I could hear it: the angry forceful tone on the other end of the receiver. I think men get angry when they’re desperate. That’s what it was: a desperate anger, frustrated and insistent. I wasn’t even on the phone with him, but I knew.
“No, I haven’t seen your daughter….
We don’t rent to minors, sir…
I understand that but I don’t have anyone registered under that name…”
And so the conversation went. Maybe five, ten minutes.
There is too much and not enough in the small, downtown hotels of America’s inner cities. It feels like it’s the same story over and over. They see too much and they don’t do enough. It isn’t that they don’t care it’s that they have cared for too long. One shift bleeds into another. Experiences of conflicting attitudes and failed attempts to help have created a healthy defense mechanism of deniability and discouragement.
Powerless is a small word for watching girls come and go with no one caring. There is no clear, viable solution to a problem that is as systemic as it is individual. Each girl has their story but doesn’t it sound all the same? Save one and there are thousands to take their place. It’s too much to care for all of them so why care at all?
It’s strange how things come full circle.
There was too much and not enough in that conversation as I listened—a senior in college. Too much need and not enough evidence or leads. Who will advocate for that father from South Carolina on the phone hoping beyond hope that the small inner city hotel clerk in Atlanta was going to save his daughter? His expectations were so high! I felt the weight of them even as the clerk placed the phone back on the receiver. What was there to say except we’ll keep a look out? I hadn’t any answers. The expression on her face said she didn’t either.
It’s not much of a different story now: The facial expression, the sense of overwhelming obligation and expectations. I saw over fifty hotel employees last week who were knowingly and unknowingly on the front lines of exploitation. They call it prostitution. We call it Human Trafficking. One hundred faces of missing children folded within our missing children booklet bridge the gap between the two.
I never would have thought that I would have been standing in front of a hotel clerk, not unlike the clerk I met in Atlanta some four years ago, offering a solution. I hope that my presence somehow empowers a very disempowered and sometimes disinterested population. Our missing kids books can be a solution for both their jaded care and a fathers desperate anger…it’s a wisp of a hope, but it is hope. Hope in what the world would say is a hopeless industry.
I think God is faithful in the chance for us to help one of his little children. We have seen him faithful in this over the past six years of Super Bowls. This year’s will be bigger than ever and I pray that by chance these hotel clerks will be called by fathers, will be approached by children, faced with pimps and this time they will not have to turn away their pleas for help. Maybe our books will never be used, but maybe, just maybe a clerk will make a phone call; the punching of a few numbers becoming the means of transforming a hotel worker into a hero. To the clerk these books will mean empowerment. To the girl or boy being found it will mean the world—it will mean their very lives.