Out of Darkness: My Fight to Free Human Trafficking Victims
It started with a garage sale on a hot, summer morning.
My babies were still babies but growing quickly. We were trying to make some money off of the ridiculous amount of equipment “needed” for twin infants that you only use for 6-8 weeks. We were trying our best to stay cool in the garage when a woman showed up with little interest in the baby items but loaded with pamphlets and information about human trafficking and how it happens in Columbus, Ohio.
Knowing nothing about the topic but having recently seen Taken, I found it to be an odd but intriguing moment. A moment that would not be shaken and would change just about everything.
Sometimes (well, a lot), God uses one moment, one odd but intriguing moment to speak His will. It sparks your ignition to move you into action, so pay attention.
Fast forward a few months to an outreach event an individual at my church had put together for a local fitness festival. It was known that this event often resulted in human trafficking victims being brought into the city, so the outreach teams put soap with a hotline number on them in hotel rooms. Having never forgotten my garage sale moment, I signed up to be a part of this day.
At the training, a survivor shared her story. I was brought to tears by the horror that she survived as a teenager. It struck me that her story could very well have been my own as a naive, young high schooler. As we were looking over missing children posters that would be hung in staff rooms at the hotel, a girl was identified as a volunteer’s niece. These girls were someone’s niece, cousin, sister, or daughter. The deal was sealed for me.
At that point, you have a choice. You can choose to be sad and walk away to fulfill your own plans for your life, or lay it all down, turn in faith, and follow.
Waking up and falling asleep thinking about these women, I sought out opportunities to volunteer. Finding myself as a board member of a non-profit who did street outreach, I spent a year working alongside a survivor, learning all about “the life”, and being transformed.
This mom of toddlers, who once would avoid Broad Street afraid that someone would hop into her car and rob or murder us all, was now searching the alleys of Broad Street. I was hopping out of cars to share hope and freedom with women being prostituted. My obedience led me to meet two other women God was also transforming and calling to something so much bigger than we ever dreamed.
As that organization faded away, we stuck together. We spent a year in the desert, learning, meeting, dreaming, and seeking God's direction. Should we come alongside an organization? Raise awareness? Show films? God was thinking a little bigger than that. He was directing us to something huge, but He wasn’t asking us to do it alone.
The coldest night of the year, we decided to go distribute gloves, hand warmers, and prayer to women on the streets. That’s when we met Barbara. “I just got out of prison and I have nowhere to go but back to my pimp. I just was standing here praying that God would send someone to help me, and then you pulled up.” We were the answer to her prayer at that moment. As unequipped and unqualified as we felt, God was using us because we were available and seeking His heart.
We literally told her to hold on a minute while we drove to a McDonald’s parking lot to figure out what to do. We made phone calls, and the terrifying answer was that there was nowhere for her to go. We took her to a homeless shelter. We did all we could to help her. We bought her glasses. We found an opening in a long-term program and got her the application to complete. We went to take her to the interview, but three days proved to be too much for her to do alone in a loud and dangerous shelter. She was gone.
Then, God gave us a house- a real, physical house. You really sure about this, God? It seemed huge and way beyond us. We have small children. None of us have degrees in this area. We haven’t walked in their shoes. There were a million reasons why we shouldn’t do this. Not right now, anyway. He was sure. And the song Oceans came out just about this time. We were going to walk out on that water. We just had to keep our eyes fixed on Him. Now what?
We traveled to Atlanta, Georgia in May to learn from organizations providing emergency housing for trafficked women. Someone suggested we check out Out of Darkness, so we went to do outreach at a motel with their teams. We were blown away by their boldness, by their commitment to prayer, and by how well they loved the women they were serving. We wanted to be them- but in Ohio. By the end of that summer, we were the Ohio chapter of Out of Darkness.
We were asked to spend six more months praying, learning, and seeking the will of God. Maybe they didn’t hear the part about the year in the desert and how ready we were to do something, but OK. Time spent pursuing God’s heart and the next step is never wasted time.
In January of 2015, we started Princess Night in Columbus. On this night, we distribute roses and cards of Scripture and encouragement to women on the streets. We want them to know that they are loved and that there is hope and a plan for their lives.
We started dreaming and planning for the safe house to open. In October, we had a benefit dinner. We were certain that the finances would come in and that God would provide for the doors to be open at the safe house that year.
Two years later, the safe house still wasn't open. We were still committed to meeting women where they were on the streets and increasingly more aware of the desperate need for an emergency safe house. We were meeting with long-term programs around the area to connect women to, but the house was still missing. We met one that had a drop-in center and caught a vision. Our director put it on a dream board, but God had different plans. A stranger reached out on Facebook about a house that was available for use, we visited it, we cried a lot, and we knew God was telling us to open a drop-in center. Yep, in addition to the safe house.
We questioned the timing and capacity. We laid out all that God would need to provide. Then, we moved forward in faith. God provided above and beyond in every way. This restful haven, right in the middle of our street outreach area, became a beacon of light and hope to women in prostitution. We not only can provide for their physical needs, but share with them about God’s hope, strength, and plan for their lives.
Still, we did not open a safe house. Countless times the women from the drop-in would ask, “Is your safe house open yet?” We got unending calls from partner organizations about the opening too. The house was so desperately needed, but the funding for the house had still not been provided. “You just need a quick $50,” people kept saying. Yep. A quick $50,000.
We worked. We prayed. We fasted. We circled.
Then, in 2018, we announced to our volunteers at a fall gathering, that in January 2019 we were going to finally open the safe house! We planned the ribbon-cutting, trained the safe house teams, celebrated, traveled to Atlanta to train and prepare, and then it happened. The conversation that would challenge and change my faith. We didn’t have enough money after all. We had to raise an additional amount of money. But don’t worry, God would provide it soon.
Months went by waiting for the money to come in. Then, when God moved miraculously, we continued to wait week after week, month after month, for the last RA staff position to be filled.
"Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer," Romans 12:12. That’s a nice verse that becomes really real in month eight of year four still patiently hoping and praying. All of your own plans are long gone, and you are completely at the end of yourself. You are way out in the middle of that ocean by now trying not to think about the storm raging around you while staying focused on His eyes. It's hard. You are challenged to turn head knowledge about God being good and perfect into something you truly, with all of you, believe.
Only then, after everything is settled, can God be free to have His way in your life. When you are still and know that He is God, good and perfect, you can release it all and trust without wavering.
We announced again that we were opening. We held the ribbon-cutting ceremony on December 9, 2019. The first girl that called the hotline was picked up by the rescue team and brought to the safe house that same week. We still didn’t have the last RA, but we believed God would provide.
One month later, we had a fully-staffed safe house. Today, human trafficking victims are cared for in a warm and safe home where their immediate needs are met and preparations are made for their long-term programs.
Last year, the drop-in center opened its doors to over 600 guests whom we were able to walk alongside and encourage in their journey. Princess Night continues to impact hundreds of women each year as God pursues each individual.
The work of Out of Darkness Columbus is accomplished through over one hundred committed, engaged, Christ-seeking volunteers and countless donors. God’s plans were so much bigger than ours, and He is not slow in keeping His promises. He is working all things for good, even when we do not understand. He is perfect and good and can be trusted.
He is on the move within us and through us to accomplish His purpose. Are you paying attention? Are you ready to give up on your plans to follow His heart, to take action, to fix your eyes on Him even when it’s hard and makes no sense to you? I promise you will get to experience the Kingdom of Heaven here on earth when you can say to God:
It’s about You. Every single stroke. Every step. Full reliance on You. We don’t have the answers. We don’t have it figured out. But you do, God. Because you are God. You are El Roi, Yahweh Rapha, Yahweh Shalom, Yahweh Shammah, El-Gibhor. This is yours, God. My plans or not, this is yours. Have your way.
Tiffany Tripp is one of the Founders of Out of Darkness Columbus. She's married to Trent and mom to 12-year-old twins. She serves as the Program Coordinator for Out of Darkness Columbus as well as a Gifted Coordinator for Columbus City Schools. Tiffany has an obvious passion for freeing women from human trafficking. Her desire is to show these women the redeeming and restoring love of Jesus Christ.