August 4, 2017

US Church Members Step Up to Fight Human Trafficking

Danica Eylenstein, Mid-America Union Conference & Adventist Review

Seventh-day Adventist women and other members in the US are gearing up to support initiatives fighting human trafficking in Kansas City, Kansas, and other US cities. According to some reports, Kansas City, which sits at the intersection of three national highways, is a hub for sex trafficking. Adventist members in the region are working hard to create greater awareness and support local initiatives helping exploited women.

Kristy’s Dreams

Kansas City’s Kristy Childs escaped the commercial sex industry after 24 years, but she did not leave behind her desire to help other young women break free as well. In 2000, she founded Veronica’s Voice, an organization to speak out against sex trafficking and bring awareness about exploitation to the people of Kansas City. Over the last 17 years, Childs’ organization has grown and so have her dreams. She has longed to provide a home for exploited women, ultimately helping them regain independence.

Central States Conference Ministers’ Spouses Association director Ivona Bernard, left, and Magdalene KC program coordinator Terrel Bishop. [Photo: Brennan Hallock, Mid-America Union Outlook]

This dream recently led to Veronica’s Voice’s newest undertaking, the establishment of Magdalene KC. This program provides a home for women who want to escape prostitution and sexual violence. Women can live at Magdalene KC rent free for up to two years in order to regroup, refocus and repair their lives. “We work with women ages 24 and over, a section of the population that, we believe, tends to be overlooked,” says Terrel Bishop, Magdalene KC program coordinator.

Women must be referred as well as pass a drug test in order to secure one of five spots in the program. Once accepted, they are moved into the home and connected with necessary resources to provide for their needs.

Meeting the Need

Prior to the inception of Magdalene KC, Veronica’s Voice maintained a safe center. Women came to the center for help and education. However, long-term care was not possible through the center and women had no place to go after hours. The Magdalene KC house was established last year to fill that void.

“I’m hoping people will stay compassionate, catch the vision and understand that these ladies need help too.”

Magdalene KC provides safety and security while simultaneously educating and empowering women. “We deal with women who have addiction backgrounds, institution backgrounds—maybe they’ve been in the system for a while,” says Bishop. “Sometimes they come from trauma; usually it deals with some type of sexual abuse or a sexually violent crime that’s happened to them—either from family members or someone associated with their families.”

For these women, going into the streets isn’t what they want to do. “It’s not because they woke up one day and decided, ‘I’m going to commercially sexually exploit myself,’” says Bishop. “It’s more about ‘What can I do to pay a bill so I can move into my own apartment—so I can be safe from the people hurting me?’”

She continues, “Physically, these ladies are over 21, but emotionally they may be stuck in the place of their trauma, whether that be nine or 12 or 14. Emotionally, they still need that care and a helping hand.”

Bigger Dreams

Bishop and Childs long to see the women who enter through the Magdalene KC doors grow to empower themselves and leave knowing they can reach back to help their community. “These women are going to be able to affect others in a way I never can,” says Bishop. “My job, my joy, is to build them up so they can build up others. If we make a difference in one woman’s life, she may make a difference in two lives, and they may in turn make a difference in four lives.”

As Magdalene KC grows, Childs and Bishop strive to expand throughout the Kansas City metro area. Multiple homes will allow the ministry to serve and care for more than five women simultaneously. “It’s not just a vision and a dream. I believe it’s reality,” says Bishop.

Adventist Members Step Up

Ivona Bernard, Central States Conference Ministers’ Spouses Association director, heard about Veronica’s Voice and Magdalene KC and was impressed with their work. She began to do what she could to help out. Bernard shares, “I spoke with one of the clients and she said, ‘It took me a while to believe I was worth it—that I was worth helping, that I could do it.’ To see her grow and blossom, there’s nothing like it. I’m so excited.”

Members of the Seventh-day Adventist church have joined Veronica’s Voice and Magdalene KC to raise awareness of the harsh realities of commercial sexual exploitation. Members of the Central Sates Conference as well as other conferences in the Mid-America Union and the North American Division will come together Sept. 9-10 in Kansas City for a community initiative called Hear Their Voices to raise funds and awareness while sharing encouragement and hope.

“You can be a part of the weekend, but more importantly part of the bigger picture,” says Bernard, referring to the options for both in-person and online participation.

Bishop concludes, “I’m hoping people will stay compassionate, catch the vision and understand that these ladies need help too.”

An original version of this story was posted on the Mid-America Union Outlook magazine.