Benny Yu is one of Tearfund’s Inspired Individuals. He lives and works in Mexico City, where he’s set up a ministry called El Pozo de Vida – ‘The Well of Life’ – that provides support and a safe place to women caught up in prostitution and sex trafficking. Mexico City has a large sex industry, and is also a hub for traffickers moving people towards the US. The team at ‘El Pozo’ work in one of the barrios, supporting and serving those who work there, and with the district attorney and court system to help people get out of the sex trade and trafficking.
Benny kindly agreed to answer some of my questions about his work for this blog. I am so grateful for his time and his honesty – as well as for the work he is doing.
How did you end up in Mexico City?
God has a mysterious way of doing things! When we were first sent out by our home church (Newsong Church) in California, we began by starting a organic church plant in our home and working with the artist community. When we started to get involved in the area of anti-human trafficking our vision was transformed into engaging into social justice. God may have other plans for you and you just have to be ready to listen and obey!
How did you first become aware of the problem of human trafficking – what caught your attention?
After a couple years of establishing a church plant in Mexico City, we were introduced to a friend from London who came to intern at a coalition for women’s rights. She started to share with us about the issue of human-trafficking on a global scale, where there are an estimated 27 million enslaved. At first, the statistics baffled me and I couldn’t believe that there are more slaves today than there ever were in history. I began to reflect upon my own childhood, where I was sexually abused and raped by a neighbor. I had promised myself that I would do everything that I could to protect my two children from any harm. That’s when God spoke clearly to me and said, “Benny you didn’t go through that pain just to protect your own children but your pain will now be a platform for my power for the millions enslaved throughout the world.” I came to the resolve that my pain would be transformed to be a blessing for others.
What was it like, setting up El Pozo – what was really hard, and where did God open doors for you?
At first, when we started the work I assumed that the most logical thing would be start kicking down doors of brothels and rescuing girls – almost in a Hollywood-style of fighting human-trafficking. Although I was ready to lay down my life in this manner for this cause, we quickly learned that the issue is systemic and required a holistic approach in order to make significant impact on the issue. Additionally, we learned that there were very few refuge homes to provide rehabilitation and after-care (at the time there was only one other). As we began sharing our vision, an elderly christian woman who had been running a hostel, that was also previously an orphanage, offered her home to us to be used as an after-care facility. We had always envisioned that the survivors would have a transformational encounter with Jesus, much like the Samaritan woman did at a well in John 4. When we visited the site, there was an old well on premise, which confirmed for us that the non-profit should be called “The Well of Life”.
Our work in the area of restoration gave us an enormous amount of knowledge and authority on issue of trafficking. We learned intimately the intricacies of how traffickers worked directly from the survivors themselves. This platform gave us better strategies in our work that we began in the areas of prevention and intervention. We opened up an outreach center in the heart of what is considered to be largest prostitution district in Latin America, where are services are geared to serve and love the prostitutes. We also launched a crisis hotline for these women as another method of intervention. One of the exciting things that we do for intervention is host block parties right in the middle of the red-light districts, where we’ve seen miraculous healing and where we’ve helped women out of prostitution! In the area of prevention, last fall we launched a educational media kit on human-trafficking awareness and distributed more than 35,000 copies in the public schools.
How do you meet people who need El Pozo – how do they come to you?
At “The Well of Life” we offer housing, education, psychological service, and provide for their every need that we can possibly give. The core of our approach is to help our survivors heal from their past so that they can start to dream again. I always tell our girls, “Please tell me your dreams, and we will do everything in our power to make those dreams come true.”
Our girls come to us through a strategic partnership with the local and federal authorities. We work very closely with the District Attorney’s offices and aid in their judicial process and court proceedings. In a sense, our girls are with us under witness protection as the state brings charges against the traffickers. This has been a redeeming relationship, as we have seen significant transformation in the judicial system and political systems here in Mexico. We have had the opportunity to take part the shifts from corruption to justice at a systemic level. For example, very recently we had a successful conviction of a trafficker being sentenced to 39 years in jail!
I have a small daughter, and I can’t really imagine what it would be like to live with her in Mexico City – I wouldn’t want to isolate her to keep her safe, but I’d also be worried about her safety, I think! – do you worry about your family at all? What do you think the benefits of where you live and what you do are for them?
I am greatly concerned for the safety of my family, and we take necessary precautions. But I am also very confident that God is more concerned about the safety of my family than I could ever be, and He can protect them better than I ever could. With that confidence we are able to continue the work here in boldness. We also explain to our children what we do and why the young girls at The Well of Life are with us. Our belief and hope is that they become Kingdom-minded as they become aware of social injustices and more so how God can rescue and heal the broken.
What do you find hardest to deal with?
There are a number of difficult things that we have dealt with during our time here. Probably one of the darkest times in my personal and family life was the thought of dying or losing my family from the work we are doing. This resulted in my emotional detachment from my wife and children, which became detrimental on various levels. It wasn’t until I was able to really surrender my life was I able to be present again with my family. Because laying down your life for a cause doesn’t equate surrendering your life to God, when you surrender completely to Him you partake in sacrifice and the blessing of abundant life. It may seem enigmatic, but the way I see it is that as I am poured out He will continually fill me, and getting filled is a miraculous and more importantly full of joy.
What gives you hope for the future in those difficult moments?
What gives me hope is God’s justice and sovereignty will always prevail. It may not always look like the way that I want to see it, in actuality it is better than what I can forecast. I believe that I had to come the hard conclusion that my desires for justice are minuscule in comparison to what God wants to do. I had to surrender from working so hard to make things happen in order to be able to sit back and watch God do what He wants to accomplish. The scripture that helped me solidify this in my heart was Revelation 22, where there is the vision of God’s throne with a river that flows from is that becomes healing for the nations. The Spirit encouraged me to just jump in the river and allow God’s current to take me. Since then it has been the ride of my life!
How can we support you and your work – particularly in prayer, and in raising awareness of and challenging human trafficking?
Human-trafficking along with many other evils in this world have intimate ties with the occult. 100% of survivors have been subjected to occult practices by their traffickers. The Bible says that the enemy has come to steal, kill and destroy. We have witnessed the direct correlation and impact of prayer against the principalities behind human-trafficking result in freedom and advancement of God’s Kingdom. So praying specifically in this manner, against the supernatural as well as the human forces involved, would make significant impact in bringing an end to trafficking in our lifetime.
I believe that as people become more aware of this evil, there is an important message that needs to be sent to the Church at large. This is that although, yes, there is evil in this world and even evil men that we may fear, a greater evil would be a Church that is indifferent. Our prayer is that as we become more aware of the issue of human-trafficking, our awareness would lead to prayer, and our prayer into action.
For more information about the work of El Pozo de Vida, you can read their latest report. If you want to know more about the situation in Mexico, and watch Benny talk about it, this video is very powerful.