Last summer I attended an event in downtown Asheville that brought attention to a local organization called The Hope House. It’s a non-profit, Christ-centered agency whose mission is to “restore women and girls who have been sexually exploited through the commercial sex industry.” Also known as sex trafficking victims.
Ok, even though I’m of the ripe ol’ age of 30 now, I didn’t really know anything about the sex trafficking industry until about a year ago. Didn’t even knew it existed or how it worked or who it affected. My first real exposure to it was through Hollywood. I’m not kidding! 🙂 Last year I saw the Liam Neeson movie Taken and was both in love w/Neeson for his kick-ass gonna-do-anything-to-rescue-my-daughter-skills and in shock by the crazy world of selling young girls as products for the use of sex. So basically watching T.V. does not always rot your brain! 🙂
But anyways- I remember watching the movie and getting way more emotional than I expected to get over an action thriller flick. Seeing the emotional/psychological/physical abuse the young girls were put through just pricked my heart in a big way. I got on the internet and did some research about the topic of sex trafficking and wow! It is absolutely horrific, heart-breaking, disgusting, maddening…….just so, so sad. And I had all these emotions about it, but didn’t know what to do with them really. But praises to God for being so faithful! Just a few months after watching the movie and having my eyes cracked open a little to this underground world, I heard of an event in Asheville that was giving a presentation on the topic and immediately decided yes, yes! I want to go. So we got a babysitter and went with some friends and made a night of it. And that’s where I learned about The Hope House.
The Hope House is nothing short of a beautiful, amazing miracle. Really it is. It was started by these 2 middle-aged women (one’s a mom) who were working corporate jobs and just feeling like God wanted them to do something for women in need. Not sure what exactly, but something. This is the story of how Hope House began, as told by one of the founders at the event we attended:
One of the women was asked to go on a mission trip to Thailand to reach out and help the women in the red light district. Being that it was very much out of her comfort zone and feeling worried and unsure, she went to a local park here in Asheville to just walk around, think, and pray about it all. Sitting at a bench she was talking w/God about her anxieties and saw a couple of young men sitting nearby at a picnic table. She felt God tell her that she needed to go and talk to those men. Now even for Christians, having God give you such a direct and seemingly odd command is somewhat unusual. But the woman decided that even though it felt “weird” she would listen and obey God. So she went up to the young men and just blurted out something like “Ok, I know this sounds crazy and all, but I feel like God wants me to talk with you guys”. They were actually nice and told her to sit down and they soon began to open up. Throughout the conversation she told them she was having mixed feelings about a mission trip she was suppose to go on. When they asked her about the trip she told them it was to offer help to the prostitutes in the red light district of Thailand. As soon as she said that, one of the men got tears in his eyes and was dumbstruck. Eventually he was able to tell her that he was the son of a prostitute who has fled the red light district in Thailand. Now if that wasn’t an orchestrated moment from God’s divine plan, I don’t know what is! Of course the woman was shocked and decided she was meant to go on the mission. She went and was so devastated by what she saw that when she returned to Asheville she decided with her friend that sex trafficking victims were the women God wanted them to help.
All that happened in 2007 and now, 5 years later, Hope House is thriving as a fully incorporated, fully functioning non-profit. Basically Hope House is a physical house where victims of sex trafficking can go for shelter, safety, food, and recovery. It’s for ages 18 and under (although they do have another house for older victims), and the young girls go there and start the healing process. Before I tell more about that, here are a few facts about sex trafficking:
- Most victims are “recruited” around the ages of 12-13.
- There are b/w 100,000 to 300,000 sex trafficking victims in the U.S.
- However, there are only about 150 beds available in safe houses for the victims to go to (6 of them are in Hope House!)
- Most times (not all) victims come from unstable, unsafe family situations where sexual abuse, drugs, and neglect take place. These young girls live a life of feeling unloved and betrayed by family members and friends. Pimps know this and essentially prey on these emotions by targeting these young girls and offering them the money and love and security they aren’t getting at home. Once the pimps win the girls over and earn their trust, they begin forcing them to prostitute themselves.
- It’s a stockholm syndrome type of connection b/w the young girls and the pimps. The pimps control everything in the girls’ lives (what they eat, wear, giving them no money, how they work), and they physically abuse them to instill a deep sense of fear in them. Most victims are so afraid and so brainwashed that when they are first pulled off the street they proclaim their love for the pimps and do anything they can to protect them (another reason why prosecuting the men is so difficult).
- Because it is such a psychologically complex type of crime, these women don’t really have a place to go in our justice system. Oftentimes they are arrested and treated like the criminal by law enforcements, instead of like the victims that they are. This makes rescuing the very difficult.
Hope House is amazing because they take these girls in, girls who have been living in abuse for years, selling their bodies for years, and have zero sense of self worth, and they love, truly LOVE, these girls. One of my favorite things about Hope House is that not only do they meet the girls’ physical needs (shelter, safety, clothing, food, etc.), but they also meet their emotional, mental, and spiritual needs. They are given counselors to work through their trauma and grief with. They are introduced back in to a tutoring, school system so that they can earn an education. They are offered (though never forced) trips to church and Bible studies. Finally, they are given opportunities to learn various skills and hobbies. Some are basic life skills needed to function as an adult (cooking, balancing checkbooks, cleaning, grocery shopping), and then others are for fun and to develop an interest that might benefit them as a job in the future (photography, writing, horseback riding, softball, knitting, etc.). I especially love that part because number one, it is giving the girls a bit of a childhood that has been stolen from them. They are use to a world consumed by sex, drugs, control, and abuse. To be given a chance to return to some form of innocence (b/c that little girl still lives within each of those girls, no matter how deeply buried she is) through something like riding horses outside, is just so healing and beautiful. And number two, it shows the girls that they have a sense of value, a sense of self worth that is far beyond anything sexual that they can provide. They are so use to “earning love” and getting paid through sex, that to realize they are more than just their bodies is a HUGE accomplishment for them.
So anyways, with all this background given – it’s pretty obvious that I am very much invested in helping out sex trafficking victims and The Hope House as much as possible. I signed up to be a volunteer and just this past weekend went to a training session. I’m not exactly sure what I’ll be doing there – it could be something as simple as driving the girls to different appointments to cooking them meals to teaching them a Bible class to whatever. I honestly don’t care if they just need me to scrub the toilets for them. I just want to show these girls, these broken girls who have had their childhood and innocence stolen – I just want to show them how very much loved they are. How beautiful they are. How valued and precious they are. That no part of their past is too big or too ugly or too damaged for them to be “lost” or “unloveable”. And I say all that not b/c I believe we can just “positive think” our way out of our past or out of our brokenness or anything like that. I say that because I believe in a God whose love is boundless. Whose love knows no limit on forgiveness. Whose love is full of second chances and millionth chances. Whose love is pure grace and endlessly redeeming. Whose love sees beauty where others judge.
I love the story in Luke 7:36-50. A prostitute comes to where Jesus is eating at one of the “religious” pharisee’s house. She weeps at his feet, washing them with her tears and with her perfume. The pharisee criticizes Jesus for allowing such a “dirty” and “sinful” woman to be in his presence. Jesus rebukes the man for his judgement and loves and accepts the woman saying “her sins have been forgiven” and to “go in peace”. What a Savior! We are never too far gone, never too dirty, never too sinful for his love and peace!
So my question in this post is “who do you love?” Who in this world gets to your heart? Makes you ache to offer them any sort of help you can provide? Which outcast, marginalized, persecuted, forgotten group does your heart long to love? What cause gets you fired up? Is it the homeless? Children with special needs? Broken families? Abused animals? Is it championing for the dreams of others like this beautiful friend? Or is it expanding your family and heart through the difficult journey of adoption like this beautiful friend? Or is it reaching out to a people group that often goes hungry and forgotten like this beautiful friend? Whatever it is, whatever your cause, whatever makes your blood boil in righteous anger and gets your heart pumping in love, do something about it. Now. No matter how small. No matter how insignificant you think it could be. Because it is never too small and never too insignificant. Never. Just find something and make it better.
And if you’re like me, sometimes you feel like your world is so little and your plate is so full. I mean, what can I do? I’m just a stay at home mom with little kids and little money. How the heck can I help sex trafficking victims? I used to put off a lot of these causes for “one day”. Whenever the heck that is. For when I’m more settled, got more money, got more time, etc. I’m slowly started to realize how that “one day” will never come! ha! So I just try to do what I can with what little I have now.
So for instance this past Christmas I wanted to host a party for all my girlfriends. I thought about doing a fun little white elephant gift exchange party. But quickly realized that none of us needed another silly white elephant gift to clutter up our houses. So instead I invited my friends over for a wine and crafting party to benefit The Hope House. I asked them to bring an uplifting verse/lyric/poem/quote and to bring at least one item needed by The Hope House (shampoo, deodorant, toilet paper, etc.) I provided the wine and snacks and crafting material. My idea was that since the girls living in The Hope House didn’t own a lot of personal things and didn’t always feel a lot of love from others, then we could nicely craft up a cute picture frame for each of them with an inspirational quote to let them know they were so loved and that their dreams were worth pursuing. I bought some nice frames from Goodwill that cost hardly anything, spray painted them fun colors, and got some crafting paper and supplies from Michaels.
I gotta admit I was a little nervous that my party might be a little boring or uptight or whatever b/c it was for such a “heavy” cause and b/c I didn’t know how much everyone would get into the crafting part. But let me tell you- it was one of the absolute most fun parties I’ve ever thrown! We drank some wine, ate some yummy treats that I made after scouring Pinterest, and just chatted and laughed and had a great time making the frames. And everyone said repeatedly how much fun they had and how glad they were to be able to do something to help the sex trafficking cause. It was amazing!
I learned that everyone really wants to help out in someway, but they don’t always know how. And I certainly don’t always know how either. But whatever you do, it doesn’t have to change the world in this huge, drastic way. And it doesn’t have to be perfect. Just pick something you care about, learn about it, figure out how you can get involved, and then act. That’s it!
So I know this is the loooonnnnggggest post in mankind. But I’m not sorry. 🙂 I had a lot to say and I care a lot about Hope House and sex trafficking. And if we get a chance to chat in person, we can talk about it even more! ha! And here are some pictures from the party this past Christmas. Hope you enjoy them. And also, I hope to hear what you are passionate about!
mmmm…….wine! of course i got too much and steve and i just finished the last bottle a month ago i think! ha!
to keep it simple for my non-culinary self, i only made things that had like 4 ingredients or less for the most part or just needed to be thrown together w/no cooking
i was actually proud of these little apple pies. aren’t they so cute??
rainbow fruit kabobs. so pretty
getting our craft on. everyone really got into it and most did 1 or 2 extra!
Amanda who is the sweetest gal ever!
Amy and Rebekah. these two aren’t sweet at all……mean ladies i tell ya! 😛 ha ha! j/k!
Melanie who has an affinity for the old hymns just like me
Lindsey, Marci, and Sharon. i only hang out w/brunette friends.
some of the goodies everyone brought
a few of the frames we made
P.S. – I don’t write or share any of this to boast about anything I’m doing (b/c i’m not really doing anything that great) or to pretend I’m some awesome Mother Teresa over here (have we met??!! ha!). The only reason I share is because the unconditional love, forgiveness, and hope that I get from Christ compels me to show others that same kind of love. Even in my flawed human way. I am just a wretch who is saved by grace and want nothing more than for others to know that same grace. B/c it is life and eternity changing! And I want to encourage everyone, especially young(ish) moms like me who might feel that helping others at this stage in our lives can be kind of hard. It’s not as hard as you think. Like I used to think. Just look around and ask God to open your eyes and show you where He wants you. And He will!