Your first novel, Scared, was inspired by visits to Africa and the plight of children suffering from the HIV/AIDS crisis there. Priceless introduces readers to a new location, Russia, and a new evil, the sex-slave industry. What real-life experiences prompted this novel?
Several things. First, Russia was the place where my heart was broken for orphans. In 1997, I took my wife and eight-month-old son to run a camp for 150 orphans in the Vladimir region. I was never the same after that experience. We met a little orphan girl named Anya who was ten. She became our daughter one year later. When I returned to her orphanage to tell her she was going to be our daughter, a hundred other kids were staring at me with empty looks in their eyes. They were longing for something, something I wasn’t sure I could give them. Two little girls burst out of the crowd and hugged my legs as they looked into my eyes and said, “Papa. Papa.” I knew they wanted a family. That day I made the decision not to turn my back on the rest of those orphans. Instead, I started asking different questions. What could I do to help their lives be different than what the statistics showed?
I couldn’t chalk up those times in Russia as merely more experiences in my journey. The orphans I met and the things I saw were just too important. I had to continue changing my life in such a way that Russian orphans were more a part of it. They deserved a better life than the one they were facing, and I could do something to help change their circumstances. That’s exactly what I did.
How much of what you wrote in Priceless is based on true events?
I would say 80 percent. Marina’s story is the story for thousands and thousands of girls in our world. They become trapped in predicaments like this because they have absolutely no one to look after them. Nobody loves them; they are forgotten. Can you imagine what it would be like to believe with certainty that there is no other human being who truly loves you? The hopelessness would be overwhelming.
The pattern is the same for girls coming out of orphanages. They have no place to live, they can’t find jobs, and they are easy targets for sexual predators. It’s easy to see how they get caught up in this industry. I’ve done a lot of studying in this area, and once girls are in, it’s almost impossible for them to get free without some kind of help. They find themselves in foreign countries where they don’t speak the language, their passports are taken from them, they have no money, no way to make phone calls, and they don’t personally know anyone in their surroundings. Most are scared to death because they are told if they run away they’ll be found and killed, or if they have living relatives, their relatives will be killed.
It’s also hard to tell the difference between those who are selling sex because they choose to versus those who are being forced. Once they’re in, the only future most of them have to look forward to is an early death or the contraction of a crippling sexual disease that will ruin the rest of their lives. This is absolutely heartbreaking.
Here’s a sad fact: When it comes to orphans, the truth of this Scripture is overwhelming. “Be of sober spirit, be on the alert. Your adversary, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking some¬one to devour” (1 Peter 5:8).
The enemy rapes, pillages, destroys, and devours the life of every single orphan he can get his hands on. That’s the kind of lowlife he is. He takes advantage of the little orphan girl, because she is helpless to protect herself. There is no natural parental covering, no spiritual covering, rarely even a communal covering. They are caught, all alone, in a blizzard of abuse, and they are exposed to all of the ele¬ments. So our enemy devours them.
To devour means to destroy something rapidly and completely. I’ve seen this too many times in places like Russia and Africa. Currently, there are over 2 million children enslaved to forced prostitution—and this number has drastically increased in the last year. An estimated 171 million children ....
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