Here’s a peek into a foundation working to end child sex trafficking.
Child sex trafficking is a worldwide evil with devastating fallout for the children it impacts. Current estimates from theNational Center for Missing and Exploited Children indicate that around 100,000 children are sold into sexual slavery each year in the United States. Other non-profit sources and law enforcement agencies suggest the number is closer to 250,000. The number jumps to 2 million women and children worldwide. This is an epidemic!
These shocking statistics are disheartening-yet the issue remains largely invisible to those of us in children’s ministry. And when presented with this hard reality, most of us feel helpless to make a difference. It’s easy to feel small and insignificant when it comes to such a large, horrific problem.
Jenny Williamson felt the same way. She was sitting in her church worship service when she heard the statistics. As a Christian mom, Williamson couldn’t shake the sadness and horror she felt when she heard the figures. After much soul-searching, she felt compelled-and called by God-to step into the fray, especially when she learned that child sex trafficking wasn’t only a far-away problem-it was going on right in her backyard of Sacramento, California.
Since that moment in 2007, Williamson has worked with a team of mostly volunteers to build the Courage World Wide Foundation, which builds therapeutic homes for victims of the child sex trafficking to find shelter, safety, a family environment, and healing. This international foundation has thousands of supporters and donors, aboard of nine, a 90 percent volunteer-based staff, and plans for significant future growth. Williamson’s foundation is helping these young victims reclaim their childhood-and their future. The following is a peek into her cause.
CM: Tell us how God called you to take action against child trafficking.
Williamson: I’m from Mississippi, and going to church on Sunday is something I’ve done every week of my life. I never went expecting my life to change. But on a Sunday in July 2007, my life did exactly that.
Don Brewster, a former pastor at my church, was back in the U.S. from Cambodia. He and his wife, Bridget, were there to share their story. They’d sold everything they owned, quit their jobs, and started a home for young girls rescued from the sex-slave trade. I was unprepared for the stories of torture and rape these girls endured at the hands of people who perpetuate a worldwide,multi-billion-dollar per year business. I sobbed so hard during that service that I couldn’t even get up and eave for more than 30minutes after it was over. My heart was breaking and I kept thinking, I’m just a mom, what can I do? I didn’t realize what I thought was a disqualification was exactly the qualification God was looking for.
CM: What did God want you to do?
Williamson: All through the service I kept hearing the Lord say to me over and over again, “It’s a home.” And all I kept saying back was, “Cambodia? You want me to go to Cambodia?” I couldn’t imagine how that was possible when I had a family as well as a business.
After that, I tried to shake this heaviness in my heart. I couldn’t forget that I lived in a world where children are being sold for sex. I asked a friend of mine what she thought God was doing with me and she said, “I think he’s giving you his heart for these kids.”
Even now I remember my response: “It’s unbearable.”
I began to argue with God. “Put a hedge of protection around these kids. Just do something!” I cried from the depths of my soul. God’sresponse came to me so quick, so strong, and so clear within my spirit that I thought he’d actually spoken out loud: “Why don’t you?”
His response recalibrated my life. It sounded so simple. I just wasn’t sure what he wanted me to do.
CM: How did you discover there were children here in the U.S. who needed help?
Williamson: Several weeks later, my mom called me, so excited, telling me about a women’s conference she’d just attended. She said the speaker was starting a home in Houston, Texas, for victims of the sex-slave trade here in the U.S. I almost fell on the floor because I had no idea there were victims here, too. I thought the victims were international victims.
CM: Describe how you got the idea of a home for victims.
Williamson: On the Sunday before Christmas in 2007, God woke me, and again he spoke so clearly to my spirit: “Open the first Courage House in Sacramento for victims.”
Then I remembered God’s words to me during that church service: “It’s a home.” At that moment everything in my life made sense. I’m just a mom. But that’s exactly what these kids need-a mom, a family, and a home.
CM: So you started Courage House, places where young victims can grow and be restored. You also created CourageWorld Wide, a nonprofit, international organization.
Williamson: God gave us the vision to eventually build a Courage House in every city and country where one is needed. Support from many sources let us buy a 50-acre horse ranch in northern California, which is designed to house up to 75 of these child victims.
Around the time we opened the first Courage House in California in2011, we also opened one in Tanzania, Africa. We’ve made recent visits to Hawaii at the request of local organizations that want us to bring a Courage House there. We’ve also received similar requests from Mississippi and Florida.
CM: What’s something children’s ministers might be surprised to learn about this issue?
Williamson: Sadly, much of it is in the church. Many of the victims I’ve met say their families went to church and that it’s family members who first began abusing them. Unfortunately-and shockingly-there are men in our churches who purchase underage prostitutes.
CM: What advice would you give to children’s ministers who work with children every week?
Williamson: Notice children in your church and Sunday school classes. Every victim I’ve met at some point attended a local school and often a Sunday school class. Listen to children. Learn to identify signs of sexual abuse. This problem is in the church—not just in other places. The original trauma is early sexual abuse. That’s what makes these children vulnerable to pimps and other abusers-men who prey upon them promising love.
CM: What advice would you give to those who wish to respond in some way?
Williamson: Join with like-minded individuals and begin to speak out loud about the problem of child trafficking. Become educated. It’s real and it’s increasing. Become a part of the solution. Isaiah says, “Use your voice as a trumpet; shout it out loud!”
Tracy Carpenter is a 15-year children’s ministry veteran.
For even more great articles like this in every issue, subscribe today to Children’s Ministry Magazine!