Shock. Anger. Helplessness.
A million contrasting emotions confronted Ginger, a Free Methodist pastor, when she first discovered that slavery has never been more rampant than it is today. It was hard enough for her to accept that a $150 billion criminal industry thrived off the slavery of more than 45 million people around the world. But it devastated her when she discovered that human trafficking was occurring in her own quiet community in rural Illinois.
The question wasn’t whether or not she was going to respond to the issue. The question was a matter of how.
Identifying a Calling
The movement to combat human trafficking has gained remarkable traction, especially in the last half a decade. Awareness is rising. Fair trade options are becoming increasingly more available. New anti-trafficking non-profits are springing up like kernels of popcorn. More churches are courting human trafficking as a channel for engaging in justice. But how often do these good intentions move beyond a belief or a band-aid to creating effective solutions?
Ginger and her co-leader, Annie, remember those first few years well, of struggling to find ways to convert their passionate convictions into tangible action. Every Monday morning at 7:00am, they would gather with one or two others at the same coffee shop to pray that God would guide them through the murky waters of feeling overwhelmed and, at times, paralyzed. Although they had no viable plan in place, their vague gatherings transitioned into praying for victimized women they didn’t know but trusted they would meet some day.
Months of steadfast prayer grew into research. Research grew into exploring different aspects of anti-trafficking interventions through trial-and-error, such as training medical staff, law enforcement officers, pregnancy centers, and other influencers how to identify and respond to victims of human trafficking in their respective industries. The team began identifying gaps in their community and learned there were only eight beds available to offer recovery to survivors in Illinois. Ginger and her team knew what they needed to do: open a restoration home for women who have survived human trafficking.
Discerning a Calling
Facing an existential crisis is common for Christians as they walk through the nebulous process of unpacking a calling. When do I start? How do I start? How do I know this is from God and not me?
For Ginger, there was no messenger from heaven instructing her step-by-step on what to do. Instead, she leaned into all the advice she was given when she first discerned her call to the ministry: do your intentions and actions line up with scripture? Are there others around you affirming this call? Do you have the character and access to skillsets for a ministry?
Ginger didn’t know the specific details—there was no money, no bullet-point plan—but she knew there was a calling indeed. The vision and passion were already there. And through networking and building community, the team acquired the gifts and graces of new members: a social worker, an educator, a businessperson, and more. Ginger, Annie, and the rest of their team became familiar faces out in the community—and so, when a couple felt called to gift their home on five acres of land for ministry purposes, they knew who to call.
Carrying Out a Calling
Ginger recalls how daunting and overwhelming the early stages were. Undertaking the administrative, legal, and logistical details of registering a non-profit organization was its own challenge, not to mention the arduous long-term planning required to staff and financially sustain a home for women who have endured trauma and abuse.
“The timing didn’t always seem right,” Ginger explained. “We felt some things were happening too soon; others felt too long. Being given a home was the tipping point for moving forward, but we still had to take many more steps of faith. Yet God had given us this vision, and even gave it a name: Eden’s Glory.”
Despite messy moments, God clearly affirmed the journey to opening Eden’s Glory by creating something out of nothing on several occasions. During a time when funds for renovations were coming out of the pockets of team members, the owner of a flooring business provided financing for beautiful laminate flooring and new carpets, which another family paid to have installed. Miracles were already starting to happen even before Eden’s Glory opened.
Partnership was also key. The time, effort, cost, resources, and skills required to operate a restoration home cannot be done alone—and so, Eden’s Glory was a clear product of community. Two local women dedicated their whole summer to working on the entire interior of the house, and every stitch they sewed, every stroke they painted was bathed in prayer. Work teams from other churches came to help with landscaping and renovations. Pastors and key supporters gathered together to write prayers and scripture on the walls before they were painted to literally surround the women with truth.
When the first resident moved into the home in September 2015, she cried over the dresser in her bedroom—the first time she had a place to store her belongings. The house was a haven, a resting place, a safe space where the women could be comfortable and feel valued in their journey to healing.
The Challenges of a Calling
Rarely do we hear about the behind-the-scenes struggles of ministry. The same had been true true for Ginger and Annie, who had visited other restoration homes across the nation and heard only stories of success and about earning immediate dividends. Yet within the first few weeks of opening Eden’s Glory, it was clear to them that the path of a survivor is not always smooth or straight.
“These women’s stories are complex,” remarks Ginger, “and the journey to healing is scary and hard. They have not lived a life of staying; they’ve lived a life of fleeing. Putting their heads on the same pillows every night is foreign to them. We wish we would’ve heard more about these challenges during our research.”
Progress usually involves struggle and setbacks. Programmatically, there are seasons with low morale and financial giving. For the women, resistance and relapse is bound to happen—especially when the goal is not simply to provide a place for survivors to stay, but to catalyze transformation. One of the residents quickly picked up on this, commenting on one occasion: “Eden’s Glory isn’t a program; it’s a new way of life.”
What that requires is a patient endurance on the part of the staff at Eden’s Glory, who are learning their role is more about the evolution of the women’s stories, rather than the destination. As Ginger points out, “We’re here to plant seeds in the lives of these women. We’re here to provide safety and hope, even if it’s only for a short while. We offer long-term care and housing up to about two years—but even if some of the women only stay with us for 30 days or three months, that’s still 30 days or three months of safety, health care, nutrition, and love that they didn’t have before.”