By Donna Cox
“You plead my cause, You right my wrongs, You break my chains, You overcome…”*
The lyrics of the song “How Can It Be,” made popular by Lauren Daigle, resonate with the ministry of OneHeart Dayton. Every week as we serve delicious homemade food in the dressing rooms of strip clubs, we meet women who are being trafficked or at high-risk of being trafficked. As their life stories unfold, we provide Christian counseling and connect them with appropriate services. As they put their fractured lives back together, they find the courage to dream.
Mary was seventeen when she started in the sex industry as a stripper/entertainer/exotic dancer. Her home life was chaotic, and she had been in and out of juvenile detention. She had her first child when she was fourteen and dropped out of school because there was no one to take care of her child. She was at high-risk for being trafficked, and that is exactly what happened. She desperately wanted to provide for her baby and bought into the idea that she could make fast money and be done. Making money and being done was far from the truth. She found herself being bought, sold, and bartered. The twists, turns, and agendas of the sex industry left her owing money, fearful for her life, and with a battered, robbed, and destitute soul. When Mary was twenty-two, she had twins—a girl and boy. She quickly realized that her son was going to need special attention and that it would be costly. Her son’s condition forced her even deeper into the dark abyss of the industry as she tried to make more money. More desperate, more shackled, more shame.
Mary found the courage to come to counseling. Her twins were now eight years old and her son was diagnosed with nonverbal autism. She was searching for answers and was ready to hang up her heels and leave the sex industry. In one of her counseling sessions, she shared that she was in need of food and felt so much shame that her children were in need.
OneHeart Dayton provides not only counseling but case management, as well. We put together groceries, and as we drove to her apartment, we realized that she had been walking seven to eight blocks in all kinds of weather to get to her counseling sessions because she doesn’t drive. We were not prepared for her level of need. She did not have any furniture. There were blankets hanging over her windows that didn’t keep the winter air from creeping into the room. She literally had only one pot to cook in. Her little daughter hugged us and asked us to come to her room to see a picture she had colored for us. She was so joyful and smart that we had to fight back the tears when we observed that she had been sleeping on a pile of blankets on the floor. OneHeart Dayton went into full throttle, addressing their needs. We were able to furnish her apartment with generous donations as we put the word out about what was needed. A high school teacher donated beds for all the children. Sleep Number donated pillows—the first pillow Mary’s daughter had ever had. A kitchen and bath shower gave her what she needed. And Mary started to dream.
She wanted to get her GED and go to college. We gave a scholarship for the cost of her GED test, and she passed with flying colors. She applied for the local junior college and was accepted! She puts her children on the school bus in the morning and then she gets on a bus to go into the city to take classes all day while her children are in school. She makes good grades and loves to learn.
This year Mary made a decision and was baptized along with her daughter. As I watched her being baptized, when she came up out of the water, it was as if she glowed. Later, as I was helping her dry her hair I asked, “So, what are you feeling?” She replied, “I feel like something has been lifted off of me…I feel free!”
How can it be? True freedom comes because Jesus gave his life for you and me. So that is why every week OneHeart Dayton faithfully walks into places where darkness and oppression are prevalent and intentionally takes the extraordinary light of the hope and love of Jesus. We have the opportunity to make a profound impact on the lives of women, children, and men who are entrenched—so that the Marys of the world can find freedom.
Mary’s story is one of the reasons why we are collectively celebrating Freedom Sunday on February 22, 2015. We want to replicate these freedom stories as survivors and advocates unite to celebrate the freedom Jesus desires for all. Visit www.CHOGTraffickLight.org/FreedomSunday to sign up and find resources.
*“How Can It Be.” © Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC, Music Services, Inc. Lyrics by Jason Ingram, Paul Mabury, and Jeff Johnson.