(Photo: Willow Creek Association)
Pranitha Timothy is a soft-spoken Indian woman who has led over 50 rescue operations to free slaves in Chennai, India. She has survived a brain tumor and a number of run-ins with violent slave owners, and says God has cleared the path for her to fight injustice in the world today.
According to the website for The American Anti-Slavery Group, there are an estimated 27 million slaves in the world today. As the director of aftercare for International Justice Mission in the Province of Chennai, Timothy and her teams have rescued 4,000 slaves in the last nine years. She has regularly risked her life for these forced laborers, never knowing for sure if she will see her husband and young daughter again, and she gives God all of the credit for her success.
"God goes before us into the places of darkness and makes the paths straight for us to bring rescue," Timothy told attendees of Willow Creek Association's Global Leadership Summit on Friday.
Several years ago, for example, her team discovered a rice mill where dozens of slaves were being forced to work. IJM organized a rescue mission with government authorities, but the slave owner was tipped off and fled with his slaves before the rescue team arrived.
The IJM team began praying, and shortly after a truck filled with the slaves was located just 14 miles away. The slaves were then returned to the mill, and authorities told them to go into the building to identify their belongings, but when they did so they were surrounded by a mob of slave owners waiting to ambush them inside.
Timothy was with the slaves when this happened, and says those inside the mill began to pray again. Women and children were screaming, but Timothy says God confused the mob and, after four hours, she and all the slaves left the mill safely.
Rescue missions are full of both expectation and anxiety for IJM workers, Timothy told The Christian Post on Monday, and it brings them joy to see how happy the laborers are when they are reunited with their families and returned to their homes.
After a successful rescue operation, she says, the organization helps connect the laborers to social services, though much of what they need is help dealing with the emotional impact of their experience.
"The most critical, key thing is to help them overcome the trauma of just being in captivity, of being in a place where they've been physically abused, their dignity totally taken away from them," she said.
During Friday's summit, Timothy shared how God called her to risk her life for others. While working to complete her master's degree in social work, she felt called to fight injustice after her college's chapel speaker read Isaiah chapter 42, which talks about a servant of the Lord who will "bring justice to the nations."
A few weeks later, though, she was diagnosed with a brain tumor and was forced to have surgery. The surgery resulted in a successful removal of the tumor, but it also resulted in a loss of her ability to speak, swallow, and hear out of her right ear, though her voice eventually came back.
"After two years God gave me this voice – feeble, and yet powerful in His hands," she said, but the restoration of her voice is not the greatest miracle she feels has happened in her life.
"The greatest miracle is that God can transform my heart," she said. "Before He gave me this vision and this healing, He changed me."
Timothy and her siblings grew up on a mission compound that had no schools on it, so her parents sent her to get an education at a boarding school.
Compared to the wealthy families of her classmates, however, she was unhappy with the little money her family had. She was also unhappy with her physical appearance, because she had black patches on her skin from a bad reaction to an injection she received in the sixth grade.
"On one hand I struggled with my identity of being a kid who did not have enough money like the rest of the kids, and on the other hand I had all these patches on my face. I was very embarrassed about how I looked," said Timothy.
During her time in boarding school she also grew apart from her family, with whom she visited only about once a year. She was angry that her parents' work as missionaries kept the family apart, and eventually she "hated anything to do with Christianity."
While in college she earned the nickname "CC" for being "cold and calculated." She was harsh with the freshman students – she enjoyed watching them cry – and broke almost "every possible rule," she says. Eventually she was expelled by school administrators.
Today, however, she is a changed woman. She is full of compassion and courage, and she believes the work she does every day is a miracle.
"I think every single day I see what God does, and I'm amazed ... because humanly it's not possible to do what we do, and it's only through God's strength," she said.
IJM's mission is to rescue slaves, the sexually exploited and other individuals who are the victims of violent oppressors. IJM attorneys, investigators and aftercare workers are currently working with local officials in 13 different nations in order to bring justice and lasting change to those regions.