution is legal here in Brazil it’s accepted culturally as a form of employment. Because the current president is attempting to lower the legal age of prostitution to 15 years old, society doesn’t react to a 14 year old prostituting. And because there are no laws in place to stop trafficking no one knows if the people prostituting are forced into it. We have encountered adults that have told us they started prostituting at 6 years old because an uncle or a father sexually abused them and they ran away.
“Your adversary the devil, prowls around like a lion, seeking someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8). I don’t think our adversary is only alert during 9-5 business hours! Truthfully I believe he wants more to destroy the generation of children growing up now so he can, in his mind “weaken” the kingdom of God. We seek out the little ones he is looking to devour.
Have you ever looked at a child in your church and thought “the cure for AIDS could be in there” “The end to abortion is in there” “The cure for cancer is in there”? I know I have. Have you ever looked at a drug addict prostituting herself or himself and thought, “God knitted the cure for AIDS into his spirit before he was born” or “God stitched so much love into that guy he’s going to end the genocide in Africa”? So often what “the world” tells us stops us from seeing that beautiful destiny in a person if they are being devoured by the enemy. God called us to Brazil to see the true destiny and sonship and daughtership in each of the children we encounter.
Our modus operandi is to simply demonstrate the love of our Heavenly Father to the people we encounter on the streets. Our work days are usually from about 10:00 p.m. until around 5:00 a.m. because the people we are trying to save are “working” then.
Our ministry is in Recife, an enormous costal city in northeast Brazil. There is a park that we go to all the time. There are about 20-30 homeless children between 6-14 years old living in this park. Some are victims of trafficking, some ran away from the favela they lived in because it was dangerous, but all of them are precious in our eyes. We bring games and play with them, the girls on our team will paint the girls nails or do their hair, the guys will wrestle around with the boys and we just treat them the way we treat our own children. We show up and love them no matter what they are doing or what lifestyle they are wrapped up in.
Jesus said, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” and the man replied “who is my neighbor”? He was looking to exploit a loop hole. Everyone is your neighbor, including prostitutes, addicts, and transvestites. The church has built a reputation for being interested in hearing a person say a prayer for salvation and then moving on. This has happened so much in Brazil that we’ve encountered children that would kneel when we showed up with food because churches told them they had to ask Jesus into their heart before they were allowed to get the food they had to offer. We feel called to show up and love them just like Jesus did and then that opens the door for them to truly receive a revelation of what God’s love for them is, and that in turn creates a sincere heart change for them to walk out the destiny God has placed inside of them.
The first time Nic and I traveled to Recife, we went to this park. We were just loving the kids. I told them about the restoration home we were going to open there and a young boy around 10 or 11 years old just fell in my arms weeping and said, “Please remember me when you come back and start that house, if I had the chance I would leave living this way, if one person believed in me I would stop.”
That broke my heart. He wanted one person in a nation of 287 million people. He only needed one. In a city of 5 million, he only wanted one! When we came back to the park a couple months later on another trip he saw me from a distance and just ran to us and in a warm embrace he cried in our arms. Feeding “the least of these” is good, caring about their salvation is good too, but being sincerely interested in a heart change is what our Heavenly Father is after!
We have a Restoration Home opened in Recife and are able to receive girls we meet on the streets now. We believe God wants to restore them to more than they ever were here; we believe He wants to restore them to a place of relationship equal to when He “knew them before He knitted them together.” We want to give them the best possible life and treat them like royalty, not hand-me-downs – private schooling and the best medical attention available in Brazil when it’s needed. All of these things are very costly in Brazil, but we serve a bigger God than the almighty dollar and He always provides what we need monthly to make this happen.
Luke Billman is part of the ministry team at Shores of Grace Ministries. He works with his wife Alisan, as well as with his brother Nic and sister-in-law Rachel Billman, directors of the ministry. If you are interested in partnering with their work or would like one of them to speak at your church or annual conference, you can check out their ministry’s website at www.shoresofgrace.com or contact them through Luke@Shoresofgrace.com.