Artwork by Jacob Cecil
I grew up the daughter of a pastor, the oldest of six kids. Ever since I can remember as a child, our family was involved in international missions. The first time I went on a mission trip I was seven years old. This shaped my heart with a global perspective. One year on my birthday my dad encouraged me to have an adventure. “You’ve always had a heart for the nations. Don’t stay here in the United States and miss out on pursuing your dreams.”
I was working as a nurse at time. I had no debt and nothing tying me down. His challenge took me by surprise and I wasn’t quite ready at that time. But the idea kept playing over and over in my head and I began to seriously pray about it. I quietly explored mission options in different nations, though I didn’t feel called to a specific country. After weeks of praying there was an opportunity to serve in Central America, and God confirmed that this was the opportunity I was to take.
I contacted a specific ministry I felt led to serve and they were willing to have me. I signed up to work with them for five months and I thought that would be the extent of my adventure. By month four I began to hear stories of little girls working in prostitution in the country where I was serving. I started exploring why this was happening.
At that time, in 2009, there was limited information on sex trafficking and its impact and pervasiveness. So a friend and I went to a little town close to the border where we had heard this was happening, trying to understand the complex nature of this problem and if there was a way to help. We took multiple trips to this border town and developed relationships with churches and local authorities. Through those relationships we learned more about what was happening and the factors that led to the exploitation of women and children. We decided to throw a Christmas party for the women and children who were working in prostitution near the town where we had been establishing relationships. This was at the border of two Central American nations. Our purpose was to establish relationships and let people know we were there to help. It took a lot of hard work, fundraising, and prayer to plan that party. We worked with border patrol and immigration officials from both nations. We partnered with local churches from both nations, and churches in the United States also supported our effort. We brought food, presents, games, and generators. During the planning, we had not met one woman that could attend our party, but we continued to pray and trust God that women would attend. The weekend of the party we passed out flyers and waited with expectant hearts for what God had in store.
On December 5, 2009, 25–30 women and children showed up to our party. They couldn’t believe that someone would want to throw a party for people who worked in prostitution, and we were overjoyed that so many people came! We had spent months of prayer and fasting preparing, and it was the most amazing feeling to see God show up this way! We were able to share the love of God and Jesus, and for two to three hours the women and children were simply our honored guests. We were just there to let them know they were loved and seen. One of the head immigration officials who was there said, “There’s so much light here tonight—and I’m not just talking about the generators!”
This party was the catalyst of my journey to help men, women, and children involved in and affected by sexual exploitation. The party furthered our understanding of the great need to help. That weekend launched our ministry. We developed a vision and passion to end exploitation not only in that area but in the whole nation I was serving as a missionary. After that event, while I was so encouraged by what I had seen God do, I was also fully aware that if I committed to help in this way, I would be staying longer than five months, dealing with dangers, and learning a different language and culture. I recognized the complexity of this type of ministry and my lack of experience in this area. I knew that I would be away from the support of my family and church community back home. When I said yes, I weighed the cost and I did so with much prayer and fasting. But I felt that God was truly calling me to this type of ministry in this particular place, and I knew that what I lacked, I could rely on God to provide.
Over the years God has sent countless amazing people to help—people with experience, knowledge, talents, resources, and strengths that I don’t possess. I wasn’t drawn to help survivors of exploitation because it was sad and terrible; I was drawn to the redemptive side, partnering with Jesus to see freedom come. It was a journey with God of learning lessons and learning from mistakes. I had a photo of the little legs of the children of the women in prostitution from the night of our first event, the Christmas party on the border. I often looked at that photo and thought, “What if the world looked different for those little legs. What if they could have a different future?” I became passionate about prevention, ending human trafficking before it could ever start. I had a passion that a child would never have to be exposed to it. There was much trial and error in such a huge task. We did much research and outreach to inform our programs. At that time there were limited resources on how to do prevention of exploitation in a programmatic, replicable way. We were pioneers of sorts. We started to learn all the factors that put people at risk and make them vulnerable. We tackled the prevention side through a relational lens because this is the way we felt God was calling us to work.
That was over seven years ago. And the photo of those little legs on the bench has been my constant reminder of why I fight. Today I am amazed at the number of people God has allowed our team to serve. I have met many wonderful men, women, and children. I have seen God make crooked paths straight. I have seen God turn the seemingly impossible into possible. Enemies have become friends. Dark has become light. Hopelessness has transformed to hope. I have witnessed the power of love against shame, hate, and violence. I have seen love bring freedom.
If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me and the light become night around me,”
even the darkness will not be dark to you; the night will shine like the day, for darkness is as light to you. Psalm 139:11–12
A Million God Stories is a Christ-centered ministry which offers a platform for Christians from all streams of Christian faith to give praise for how God has worked in their lives. Christ heals in infinitely creative ways and we acknowledge that His way of helping may differ from person to person.