Caring for the abused in Cambodia: Led by faith, Krista Allgor volunteers to help victims of sex trafficking, slavery
It's not always easy for Krista Allgor to talk about what she's seen in Cambodia. Families that can't afford food. Children working in factories to help pay their parents' debts. Teachers asking for bribes just so they can support themselves. Parents subjecting their children to sex trafficking.
"Every time I learned something, my heart breaks," she said.
Allgor, a 2006 Hastings High School graduate, will be spending at least the next year in Cambodia, working with Agape International Missions to help people affected by slavery and sex trafficking.
Inspired through faith
Allgor's mission began in the fall of 2011. After earning degrees in political science and criminology from the University of Minnesota in Duluth back in 2010, she went to South Korea to teach English. Her mother, who was born in Korea and adopted, found her birth family there, and it was a chance for Allgor to learn more about her family and her heritage.
Having grown up in the church, Allgor naturally looked for a Christian church to attend in Korea. She found one, New Harvest Ministries, in Seoul's Gangnam district. It was at a retreat through the church that first opened her eyes to the issue of human trafficking. A Korean pastor spoke about what was happening there in Korea and his ideas on how to restore hope.
After hearing his account, Allgor started doing her research. She watched documentaries and read articles and books.
Through it all, she felt herself being moved to action, but she didn't know yet just how she could make a difference.
"From there I wasn't sure where to go," she said.
A couple weeks later, an opportunity to go on a two-week mission trip to Cambodia and Thailand came up through her church.
The first trip
Allgor's first trip to Cambodia was in January of 2012. She and the group of about a dozen people had been preparing since the previous October, getting ready for a completely new experience.
"We had no idea what to expect," Allgor said.
When they arrived, they teamed up with Agape at one of their centers in Cambodia. Every day, Agape bussed 100 to 300 children, roughly age 4 to 8, to its facility, most of whom were either at risk of being trafficked or enslaved, or already were. Some of the children came from a local brick factory, enslaved because of their parents' debts. Agape had worked with the owner and convinced him to let them take the children for a few hours during the day.
Other children were there because they couldn't be in school. School is free in Cambodia, but getting through it isn't so simple. The teachers are so underpaid that they take bribes in exchange for good grades. Some of the children Allgor worked with were even being trafficked at night by their parents.
Allgor's time with the kids club was spent singing songs, dancing, playing games, doing skits about Jesus and the gospel, doing crafts and teaching a few easy, common English phrases, all done as Christian ministry.
"It's a time for these kids to just be kids," and not worrying about making money for their parents, Allgor said.
The experience was a moving one.
"We were very blessed but it was incredibly challenging," she said.
Every day she prayed for guidance, and she said that God really came through.
"I've never felt the Holy Spirit's presence more than when singing and dancing with these kids," she said.
The mission trip worked in a similar way in Thailand the second week, but this time they worked with street kids near Burma (Myanmar). Children on the street were often lured away and enslaved or forced to work for opium dealers. At the center where Allgor worked, she helped provide lunches and shared the message of Christianity.
The second trip
Allgor's first experience in Cambodia solidified her resolve to do more.
"After the first trip, it was very apparent that ... Cambodia was the place I felt God the most," she said.
Back in Seoul, she joined her church's missions committee and helped organize another trip, this one for July 2012. They would send four teams - one each to Cambodia, Albania, Thailand and Mongolia. Allgor volunteered for the Cambodia trip.
This trip was supposed to be much like the first, but two weeks before, Allgor and her group were asked to switch tracks and work with 18- to 21-year-olds instead of children.
"It opened my eyes even more to what's happening," she said.
Girls often don't know what else, other than prostitution, they can do, Allgor said. The society there even primes them for a life of slavery and prostitution, leaving them with few, if any options.
"They're still enslaved there, emotionally, maybe financially," she said.
Nine girls had moved into the new facility, while Agape worked to show them the love of God and to help them find a way to a new life.
Committing to the cause
Before Allgor left Cambodia, she had started thinking about whether or not to renew her teaching contract in Korea. While she loved being in Korea, she didn't get the feeling it was where she was supposed to stay, she said.
As she was searching for the next step on her path, those working at Agape mentioned they were understaffed, and were looking for an English teacher to work in Cambodia. It made Allgor start wondering if she could live there and do this work full-time. Then she got to hear the story of Agape's U.S. director of operations, who stated that "doing God's work is addicting." It was an idea she had never heard before, so after the talk, she thanked him. When she did, he told her, "this could be you in three years."
"God just stopped me," Allgor said. "...He's taking me where he wants me to go."
She applied for the position last fall, and was accepted in early winter. It's a one-year commitment of full-time work at Agape's Restoration Center in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. Allgor will be an English teacher there, helping Cambodians use Rosetta Stone software to learn the language.
There are more than 50 girls living at the center, which offers in-house counseling, therapy and education. Most of the girls there have been trafficked in some way. Most are between 8 and 13 years of age.
"These girls are very young," Allgor said. "I'm trying to prepare myself for that."
Allgor will also help teach Cambodians who will eventually staff and take over the center, making it their own. She'll be heading to Korea on March 28, and to Cambodia on April 9.
Allgor isn't sure what, exactly, she wants to do after her work in Cambodia, but she hopes she will be able to find something related to the issue of human trafficking. It's not just an Asian issue or European issue, she said.
"It's a world issue, it's a human issue. It's a Minnesota issue."
Allgor has been raising funds to help her make the move to Cambodia. She's nearly covered her monthly expenses, and just needs a few hundred dollars more for the initial move.
The support she could use the most, though, is prayers. While she's not too concerned for her physical safety, the spiritual battle she'll face will be enormous.
"It's like going behind the gates of hell," she said. "It's a dangerous place.
"Without prayer support, it'll be hard."
To follow her story, go to restoringgirls.com. Those who want more information about the work in Cambodia or Agape are invited to contact her by email at krista.allgor@gmail. com.