By Carl Stagner
In February 2015, we first shared the story of how Hope Ranch for Women in Wichita, Kansas, came to be. A little over two years later, their story of reclaiming what hell has stolen from the lives of victims of exploitation continues to unfold. With its origins in one of several strong Church of God congregations in Wichita—Christ Church—Hope Ranch will be celebrated at Church of God Convention 2017 for its highly effective ministry. Those who attend the Freedom Summit on Friday, June 23, will also have the chance to tour their life-giving campus. Before you go, get to know a bit about the ministry which has forever changed the course of sex trafficking survivors.
The first thing that stands out about Hope Ranch is its use of horses as instruments of God’s healing, called equine-assisted learning, also known as equine therapy. Three horses make their home at Hope Ranch, where, unlike the typical ranch, they aren’t used for recreation. Instead, they’ve been trained as therapeutic conduits of emotional and spiritual restoration. In sessions with survivors of traumatic experiences, such as trafficking, God’s presence is powerful, the Holy Spirit is the guide, and the horse is an instrument in the hands of Hope Ranch. Cat Smith, who directs the equine program, explains.
“We have three horses that we’ve carefully chosen based on their personalities,” she says. “Clients will find themselves attracted to one of the three horses, as each one tends to reach out to a certain type of emotional or spiritual wound. We compare a relationship with the horse and parallel that with our walk with God and other people. Simply put, we’re re-learning how to do relationships. The Holy Spirit reveals so much in this short period of time, and we’ve seen miracles in every single session. It’s just been amazing.”
Cathy Turner, founder and president of Hope Ranch, has explained it this way: “Horses have an innate sense. Upon building a relationship with a horse, that horse can mirror what’s going on inside of us. So, we do on-the-ground training, and a facilitator will be with a rescued victim and will put her through a series of exercises. While conducting these exercises with the horse, the facilitator will ask a series of questions. It’s next to impossible to adequately describe what’s taking place, but in that moment, the horses are tools in the hands of the Lord. They help in the healing process.”
In 2016 alone, more than 4,600 volunteer hours were clocked just for the equine program. Four hundred twenty-five private sessions were held last year, as well as 12 group sessions, consisting of 30 different women and 3 men. Coming alongside these clients, 8 to 65 years old, were 14 “shadowers”—trained volunteers to guide them through the process. Equine therapy is only part of what Hope Ranch does for survivors of trafficking, though. Christ-centered mentoring and discipleship set Hope Ranch apart from other organizations promoting healing based on psychological counseling alone.
As a unique ministry that’s only been in existence for a few years, Hope Ranch has certainly begun to address a real need emblematic of a widespread epidemic. Along the way, the team has encountered its fair share of bumps and bruises, including the difficult loss of relationships. Still, the Lord has carried them through. They’ve had to adjust a timeline here, or modify a strategy there, but all the while continued to restore broken lives.
Cathy Cooper, who directs the mentoring programs of Hope Ranch, illustrates this tension between God’s timing and ours. “It can be very difficult for me to know exactly what God can do for them, yet watch them not choose to go there and continue what they’ve been doing instead. But these bonds have held them for sometimes twenty years, and can be hard to break. But I remind myself that we are not the Holy Spirit. We may not see the progress, but God is working in their hearts.”
Despite these challenges, the dedicated team at Hope Ranch presses on. They know what they’re doing is making an eternal difference. Karen DeWerff, director of spiritual programs, comes from a background of abuse herself. She says it took her seven years to walk down the path of healing, but she finally did. “My passion now is for every woman to be healed from whatever circumstance has kept them from becoming who they were created to be. That’s why we celebrate even the little steps as great victories.” Even when patience is tried, these little steps forward are part of what keeps Hope Ranch going. So, too, is the prayerful and financial support of people just like you.
“We see the challenges we face not as roadblocks, but as preparation for what God has in store,” Cathy explains. “We feel the pressure because of all the issues the survivors face, but this is a process, not a one-time experience. We’re in their lives at the beginning of this process of suggesting that God sees them, loves them, and wants to be in relationship with them. We don’t have all the answers to the entire issue of human trafficking. But we’re going to do our part.”
Hope Ranch for Women is working hard to put the third element in place, which they’re calling “the Residence.” They own a large home on twenty secluded acres, debt-free. The home has been renovated and furnished to provide a safe and secure environment where work with survivors can take place around the clock to reinforce learning. Hope Ranch is purposefully not staffing the home until one year of operating expenses have been set aside. At that point, the home will be opened with the confidence it will remain open and provide the stability these survivors need to begin healing.
The Freedom Summit of the Church of God will take place after Church of God Convention 2017 on Friday, June 23, 1:00–6:00 PM, at Central Community Church in Wichita, Kansas. As a part of launching the next phase of CHOG Trafficklight, you’ll hear updates from past a new Trafficklight partners, including Hope Ranch for Women. The Freedom Summit will conclude with a tour and dinner at Hope Ranch for Women in neighboring Andover, Kansas. Registration for the Freedom Summit is just $20 (includes dinner) and can be added to your convention registration at www.chogconvention.org.
Learn more about Hope Ranch at www.hoperanchforwomen.com. Learn more about CHOG Trafficklight at www.chogtrafficklight.org. Register for CHOG Convention 2017 & the Freedom Summit at www.chogconvention.org.