Wounded Warrior

Vulnerable AdultsMexico

For many years Benny Yu couldn’t remember any of his early childhood. When the memories finally returned he was overwhelmed with pain. But God has helped him put the terrible suffering of his early years to amazing use.

Warning – This story contains details of abuse and exploitation, including child sexual abuse.

‘My parents tried to give me everything that they never could have for themselves,’ explains Benny Yu. His mother and father had emigrated from Korea which had been ravaged by war, to California. They worked hard to provide for their son – so hard, in fact that the young Benny became a latchkey kid.

His parents, keen for him to learn music, hired a neighbour to teach him the cello. Between the ages of eight and nine, the teacher abused and raped him repeatedly. Not only did Benny never mention the incidents to his parents, he blotted them from his memory as a coping mechanism.

Digging into darkness

‘When fellow students at university talked about their first day at school, I was like, oh that's impossible, no one remembers that,’ remembers Benny. It set him wondering ‘Everything was very clear in my childhood after we moved away from that house so I said, there must have been something that happened there.’

As he started excavating the buried memories, a deep pain and then a dark depression descended on him. He sought therapy at college and God began a long healing process in his life. However, along with the healing came a powerful challenge that would transform his life.

'God said to me, “Benny, you went through that pain so that I can become a platform to show my power to the world.”'

Benny Yu

After marrying and starting a family, Benny moved to Mexico as a missionary. It was there he first learned about the realities of human trafficking, with an estimated 27 million people in modern day slavery, including 7-8 million children.

‘God started speaking to me as I started doing the research. I reflected upon my pain and I said okay, I'm going to protect my own children. But God said to me, “Benny, you didn't go through that pain just to protect your own children. You went through that pain so that I can become a platform to show my power to the world.”’

Shortly after, he set up El Pozo de Vida, a non-profit organisation based in Mexico, dedicated to ending human trafficking and modern day slavery. He had to swiftly modify his plans for the charity as he learned more about the situation. ‘I initially thought, okay, I'm gonna go in there, in Hollywood style. I'm gonna kick down doors of brothels and rescue girls, you know, in the name of Jesus.’

No easy answers

Benny soon learned that even if he were to rescue them, there was no place for the girls to live. So he set about opening the first of several aftercare homes. Gradually the work of El Pozo de Vida expanded as he realised that dealing with such an enormous issue requires a whole host of different responses.

‘The homes led to a outreach project in the prostitution district of Mexico City. Then that led into prevention work in schools – because the average age of these girls being trafficked was 13-15. Then that led into doing more intervention work, helping women coming out of prostitution and getting them jobs, so we have our vocational training programme.’

From left: Benny Yu, El Pozo de Vida at work on the streets of Mexico City, girls starting a new life

Pozo de Vida expanded as he realised that dealing with such an enormous issue requires a whole host of different responses.

‘The homes led to a outreach project in the prostitution district of Mexico City. Then that led into prevention work in schools – because the average age of these girls being trafficked was 13-15. Then that led into doing more intervention work, helping women coming out of prostitution and getting them jobs, so we have our vocational training programme.’

The work of El Pozo de Vida now extends well beyond Mexico – mirroring the approach of the traffickers themselves, who are no respecter of national borders. Meanwhile, he has also launched a new organisation, 27 million; which seeks to network and resource other grassroots anti-trafficking groups around the world.

Whilst juggling all this work, Benny admits it’s hard not to feel overwhelmed by the scale of the problem – in Mexico City alone he estimates that sex is bought around three million times every day. Most of those ‘transactions’ are with women who have been trafficked.

Shaping minds, telling stories 

He’s convinced that prevention work is the best hope they have of making a significant dent in those figures. ‘We need to focus in on 10-20 years from now; to shape the mindset of the young people. We go into the schools and the preparatory schools to help them understand the issue of human trafficking, prostitution, sexual abuse, and pornography.’

Whether he’s empowering other activists, speaking in schools, or meeting sex workers in person, Benny’s own story of abuse is something he returns to again and again. ‘As I share my story with these women, we've had them come out of prostitution. It’s so powerful because it's not me telling you what's best for you. It's me telling how God has worked in my life. Once we lift up the name of Jesus, then everything good starts happening.’

Pray for the work of El Pozo de Vida:

  • They are about to release a study on prostitution and trafficking in Mexico City. Pray that the shocking findings will be widely shared and they will move more people to stand up to the twin evils.
  • Pray that their outreach timed for the week of the American Superbowl will have a great impact.
  • Ask God to raise up more men and women to oppose trafficking and that the many ministries around the world will be able to coordinate their work.

Benny Yu is an Inspired Individual. The Inspired Individuals programme exists to identify, develop and connect new leaders who are aspiring to live like Jesus and whose dreams have the potential to transform some of the most needy places and people in our world.

See a short film about Benny and his work at El Pozo de Vida.

Ben Cohen
Ben is Web Editor for Tearfund. This can sometimes feel a bit like being ‘senior hairstylist for…