A chance sighting led Cyndi romine to help those who can’t help themselves
Cyndi and Greg Romine were on a canoe trip in the late 1980s near a picturesque waterfall in the Philippines, where they had been working as missionaries. Near the waterfall, Cyndi saw a man talking to a young couple with a child, but did a double-take when she saw the man hand some money to the couple and then walk away with their child.
In that fleeting moment, the child was gone. Cyndi Romine says the exchange was “surreal,” and she became sick to her stomach when she realized she had just witnessed a child being sold into sex trafficking.
She didn’t rescue the youngster in peril that day, but Romine says the incident led her to establish Called to Rescue, a nonprofit organization that helps rescue missing, abused or trafficked children.
“She, without knowing it, has led to the rescue of so many others,” Romine says of the young Filipino girl.
Called to Rescue works internationally, raising awareness and conducting prevention programs; reporting abuse to proper authorities; partnering with law enforcement and other government and nongovernmental agencies; and training caregivers and those who want to serve on task forces to help law enforcement find missing, abused or trafficked children.
Romine established the faith-neutral Called to Rescue in 1992. In the past three years, she says, they have rescued about 1,450 children in the United States, the Philippines and other countries. Rescued children range in age, but the youngest one was 4 years old.
She describes herself as part advocate, part investigator, and says there’s not one typical way children are found or rescued. Domestically, searches can begin with a phone call from a family to Called to Rescue’s east Vancouver, Wash., office. Romine learns the ins and outs of the situation, and then volunteers begin trying to track a child, hitting the streets and searching locations such as public parks and bus depots.
In one instance, Romine tracked down a girl in the Portland area and witnessed her getting into a car, which they followed to a suburban neighborhood. Romine called 911 and gave authorities the girl’s name and location, and the police responded.
In a developing nation such as the Philippines, the strategy can be different. Trafficked children, a situation often driven by poverty, are rescued through orchestrated undercover operations involving local law enforcement and social services. Called to Rescue partners with groups there and in other countries that run safe houses so that the rescued children have a secure place to stay.
Romine says she is incredibly passionate about her work, but acknowledges little headway is being made to stop child trafficking or to make a major dent in the number of missing children.
In the United States alone, 2018 statistics from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children show 424,066 entries in the FBI’s National Crime Information Center for missing children, compared with 464,324 in 2017. One in seven of the more than 23,500 runaways reported to the center in 2018 were likely victims of child sex trafficking, the organization reports.
Romine says public awareness of abused and trafficked children is greater today than ever, but the ugliness and complexity that surrounds it — gun and drug running typically are intertwined with child sex trafficking — makes its large scope difficult for many people to grasp. She calls it a multibillion-dollar problem.
Called to Rescue’s digs are adorned with photos of youngsters the organization has saved from dangerous situations. Romine gestures to the images, recalling the various circumstances of a rescue and smiling as she talks about the children.
Born and raised in Nebraska, she was the oldest of three kids. She grew up on a farm, where hard work was second nature. The family grew corn and raised cows, and pumped their own water.
“If you’re a kid on a farm you work hard,” she says. “It’s part of who you are, and you don’t even think about it.”
Both Cyndi and Greg attended Northwest Christian University in Eugene, then went into the ministry, leading various churches and serving as missionaries. Romine also earned a doctorate at Covington Theological Seminary in Georgia. Today, she and her husband have a son and 21-year-old granddaughter.
Farm life — its accompanying work ethic and need for adaptability — was great training for missionary work, she says. “We are used to adapting.”
Romine describes herself as made for advocacy. She is as comfortable speaking to groups about child trafficking and abuse as she is pounding the pavement to prevent it, and says her disarming presence and appearance allows her to interact well with those on the streets. She has been held at gunpoint, and chased down a street by a pimp, an incident that prompted her to learn krav maga, a martial art form originating in Israel.
Called to Rescue operates with three paid staff members, more than 100 volunteers in Portland and Vancouver, and many others who assist overseas.
They partner with various organizations domestically and abroad, including Hope Ranch Ministries, a Eugene nonprofit that, according to its website, conducts awareness training, helps survivors through counseling and education, and runs a safe house for sex trafficking victims. Romine serves on the board and says such partnerships have come about organically and helped more youngsters.
Diana Janz, Hope Ranch Ministries’ board president and founder, says Romine brings expertise and focus to her organization’s board. Janz describes Romine as the driving force in helping Hope Ranch Ministries start a local citizen task force, and says she is encouraging, outgoing and passionate about her work. “She is so comfortable with who she is … it shines through in what she does,” Janz says.
Romine says God put her on that late ‘80s canoe trip, galvanizing what she calls “a life’s work.”