The Light in the Darkness: My visit with IJM Manila

“What is the question that you ask yourself on a trip like this?”

visiting with survivors of OSEC (age 5 to 15)

That’s the question that an astute young man raised to me, as I was soliciting questions of a welcoming and engaged audience. I had just presented details of a recent trip to the Philippines, vising the work of the Manilla Office of the International Justice Mission (IJM).  The trip was arranged by the Canadian Advancement Office of IJM.  I had originally prepared to visit this office in April 2020, but worldwide circumstances delayed that trip until this summer (August 2023). 

Deb Firth, Alison Hardman, Joash Thomas, me,
Steve Jones  and RJ  Umandap - gaining a much 
needed historical and cultural perspective

Together with two IJM Canada staff, and three others from across Canada, we made the long trek to Manilla. There’s no short cut to cover 13,200km and twelve hours of time zone difference.  The discomfort and adjustments of international travels pales however, to the swirling of thoughts and emotions that gripped us all during our five day intense immersive dive into the heroic and courageous work of the IJM Manila staff.

"even the darkness will not be dark to you;
the night will shine like the day,
for darkness is as light to you."

The Lord gave me these words, from Psalm 139, before leaving on this trip. How important they would become. At our first dinner together as a team, Joash Thomas an IJM Canada representative, underscored that this work that we were about to experience is the darkest work that IJM does in any country in the world: They rescue and restore children who are victimized and abused through what has become known as OSEC (Online Sexual Exploitation of Children). 


Over the last thirteen or fourteen years, I have been learning (together with our church family, the Sarnia EMC) about the tragic, devastating, growing and almost invisible evil industry of human trafficking, in its various forms. This, OSEC, is the worse form; it’s thick black darkness. In 2019, our church family, made a formal commitment to support this work. Not because it was popular, or because there were predictable happy endings…rather because it was desperately needed.  It involved the safety of those most vulnerable and it is neglected by some who prefer to turn away or cover their ears from those who cry out from the dark places of the world.


Jesus is present in the darkness. He is the Light of the world. His truth gives light to our steps. We also become as light to the darkness around us, with our wavering faithful desires to honour Him with our lives. In as much as evening gives way to morning at the sound of His voice and death gives way to life by the power of God, who raised Jesus from the grave; so too can we courageously and carefully walk into the darkness, knowing He is already there.  

IJM Manila Staff

As we listened and learned about the work of the IJM Manila team, we learned of their multi-pronged approach: their investigative team, their prosecution team and their after-care team working with synchronicity, mutual submission, open communication and unified purpose. Through sacrifice of time, energy and personal comfort, they strive to ensure that a supportive environment unites, protects and prepares them all to walk into the darkness of identifying where abuses are taking place, working with police and law makers to secure justice, and developing a growing network of partners who will journey with victims and their families through grace-filled restoration and reconciliatory processes.  At all levels the Light of Jesus shines in a kaleidoscope of luminosity through the lives of every individual involved at every stage. Their efforts are breaking up the darkness. 


meeting with the Embassy of Canada in the Philippines where the efforts of IJM Manila were highly praised for their effectiveness in the Philippines and as part of a growing global effort to combat OSEC

More than just the perspective of IJM Manila, our team met with, listened to and learned from local police, government officials, NGOs and church partners. All of whom would exuberantly attest to the incredible difference that is being made to rescue and restore children while improving the means and reach of the systems involved. In their country, they are making tremendous strides and seeing tangible results that are transforming the lives of children as young as a few months old, from some of the most deplorable violations that can be imagined and will not be described in this space. This is darkness. And yet, we also heard of how, in many instances, the presence of the light of Jesus is being made known to these children, even in advance of the IJM team being present. In the prevailing shadow of evil, God sees, hears and is rescuing the most vulnerable. 


(Watch and Listen to this song by City Alight sung with Survivors of OSEC – some of whom I have recently met)


Having read some of the court transcripts and having heard the stories of some of the survivors, I can attest to the disturbing depth of darkness from which they are trying to emerge. The courage to testify against their offenders (some of whom are relatives), to undergo cross-examination, and then to learn to entrust their suffering to Our God who Heals, is the definition of courage. 


This reality, their reality, remains a challenge because the crime isn’t local…it’s global.  The Philippines is the global hotspot for this crime. In part because of the proficiency with the English language, in part because of the ease with which money can be transferred into the country, in part because of the favourable currency exchange compared to Western countries. The victims are local, but the perpetrators are global.  The punishments in the Philippines are significant (up to 40 years in prison) for these crimes against children. In countries like ours, where the demand is being generated at escalating rates, the penalties pale by comparison (see: This in itself is a dark veil of our Western culture. We need to shine the Light of justice on this in our country. 


Nevertheless, this much is true: 

No amount of darkness can withstand the light! 

Light shatters the darkness every time!

We must shine the light of the truth into the blackened layers of this deplorable crime. Perhaps, most of all, we must allow the voices of those rescued, restored and transformed to rise up to shine the Light of redemption. In this way the cloak of darkness will be fragmented and lifted away.


So...what do I ask myself on a trip like this? 

I ask myself, how does a simple guy like me end up in places like this? How does seeing and feeling the injustices of the world deep down into the core of my being, direct my life?


Having had the distinct honour and privilege to sit with, interact with and listen to 22 survivors, some as young as 5 years old – I am convinced that elevating the voices and stories of the survivors is possible. Having gleaned the passion and determination of those who work in all facets, connected to and through IJM Manila, I am emboldened to represent their ambitions with patience and perseverance. I am fuelled to do what can be done personally, locally, nationally and globally.  Not because I have anything to offer, rather it’s because in the darkness of injustice, Jesus is already present. He simply asks me to share with others, what He is doing, and invite them to also walk as light, into the darkness, with Him. 


If you would like to support the work of IJM Manila then please consult: IJM Canada


If you would like to hear a story from a survivor then please download “Finding Ruby” from your podcast app of choice.


If you would like to know more about our local and global efforts as church family: Sarnia EMC


If you would like to hear more about local, national and global efforts to address the issue of human trafficking then feel free to contact me directly:


(I acknowledge that this may be hard to hear for some. I can only recount what I have seen, heard, felt, and lived in various places: in the streets of my city or in the far forgotten corners of this world that God so loves.)


  1. Thank you Deve for sharing - this IJM trip to Manila which I shared with you has had a significant impact on my life. Steven Jones


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