Guest blogger Emily Fitchpatrick shares how God brought human trafficking into her life
At the age of 22 years old, I found myself in a desperate situation. My life had been spiraling out of control and consisted of bouncing from one party to the next. I was a binge drinker and drug user. I found myself constantly searching for love through men, but only ending up with many broken relationships and a wounded heart. I was depressed and felt hopeless. I had accepted Christ at an early age but through high school and college I had turned away from my faith. It was my grandma who convinced me to go back to church and on Palm Sunday 14 years ago, I walked through the church doors. It was the first time I had been since I was a little girl. It was that day that I asked God to rescue me, to save me from myself. I started attending church every time the doors were open. I was studying the Word of God and praying about how God may use me to help other teen girls. I was volunteering in youth ministry and really enjoyed it. God was working greatly in my life and in my heart.
One day I was driving and drove upon a scenic overlook. I felt the Holy Spirit prompt me to pull over there. I got out of my car and sat on a large rock overlooking the mountains. I was reading my Bible, praying, and writing in my journal. I wrote down On Eagles Wings Ministries – Healing Hearts and Changing Lives. I looked at the paper and immediately thought to myself "What is that?" The Lord spoke to my heart – "It's your ministry." I did not tell anyone, I just tucked it away in my heart. Several weeks later my Mom called me and said she was driving by that same overlook and the Lord had told her to pull over. She went to the same rock, sat down, said all she could do was cry and pray for me! I told her about On Eagles Wings Ministries and what had happened to me in that very spot. We could not believe it!
Fast-forward five years, I am married, have 2 small children and was working for the Billy Graham Ministry. One morning in my devotion time before work I heard the Lord speak to me that it was time to start On Eagles Wings Ministries. At this point, I had thought the Lord had forgotten about the day at the overlook that He spoke that to me and even doubted – did I hear Him correctly? However, His word will not return void! That morning before work I knew without a shadow of a doubt that On Eagles Wings Ministries was something special God had for me and it was not because of anything special I had done, I am a sinner saved by grace and walk in His mercy daily, but it was because I was willing to be obedient. That obedience has led me every step of the way and He has held my hand through this entire process. It has been through obedience and taking huge leaps of faith that I have seen God do miraculous things in and through this ministry.
We started On Eagles Wings Ministries in 2007 as an outreach to women in the adult entertainment clubs with a small Board and a few other ladies. I strongly felt led to work with women in the clubs and knew God had a purpose and a plan for their life. I started taking gift bags into the clubs that included bath and body products, nail polish, various small gift items, and we also included a small devotional or small Bible. We included our hotline so they could call if they needed prayer our counseling. This outreach allowed us to start building relationships with the young ladies. I will never forget the very first dancer who called our hotline. She first thanked me for the gift bag. She thought that was very sweet. She then wanted to know if I was a Christian. When I said yes, she asked me why I would do that? She said "don't you think I am dirty." It did not take long for me to set a meeting with her and like many other ladies working in the clubs, we began to help them by providing a trained counselor for them to meet with and we built relationships with them as mentors. We helped several get new jobs and some started attending church. I learned a lot about the adult entertainment business. I learned there were many single moms who had no education and trying to keep the lights on. I learned there were some young ladies, and even minors, working in the clubs but also prostituting under the control of a pimp. In 2007, you did not hear much about sex trafficking. I found one organization working in the U.S. to bring light to this issue, Shared Hope International. In 2008, they released a report about Domestic Sex Trafficking and it indicated hundreds of thousands of teen girls were being exploited in the U.S. through the commercial sex industry. It indicated that the average entry age was just 13 years old, a stat later confirmed by the U.S. Department of Justice. It indicated that the victims were mostly being treated as criminals and being held in juvenile detention centers and were not receiving services. There were only two residential programs at that time in the U.S. equipped to take this population. There were zero faith based residential programs.
After much prayer and many meetings with social services, FBI, law enforcement, Shared Hope International, and other community members – we opened the first faith based residential program for Domestic Minor Sex Trafficking Victims in the U.S. We called it the OEW Hope House. In 2009, we accepted our first resident, a 14 year old who came to us from several states away. One by one they have come and since 2009, we have cared for 35 girls at the OEW Hope House. Our program has never taken any government funding and we have never charged for our services. We offer the girls an onsite private school education, life skills classes, mentors, trauma focused therapy, recreation, healthcare, part time income through our work empowerment program, and the opportunity to heal and find their purpose in a safe, nurturing, environment. Although the program has four stages, we do not put a time limit on their stay. We are licensed by Department of Social Services in NC and located in the Charlotte, NC area. Residents are referred to us by social services, other agencies, law enforcement, or parents and we accept ages 12 – 21. We take in state and out of state placements. It is not easy working with this population. Most are diagnosed with complex trauma and PTSD. They have trust issues and are often very angry. However, nothing is impossible with God! I have seen the aftermath of sex trafficking in a person's life, but I have also seen the hope that comes into a person's life when they have a strong support system that believes in them and does not give up on them.
Over the years we have added a few other programs to allow us to tackle this issue holistically. We have a prevention program called Youth 4 Abolition that educates youth using a curriculum and mentoring program. This helps them to better understand the issue, avoid the traps traffickers use to lure teens, and gives them the opportunity to be a voice as they educate their peers. Y4A Chapters are currently operating throughout NC but we hope to expand this program to other states. We have a work empowerment program called Fields of Hope that offers survivors ages 15 and up paid, educational fellowships. We have a leadership and professional development curriculum we take them through twice a week, they make handmade products, and they earn a fair part time wage. We operate this program in Charlotte, NC and West Palm, FL. We have a survivor assistance fund and provide funds for education, healthcare, transportation, and counseling to survivors across the U.S. through an application process. In 2014, we launched an outreach and prevention program in San Pedro, Belize. Through bar outreach (where the women and girls are trafficked), we offer gift bags and a hotline. We are also preventing girls from exploitation through our SHINE club for girls. We recently purchased a piece of land in San Pedro and plans are in the works to build center for girls. Lastly, we partner with three like-minded organizations each year to provide mission support for their programs.
God has done amazing things in this ministry over the years. Many times I have been blown away by His faithfulness and answers to prayers. We constantly lean on Him for provision, wisdom, and strength. We also rely heavily on the body of Christ to partner with us to help fulfill our mission to provide hope, empowerment, and a brighter future to exploited females and prevent those at risk. My advice to anyone that wants to do this work is to research to find programs closest to him or her and get involved. Many great organizations are operating across the U.S. to serve this population and many are under funded and lack volunteer support. It is going to take each of us pulling together to see this atrocity come to an end. It's happening all across the globe and it's an issue the Lord cares deeply about. All of His children deserve to be free from exploitation, have a chance to live safely, and achieve their dreams.
Jeremiah 29:11 For I know the plans I have for you," declares the LORD, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.
To learn more about On Eagles Wings Ministries, please visit OnEaglesWingsMinistries.org
The WMU Foundation's Hayes Endowment provides grants to organizations providing a Christinan response to human trafficking.