I am a survivor. Not of Human trafficking but of sexual abuse and exploitation, specifically, incest. So, although I cannot fully understand the trauma and experiences of young girls who were trapped in sexual slavery, I can relate to the pain they endured and the long term effects of being violated. For so long I believed the lie that I was worth nothing more than what my body could offer. My mom was struggling with her own brokenness and suddenly finding herself a single mom of three kids under the age of 14. She was unable to offer the emotional support that a young 12 year old girl needed after revealing the years-long ordeal of sexual perpetration.
I used to sit on my bed and cry asking God why He wouldn’t just let me die. What was the purpose of this personal hell I was living in? I could get the attention from men that I so desperately craved from my father by flirting and enticing. I was ridiculed by some close family members and college classmates for oozing sexuality and yet I knew nothing else. Life seemed an endless hamster wheel of seeking male attention and then failing to meet expectations, all the while feeling lonely and worthless.
Looking back, I am so thankful for the Lord’s hand of protection on my life. When I was 12 I regularly had “boyfriends” that were 5 and 6 years older than me. My mom figured they were harmless because we didn’t “go” anywhere other than Taco Bell or to their house. At the same time, I was sure they loved me and probably would have done and gone anywhere with them because my normal life seemed pointless.
During my darkest years that were riddled with anorexia, self-harm, anger, suicidal thoughts, boys and loneliness God began to introduce His hope to me through a pastor’s wife, Elizabeth Mateer. She regularly wrote me poems, copied down verses about my worth as God’s creation and recorded cassette tapes with songs of encouragement and beauty. God used her as my lifeline during that time. God used my now husband as an intervention to stop me from going further down a path of loneliness and pain. He used my husband to show me a glimpse of His love for me. God used these two people in my life to help me see that I could allow Him to transform my pain into something constructive that could help others in pain.
As I began to heal, I tenaciously went after my calling, reaching out to families in the inner city of Philadelphia and Penndel, PA while pursuing my Bachelor’s degree. I sought employment with that same energy while working on my Master’s degree in counseling and worked in a domestic violence shelter and managed a transitional living program for older youth aging out of the foster care system. Once I graduated I was finally “free” and quickly began working as a counselor in a mental health facility that offered several different levels of care. I loved working with the youth that were struggling so much they were unsafe to be in their homes. I loved offering hope of a brighter future to them and their families. I poured so much of myself into my job as a counselor and clinical manager for 10 years.
At one point I had the opportunity to work with a young girl who had been sexually trafficked. It was through her story that God began to clarify His vision for Blazing Hope Ranch. While working with this young teen it was undeniable that she did not belong here. She needed to be in a place where other people were also struggling with similar significant trauma. Such an environment would foster a sense of safety, help her feel understood and promote faster and more extensive recovery. It became clear that the ranch that I had envisioned was to be a place that offered His hope and restorative grace to young women just like her. I wanted to show victims of sexual exploitation the God that I had come to know; one that offered life-giving love and acceptance.
This new, clearer picture of the ranch lit a fire in my soul that I had never experienced before. God was redeeming my story in a way that will serve women who have been abused, broken, and rejected. He has given me a passion for the vulnerable young girls in our community that seek validation and compassion, often when they don’t even know what that means or even looks like. My husband and I have a heart’s desire to be the ones that tell vulnerable youth and women, “You are worthy. You are loved beyond reason. You are held.” To give them hope of a brighter future. To help them find peace as they discover who they are in Christ.
I am a survivor of sexual abuse. But I am so much more than that. I am truly more than a conqueror through Him who loved me (Romans 8:37). The women who have been trafficked can be more than survivors too. There is a Champion waiting to fight for them. They just need a place to find Him.