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.
My heart was forever marked in Bangkok, Thailand. I was on outreach in one of Thailand’s most notorious red-light districts when I saw the faces of exploited girls that I could never erase. The bar we entered was set up in stadium style seating with girls dancing on a center stage surrounded by men watching them. The girls wore string bikinis, each identified by a number. One particular girl caught my attention as she struggled to keep pace in energy as she danced. The mama-san (the woman in authority over the girls) saw the young lady struggling to keep pace and, without warning, she pulled out a whip and whipped the young lady across her back. The sound of the whipping pierced my soul. In that very moment, I saw the young lady’s anguish. But she immediately hid her pain with a smile that masqueraded the true measure of what her soul felt. She danced with energy, with seduction, in the same manner as the other women around her. They all had smiles on their faces, carefully hiding any trace of sadness or distress within them.
What took place there is etched in my memory, and when I left Thailand, I knew I had to do more. That was in 2010. Since then, I’ve formed an organization called Justice Speaksto do local outreaches in Los Angeles. I’ve also returned to Thailand every year since, bringing a team with me. Answering the call to fight human trafficking can be daunting in light of the massive scale of injustice. But the Lord told us early on what our greatest weapon in warfare should be in our fight against this grave injustice: Prayer.
2 Corinthians 10:3-6 says, “For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh, for the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh, but divinely powerful for the destruction of fortresses. We are destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God, and we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ, and we are ready to punish all disobedience…” The tone of this passage is not passive. We are told to aggressively engage in a battle and take a stance of warfare that is empowered supernaturally. In our own human ability, we cannot take down prostitution rings, rescue victims of exploitation, or expose arenas of corruption. It would be impossible. Human trafficking, like many other issues of injustice, exists because of a spiritual problem, and a spiritual solution is required to confront it.
Ephesians 6:12 says, “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood…but against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places.” Through a series of events, the Lord revealed to us very early on that He will TURN this issue of human trafficking through prayer. We stepped in with our measure of faith and the mandate on our lives in prayer and began to see immediate results. We have consistently led a justice prayer watch over the years at Radiance International(Hollywood House of Prayer) where my husband Jonathan and I pastor, and we have put on prayer strikes across Los Angeles and Thailand.
Through these initiatives we have seen numerous establishments shut down, women rescued, prostitution rings exposed, and major king-pimps taken down. In Pattaya, a city in Thailand known as the major sex tourism destination in all of Asia, there is a notorious street known as Walking Street. We have done eight prayer strikes there to date, and things have dramatically shifted with bars shutting down and the number of women exploited immensely decreasing. Stories of breakthroughs are a regular occurrence—not by coincidence, but because of prayer.
On behalf of my own city, Los Angeles, consistent prayer has gone up for the freedom of those trapped in the sex trade. I am certain there are others interceding along with us, but we have stood consistently in a stance of war battling in prayer to see breakthrough, and it has manifested at the city level. As believers, we need to realize the significance of our post in the spirit. If we relinquish our place of authority in the spirit, the individuals designated to engage the battle in the natural (law enforcement, etc.) will see minimal results. I believe because we have taken our post seriously in the spirit, our city has seen a significant breakthrough in the capturing of perpetrators and the rescuing of women and children. Our city launched the Human Trafficking Bureau, a one of a kind agency focused on investigating crimes of human trafficking rescuing minors, and prosecuting traffickers. Since its inception in November 2015 through March 2018, there have been well over 200 victims rescued and almost 1000 arrests made. I applaud the courageous men and women on the frontlines of my city rescuing lives, but they need us to break open the way in the unseen realm, so their job can be done in the natural. Likewise, we need them to continue the courageous work they do in the natural realm on a daily basis.
When you pray, you may not know the immediate results of your prayers, but be assured that your prayers areheard by God. Imagine your prayers being launched like missiles hitting the mark as God directs your intercession! As you choose to partner with God in prayer, He will use you as an agent of breakthrough upon the earth. You may never physically rescue a child trafficked in the sex trade, but through prayer He will bring you onto the frontlines to dismantle the structures and powers that hold these children captive. Your prayers just might be the missile that liberates not just one, but hundreds of victims.
Your voice counts!
Sharon Ngai is the Founder of Justice Speaks, a non-profit anti-trafficking organization based in Los Angeles. Speaking at conferences and workshops from college campuses and the United Nations, Sharon’s passion to end human trafficking and raise up a generation of Justice Champions has had immeasurable impact. In 2010, Sharon linked arms with Bridges to the Nations in Thailand to ensure that women and children at risk in traffic prone regions would be protected. Since then, hundreds of Thai children have been reached, including exploited women trapped in the sex trade. Sharon also launched the Students4Justice Human Trafficking Curriculum, with topics that include pornography and the objectification of women in culture. Her greatest passion in this fight is to fuel a generation in prayer for Justice–for the ending of human trafficking, and all forms of exploitation. Sharon and her husband, Jonathan, are Lead Pastors of Radiance International(Hollywood House of Prayer), an apostolic center in the heart of Hollywood that is training a new breed of creatives to impact Media, Arts & Entertainment for Christ. She is a proud mom of three beautiful children.
Originally published in the Fall (September 1) 2018 edition of Voices of Justice Magazine
She had relapsed again. Just before Christmas, Shay had gone back to the warmth of the manholes under the bridge, selling her body for $10 in order to buy her next hit of “the rock” as she called it, or crack cocaine. This wasn’t the first time either, I’d been down this road with her four times already, each time helping her get into a detox, then a rehab program, then a job, then her own apartment. Months of sobriety, the safety of her apartment, the security of a job, would be thrown away in a moment when the traumas of her life would come flooding in. It was too much for me to comprehend; I only knew that my heart was broken. I wondered if she would survive this relapse; dark thoughts crowded in as I feared that death would be the only peace my friend would know.
For those who work in back alleys with the addicted, exploited, and vulnerable; we know that rarely is a story as simple as: “She was rescued and lived happily ever after.” In fact, I’ve never encountered that story—instead I’ve known the cycles of shame and trauma that often look like one step forward followed by two steps back. In the moments when she takes two steps back, I’ve come to cling to the truth that shame or addiction is never the end of the story.
Love is the end of the story, because love never fails. Yet in the midst of the story God is writing, when we’ve yet to see the breakthrough we know will come, we must be a people of perseverance.
“I will run the course of your commandments, for you will enlarge my heart.” -Psalm 119: 32
Early in my journey of working with exploited men and women, the Lord brought me to this verse and has become vision for my life: I want a big heart. In a movement championing justice, I began to see that many peers who were fighting alongside me were bitter, disappointed, and striving in their own humanistic zeal to bring about their version of justice. Hearts shriveled up because of their own disappointed expectations with the people they serve, the apathetic government, or their disgust with the perpetrators, etc. In the low moments, like with my friend Shay, I too was tempted to grow bitter, to feel completely defeated when I wasn’t seeing her change. Many of us will face these moments in our life, moments that call for perseverance. A perseverance that doesn’t merely dig in its heels to keep fighting, but a perseverance that surrenders to the only One who can save. In our pursuit of justice there is a tension we must walk: to take action and advocate for the oppressed, loving them through the messiness of their pain, but also surrendering their lives and future into the One who holds them in the palm of His hand.
The pressures of life, the disappointments, and the betrayals will invite us to protect ourselves—to insulate ourselves from the pain of another. We will be
tempted to grow cold and uncaring. In truth elf-preservation is second-nature and yet the gospel calls us to a compassion that causes us to enter into the suffering of another. This can only be sustained in the place of prayer and in beholding the Servant King Jesus who will not fail and who will not be discouraged until He brings forth justice (Isaiah 42). When He is our motivation, our strength and our hope, He gives grace for the journey. He provides everything we need that in the end we would be saints who have run the course set before them, who have not loved their lives unto death, and who have great big hearts—with eyes shining, who still weep over the poor and oppressed of the earth! This is our inheritance, this is our promise.
Shay survived that relapse. She survived a few more after that, too. Today she is living independently, working hard at her job and beginning to rebuild her relationship with her estranged children. She still struggles, drugs are still a strong temptation that she must work on daily. Yet in the community of people around her she is beginning to run the course God has marked for her, and she too has a heart that is rising out of the ashes, that is growing bigger and bigger every day.
Blaire has served in the non-profit sector for 9 years, lending her leadership and experience to build Christian communities in the praxis of social justice work with marginalized and vulnerable persons. She has mobilized awareness and intervention campaigns in Brazil that saw more than 500 churches across the nation participate in reaching out to 2,000 exploited persons. She has authored an Intervention Manual for Christian Communities that gives a step-by-step look at how to develop and sustain outreach to exploited persons in their community. After years of direct work with exploited women and their communities, Blair desires to see growth and transformations sustained through the Body of Christ and the beauty of families. She and her husband currently live in Brazil as missionaries. To learn more:visit: www.fraimsinternational.com
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.