I'm a white American man, I have many years of education that culminated in a law degree, I'm 6'1'' and I only speak English. I live in India where my wife and I started an NGO called Freedom Firm. We try to help young girls from India, Bangladesh and Nepal who have been forced into prostitution, most of them are uneducated, typically speak multiple languages (none of which are English) and might be 5'3'' at the tallest.
Of all people how did I end up doing this?
Mostly because of two people.
The first was Tony Campolo. The second, my wife.
I grew up in a missionary family. My parent's full-time work was to communicate the gospel message. They worked for Operation Mobilisation (OM) before I was born and rejoined OM on the ship Doulos when I was 9 years old. I was surrounded by people who exerted all their energy in evangelism. Through preaching and teaching, through one on one relationships, through the written word, through drama presentations or audio-visual productions. That was the focus of everything they did. I was fascinated by life on the Doulos, with the different people I saw and the cultures I was exposed to. It was a big adventure and I loved it … but even at that age I couldn't see myself becoming a missionary. Somehow it just wasn't me. I believed it was important, I have no doubt that it is the only way the Good News is going to be heard around the world and I'm so proud of what my parents have dedicated their lives to; but somehow it wasn't me.
By the time I reached university, I grew interested in studying law. When I was 20 I met Tony Campolo at an O.M. conference in Germany. I was a volunteer driver and drove him to his meetings and back to the hotel. I dropped him off at the airport in Frankfurt when the conference was over and had 2 hours to listen to him challenge me with what to do with my life.
Tony has an active sense of humour. When he learned I wanted to become a lawyer he ran through his list of lawyer jokes but then he asked me what I wanted to do with the law. He began talking about how there were so many lawyers in America but very few that helped children in jails. He was referring to the situation in inner-city Philadelphia at the time where juveniles were put in the same cells as adults right after arrest and were abused. He didn't know any lawyers who were willing to take on cases like that and protect them. This sparked my interest in using law to help the oppressed and I felt like God was calling me into justice ministry of some kind.
Interestingly, Mala, my future wife, was at that same conference in Germany. We met as kids 7 years earlier at an O.M. teen camp and it was love at first sight! Now we were young adults. I fell in love again but she had another young man in her life and was convinced that he was the one. Three years later, Mala broke off that relationship and when I heard about it I wrote her a letter. By then we had both graduated from college and I was signed up to volunteer with the Peace Corps in Tashkent, Uzbekistan. Just before leaving for Tashkent, I visited Mala near Atlanta hoping I could rekindle our childhood romance. It was the best decision I ever made. We connected instantly and spent a few days together before I left for Tashkent. 4 months later Mala volunteered at an orphanage in Calcutta. On the way to India, she stopped in Tashkent and we spent a week together. Determined not to let her get away this time, I visited her in Calcutta and asked her to marry me. That's when she started talking to me about her dream to work in India and help children who were forced into prostitution. It was an exciting idea for me and the pieces of my life started fitting together; an international childhood, a calling to justice ministry, and a fiancée with a vision! Six months later we were married and returned to Tashkent to finish my Peace Corps service. Back in the U.S., I enrolled in law school and 4 years and 3 kids later graduated with a Juris Doctor. Just before graduation, I contacted the International Justice Mission, a new ministry that was looking to open an office in India to combat sex-trafficking and forced labor. Short of alternative candidates, IJM hired me, inexperienced as I was, to open their first overseas office. In 2000 Mala and I arrived in Mumbai with our 3 little girls (and a 4th baby on the way) to launch IJM, India.
Five incredible and difficult years later Mala and I decided Mumbai was not the place we wanted to raise our children. In South India however, there is a beautiful hill station with an excellent international school. Knowing that Gods' calling on our lives had not changed, we moved to Ooty, Tamil Nadu, to continue the fight against sex-trafficking. A year later we began Freedom Firm.
Malstead family at the start of Freedom Firm in 2006