In celebration of International Women’s Day, we are honored to introduce the ‘Spotlight’ Series highlighting stories that inspire discussion and action. It’s a privilege to start the series with a conversation with our friend Ellen, casting a light on SheWORKS, an organization focusing on sex traffic survivor rehabilitation and empowerment.
Human trafficking of women and children for sexual exploitation is the fastest growing criminal enterprise in the world. At least 20.9 million adults and children are bought and sold worldwide into commercial sexual servitude, forced labor and bonded labor (2014 ILO report). Sexual trafficking is an industry that makes an estimated $99 billion per year (2014 ILO report) and 96% of these victims are women and girls (2016 UNODC TIP Report).
Thank you Ellen for sharing your powerful stories. These moments may only give us a glimpse into the work that these organizations are accomplishing, but they are so profoundly impactful and inspiring.
Can you share an overview of Made in Hope Ministries and SheWORKS?
Ellen: SheWORKS is the Filipino arm of Made in Hope Ministries that specifically empowers survivors of sex trafficking to become leaders in their own communities. SheWORKS is survivor led and has a core team of six women survivors who have been in trauma recovery for as long as 20 years. They lead Bible studies at different safe houses, run their jewelry business, plan and run survivor camps, as well as being mothers and wives. They are supported by a team of amazing ates (pronounced ah-tay) or big sisters who have been walking with them for the past 20 years. More information can be found at their website: http://www.madeinhope.org/sheworks.html
How did you discover this experience with Made In Hope Ministries and why did you ultimately decide to join the team?
Ellen: I’m currently a student and am involved with InterVarsity, a college Christian fellowship. Because of the current hostile political climate that has made it very hard to find truth, I wanted to look towards God to find answers to questions that were engulfing our conversations. I joined the team because I knew I would get to participate in work God had already been doing in the Philippines to combat issues of social injustice. I have been learning that we need to have faith-rooted responses to social injustice and I wanted to learn what those responses looked like.
What were some of the questions / fears / uncertainties you faced preparing for the journey? How did God address those either before or during your time there?
Ellen: I had many fears while preparing for this journey. I wondered if my own trauma and battle with depression would become overwhelming while being in an environment of listening to other peoples’ trauma. I was unsure of what I could bring or even how I could help? However, God reminded me that He is sovereign and He is leading this trip. He reminded me of His power and His wisdom and the importance of just being there in His presence. Since it was no longer about what I could do, I was able to be excited about the endless possibilities of what could happen.
Were there any pivotal moments or stories that you can share from your experience?
Ellen: Honestly, there are quite a few. However, one word sticks out the most and that is their joy. The survivors and leaders did everything with joy. I had not experienced such pure joy in a long time. And I knew their joy came from something beyond this world because their past should have weighed them down, but their understanding of who they are in Christ made them feel such joy for the present and the future.
How has this experience furthered your own faith and relationship with God?
Ellen: This experience has taught me to always be bold and to always have joy in the Lord. My mind tends to fixate on the small disruptions in my life, but this experience reminds me that God’s greater picture is so much more beautiful.
You’re back home in the states – now what? Is there anything that you want to carry forward with you as a result of your missions work in the Philippines?
Ellen: Honestly, I feel like my heart is still back in the Philippines. However, sex trafficking is not a problem that only exists in Southeast Asia. It happens here too. I would love to volunteer at a local Chicago organization as well as open the conversation around sex trafficking at my local church. It’s an uncomfortable topic, but a necessary conversation that churches need to have. We need to address our own abuses as well as talk about how do we heal and move forward as one family.
How can people help or get involved in Made In Hope Ministries / SheWORKS?
Ellen: Prayer and financial support. SheWORKS already is doing so many amazing things, but they are spread extremely thin and often work ridiculously long hours. The organization is growing quickly and they want to be able to reach out and support more survivors, but that takes resources and time. So we trust that God will provide, but if you feel moved to give this is definitely a worthy cause.
Any last thoughts?
Ellen: They [the women] would end each night of the camp with a communal prayer dance. These prayer dances were to restore our minds, souls, and bodies back to the Lord. It was so beautiful. It brought healing to my own body because as a woman sometimes I feel my body is not my own and it is just something to be objectified and judged by others. However, prayer dancing with all these amazing women reminded me my body belongs to the Lord and He has made it beautiful and whole and restored.
For more TWS stories, visit our Medium page