Today I had the opportunity to participate in a forum on human trafficking. It was extremely exciting to have such a conference in my own town.
I arrived at Kentwood Community Church to set up my display in room 115. The room was lined with 6 foot tables, each covered by black cloth. I found my "booth" and put out fliers and business cards, purses and necklaces. I was looking forward to meeting new people, all who had a passion for the modern abolitionist movement.
I scoped out the tables near me. On my right was the International Jusice Mission (the IJM...they are an amazing organization and I recommend you check them out). On my left was Sacred Beginnings. I knew nothing about that group.
Well, I went about my business, found the snack table and got ready for a great day.
After scarfing down my Bugles and Diet Coke I went back to my display. The ladies from Sacred Beginnings had arrived while I pigged out. I had a chance to look at their materials.
Among the information were two newspaper articles. One recognized the founder of the organization for her work advocating against criminal sexual exploitation in the Grand Rapids area.
Wow! That's huge, extreme, amazing work! I was so pumped to meet her. I couldn't wait to learn more.
Then I looked at the other article.
It featured a picture of her. She was mentoring a few women. Then there was a photo below where the newspaper would have folded.
It was a mug shot. The woman in the photo had stringy, yellow hair. Her face was thin and sallow. Her eyes...oh, her eyes...they were scared, angry, hurt. I was haunted by her eyes. I got goosebumps from the expression of the woman who the caption said was arrested over and over and over; larceny, assault, sexual solicitation, drug possession...and on and on and on.
Then I realized something. This sad, empty face belonged to the same woman who was fighting for the rights of others. I discovered that this prostitute, drug addict, thief had transformed into an advocate, mentor, servant.
As I marveled over the article I realized that the woman, Leslie, was nearing her table. She was chatting with the two friends she brought with them. All three ladies were dressed beautifully, smiles brightly and walked with confidence.
With much humility I introduced myself. I was half tempted to say "Hi, I'm Susie. Nothing has ever happened to me that comes close to what you've endured. I can't understand how you survived."
But instead I said "Hi! I'm Susie." (when I'm nervous sometimes I say dumb things...that's why it's really an accomplishment for me to NOT say something stupid).
I learned that Leslie became a Christian after an attempted suicide. She did everything to end her life, but "God wouldn't let me go that way". She has been "clean" for over 10 years and touched the lives of hundreds of prostitutes in Grand Rapids.
One of her friends was on the streets, selling her body for over 20 years. She was incarcerated for 6 months and at the end of her time in prison had no where to go. She contemplated going back to a life of prostitution. "It was the only thing I knew how to do", she said.
That night Leslie visited the prison. She took the woman home with her. She taught her about all the possibilities she had. She showed her the road that leads to life. This woman is now months from receiving her certificate to become a hair stylist. She loves Jesus. She has hope for the first time in over two decades.
The other friend was quiet. She was observing, looking at everyone's faces. She was checking everything out. She has been free from the bondages of prostitution for only half a year.
But in that 6 months she has enrolled in college and is averaging a 4.0. She has hope.
I looked into the eyes of these three women and saw joy. I saw three humans, made in the image of God who now realized their worth. Three ladies who have been redeemed from a place I will never understand.
And all I want to hear is about the stories of who they are now. Who God has made them to be. The old is gone. The new has come. Never before did I understand that concept as well as I do today.