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