(VO) What happens when self-described “Vacation Bible School ladies” step into the violent world of human trafficking…
(Donna) We’re affecting their money. That could be very dangerous. Yet… we’re not afraid.
(VO) “Stories of Hope” is a podcast about people who meet needs, build relationships, and change lives.
(VO) This week, we look for signs of human trafficking in maybe the last place you’d expect to find it, and we discover very ordinary ladies with a not-so-ordinary story to tell.
(VO) A warning – some of the content in this episode is graphic and may not be suitable for young ears.
(VO) This is “Stories of Hope” – from Send Relief—“Today’s episode… Hidden In Plain Sight”…
(Donna) Human trafficking is like, a 32-billion-dollar industry. And so if someone wants to buy, or rent as I call it, another person, somebody will provide that person for them.
(VO) The cookies they baked are sitting on the kitchen table. The living room looks and smells like your grandmother’s house – if your grandmother was the type who cooked everything from scratch, sewed her own clothes and never wore white after Labor Day. Inside this house—a very average-looking 3-bedroom brick ranch, Donna Armstrong and Courtney, who’s asked we not reveal her last name, are talking about things most proper Baptist women would probably never dream of discussing.
This is Courtney.
(Courtney) Victims of human trafficking are beaten. They’ll be raped in a room full of people. The rape oftentimes will be videotaped and then they’ll be forced to sit there and watch it, relive it over, and over again. They’ll be stripped down, beaten, starved, burned, branded—they will be brutalized in ways people can’t even imagine happens to the lowest of creatures.
(Donna) These women, their lives have been so traumatized. And when we hear their stories, it can affect us.
(VO) That is Donna Armstrong.
(Donna) How one human being can subject another human being to that life, breaks my heart and it angers me.
(VO) Several years ago, she started Hope Haven, a shelter for women wanting to escape the world of human trafficking.
Hope Haven is located in an average-looking house in a small south Alabama town. We won’t say which town for security reasons – but even if we did, there’s a good chance you will have never heard of it. This is the last place anyone would expect to meet someone who’s been trafficked. But Donna, a Southern Baptist-W-M-U-wear-pearls-on-Sunday kind of lady, is all about defying expectations.
(Donna) There is no one that is any more normal than the ladies that work at Hope Haven. Hope Haven is located in a very rural area. But small, suburban, large, it doesn’t matter. When we are speaking to church or civic groups, they are shocked to learn that human trafficking is happening in their neighborhood… because a victim could be anyone. We have had residents come to us who’ve been college-educated, who have been valedictorians of high schools. And so, we sit in our nice comfortable homes and we think, “not my child—my child is very active in school, my child is very active in church.” That is very dangerous. Because it very well could happen to your child.
(VO) Donna and Courtney, who volunteers at Hope Haven, have lots of stories to tell. And they don’t sugar-coat what they’ve seen and heard. Because that, Courtney says, would be impossible.
(Courtney) I had a resident who was trafficked for the first time at the age of four by her mother. One of our residents was 13 when she was trafficked for the first time by her older sister who would allow men to come over and rape her so that her sister could get drugs. We had a victim that was in a house—held captive for months in a small little town. And no one ever knew.
(VO) Hope Haven takes them all in… Teenage runaways, and high-achievers with self-destructive taste in boyfriends… women promised modeling jobs… and young ladies videoed in compromising situations then blackmailed into living a life they never wanted…
(VO) These are the stories Donna and Courtney tell while sitting around their kitchen table.
(VO) Stories like this one… that begin with a warning.
(Donna) Churches need to be careful of who they allow to be around their children.
(VO) This is a story about a young lady caught up in trafficking. We can’t use her real name—we’ll call her Jennifer. Not long ago, Jennifer was sent into a nearby church with special instructions.
(Donna) It was her job to go in, get to know everyone, and she was feeding information back to the trafficker about who might be vulnerable.
(VO) Jennifer joined the praise and worship team and began getting to know young people in the church. Once she identified a target, she was told her trafficker would move in.
(Donna) Then what they would do at that time is they would send someone else into that group that would meet the needs of this young person that was very vulnerable. And then she would be isolated, lured away, and if necessary, abducted and entered into the world of human trafficking.
(VO) The plan fell apart when Jennifer made a dangerous decision to escape from her trafficker.
(Donna) That takes a lot of courage to do that. Because it can be very, very dangerous for them if they don’t make it. But this is actually why she made her escape, when they put her in this position, because it became so apparent to her that she would rather die trying to escape than to subject these children.
(VO) Jennifer showed up at Hope Haven like hundreds of women before her – worn out. Used up. And numb.
(Donna) That initial interview we have with them when they come through our doors, there’s nothing in their eyes. And after about the end of that first week, they start asking questions. They see the love of Christ. And it is amazing to see the transformation that a person goes through when they walk through these doors and they feel the love of Christ, and you see the relief just pour over them.
(VO) An average-looking, 3-bedroom brick ranch in Small Town, Alabama was one of the last places someone like Jennifer expected to find relief. And the ladies inside were some of the last people she expected would give it to her.
(VO) But like we said, expectations are measured differently here. Donna and Courtney and the other volunteers at Hope Haven are people who saw a problem. And while they didn’t know exactly what to do about it, they knew they couldn’t do nothing.
(Donna) These victims need Christ. Because without Him, they don’t have a chance. And any large church with enough money could start a shelter and I’m not saying they shouldn’t—but I’m saying if you’re a small church, and you’re a small group, with Christ all things are possible. We are an example of that.
(Donna) And, if you are feeling that nudging—“I’d really like to do something, I’d really like to help, but what could I possibly do?” I would say “make yourself available.” Start studying, researching, looking for ways that you can help. All you have to do to be used is be available, and be obedient. And our Lord will do the rest.
(VO) This has been “Stories from Hope” – from Send Relief. Today’s episode… Hidden in Plain Sight”. To learn more about Hope Haven, you can visit them on the web at Hope Haven – AL – all one word—dot com. And to learn more about how you and your church can help meet needs, build relationships and change the lives of people trapped in the world of human trafficking, go to send relief dot org.
(VO) We’ll be back in two weeks with another episode of “Stories of Hope.”
(Donna) I’m really a Vacation Bible School kind of person. And I always told myself, “I can do it because I know the Lord’s helping me,” but I really kind of knew that if He wasn’t there that day, I could probably pull off teaching that Vacation Bible School class. But when He called me to do work in human trafficking, I knew I could not do that without Him. And it’s been the greatest adventure of my life.