The mission president called. Would I, as his counselor, conduct a baptismal interview? A case he wouldn’t have the zone leaders handle, a woman with a troubled past. Most likely involving a chastity issue. The sister missionaries who taught her weren’t sure, there was a problem with communication. We needed to know about her understanding and her repentance. The baptism was tentatively set for next Saturday.

I called the sister missionaries. Yes, this investigator might have had a problem that needed to be cleared. No, not married. But she surely was a golden contact, result of member involvement. In fact, she always came to that member’s home to be taught.

Three days later, in our chapel, the sister missionaries introduced me to Iza, a rather petite woman in her early twenties. She was from Romania, spoke Romanian, but, the missionaries said, also some Russian. Iza smiled shyly as she gave me a weak handshake.

– And this is Nadzia, she is from Poland. She was baptized a year ago and translates for us. She has been so helpful in teaching Iza. You will need her for translation. She speaks English and Russian. The President told us it is OK. You can trust her.

I worried about difficult communication and privacy issues.

A tiny classroom in the chapel, both women seated in front of me, both tense. After a few sentences to Nadzia, it was clear her English was limited. She stared at my lips, frowned thoughtfully, then articulated with some embarrassment say-again-please. No doubt my own faltering English pronunciation – Dutch is my mother tongue – did not help her either. She then turned to Iza and formed hesitant clauses in Russian. My limited knowledge of Russian should have been sufficient to control the general accuracy of Nadzia’s translation, but I was quickly lost. I presumed she russified Polish words. Iza from her side nodded, seemingly more out of politeness than out of comprehension.

I tried to put them at ease, searched for common words and simple sentences. Introduced myself. Thanked them for coming. Said a prayer. Expressed gratitude for Iza’s willingness to be baptized. Explained I had to ask a few questions. Faith in Jesus Christ? Acceptance of the Restoration? Willingness to abstain from alcohol, tobacco… ?

Each of my questions only obtained an approving nod at the other end of the go-between. I needed more response to be sure Iza understood. And how was I going to talk about chastity and possible sexual transgressions? Provided Nadzia translated my words correctly, how was I to judge from Iza’s answers how well she recognized the gravity of her sins and how fully she had repented?

Inwardly I had to fight off the irritation that the missionaries had again been unable to find local people. It was easy to convert marginal strangers, but did these people fully understand the Gospel and its commitments?

– How long ago did you leave Romania?
The shift to this different kind of question, though gently asked, seemed to unsettle both women. The answer came back as a vague a few years.
– Do you have family here? Where do you live?
Reluctantly it seemed, Nadzia passed the question to Iza. The two women stared at each other, in an unmistakable moment of connivance. Nadzia nodded in encouragement, signaling I could be trusted.

Iza turned to me and whispered:
– Payoke.

No more was needed to grasp her background. A victim of human trafficking. A standard case in all its horror. A Romanian girl, probably from a rural area, lured to a fake job in France or Germany, abducted en route, her identity papers destroyed, made to believe family members back home would be harassed if not killed if she disobeyed, detained in back alley brothels. A non-life of pain and abhorrence. Coerced to play roles for photos and films. A few years already. Add to it the torment of her family without news. Cases like this, and the fight against the networks that committed these crimes, had been in the papers recently, with grisly details.

But she had managed to escape to Payoke.

The Payoke initiative was started, end of the eighties, in the inner-city home of a compassionate lady, Patsy Sorensen, who offered shelter to battered prostitutes trying to flee their environment. She arranged for medical, psychological, legal assistance, struggled with social services, immigration, menacing pimps. In the nineties, after the collapse of the soviet bloc, her attention focused entirely on the most abject form of exploitation: human trafficking. Her work reached the media. Volunteers stepped in. Lawyers, doctors, translators. Royal endorsement. Coordination with police. A network of safe houses formed. On the international level Patsy became a driving force to help combat an evil that affects thousands of women.

In our city, the single word Payoke summarized it all. It revealed Iza’s past. It also meant refuge during this first, critical period, as mafiosi were known to seek retribution or the elimination of witnesses.

– Vii imeetje voprosi, she helped me, breaking the silence.
– She says you have questions, Nadzia echoed.

I tried to recall the thread of the interview. What more was there to be asked?

Iza seemed alarmed at my indecision. From her purse she took a Book of Mormon in Romanian. The bookmarker opened the text at Alma 39. Verses were underlined. She turned page after page, her fingers caressing each leaf from top to bottom. At the end of chapter 42 she tapped lightly on the text, as her eyes became moist.
– She wants to say: she thinks that she is ready for baptism, Nadzia said cautiously, pleadingly.

There are moments when the inadequacy of being a priesthood leader can only be redeemed by those whom we are supposed to serve. Iza guided the steps. Justice and mercy. Expiation and redemption. She longed for an acceptance blended with the fear of not being acceptable.

I could only hope that, in the turmoil of her past and present, she could distinguish her place and that of her tormenters in Alma’s words to Corianton. For this was a context of whoredom. I felt guilty that she would feel guilt. Alma’s rebukes were an answer, agonizingly stark, to Corianton’s sin. These words were addressed to a man, to all men who up to this day … Still Alma called Isabel a harlot, stealing away the hearts of many. But what if Isabel had been another Iza? How could Alma have known? How did Gadianton robbers exploit women?

I found nothing else to do than gently close the Book, press her hand on it, and say that all would be well.
– Vsjo budjet chorosho, Nadzia echoed, with the warmth of a soothing mother.

She added:
– I also was in Payoke. Now I have an apartment. It is safe. Men are in prison. The missionaries must not know all this. It’s too difficult for them. And better that very few people know. I have a job. I will help Iza.

All was said and all had still to be done. Her journey would be arduous, her past ineffaceable in her nightmares, her past forever present in internet sites men visit. In their lust looking at Izas.

In the hall I told the beaming missionaries that Iza was going to be baptized next Saturday.

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27 comments for “Iza

  1. Anita
    December 15, 2007 at 9:21 pm

    Well, that sure made me weep! What an amazing story that reveals my sheltered world here. Thanks for sharing, and blessings upon her and others in that situation.

  2. December 15, 2007 at 11:51 pm

    Thank you, Wilfried.

  3. Proud Daughter of Eve
    December 16, 2007 at 12:01 am

    *stunned as always*

    You should make a book of these. Really. I’d one for myself definitely, and more for others as I could afford it.

    I find the idea that the missionaries couldn’t be told to be sad. I think I understand the decision, but it still seems sad.

  4. rrc
    December 16, 2007 at 12:58 am

    It does one follower of Christ little good to know unnecessary details of another’s struggles.

  5. Wilfried
    December 16, 2007 at 1:06 am

    Thank you for preceding comments. The matter of “how much members or missionaries should know” in difficult cases like this is complex and depends on circumstances. Here the two women, who went through those torments, choose themselves not to tell the missionaries. It is clear that not only the language was a major obstacle, but to recall the horrors endured can be another torment. Then there is the privacy issue: none who has passed through this would like more people than the strict minimum to know.

    To clarify why I tell it now: this event took place some 9 years ago. As happens in such cases, new identities were given to these women.

  6. Ray
    December 16, 2007 at 1:14 am

    I don’t know what to say, Wilfried. I’m crying as I type. I hope and pray SO deeply that she escapes her past, finds peace in His grace and learns her true worth as a beloved daughter of God.

    We sit in relative comfort and argue points of doctrine. God bless the Izas of this world.

  7. Jack
    December 16, 2007 at 2:24 am

    Come, Lord Jesus. I don’t care if I’m unprepared. Let the earth be cleansed of the crust and filth of abuse.

  8. manaen
    December 16, 2007 at 7:40 am

    Again, thank you.

    I’ve seen Christ’s atonement help victims of sexual abuse and I’ve seen the battle they have to accept that healing. I pray these women find it.

  9. Proud Daughter of Eve
    December 16, 2007 at 9:58 am

    #4 “It does one follower of Christ little good to know unnecessary details of another’s struggles.”

    Yes and no. The scriptures say to “judge not unrighteous judgments;” how can we judge correctly when we don’t know the truth? I’m not saying I think this decision was wrong. As others said there are is the personal trauma to consider. There’s got to be a balance though, some way that the truth be known. It’s unfair to the sister involved to have people thinking she had a chastity issue when she didn’t. Suppose some bright soul gets the idea that this sister should speak to the youth about chastity and repentance? (On the other hand, I don’t know how many people outside of the missionaries and the bishopric involved knew about it; I’d assume pretty much none.)

    Besides, we do each other no good by hiding our struggles — how can anyone know we need help? How can the sister or brother sitting behind us in Sacrament handle their struggles if all around them seem to be sailing smoothly.

  10. December 16, 2007 at 1:09 pm

    I can hardly believe that the heads of government appear to have the issue of “payoke” buried somewhere other than at the top of their agenda, this kind of slavery needs to be eradicated! Unbelievable, that such a inhuman practice exist.

    I hope Iza has found and maintained the healing available to her through the gospel of Jesus Christ.

  11. Jacob M
    December 16, 2007 at 1:11 pm

    Wow. I’m not sure if I can say anything. The part about her reading Alma 39 & 42 is so heartbreaking, yet in a good way. And it is so true how those we teach are often the ones who have a more awe-inspiring faith than we do. Thank you!

  12. December 16, 2007 at 1:17 pm

    What a heart-wrenching and beautiful story. I agree with PDOV #9 that while we may not need to share all the gory details, it doesn’t do any of us any good to ask others to hide the truth. Elder Terrence Smith of the Seventy just spoke at our Stake Conference and shared a similarly heartbreaking story that served to illustrate the power of the atonement, the difference between sin and adversity, and the Savior’s ability to heal both the effects of personal sin and tragic adversity. His sharing of this story–just as the sharing of Iza’s story–served to increase my gratitude of the atonement. Elder Smith also talked about the importance of connecting with others by sharing our wounds and our weaknesses. I hope that the IZA’s of the world (and the rest of us) are gaining access to the power of the atonement and the comforting love of a Christ-centered community who are truly willing to mourn with us when we mourn.

  13. Wilfried
    December 16, 2007 at 1:22 pm

    Thank you for drawing more attention to that side of the story, Jared (10). The figures are indeed hallucinating:

    “United States State Department data ‘estimated 600,000 to 820,000 men, women, and children [are] trafficked across international borders each year, approximately 80 percent are women and girls and up to 50 percent are minors. The data also illustrate that the majority of transnational victims are trafficked into commercial sexual exploitation.’ Since the fall of the Iron Curtain, the impoverished former Eastern bloc countries such as Albania, Moldova, Romania, Bulgaria, Russia, Belarus and Ukraine have been identified as major trafficking source countries for women and children. Young women and girls are often lured to wealthier countries by the promises of money and work and then reduced to sexual slavery. It is estimated that 2/3 of women trafficked for prostitution worldwide annually come from Eastern Europe, three-quarters have never worked as prostitutes before. An estimated 500,000 women from Central and Eastern Europe are working in prostitution in the EU alone.” (Source: Wikipedia)

    Many organizations, also governmental, are now involved in combatting this evil. Google human trafficking + women.

  14. Kevin Barney
    December 16, 2007 at 5:51 pm

    Beautiful and remarkable, as always, Wilfried.

  15. Amy
    December 16, 2007 at 6:18 pm

    Thank you.

  16. TMD
    December 16, 2007 at 6:50 pm

    in re:13, In addition to EE, this is also a grave problem in East Asia. Unfortunately even Japan has been quite resistant to pressure to act against it in a serious and sustained way.

  17. December 16, 2007 at 7:39 pm

    That is a story to make one weep.

  18. Suzanne A.
    December 16, 2007 at 10:08 pm

    Did you obtain these women’s permission to post their stories online? Aren’t baptismal interviews supposed to be confidential? You quote one of the sisters saying, “I also was in Payoke . . . And better that very few people know.” How does posting their stories online in a very public forum respect their desire/privacy that it would be “better that very few people know”?

  19. Michelle
    December 16, 2007 at 11:16 pm

    This is a huge problem worldwide, but some governments obviously try harder than others to combat it. In the UAE (where I lived until recently) women are trafficked in from all over Asia, eastern Europe, and Africa. I’m sure the government could do more to prevent it if they wanted to–they manage to keep out (or control) terrorists and have pretty low crime rates–but unfortunately human rights issues have a long way to go there.

  20. Wilfried
    December 16, 2007 at 11:00 pm

    Suzanne (18), thank you for your concern. As I said in comment 5: “This event took place some nine years ago. As happens in such cases, new identities were given to these women.” Moreover, they have since moved to start a new life elsewhere. I believe their story, told with all due precautions, deserves to be known, in behalf of all Izas and Nadzias.

  21. Adam Greenwood
    December 17, 2007 at 10:58 am

    #7, amen.

  22. CS Eric
    December 17, 2007 at 2:08 pm

    I have had the fortune to be associated with a few women who had faced the US version of Payoke: kiddie porn survivors. Their courage is remarkable. It is incredibly hard for me to even think about, and yet they live with those memories every day. Thank you for this story of two who have found healing and some peace.

  23. December 17, 2007 at 4:45 pm

    It always amazes me when a paradigm shift takes place so suddenly. I had never put the two together (human trafficking and Corianton) before, and now I will always read that scripture with this new understanding. Thank you for that.

  24. Jonovitch
    December 18, 2007 at 2:57 pm

    Wilfried, the thought that came to my mind is that the atonement would be able to take all of her burdens and pains and suffering and guilt, and dissipate all of that in to the air as she became baptized and confirmed and endowed and sealed. Her past, at that moment, in that interview with you, became not her past. It started the transition from being hers alone to becoming yours and Nadzia’s shared, and ultimately to become Christ’s and no longer hers. Thank God for his Son and their endless love.


  25. bbell
    December 18, 2007 at 3:29 pm

    Hi Wilfried,

    Great story. But very difficult to read.

    I can only say that I believe that Jesus can bind all wounds and heal hearts. He can take our yoke and put the burden on him. At some point the victimizers here will also face Jesus.

    There is also something to be said about having an experienced adult PH leader conducting baptismal interviews. Sometimes I wonder about 20 year old district leaders talking to adults about serious matters like this.

    I pray that Iza can find the healing that she needs in our midst.

  26. December 19, 2007 at 12:24 am


    So sad, so beautiful. Certainly there is no greater mystery in the kingdom than how Christ’s atonement can mend such broken things as a young woman’s soul ravished and violated by evil men.

    Thank her for having the faith to know it is possible.

    I hope someone read her Alma’s words about how God looks no men who break women’s hearts.

  27. Wilfried
    December 19, 2007 at 1:36 am

    Gratitude to each of you for adding comments. I have not answered each time since the topic is less for discussion than for pondering. But I appreciate the expressions of compassion and understanding. I have received some private mail from women for whom this post had special meaning. It is surprising to find out how much hidden tragedy from past experiences sometimes surrounds us, but also how much the Gospel can bring redemption.

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