Cheryl Thompson’s Story
I was at a point in my life where I felt called to Anti-Human Trafficking, and I had time to serve. I had worked with young ladies who had been rescued from sex-trafficking in India before, but I had no idea what to expect in terms of working with girls rescued right here in Orange County. I prayed and God opened the door to begin this journey.
In July, I was partnered with my friend Peggy LaDow to work with a couple of young ladies who had been rescued from human trafficking who were now a part of the new Strong Beginnings program at the Orange County Rescue Mission.
The first time we met the young ladies, it was evident that in the one week they had spent together a bond had already formed. It was not surprising that they were a little wary of us and unsure of why we were there or what they should share. One was very talkative but held us at arm’s length. The other was younger and very quiet. They agreed to meet us on Mondays to play some games with us for a couple of hours. The first Monday we arrived on time and with games but couldn’t find the girls. I think they thought we might not show up. Upon finding them, we spent time playing Uno and Racko while getting to know each other. From that point on, we made a point of being there every Monday at the same time with games. If one of us was not available the other went anyway.
Soon more young ladies were rescued. They were invited to join our game time too. One of the original young ladies had encouraged them to join us. Week after week, as we showed up and as we played games, the girls started to share their stories with us. They told us how they felt about the program they were in. They talked about their faith, how they ended up on the street and the pull to go back. It was clear to us that the impact of being under someone’s mind control and manipulation for so long, still had great affect. It was essential for us to listen without judgment or showing shock. They allowed us to ask questions and laughed at our lack of knowledge, but they began to trust us with their stories, their fears, and their prayer requests.
We were called upon to give rides to doctors’ appointments, random drug tests, child visits at the Department of Child and Family Services, and a recovery program in Long Beach. We showed up as their support team on their court dates. As any parent will tell you, the time we spent in the car was some of the most precious time with the girls. They would open up to us in new ways, they would talk about their broken childhoods, and how they longed for their children, and they spoke of even missing their broken families, and their “sister wives.”
It took time to gain their trust, but we just kept showing up whenever we could. One particular instance comes to mind. For reference, the young ladies are allowed one 15 minute monitored phone call a day. On Christmas day, one young lady was unable to reach her son by phone. And needing someone to talk to, she chose to call me. What a privilege it was to answer my phone and listen to her and tell her I loved her on that Christmas day.
I learned to love these girls with my whole heart. Some of the girls stayed in the program, but the grim reality is that most of the girls end up leaving. We learned to let them into our hearts anyway. And still they remain God’s beloved children, and it’s not hard to picture them as my own. In 1 Corinthians 3:6 Paul says, “I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow.” I believe we have been watering the seeds planted at Strong Beginnings. God has been making them grow and will continue to make them grow in their hearts and lives.