Editor’s Note: The following article was published in our Sept. 2017 issue; however, since The New Abolitionist documentary is nearing completion, we wanted to provide this reminder to be on the lookout for its release! We will post an update when it is available.
For the past two and a half years, I’ve been engaged in the making of a documentary on human sex trafficking. Despite being overworked and sometimes overwhelmed, I’m the happiest I’ve ever been in my life. The focus of my film has been the Christian missionaries who’ve dedicated their lives to ending human sex trafficking. To me, they are the modern-day heroes of my faith.
There’s so much to share about the experiences, lessons and changes this process has facilitated in me. I continue to educate myself about the realities and intricacies of the following: the value and purpose of art, filmmaking, history, politics, geography, differing cultures, faiths, and societal forces. I also learned how to grow in my own faith through action. One of the greatest lessons I’ve learned is that personal growth is our healthiest and most natural state. I’ve also discovered that our so called “mistakes” are the necessary and tangible evidence of this growth. I’ve made many errors while making this film. But what helped me the most, were two things: Letting go of my ego and not letting my perceived success or failure as a director define me. When I was able to put these things aside, getting back up after a challenge became easier.
I believe this film was and is my “divine assignment.” I had many confirmations from trusted people of faith, that affirmed this for me. I’m so grateful I took a year to seek guidance from the Lord about “what project he would have me do.” Had I not sought God’s counsel, I would not have had the faith to endure the never-ending trials and tribulations I encountered. Had it not been for my belief in God’s goodness and ability
to transform us all, I wouldn’t have made it. Every failure was necessary; propelling me toward the next set of lessons. Sharpening my character, abilities and understanding of the subject matter once again. This process of constantly embracing change, has taught that we are even more capable than we think.
I shot The New Abolitionists in Southeast Asia and travelled there twice to do so. The questions I asked were as follows: Why is it considered the most trafficked region of the globe? What can we all learn from this place about ourselves? Where and how must we change, transform and grow past this horrific reality? I also became deeply interested in what factors and conditions have contributed to this region being the most trafficked in the world. There are different groups who play a part in this global stage. The first group is those I followed. Those missionaries who dedicate their lives to fight, day in and day out, to end human sex trafficking. These are the ones I called in the movie, The New Abolitionists. Those who endlessly inspire me and deepen my moral courage. They are the concrete evidence of God’s healing power and goodness. They’ve sold everything, moved across the globe to rescue, restore, and stop this horror being perpetrated against woman and children.
Then there are the victims of this horrific industry. Women and children who are tricked, betrayed, seduced, pressured, blackmailed and exploited. Victims who fight and continue to heal from unimaginable pain and trauma. They’ve taught me about the strong, loving nature of the human spirit, despite any darkness the enemy and this world has thrown at them. I observed, many of these innocents going back into their families, villages and towns and transforming their own communities through the skills they learned through recovery and rescue missions.
Then there are the perpetrators, those individuals fueling this booming criminal industry. I’ve come to distinguish three categories in this camp. The first is a dangerous organized network of cartels that must be stopped. Then, there are the corrupt authoritative and governmental officials who are either working in collusion, to fuel this industry or turning a blind eye. While there arethose in positions of authority fighting to stop this evil industry, globally, greater reformation, top prioritizing and greater accountability is desperately needed. This can be achieved effectively through social pressure. Finally, there are the “Johns” who travel from all over the world to seek out sexual gratification. They are also, in a sense, victims—addicted, unwell, and in deep need of spiritual transformation.
The question I continue to ask is: Where are we in all this? We’ve had 10 years of exposure to this subject in movies, television shows, interviews, news programs and various articles. Yet collectively, what real action have we taken? Christian Elliot of A21 gave me a shocking statistic. He said, 1% of this criminal industry is being prosecuted. One percent! We are all, collectively, becoming more aware than ever. Yet that awareness and the actual rate of prosecution is extremely incongruous.
I challenge everyone reading this article to do more than watch from the side lines. We are Christians! There are no sidelines in this fight. We need the whole working army of God on the field. Speak out and petition our elected officials to make this issue a priority. Pray hard and long. Donate to the anti-trafficking warriors on the front lines of this fight (some are listed on my website www.thenewabolitionistsdoc.com featured in my documentary on the “What can I do” page). Your donations allow them to continue their life changing work. Go yourself and do anti-trafficking work alongside them. Buy products made by anti-trafficking organizations and businesses that contribute to this work. Find creative ways, like I did, to take action. Lastly, continue to educate yourself in solutions. Please don’t look away! Lives ARE at stake. We all have a part to play in ending human sex trafficking! With God ALL things are possible.
About Christina: The New Abolitionists is beyond a passion project for me. For the past 35 years, I’ve been a working professional as an actor, acting teacher, director and producer. I’ve trained, taught and performed in some prestigious and respected theaters and training institutions on the East and West Coast; producing music videos, a web series and numerous plays. However, my life changed a few years ago when at a chance meeting in Hollywood, I met Erica Greve, of Unlikely Heroes. Her story compelled me to action. For more information visit: www.thenewabolistionistsdoc.com.
Heather Clark is a multi-talented advocate for justice. She gradually became aware of the issue of human trafficking through a variety of circumstances, but readily admits she doesn’t fully understand the magnitude of the problem. As she says, “I have statistics memorized, heard true stories of the horrors, and have played the character of a trafficked girl, but I don’t understand. How could I? I think it is something in which we can always be growing in our awareness.”
When her daughter Aliya was 2-years-old, she broke her leg and was incredibly traumatized from the event. To help her process her trauma, Heather created an imaginary club called the Girls of Courage. “The Girls of Courage had super powers and we would fly over the city and look for kids who were in need or hurt and we would help them. Through these imagination games, she grew in courage as she gave it to others. Once she came through her trauma, the Girls of Courage remained but as the months went by, the scenarios changed from helping a little boy who fell off a swing in a park to helping ‘da poor kids’ as she would say in her little 3-year-old accent.”
Heather soon realized this was no longer a game to Aliya and she was becoming quite serious about wanting to help the poor. “I realized that as her mom I would be the one to mentor her in her compassion and empathy. I wanted to do something that allowed her to be a part of helping, and not something that I did and told her about. I considered the fact that I had the ability to use the arts to make a difference, to educate, raise money etc. I put a dance show together called The Least of These and Aliya, my other daughter, Shekinah, and I, along with a cast of six, started to tour doing shows.”
The process was simple for Heather. She created a show, auditioned dancers, and set up a tour. The creative part, or the production part, was not difficult. “I have had wonderful casts of beautiful caring people who have volunteered their time and gifts for something bigger than themselves.”
While the creative part of the process wasn’t difficult, finding enough venues was! “There are only so many places I can go on my own. I wish we had more venues. Since we are essentially fundraising, I wish we could partner with more people.”
Finding the right venues for the show was one challenge, but an incredibly surprising issue created an even bigger obstacle—one that took years to sort out—finding an organization to receive the funds raised by the shows. “Yes! Actually! Organizations didn’t have the structure to partner with us. I approached one organization and said that we would be touring, promoting their organization, and giving the funds raised to them. But after so many attempts at communication with very little reply, we changed our minds and gave it elsewhere. Now we work with Patricia King and XP Ministries (now Patricia King Ministries and Extreme Love Ministries). They have been amazing to work with. They are exactly the kind of organization I want to partner with.”
Raising awareness about human trafficking is never without heartache and strong emotion. As Heather shares, “The thought of what these little children have lived through is what grieves my whole team the most. We have done our best to really look in to the details of a few true stories to gain perspective when playing the characters in our dances. A viewer came to me once and said, ‘Your daughter is a really good actress. Her crying was so believable.’ I replied, ‘She wasn’t acting.’” Heather admits she can become angry at the state of society that allows such a thing to exist, “That men who should be protectors and guardians have become predators and abusers. That angers me.”
On the flipside, there are great rewards as the cast impacts people on both an emotional and intellectual level—especially when people are moved to action. “When we have given a really great performance and the audience is deeply moved, we feel successful and it gives us a lot of joy.” But their impact goes far beyond the audience at their performances. “Part of what the Girls of Courage have done is raise money to get kids in Cambodia out of the slums and into school. We had the beautiful opportunity to go to Cambodia and meet the eleven kids that we helped give an education to. We went into the slums and met their families who were so thankful. That felt amazing!”
Heather has these words of advice for other creative people who want to use their gifts to advocate for justice: “Start small but start. The scripture that has been behind a lot of what we do is, ‘Silver and gold have I none, but such as I have I give it unto thee.’ We may not have money but we have talents, gifts and the ability to make a difference. Therefore, we use what we have. I would say to others the same thing, use what you have.”
In fact, that is Heather’s advice to anyone seeking to make a difference. She believes absolutely everyone can contribute in some way. “Homeless women from the other side of Canada made bracelets and sent them to us so that we could sell them for the education program. Homeless women! They could have said that they have nothing to give but when they heard about what we were doing, they got together and did that. If a group of homeless women can do something to help the kids in Cambodia, we all can.”
Heather believes that with a little effort, everyone can discover what they can do. Here are some of the examples she has seen personally:
- A high school student had a bake sale at lunch time to raise money.
- Kids got together and made purses from old jeans.
- A knitting club in a secular school, knit scarves to sell at their shows.
You can be sure that Heather and her Girls of Courage will continue to do what they can, too. “We currently have shows on human trafficking and the sex trade, child soldiers of war, and slave labour. We are very happy to work with people on a local level. For example, if a church has a missions’ project, we are happy to come in and be a fundraiser for their project. We are always looking for places that we can come to perform!”
Heather lives in Kamloops, B.C. with her 4 children. Heather is a singer/song writer, dancer/choreographer, painter and writer. She has her own professional dance company “Collective Productions” though which she brings out a message of mercy and compassion for those who are less fortunate and is also the owner of DNA Academy, a dance and arts school. She travels internationally singing, leading worship and speaking, calling people into a greater place of wholeness, healing and freedom in their lives and in their relationship with God.writer.
NOTE: This interview was originally published in our December 2017 issue.
For most of us, breakthrough is defined as a moment in time when something you’ve hoped for comes to pass. But what happens when your desire for breakthrough grows dim in the face of your circumstances? What happens when generational cycles dictate your beliefs and challenge your destiny?
This was the case for a little girl named “Molly.” Amongst the garbage piles, in a small Cambodian community, children scavenged for scraps of food to eat and plastic or cardboard pieces they could sell. Molly was just another face living in a dirt infested shanty, doing all she could to survive. Like the other kids, Molly’s life was becoming a predictable disarray of hopelessness, poverty, and exploitation. She was becoming yet another statistic.
Trapped in the injustice that threatened her generation, Molly’s community was one solicited regularly for drugs and human trafficking. It wasn’t uncommon that children her age would be sold for sex, labor, or begging. In addition, many were forced to run drugs or were abused for not bringing home enough money. Molly desired freedom from this lifestyle but only knew the path in front of her. Still, she dreamed of someday creating a different future.
My team and I were drawn to Molly. There was something so special about her. We would come weekly for kids’ activities in her neighborhood, and Molly was always highlighted. She was inquisitive and had a sparkle in her eyes when she engaged. Year after year, we would see her and knew we had to act quickly, or her fate would be that of those around her. Education wasn’t free in Molly’s nation, so we sponsored her, and others in the community, in private school education. Several mocked us for putting “slum children” into private school, but we knew that they, like any other children, deserved the best. Molly’s socioeconomic status did not determine her worth.
Though she had never been to school, Molly caught on quickly. Reading, writing, math, and science came easily, and she soon surpassed her cohorts. While many kids we sponsored were top in their class, Molly had an exceptional knack for learning. Her abilities soon led her into accelerated opportunities, where she not only skipped grades but also received high honors and even occupied the #6 position within her nation! Education brought Molly’s breakthrough.
No longer a victim of her circumstances, Molly now dreams of becoming a doctor or engineer and will indeed change her nation. But future leaders, like Molly, are hidden in dark places. In her own ability, Molly would still be amongst the garbage piles, but with help, her life was forever changed. Molly’s testimony depended on others. Always remember that you could be someone else’s breakthrough.
Love has a face.
Andrea Aasen is the Director of Extreme Love Ministries. She is a visionary leader with a heart to see justice released to the nations. Andrea has a desire to see women and children empowered and walking in their God created destinies. She believes in the power of LOVE to transform nations and individuals, and as a result, has developed various community, business, and advocacy models to support and protect victims of human trafficking, abuse, and other forms of exploitation.
This article was originally published in Andrea’s regular column “Love Has a Face” in our September 2018 issue.
Rebirth Homes is transforming the lives of survivors of sex trafficking in Riverside, California with a holistic approach to healing.
When a butterfly emerges from its cocoon, it breaks through the translucent chrysalis that has been protecting it during its transformation from caterpillar to butterfly and enters the world head-first, ready to stretch its wings and take to the sky. The emblem of the butterfly beautifully represents the healing survivors of sex trafficking find with the help of Rebirth Homes. Rebirth Homes is a faith-based nonprofit organization in Riverside, California that provides safe housing and healing resources to women who have been affected by sex trafficking.
—Rebirth Homes CEO, Debbie Martis—
Rebirth Homes opened its first home in September of 2017, but it started years earlier as a glimmer of an idea. When Rebirth CEO Debbie Martis was wandering through Riverside years ago, she saw an abandoned house that had fallen into disrepair. The image of this broken and battered house with so much lost potential later resonated with her as she began learning about human trafficking worldwide. Why couldn’t someone rebuild this house? Why couldn’t a house like this one give trafficking victims a place to rebuild their lives? The seed idea for Rebirth Homes was planted, and over the next few years, Debbie prayed over the vision, learned more about trafficking in Riverside, gathered together a team, and raised funds to open the first home for adult women who are survivors of sex trafficking in Riverside County. From the beginning, Rebirth Homes has been an organization founded firmly in prayer, dependent on God’s leading and provision, and born out of deep love for those who are trafficked.
To address the multifaceted effects of trafficking, a holistic approach to healing is essential, and Rebirth Homes offers a program that fosters spiritual, physical, emotional, and mental healing. Women in Rebirth Homes’ two-year program receive a safe place to live, counseling, job training, and community with each other, staff, and mentors. This loving support is a key component to helping victims regain control of their lives and become survivors with bright futures.
With the guidance of counselors from the Grove Counseling Center in Riverside, the women study healthy boundaries and work through their trauma in weekly individual and group counseling sessions. We also offer equine therapy and art therapy. The women have developed strong connections with the horses and have also created some beautiful art pieces that express the darkness of the life they lived being trafficked, as well as the hope they now have for their futures.
In the first year of the restoration home, we have seen transformation in women’s lives as they achieve the goals they set in their care plans. When a new woman arrives at the home, she is often withdrawn from others, she speaks little, and she shows signs of the trauma she has suffered, but within weeks, she will laugh and smile, play board games, study the Bible, and talk about her plans for the future. This year, one woman completed her high school degree and two women have pursued their goals by taking college classes. Access to mental health services and medical treatment has also been instrumental in the lives of the women of Rebirth Homes.
The path, however, has not been an easy one. Walking with those who have experienced deep trauma is challenging. Some days triggers are active, tension is high, or energy is low, but through it all God sustains our staff, volunteers, donors, and the ladies in our program. God is at work in the lives of survivors of human trafficking. Many women in our program have renewed their Christian faith or have made a first-time commitment to Christ. Four women have been baptized over the last year, and the women in the program have been sharing Christ with new women who join the Rebirth family.
And in the midst of tough challenges, small moments of blessing shine through all the brighter. One week not long ago, I was heading to the home to spend time with the ladies, and I knew that some of them were processing through stress that was causing anxiety and insomnia. As an avid crocheter, I brought along crochet hooks and skeins of yarn in cheery yellow, blue, and purple, hoping that this skill that often calms my own racing mind would help them too. I sat down, working on my own project, and started talking to one of the women. I offered to teach her how to crochet, and within moments, a group of three women were sitting around the table learning how to crochet. A peaceful stillness fell over the room. I had hoped that sometime far down the road that this skill might bless the women with an outlet to relax, but that very day one of the women proudly declared that she had found a new coping mechanism. Even in these small moments, I can see God working His healing in these women’s lives.
From Fall 2017 to Fall 2018, we have graduated two women from our program, and we are so excited to celebrate the growth and healing that we’ve seen in their lives as they have soared off into the future on new wings born of God’s love.
Gretchen Bartels is a mentor at Rebirth Homes, writer, and an associate professor of English at California Baptist university, where she teaches predominantly upper division literature, creative writing, and the senior capstone. She earned her BA in English and Chemistry from Wheaton College, IL and her MA and PhD in English from the University of California Riverside. She is passionate about supporting survivors of sex trafficking and sexual violence in their healing journeys.
NOTE: This article was originally published in the Winter 2018 edition of VOJ Magazine.
Loyalty is an ever-developing revelation for me. Working for many years with survivors of sexual exploitation and complex trauma, as well as being a mom, daughter, sister, friend—the injustices are very personal. Loving my enemies and seeking justice can easily present as two opposing pursuits.
When loving and aligning with people, their enemies and offenses can become ours to wrestle through as well. Part of how we advocate is by taking a stand against what has been committed against them and confronting abusive systems. Survivors have often suffered years of being silenced and hidden. We want to create visibility and amplify their voice. Rightfully so. The problem is when we begin amplifying anger and offense. Very subtly it can be woven into the fabric of our organizations and the undertone of our messages. We can slowly sabotage our efforts as we confuse offense with solidarity. Roots of bitterness form underneath the surface until, instead of promoting healing connection, we are creating further division and even spiritual defilement.
Jesus said “The blind receive their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them. And blessed is the one who is not offended with Me.” We may ask—how could anyone be offended by people receiving healing? Could it be that society had deemed certain categories of people as undeserving? Why was Jesus consistently challenged while He was doing good? Was it that He was interfering with their current paradigms of social justice?
In the Bible, when Jonah was sent to Nineveh, he was offended when God asked him to preach salvation to the inhabitants of that city. Jonah didn’t think the Ninevites deserved God’s mercy. In the book of Joshua, before the Israelites began to possess the Promised Land, Joshua encountered the Lord. He asked if the Lord was for Israel or for their adversaries. The Lord responded with “No, but as the Commander of the Lord’s Army I have now come.” It seems God is less into sides and more into salvation. He pursues redemption for all, yet without violating loyalty or covenant to anyone. There is mystery in this and we are invited to trust.
Stages of emotional development and brain growth show us that black and white processing is a feature of a young child. They need rigid categories to determine what is safe, what is good, and what to trust. Typical thoughts are “you are either for me or against me” or “it is either this or that.” Polarized thinking is also a feature of trauma and a dissociative mind, in which “all good” or “all bad” can be a survival response. My belief is that both emotional immaturity and trauma have contributed to our tendencies to view the world and people this way. There is a process of learning how to hold tensions and engage with complexities.
It becomes perplexing as we heal and grow in God. Our understanding of His ultimate goals for restoration begin to challenge our definitions of loyalty. We are confronted with what we thought were justified offenses. We begin to see loyalty to God as being one with His nature. To emulate Him and His desires rooted in love, justice, humility, forgiveness, redemption, and restoration. These realities take on forms we did not once expect. Yet He desires that none should perish, but all to have eternal life. Our loyalty is identifying with Christ and His desire toward every person we encounter. Often we will know we are growing when He begins putting this to the test.
I personally never thought I would be sitting with Johns and extending empathy. The idea used to feel like betrayal. Now I sit in session with a John one hour and in the next hour sit with a woman who has been exploited. It does not divide me or contradict conviction. If anything, I sense a greater movement toward my wholeness – and the wholeness of God’s family. I’m sitting, as a broken-resilient person, with other broken-resilient people who are the focus of His desire. Every one has in some way perpetrated and has been victimized. Every one hopes for redemption and something more. I feel even more empowered to advocate for justice and truth and love. Those are standards that remain and protect the integrity of empathy. As many of you can closely relate, I entered this field because I saw Jesus in it and wanted to be with Him. The way He sees and relates to people is far more multidimensional and as long as there is breath in someone’s lungs to choose Him, He can transform and heal. When God releases glory like that, it vindicates all.
After several years of experience with trauma and recovery, Kezia believes healthy families are the linchpin to all human growth and restored design. She received her M.A. in Clinical Psychology from Azusa Pacific University and is a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist. She has worked exclusively with survivors of sex trafficking and their support systems, while also developing and overseeing a residential aftercare program. Through the adoption of her daughter, Kezia has seen Jesus’ glory in family and the restoration He brings through the process. Her desire is to nurture the healing integration of individuals, families, and communities – that what were once cycles of abuse are turned into blessings for future generations.
This article was originally published in Kezia’s regular column “Exodus to Flourish” in our Summer 2018 Issue
What does freedom mean? When I think ‘freedom’ – I think ‘hope’. Freedom means you can dream about what your future could be. Freedom also means you have the power and ability to make that future a reality. My freedom means if I want to become a teacher, I can study hard, apply for a job, and be the best teacher I can be.
This simple truth is often what separates the ‘haves’ from the ‘have-nots’. Your choices define your future; but when you don’t have the freedom to make your own choices, then there’s not much hope for your future. If you spend your life struggling to feed your family, you don’t have a lot of freedom. The same is true if you are living in any form of modern slavery. Your choices are bound by your circumstances.
So how do we change those circumstances to create opportunity and the freedom to flourish? Our response needs to be more than just rescuing victims who have been caught up in situations of modern slavery. It must also nvolve working alongside vulnerable and at-risk communities so they can grasp hold of their freedom and create a better future for themselves and their families.
For us at The Freedom Project, it’s about bringing freedom, one life at a time. Don’t get me wrong, rescues are invaluable, and The Freedom Project is directly involved in rescues in each location we work in. But if all we do is rescues, the job is only half done. We must also address the circumstances that allow exploitation to take place. We need to create programs that preventpeople from being enslaved in the first place and instead pave the way to freedom and hope.
That is exactly what The Freedom Project is doing through its prevention and restoration programs in India, Myanmar, and the Philippines. We partner with local communities to educate children and their families on the risks of exploitation, as well as equipping them with the opportunities to choose an alternative path – one of freedom that allows them to create their own futures.
One of our most effective prevention programs is soccer training in India, which I was able to witness first hand a few months ago. You may ask, ‘What does soccer have to do with preventing slavery?’ Well, that’s the beauty of it. As the young boys excitedly run drills, dribble the ball and score practise goals, they are learning responsibility, commitment, discipline and team work. In between sessions and games, the boys sit down to receive life skills lessons from the coaches. They are turning their lives around and choosing hope.
The boys are all from slum communities and are extremely vulnerable to (and many victims of) substance abuse, domestic violence, poverty, sickness, pornography, dropping out of school, criminal activity, exploitation and the list goes on… For many, they have never been shown guidance, or been taught that their actions have consequences. Now, perhaps for the first time, they have a role model who cares for and is investing in them. The coaches are a poignant example of hope, having come from the same place as these boys only a few years ago. The boys are keen to follow in their leaders’ footsteps – to be another success story rather than a statistic.
One such story is of Satish, who 10 years ago could be found wasting time in the slums and getting involved with addictive substances. He was introduced to our soccer program and began to learn the game. Not only did Satish excel at soccer, but he also overcame his addictions and studied well. He decided he wanted to influence other young boys and now shares his story of struggle, hard work and triumph as part of our coaching team. He is seen as a local hero – soft-spoken yet passionate about coming alongside the boys in their daily
The coaches make sure the boys attend school, get help with their studies, have a place to sleep, get decent meals and are given opportunities to develop their gifts and abilities. They come alongside the boys and equip them to choose a better way forward and avoid the risks of trafficking. We want them to make choices that will protect their freedom and secure their future. We are passionate about creating this change – one life at a time.
Our prevention program is evidence that bringing freedom also leads to hope. At The Freedom Project, we focus on ending slavery by bringing freedom into lives of individuals and communities when they may be at risk of becoming involved in the world of slavery. But we can’t do it alone. We are a global movement of freedom advocates and we all need to work together to end slavery – one life at a time.
Find out more at thefreedomproject.org
Marissa joined The Freedom Project in 2017 as Advocacy & Communications Director. With over 10 years’ experience in various international aid and justice NGOs, Marissa brings an extensive range of skills in coordinating the daily operations of The Freedom Project. She is passionate about women’s rights, fair-trade, ethical living and travel, and speaking to the Australian public about global justice issues
NOTE: This article was originally published in the Spring 2018 issue of Voices of Justice Magazine.