Ten years ago, I learned that slavery still existed. What was a small town Iowa girl supposed to do about twenty-seven million slaves in the world? I felt helpless to make any kind of difference. Still, I and others pressed forward in prayer and action.
Gathering at a cabin for our first official retreat as the Lord birthed Wings of Refuge from a dream to an operating ministry is a memory that stands out strong. One of the agenda items was to develop our “why”. What would keep the mission going when it was hard, when nothing made sense, and when we moved on and new leaders emerged? We came to this conclusion: maybe we couldn’t wipe out the injustice of modern day slavery for 27 million people, but we could for the one in front of us. Our “why” was clear: so exploitation ends for one more girl. For 10 years, the Wings of Refuge mission has accomplished exactly that in the lives of the women who choose to come and find hope and possibility as they heal in the home.
Exploitation ending for one more girl kept my heart focused through the years. Sometimes it
would be as I laid my head on my pillow at night, feeling like we were failing miserably when a woman was wrestling with the pull back to the life of trafficking or fearing being safe over being enslaved. “Tonight no one is making a dime off her body - she is the one in front you,” the Lord would remind me so that I could drift off to sleep.
The focus on the one in front of us showed us that there was no cookie cutter approach to
restoration. We built processes, programming, and tools that are offered as a whole, but inside the process there is community and relationships that value noticing the unique way each survivor is an image bearer of God, a one-of-a-kind masterpiece designed from his heart. A book could be written about the brave women who have chosen to call Wings of Refuge home. It would tell of timelines of a day, months, or years to stay in and do the hard work of healing with others and Jesus. It would be filled with pages of accomplishments from a first job, a diploma, or signing a lease for an apartment. Some stories would end with graduation and coming on as staff to help others, others would end with question marks and confusing outcomes, some would end with hugs and high fives and going on to live and leaving trafficking as a small chapter in their life story. Story after story could be told of the one in front of us and how specifically and intentionally Wings became part of her life. Each story would be unique and two things would remain the same: being at Wings ended her exploitation and she was the one front of us with the opportunity to receive individual restoration to the best of our ability with the Holy Spirit’s guidance.
One thing that surprised me about our “why” was that it was not just for the women. It was for others as well. The one in front of us was the staff, the volunteers, and those sitting in the seats at speaking events. The one in front of us was me.
“In healing others we ourselves are healed” is a quote that resonates with me. You cannot enter into a ministry such as Wings without all of your own “stuff” being brought to the surface. It’s hard to admit this when you lead a ministry, but it is the truth. I have witnessed my own life, staff, and people at speaking events get free from the devil’s exploitive lies, abuse, and toxic shame. I have watched exploitation end for one more beyond the survivors healing in the home. It has been miraculous and extremely messy.
Looking back over the last decade, I see that restoration is for everyone. The cross ends
exploitation for each one who will receive the truth of the love and healing that Jesus offers. The issue of our value was settled at the cross. When that sinks in, exploitation ends eternally for the one who takes hold of Jesus. The beautiful thing is that exploitation ending doesn’t depend on a person, a restoration home, or a perfect program - it all depends on Him. When exploitation ends, restoration begins and resurrection is the outcome for the one who chooses it.
“Suppose one of you had a hundred sheep and lost one. Wouldn’t you leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the lost one until you found it? When found, you can be sure you would put it across your shoulders, rejoicing, and when you got home call in your friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Celebrate with me! I’ve found my lost sheep!’ Count on it—there’s more joy in heaven over one sinner’s rescued life than over ninety-nine good people in no need of rescue.” - Luke 15:4-7 MSG