September 14, 2018

I Was Sold to Human Traffickers, Now a Pastor in the U.S.

The Mizo people are an ethnic group native to South Asia. Joseph Zohming Thanga is a Mizo Seventh-day Adventist immigrant from Myanmar. Presently, he serves as pastor of the Des Moines Mizo Company in Des Moines, Iowa, United States. This is his story. — Editors

I was born in the small village of Tuingo. A third-generation Adventist, I was the second youngest of six children. My family was poor, and my parents supported us by working the rice paddies.

Refugee and Prisoner

While I was growing up, my country was an extremely dangerous place, and in 2007 I sought asylum with the United Nations refugee agency in Malaysia.

I stayed there for a year without legal papers, waiting for my appointment. One night I was startled out of sleep by the sound of security forces pounding on my door. I was arrested and taken to a detention center.

During this time my faith was tested. Like Daniel in the Bible, I used to pray three times a day. I feel that during that period, I learned what it means to put one’s full trust in God.

I began sharing Jesus with non-Christian prisoners. Some of them were excited to learn more about my beliefs, and one man even asked me to baptize him.

Another man told me he had been a Christian in his youth but had converted to Hinduism and later to Islam, because none of the Christians he knew had lived what Christ taught. He believed God put him in the detention center with me to convince him to follow Jesus once more.

Sold to Human Traffickers

One day a fire broke out at the detention center. After the fire, the government decided to deport the prisoners to their home countries.

This was a problem for some of us from my country, because the government wouldn’t recognize us as citizens and refused to take us back. Instead, a decision was made that we would be sold to human traffickers from another country. I was sold for approximately US$195. I would have been made a life-long slave were it not for my brother and uncle, who bought me back.

Once free, I managed to get a job at a restaurant and worked hard for the next year and a half to help support my family and pay back my brother and uncle.

Life in the United States

I had the opportunity to come to the U.S. in 2010. I settled in the state of Maryland and finished high school. For three years after that, I worked in a factory warehouse in Indiana.

I feel that it was God who, in 2014, led me to work with the Mizo group in the city of Des Moines, Iowa. We started with approximately 10 members but have grown to 32, becoming a company in 2017. Thanks to the Des Moines Seventh-day Adventist Church, the Iowa-Missouri conference leadership, and church members across the territory, many of the Mizo members’ children are receiving an Adventist education. I believe God has big plans for this company.

Please pray for the Des Moines Mizo Company as we work to reach the large number of Chin and Mizo people who live in Iowa. I believe Jesus is coming soon, and I want to work to get others ready for His return.