*Ella is a sweet, beautiful 22-year-old Bulgarian girl who hadn’t been in Berlin long when we met her. At her young age, she already has 4 children at home that she claims live with their father, as she does not have the money to support them. She has no support from her parents and lived in a hotel, that she can’t even afford, here with her friend. We know that she has a boyfriend here also, but we are not sure of the role he plays in all of this. It seems that he does indeed have quite a bit of control over her. One of the first nights that I met Ella, I was able to ask her if she was interested in getting off the streets and look for something different. Immediately, she agreed to come back to the cafe with me and talk about doing this. At the time it seemed we had a job available for her, but unfortunately, it all fell through. Since then we had kept seeing her on the street but had no other job to offer her. After returning from outreach, I learned that Ella suspected she was pregnant again. My first night back on the street, Ella ran over to me and gave me a big hug but also told me herself she wasn’t doing so well because she was pretty sure she was pregnant and also struggling with pain. I told her to get a test done the next day and to see a doctor.
I was on my way to the cafe early the following week, for a meeting, when I ran into her again. Ella explained she still wasn’t doing well and she still hadn’t taken a test but she knew she was pregnant. She put my hand on her already changing stomach and I too was certain she was pregnant and already further along. Desperately, she asked me what she was supposed to do and told me that she wanted to get rid of the baby. I told her I thought she should keep the baby, but I was also honest with her and told her I didn’t know what to do from here, knowing the situation she is in. I promised I would come back later that night and have more answers for her. We agreed that we would offer Ella a spot in the safe house that night, but I wasn’t convinced she would be ready for this. Regardless we went out to find her and tell her about it. We barely took two steps out of the cafe and there she was. She told me her pain was worse and also that she had been bleeding. We took her back to the cafe to talk. We told her about the safe house and she seemed interested and willing to go right away but unfortunately because of the language barrier we felt she didn’t understand that this wasn’t just a housing option. This would be, a 180-degree life change. After talking with her more, we noticed she was getting nervous about the time- her boyfriend was already calling multiple times- and we decided it was most important to just take her to the hospital that night and sort at least this one thing out first. Many of the girls we work with have no papers, insurance and little money as it is, so taking them to a doctor is a significant thing we can do.
We ended up in the maternity ward with multiple pictures of newborns hung on the wall. Completely captivated, Ella took pictures of all of them. It was a precious moment. We found out she was suffering a bladder infection and also that she was already 7 weeks pregnant. She saw her little bean of a baby and could also hear its heartbeat. Ella was in shock finding out she was this far along. She had guessed that she was no further than a month and hearing different was very hard for her to comprehend. Earlier that night she had told us she wanted an abortion, but when we asked if she had already made up her mind, she said no.
We prayed that Ella would keep the baby and come to enter the safe house.
On a Wednesday night in April, I got a call from Lynette, who currently leads the AJ ministry, asking if I could come to the cafe immediately. It was just a little earlier than I would normally leave for outreach and all I knew was that Ella was at the cafe and something had happened- so I made my way as quickly as possible knowing by now, that there was a good chance she would already be gone when I got there; and she was.
When I got to the cafe Lynette explained to me that when she arrived at the cafe to set up, she found Ella on the step in front of the cafe distraught and in tears, not like we have ever seen her before. She let Ella into the cafe and asked her what had happened. Ella explained that her boyfriend was picked up by the police the night before and she had not seen him since. Lynette proceeded to ask her why but got no answer from her. She was upset and afraid, but after sharing what had happened said that she had to go again. We looked for her on the street when we went out later that night but did not find her. The next day I was told that Ella came into the cafe, still in tears, and worried, but after that afternoon, we didn’t see Ella again.
I didn’t know if Ella was still pregnant, if her boyfriend was released, if she chose to leave on her own because he wasn’t or if she was trafficked to another location. It broke my heart to not know where Ella was or if she was safe and I continued to hope to find her on the street week after week. It goes without saying that this ministry is a strange one, on so many levels, and when women aren’t working we never know if we should be celebrating or worrying.
Then, we finally got news on Ella’s situation.
One Wednesday, I finally asked one of the other girls I had seen with Ella before, if she remembered a girl named Ella, and if she knew what had happened to her. At first, she had no idea who I was talking about- not surprising since we never know when the girls share their real name with us or not- but when I proceeded to show her a picture I had on my phone from a WhatsApp conversation she immediately began to talk. This girl’s “boyfriend” was coincidently best friends with Ella’s “boyfriend” since they were very young. She told me, that she heard Ella is now in a brothel in Hamm, another city in Germany. She told me her boyfriend was taken by the police and that Ella was gone since then. I proceeded to tell her, that I too knew this, and wanted to know if she knew why. She said she asked her boyfriend and he told her that Ella’s boyfriend and brother beat up a man in Turkey. Her brother was arrested at the time and locked up but her boyfriend wasn’t. Ella’s brother was recently released but the police were now on the search for her boyfriend. They found him that night and he was sent back to Bulgaria to serve his time. We never know when we are hearing the real story from the girls and when they are making things up, but it’s not very often facts line up like they did when this girl was sharing with me about Ella. She wasn’t sure if Ella was still pregnant or had an abortion but she said she thought she already got rid of the baby before leaving.
I was relieved to hear where Ella is or could be but my heart still aches to know that Ella continues to work in forced prostitution and that it’s unlikely, she now has anyone reaching out to her.
Unfortunately, this is the reality of the work we are involved in- we never know when a girl will suddenly disappear or return.