A Look Back – 2018

At the end of 2017, and as we entered 2018, I kept hearing Isaiah 43:18-19—God is doing a new thing, and we can certainly say with confidence He started a new thing in 2018 at Rescue Houston! In the midst of receiving 188 victim hotline calls and rescuing 74 of those victims, 2018 was a year of refining the vision and building for expansion.

Early in 2018, the Lord gave us laser-focused vision to build an emergency assessment program that holistically addresses the most common variables that cause victims to return to a life of sexual exploitation. We knew our mandate was to seek the Lord for the creative solutions that assess and effectively address the immediate physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual needs of survivors.

With the vision in our hearts, we watched God supernaturally bring each piece of the program to us. It started with Project Flourish, a “gospel-minded shark tank” within First Presbyterian Church of Houston that forced us to dig deep for three months, pull down the vision and get it on paper. Out of 90 applicants, Rescue Houston was one of five winners, resulting in the initial seed investment of $45,000 to launch the emergency assessment program the first grant and glass ceiling to shatter in 2018!

We are thrilled to report that 54% of all the clients who entered the program in Phase I completed the program. However, Phase I was just the beginning. One could say we were building the sailboat in the midst of sailing it, depending on God for the resources, tools, water, wind, and crew along the way! He provided for every need and surpassed our expectations as the program continued to take shape — divine appointments, learning of innovative therapies, and answers to radical prayers became a weekly experience for our team.

In July, we launched the Rescue Houston Community Board with 35 individuals who contribute their influence, intellectual capital, and investment, raising over $65,000 and gathering like-minded peers to help advance our anti-sex trafficking work on the front line. Just one month later, we were honored to receive $67,000 from The Houston 20 toward our emergency assessment program! The following three months, the Lord provided us with a new front line team of Exit Strategists, a Survivor Advocate, and professional program providers, all strategically positioned to bring freedom to the enslaved.

Then finally, the day before Thanksgiving, we received notice that we’d been awarded our first ever Victims of Crime Act (VOCA) government grant of $377,000. When God said it was a “new” thing He was doing, we truly never imagined His plans — His faithfulness and the fixed determination of Houstonians to end sex-trafficking in our community are both astounding and humbling to behold.

As 2018 came to close, the momentum did not slow. The Lord continued with His lavish provision, raising $80,000 to expand our program through the incredibly generous year-end giving of our partners like you. Because of your fierce love and investment this year, we are thrilled to report that Phase II of our 60 day emergency assessment program launched on January 2, 2019, with capacity to serve eight program participants at a time.

It is incredible to look back and see all that God orchestrated in 2018, providing our blueprint for national expansion in the year to come. We could not have done it without you, our generous donors, volunteers and strategic partners. Words cannot express our gratitude for your support—thank you.

In 2019, our footprint is expanding and our hearts are expectant. We are seeing and will continue to see miracles of freedom occuring on a daily basis in Houston and beyond.

From Guatemala to Houston

During my sophomore year at Briar Cliff University, there was a lecture on campus about human sex trafficking that sparked my interest. I wasn’t very familiar with sex trafficking, but there was something about the small poster in the cafeteria that grabbed my attention. During the lecture, I was amazed by the statistics, stories, and how fast it is growing throughout the United States. However, I believed there was no way a young woman like myself could make a difference, or so I thought.

Before I knew it, I was graduating from undergrad and beginning a new chapter in my life at the University of South Dakota (USD) as an occupational therapy student. That fall, one of my classmates was working with sex trafficking survivors to better understand the role of occupational therapy for this population. On many occasions, I found myself asking questions to learn more about her experiences, however, I did not search for new information beyond our conversations.

A year passed and I was blessed with the opportunity to travel to Guatemala with other occupational therapy students to provide services for those in need. During this week long journey, I was reminded of my duty to serve others. I began thinking of ways I could serve individuals in my own country. This thought stuck with me as I began brainstorming ideas for my capstone project (the capstone project encourages doctoral students to enhance their skills in growing areas of occupational therapy).

One day, while scrolling through Facebook, someone shared an article revealing a Sister’s Plan to open a long-term home for sex trafficking survivors. Fortuitously, the Sister was a professor at my alma mater. While reading the article, I knew the Lord was calling me to work with this population. Therefore, I approached my professor who had experience working with survivors in a long-term home. A couple of meetings, several emails, and many prayers later, I was preparing my capstone to work with sex trafficking survivors in Sioux City, Iowa.

Then, in late October 2018, I received an email explaining that my capstone placement in Sioux City was no longer possible. With two months till my capstone project began, I quickly pivoted and texted my friend to learn more about her cousin’s organization, Rescue Houston. The previous summer at my friend’s wedding, she introduced me to Allison, the founder of Rescue Houston.

Allison and I were reconnected, and she invited me to join the Rescue Houston team. Praying for God’s guidance, He responded with three signs all pointing to Houston, Texas. Now, 978 miles later, I am once again amazed by how God shapes our experiences over time and leads us to where we are meant to be.

In May 2019, I will graduate with my Doctor of Occupational Therapy degree from the University of South Dakota. I haven’t decided where I would like to settle down and find a job, although my mom would love it if I came back home to Nebraska!

Called to Fight

Often times we have certain expectations or assumptions of where our life is headed. How does the saying go? “If you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans.” 

It was June 2009, and in six months I was going to graduate college with a degree in Criminal Justice. Yet, I really had no idea what life looked like post-graduation. Criminal Justice is a tricky degree when finding a job post-college (or that’s at least what I was telling myself and my parents at the time). It’s a very specific “industry” and I was struggling to understand my place. It wasn’t until I had the opportunity to interview with Texas State Law Enforcement that I gained perspective. 

The position, based in Laredo, Texas, focused on combating drug trafficking along the border. The idea of a high-profile position with state law enforcement was thrilling to me. As my interview drew closer, I found myself romanticizing the job more and more.

When the day finally arrived, the recruiting officer walked me through the in’s and out’s of the job and what my position would entail. I mentally checked off the boxes that sounded “really cool.” Then he closed saying, “Now I want to be clear. If you take this job, I can’t guarantee your safety but can guarantee the likelihood you will burn out within a year’s time.” Whether or not that was true or a great tactic to thin the herd, I felt my perspective shift. Was I called to die for this job?

What I thought was “really cool” or thrilling was no longer the gauge for where I felt called to work.  I felt a recalibration of my priorities towards what I was deeply passionate about. On the five-hour drive back from Laredo, I wrestled with the question, “If I had a year to live, what would I want to fight for? How would I spend it?” Let me be clear, it’s not that I believed then (or now) drug trafficking wasn’t worthy of my time or career. I do feel that it aligned with my heart at the time, but I felt there was something else

Another month passed, and I was still praying about where I felt called to serve. Then I had the opportunity to hear a man by the name of Gary Haugen speak on the epidemic of Human Trafficking. For those not familiar with him, Gary founded International Justice Mission. IJM is a nonprofit that specializes in combating human rights violations through their 17 field offices around the globe. It was that night I learned about the 40 million people held in modern-day slavery. With an annual revenue of $150 billion, it is the fastest growing criminal enterprise in the world. 

Hearing these facts coupled with survivor’s testimonies and Gary’s insight, I had my first glimpse into the jarring reality of human trafficking. In that moment, I felt the writing on my heart to combat human trafficking and God directing me to my next chapter. And with God’s sense of humor and grace-before graduation-I was blessed with the unique opportunity to work in IJM’s Kolkata, India field office in the Investigation’s Department.  

Looking back and revisiting my former perspective, I can’t help but laugh with God on the drastic change of plans within months of graduation. It brings to mind some other wisdom that rings true for me, “Dream a dream so big, it is doomed to failure without God’s intervention.” 

In the fight against sex trafficking with Rescue Houston, we have the opportunity to contradict the idea of hopelessness with rescue and restoration. Whether it’s with one year to live or many more (I’d like to think more), there is no other place I rather be

Could This be For Me?

In third grade I wrote a report on Gladys Aylwards, a little known missionary in China during the 1900s. Although I’m sure the report was nothing notable it had an lasting impact on my life. It was a seed planted in my heart towards full time ministry.  

When I was in highschool my family went to serve in Jamaica at an orphanage our church sponsored. This experience further opened my eyes to the needs of the brokenhearted.  Over the next four years I made eight or so trips to the orphanage to work with the staff and children (and hang out with my future brother!). My heart broke for the Fatherless and I knew I was called to the brokenhearted.  

On one of those trips to the orphanage, I met a family that lived close to Iowa State University, where I attended school, and we stayed friends. This family would a few years later go on to found a restoration home for survivors of sex trafficking. They were my first introduction to human trafficking. I had no idea at the time another seed was being planted in my heart.  

When I started at ISU, my intention was to go into full-time overseas ministry upon graduation. Instead I ended up moving to Houston, and soon afterwards met my husband (yeah!!).  As I worked as an engineer, I found myself wondering what God had for me. What if this desire to serve the brokenhearted that was planted at such a young age was no longer what God wanted for me?

Yet I still had this desire. I wondered if I’d missed the boat. I wondered if some years of wandering meant that I wouldn’t get to fulfill what I thought was my life’s calling.  But God is so good. He is a redeemer. His ways are higher than my ways.

I started mentoring a survivor and fell in love with the work of Rescue Houston. One day while I wrestled with my purpose and my current position as an engineer, I got an email from a Rescue Houston employee. She informed the volunteers she was resigning and moving into long-term restoration. I saw the tiniest crack of a door opening. Could this be for me God? Surely I am not qualified. I told God to open a door for me and I’d walk through it.  So I crossed my fingers, said a prayer and sent in my resume. Nothing about my resume said Survivor Advocate.  But God did and now I’m here, working for Rescue Houston because GOD IS AWESOME.