Teaching the Tools to Live

Mary saw the signs. She knew them — she had been there herself.

And someone had intervened for her too.

A nursing student, Mary was traveling with a medical team in Central America when she noticed the young girl in the clinic was acting standoffish.

Mary “was able to get the opportunity to sit down with the girl and talk to her, and she realized that she was being abused,” said Karl Brassfield, director of Emmanuel Home of Protection in Diriamba, Nicaragua. “She was able to get the girl in touch with the right people to get her out of that situation.”

Years before, Mary herself had come to know a team of missions volunteers with Baptist Medical and Dental Mission International, the ministry that runs Emmanuel Home of Protection, as they were working in her village. She got involved in a church they were helping to plant, and she accepted Christ.

It soon came out that Mary was being abused.

“Her family situation was very difficult,” Brassfield said. “So she came and stayed with us at the home, and we were able to get her some counseling.”

It was a long process to get her life back on track, but Mary finished high school then went to college to study nursing. That’s when she crossed paths with the young girl whose story was much like her own.

It was an “incredible turn of events,” Brassfield said. “When Mary got back from the medical missions trip, she told me in tears how God was able to use her horrible experience to be able to help another little girl who was going through the same thing. She knew then that she wanted to be able to do that in some way for the rest of her life.”

It’s a beautiful story — “the kind that keeps you going,” Brassfield said.

Right now, Emmanuel House of Protection has 26 girls and adolescents in its care, as well as four babies who belong to those young women. Many of the residents are victims of sexual abuse or sex trafficking who have been rescued and placed at Emmanuel by the government. Some of the residents stay a few weeks; others stay for years.

“Our staff works hard to make sure each young lady receives the necessary tools to live successfully outside of the home,” Brassfield said.

Those tools include a formal education and training in life and job skills. The young women also learn how to care for their babies — girls as young as 10 years old have given birth while living at the home.

It’s tragic, Brassfield said, but redemption is deep and lasting. The staff walks the young girls through psychological, emotional and spiritual care. More than anything, staff members at Emmanuel want the women to know the unconditional love of Jesus and how it can meet them in their pain and give purpose to their lives.

“We have seen some pretty amazing stories, stories like Mary’s,” he said. “God has done amazing things.”

The Road to Recovery

Ashley’s traffickers were short $25,000, and they had decided that someone was going to have to die.

Her.

“She was able to get away and call us, and we went and picked her up,” said Wilma Lively, executive director of DaySpring Villa in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

Ashley was “rough” when she first got to the shelter — the road to recovery for human trafficking victims tends to have a rough start, Lively said.

“But I’ll never forget one Monday when I got to work, there was this glow about her. This was the young woman who had gotten in fights over the TV remote — she was so different,” Lively said. “She had given her life to Jesus over the weekend.”

Two and a half years later, Wilma walked back into her office after a long weekend to find another surprise — a letter on her desk. It was from Ashley — still clean, sober, free from violence and chasing after Jesus.

“Your program changed my life,” she wrote, “and every day I am strengthened in my relationship with Christ. This influences every decision I make.”

She has reunited with her sons and worked for the past year and a half as an adult protection caseworker — a “small example” of how God has restored her life, she said.

“If it wasn’t for DaySpring, I would be dead or in prison,” Ashley wrote. “I can never thank you enough for your leadership and compassion.”

It’s because of women like Ashley that Lively and others at DaySpring do what they do, Lively said.

“Sometimes it can be challenging, but it is so rewarding,” she said. “There is so much joy and happiness in seeing that we had a small part in rescuing someone and showing them a different way of life.”

The ministry started in 1980 after the Tulsa Baptist Association community ministries office and Women’s Missionary Union leaders in the area saw the need for a women’s shelter, said Gary Davis, DaySpring’s development coordinator.

“They were doing a needs assessment in the community and found that there was no place for women to escape and get help in a place where change can happen,” Davis said.

So they started a women’s shelter downtown and took in anyone who came to their door, Davis said.

At first, this meant the homeless and those escaping domestic violence. But over time, DaySpring expanded its services and moved to a new facility that had more capacity. It became an independent ministry in 2006, and in 2012 it became the first certified sex trafficking shelter in the state.

“It was a stretching experience for us,” Lively said, “but we thought, ‘if we don’t step up, who will?’ Our ministry often starts in some of the saddest moments but it ends up in some of the happiest.”

And through Project Dark2Light, dozens of women have been rescued — women like Ashley.

“My life is fulfilled,” Ashley said. “I have real evidence that your ministry changed the course of my life.”