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.