Before sunrise. A major Southern city. It’s your all-American sports bar, a room mostly made of wood and stink.

There is the obligatory Budweiser sign above the lopsided pool table. The crooked dartboard. There is the classic tavern bathroom, a lavatory so unspeakably funk-ridden that if you sat on the toilet you would drop dead from gangrene.

Every morning, while most of America is still asleep, 18 immigrants convene in this empty saloon before work. They are sipping coffee, waiting for Teacher.

Seated in these chairs are non-English-speaking Eastern Europeans, Filipinas, Vietnamese, South Americans, Mexicans, and West Africans. These people have almost nothing in common, except that they are free.

Which is a big deal, because these are former victims of human trafficking.

The teacher arrives. Anna is her name. She is 56 years old and she is also a trafficking survivor. Currently Anna is a hotel maid supervisor, but she is working on her college degree.

“I teach these people English,” says Anna. “But it’s pretty hard because I do not know many languages. I only speak Spanish, English, Russian, Cezch, a little French, and some Italian.”

A regular underachiever.

Anna has taught, she estimates, 600 people to speak English over the years. Many of whom were victims of trafficking.

Anna’s story is a long one. But then, everyone in this bar has a long story. And they aren’t my stories to tell.

What I will say, however, is this: Human trafficking is a much bigger issue than I thought. The International Labor Organization estimates that 24.9 million people are slaves. One person out of every 100 will be rescued.

I don’t mean to depress you. What I’m simply saying is that the issue of human trafficking takes up about 0.0000005 percent of my American brain. And that makes me feel a little ashamed.

Anna breezes into the pub. She sets up her iPad and goes through a few common English words. I am watching via webcam.

Her students are mostly young people, dressed in trendy clothes. Throughout class the students are constantly waving at me. And I am consistently waving back like an idiot.

Anna’s first assignment is a writing prompt. While students are busy writing, I watch Anna visit personally with each student.

“I want relationships with them,” she tells me. “If they need money, food, a friend, a place to stay, I will help them.”

She converses with a West African woman whose English is almost non-existent. The African woman was a victim of sex trafficking. Her face is disfigured from a violent injury, and she does not let people touch her. Although she allows Anna to hug her. Anna must have hugged her 50 times throughout the class period.

“We’ve made a lot of progress,” says Anna.

Then Anna moves on to the Mexican young women. The girls giggle at everything Anna says, which makes everyone else in the bar giggle, because they are adorable.

She then approaches the Eastern European young people. She is perfectly at home language-wise with them because she speaks Whatever-Slavic-Language-I’m-Hearing fluently.

The writing assignment is finished. Now the class takes turns reading their work aloud. At times, it’s comical, and equally endearing to hear students mispronounce words.

Next, the class works on basic English phrases like:

“What’s up with you?” “I really appreciate it.” “Pretty good, how ‘bout you?” “It’s chilly today.” “I cannot afford that.” “Wow, he is a hottie.” “You bet.” “Would you be my Valentine?”

At one point during our video call, she passes the camera from student to student so I can see their faces as they practice common phrases.

These people are all electric with joy, waving at the camera as my video face passes by them.

I watch one Russian girl put her whole heart into saying, “Wow, what a hottie.”

The girl makes it clear that she doesn’t mean me.

One burly Eastern European young man who looks like he could bench press a Buick looks into the camera at me and says with complete, unwavering sincerity, “Will you be my Valentine?”

“He has no idea what he’s saying,” Anna clarifies.

You and I take English for granted. We grew up speaking this tongue. We read it, write it, we use complicated expletives during moments of road rage. But to these people, such simple Dick-and-Jane sentences are the key to a new chapter in their lives.

“You can go to Italy,” says Anna, “and it doesn’t make you Italian. You can go to France, and it won’t make you French. But you can come to America, and you can become an American.”

When they finish class, Anna leads her students in a familiar recitation, a piece they have been memorizing for weeks now. Together, they recite it cheerfully, and I can’t help but think about all they’ve gone through.

“The Lord is my shepherd,” they all say in unison, “I shall not want, he maketh me lie down in green pastures…”

Well.

My cup did runneth all over the place.

59 comments

  1. Janice LeMaster - February 12, 2022 6:40 am

    Anna is beautiful and so are her students. God bless them each and every one!

    Reply
  2. Tawanah Fagan Bagwell - February 12, 2022 7:34 am

    I know very little about human trafficking and I was a social worker who worked mostly with teenagers. I have been retired more than 20 years from DHR. I am thankful they are free and learning the language. Thank you for this article.

    Reply
  3. Tammy S. - February 12, 2022 7:56 am

    ❤️ What a powerful glimpse into hope! Thankful for Anna. And thankful that these were ones who were rescued. Praying many more come behind them!!

    Reply
  4. Sandi. - February 12, 2022 9:30 am

    Thank you for posting this, Sean. Keep hope alive, brave Anna!

    Reply
  5. Glenda E Hulbert - February 12, 2022 10:15 am

    WOW!!! This gave me goosebumps

    Reply
  6. Naomi Smith - February 12, 2022 10:41 am

    How humbling! This makes me feel like the most blessed woman on earth. These people have endured unspeakable horrors, yet they are also blessed to be passed that and now they have hope! Thank you for the reminder, in your own unique style.

    Reply
  7. Brenda Freeman - February 12, 2022 10:42 am

    We are going to need many, many like Anna with the current border crisis. And……many writers like you to share their stories. Beautiful story.

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  8. Betty Lowery - February 12, 2022 12:04 pm

    Crying. Beautiful, hope-filled and inspiring.

    Reply
  9. Cyn - February 12, 2022 12:26 pm

    Thank you for today’s story of hope and survival. Blessings to Anna and prayers for hope, happiness and faith in their Shepherd for the victims of human trafficking.

    Reply
  10. suzi - February 12, 2022 12:31 pm

    “The least, the lost and the last” have an Angel named Anna.

    Reply
  11. Nancy Sanders - February 12, 2022 12:39 pm

    This touched me heart, Sean. We take for granted sometimes the fact that we live in a free country, that we are educated for 12 or more years, that we have a job, a home, food on our tables, and so much more. Victims of trafficking have none of these things and live in fear. The inhumanity of human slavery is so sad. This brought me to tears reading the last part, “The Lord is my shepherd…”. Thankful for being here.

    Reply
  12. Deborah Blount - February 12, 2022 12:45 pm

    I was so moved by your story. So many people don’t understand human trafficking is a problem in the states. It really is sad that they can’t see past illegal aliens to look for and help these poor people. Thank you for attempting to bring this to our attention.

    Reply
  13. KAY JENKINS - February 12, 2022 12:49 pm

    And this us the promise and the beauty of America. Thank you for sharing it so poignantly.

    Reply
  14. dapeek43 - February 12, 2022 12:56 pm

    God bless Anna and many like her! Hard to believe in today’s world that human trafficking is such a huge problem in the the world! Makes all the the declension about masks and political posturing and banning books minor compared to what so many people are going through! They are so thankful to be in America and want to learn English! Thank you to all the Anna’s of the world. God bless you!

    Reply
  15. Karen Erwin-Brown - February 12, 2022 12:59 pm

    very beautiful

    Reply
  16. Lisa K Riley - February 12, 2022 1:05 pm

    “You can come to America and be an American.” I wish we didn’t make jumping through those hoops so hard or expensive. Thank you, Sean for sharing this story.

    Reply
  17. Barbara P Dawson - February 12, 2022 1:10 pm

    I love you, Sean Dietrich.

    Reply
  18. Fran - February 12, 2022 1:13 pm

    Gut wrenching …. The thought so many will not make it out of slavery…props to Anna… is there some way I can help support her and her students?

    Reply
  19. Paul McCutchen - February 12, 2022 1:20 pm

    Starting my day with a shocking as well as humbling story. As much as we hope human slavery is a thing of the past, stories like yours brings it to the forefront. I hope these people listen to Anna and let her guide them to understand the world is not like the people that took them.

    Reply
  20. LeiaLona - February 12, 2022 1:26 pm

    What a wonderful story and eye opening. Thanks Sean.

    Reply
  21. Ann - February 12, 2022 1:30 pm

    Wow! We know so little and take so much for granted! Bless this woman and her big heart. Thank you Sean, for another eye opener.

    Reply
  22. Charlotte Virginia McCraw - February 12, 2022 1:35 pm

    Although your writing is today as I have come to expect . . simply excellent . . poignant, humorous, thought-provoking. That last word is on display this morning as I read about a world of which I was unaware. While I sit in my too-warm home {my husband’s blood circulation has apparently slowed to a crawl as he keeps our home at a toasty 85 degrees} at my computer with my movie-theatre-size monitor sipping gourmet coffee, my mind cannot stop seeing those people you describe . . and invisible thousands more . . people who just want to be free. Freedom. We don’t even think about that word. It is part of the air we breathe. I hope God gives Anna the time and strength to continue her work for many years. I should find a way to help. Will I? Sadly, probably not.

    Reply
    • terieasterling - February 12, 2022 4:18 pm

      So many ways you can help! These organizations help people get out of trafficking and find real world work: Thistlefarms.org, WorldCrafts.org, the-wellhouse.org; and many others. You can donate money, buy the products, pray for the people. So many ways to help without leaving home!

      Reply
  23. Elizabeth Lunsford - February 12, 2022 1:52 pm

    Loved this story and am impressed by the research you put into your writing. I realize some is exaggerated, but clearly you have put time and effort into finding and sharing some powerful, sad, shocking, meaningful facts. Thank you!

    Reply
  24. Beth - February 12, 2022 2:06 pm

    Beautiful!!! Thank you so much for bringing human trafficking and modern day slavery to the front in this piece. You’re a blessing Sean D.

    Reply
  25. Shelton A. - February 12, 2022 2:09 pm

    I was okay until the ending. You gave me a few laughs (Will you be his Valentine? lol) and some things to think about concerning how people profit ridiculous amounts from owning others. Then, the ending. To be with Anna on the day they understand what her class has memorized. I got just a little misty-eyed. Thank you for that. God bless the Annas of this land and Anna especially. Thank you for sharing such an important topic that we don’t think about enough. Much love to you and Jamie.

    Reply
  26. Libby Smith - February 12, 2022 2:16 pm

    Wow! I’m 73 years old- a young 73 mind you, but this one brought a whole new light ! Anna is amazing, there only need to be many more. Perhaps this is a real testament that religion should never be left out of education. How humbling.

    Reply
  27. Stacey Wallace - February 12, 2022 2:22 pm

    Thanks, Sean. You made this retired English teacher’s day, touched her heart, and brought tears to her eyes. May God Anna and her students.

    Reply
  28. Betsy - February 12, 2022 2:43 pm

    Thanks for sharing this story Sean and helping to raise awareness of this deplorable issue. Many blessings to Anna and all the others who rescue, protect, help and teach those who have been rescued. Thanks also to the owner that lets them use his bar to hold classes. Trafficking is a horrible evil that is much more prevalent than we realize!!

    Reply
  29. Lisa - February 12, 2022 2:51 pm

    I love this so much that my cup runneth over too. God bless Anna and others like her!

    Reply
  30. Jackye Thompson - February 12, 2022 3:02 pm

    Thank you , Sean . This is a reminder
    That we are all Our Brothers Keeper
    The peace of The Lord.

    Reply
  31. Marsha Eaves - February 12, 2022 3:43 pm

    One of your best ever!! Thanks for reminding me of what I take for granted. Will you be my Valentine! 😁

    Reply
  32. DAVID A WILSON - February 12, 2022 3:46 pm

    From this writing I learned some things and thought of some things that I just took for granted: GREAT LESSONS! Thanks again for your writings!

    Reply
  33. rondatedder - February 12, 2022 4:02 pm

    Great story, thanks for sharing. A lesson in the meaning of the word “Freedom”, may we all look to these stories and bring freedom into perspective. Freedom should not replace or diminish compassion, one isn’t reliant on the other. Freedom isn’t a weapon nor is it a given in this life. So many suffer that we simply have no idea about. Thanks again for sharing.

    Reply
  34. Cathy M - February 12, 2022 4:19 pm

    A modern day Mother Teresa? This wonderful lady is saving these people’s lives. They trust her. What an angel. God bless her. Thank you Sean for educating us❤️🙏🏻

    Reply
  35. Ruth Mitchell - February 12, 2022 4:21 pm

    Thank you for sharing that cup that runneth over. May God bless and heal every one of those who are or have been victims of human trafficking.

    Reply
  36. Patricia Gibson - February 12, 2022 4:22 pm

    Sean, thanks for sharing this. I often times forget that even in America there are people in great need. I am so very blessed and hope to do whatever I can to help others.

    Reply
  37. terieasterling - February 12, 2022 4:26 pm

    So grateful for the Annas of the world who are on the front lines helping victims of trafficking.Trafficking is just behind drug trafficking in illegal income production in the US. So many ways you can help, wthout leaving home! These organizations help people get out of trafficking and gain work skills: Thistlefarms.org; WorldCrafts.org; wmufoundation.com/blog/tag/Hayes+Endowment; the-wellhouse.org; and many others. You can donate money, buy products, pray for the people.

    Reply
  38. William Lowe - February 12, 2022 4:34 pm

    Most people don’t realize the other side of the world is only a few miles away.

    Reply
  39. Jenny Young - February 12, 2022 4:40 pm

    My church has had speakers come & share about human trafficking, how common it is, how it happens in our area & what we can do about it. But helping people who’ve come out is one of the most important things we can do. If you or Anna knows of any good organizations we can help please share them with us.

    Reply
  40. Debra Cheney - February 12, 2022 4:48 pm

    First thing this morning I got some water in my eyes because you found your father’s baseball glove. Now this and lots more water running from eyes. Your life is so rich and you make mine richer by sharing these bits with us. I now speak to everyone everywhere I go. Everyone has a story.

    Reply
  41. Susie Flick - February 12, 2022 5:01 pm

    God bless Anna for her devotion to all of these wonderful human beings.

    Reply
  42. Bill E. - February 12, 2022 5:07 pm

    Sean, great story. It makes me want to teach someone English. Thanks again.

    Reply
  43. terifb - February 12, 2022 6:00 pm

    Sean, you are a constant source of inspiration, comfort and humor in my life. Thank you so much for everything you write. God bless you!

    Reply
  44. Linda Moon - February 12, 2022 6:53 pm

    Southern cities, small or large, are good. Freedom is good. Teaching and learning are good. Do you know how much good you bring to your readers? Thank you for that. When I was a young fifth-grade student I learned “I, too” by Langston Hughes. Later I had the privilege of teaching it to my students. And I hope to hear the rest of Anna’s story one day. My eyes ran over just now.

    Reply
  45. Pingback: Sean of the South: Free | The Trussville Tribune

  46. Steve Michaels - February 12, 2022 7:02 pm

    Beep! Beep!

    Reply
  47. AlaRedClayGirl - February 12, 2022 8:03 pm

    Even with all her faults, America is still the greatest nation on earth.

    Reply
  48. Harriet White - February 12, 2022 8:13 pm

    Adult and child sex trafficking is a Huge problem in America and the world. Look up Adrenochrome – it is not for the faint of heart.

    Reply
  49. MAM - February 12, 2022 8:39 pm

    Thank you, Sean, for bringing this too often hidden reality to your readers. May God bless Anna, and may her students all understand what she has them memorize. God is with Anna and with us every day. We simply have to remember it and do what we can to help those of God’s people who will benefit from our talents and our dollars. And Harriet White tells the truth that learning about adrenochrome is NOT for the faint of heart. I was SHOCKED the first time I heard about it. It is Satan’s worst. We must constantly pray to God and thank Him for everything He does for us every day. Know that in the end, God wins!

    Reply
  50. Karl Heeter - February 12, 2022 9:39 pm

    I recently read a book called ” American dirt “. My understanding of human trafficking has changed sincerely since then. I can’t imagine what each of these folks are going through every day trying to communicate in a foreign land. I have traveled around the world and have experienced only touches of that and it can be very scary. Blessings to you Sean for bringing this to light in your column. I love reading what you write every single day.

    Reply
  51. Anthony - February 13, 2022 3:02 am

    Lord, be with your children. Amen.

    Reply
  52. Kim Ladoczky - February 13, 2022 10:01 pm

    Very poignant story. If Americans only knew. I wonder if today’s release was on purpose? Super Bowl Sunday? Though there is conflicting data, large sporting events are a huge draw for those in the illegal sex trades & human trafficking. It’s a problem most Americans don’t think about. As a former LEO & former educator, I have dealt with it & unfortunately, lost students to human trafficking.

    Thank you Sean for bringing this to the attention of those who don’t know. & Thank You Anna for being an angel to those who are in need.

    Reply
  53. Adrienne I Possenti - February 13, 2022 10:46 pm

    With the “free-for-all” along the southern border states in America, the business of human trafficking is more lucrative than ever, that includes child sex trafficking which is easy-peasy and big business for the millions of illegals who choose to go the route of exploitation. Most elected government officials in America turn a blind eye to the reality of this torture of the innocent that is right in front of their noses. Life for them is comfy, cozy and who wants to rock that boat by facing the under-belly of society. Dear God, help us.

    Reply
  54. CHARALEEN WRIGHT - February 14, 2022 4:31 pm

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  55. CHARALEEN WRIGHT - February 14, 2022 4:44 pm

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  56. Vince - February 14, 2022 8:22 pm

    My favorite Psalm. My great-grandmother had a next door neighbor who was a Baptist preacher. He was a giant, at least 6’5″ and built like a linebacker. I was all of 4 foot something and probably weighed 80lbs soaking wet so maybe he just seemed like a giant. This was his favorite Psalm and when he said it in the KJV style with his booming but gentle voice with pure joy it was mesmerizing. He would work gardening in his yard reciting Psalms the whole time. To this day as I recall, speak, or hear the 23rd it is his voice I hear. Lest I should ever forget any part I keep one of those little cards in my wallet with it and have shared copies with many.

    Reply
  57. Anita Johnson - February 18, 2022 4:44 pm

    Sean, you are a blessing, Anna and the Annas of this country are blessings, may your story cause me to bless them and others!

    Reply
  58. Sherry Bailey - February 20, 2022 2:13 pm

    Oh my goodness. What a wonderful, inspiring story. How I love to read your stories; they so warm my heart & help me to believe in the goodness of folks in this corrupt world we live in. Sean, keep writing; keep sharing; you are a blessing to many. Thank you.

    Reply

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