Costa Rica (OMI/MNN) — Creating a pearl takes great time and patience. It's a process that starts by implanting a tiny bead of tissue within a living mollusk–a shellfish with over 100,000 species. The little portion of tissue makes the mollusk create what's known as a "pearl sac," and secretion around this sac eventually creates the pearl.
The personal transformation of hurt and oppressed women is an equally time-consuming process requiring a great deal of patience.
But Operation Mobilization is committed to this very process in Costa Rica. Through a ministry appropriately dubbed Pearl Process, OM's Costa Rica team is bringing the love of Jesus to women who've been trafficked and abused.
Pearl Process was recently re-launched in a more neutral, central area of San Jose. The area in which they previously were working in is known as the "Red Zone:" an area designated for drug trafficking and prostitution. Many of the people selling themselves in the so-called Red Zone are between the ages of 10 and 14 years old.
"Child sex tourism is a serious problem, particularly in the provinces of Guanacaste, Limon, Puntarenas, and San Jose," stated a 2011 Costa Rica Trafficking In Persons (TIP) report. "Child sex tourists arrive mostly from the United States, Germany, Sweden, and Italy."
Just as the pearl culturing process requires certain elements to create a pearl, OM's ministry combines the study of Scripture, professional input, legal aid, and child care to produce a beautifully redeemed and restored daughter of God.
"Because these women came from abusive homes and had all kinds of needs, we wanted to be more holistic in our ministry, so we brought in practical speakers like psychologists and child-rearing counselors," says Julie Paniagua. Her husband, Alex, is the field leader for OM Costa Rica.
"We also wanted to teach them a business so they could have some kind of self-sustaining income."
A key goal of the Pearl Process ministry is to train and equip women with sewing skills so they can earn a sustainable income. Women who want to go a step further can apply for acceptance into the Pearl Process Mosaics business. Here they can make items from stained glass that are marketed on a broader basis.
"When I asked the women what they'd like to do, half said sewing, and the other half wanted to do some kind of craft. I told them they'd have to pray because I couldn't do either one!" exclaimed Julie.
"Later on at a Christmas fair, I saw a woman selling beautiful stained glass items. I decided to take lessons from her and afterwards teach each lesson to the ladies."
In September 2012, Julie had an opportunity to sell the ladies' workmanship at the OM Freedom Climb conference in the United States. Each of the women worked earnestly to produce items for the conference, and every single item sold. Julie even took back-orders for more items!
"Back in Costa Rica, we paid the women for their products, and they were overwhelmed," recalls Julie. "It was three times more than they expected–such a moment of affirmation and accomplishment for them!
"One lady named Lucy said, 'I thought these hands of mine could only clean toilets. I can't believe they made something so beautiful!'"
You can support their efforts by clicking here. Pray that the Pearl Process ministry would continue to transform lives.
Pray that many women would place their faith in Christ as their Savior and Lord.