A vision for a residential rescue ministry for child victims of sex-trafficking.
We've all seen the news: children are being sold for sex. Yes, it is happening in Thailand, Costa Rica, India, and other countries. “Thank God it’s not happening here.” This was Andrea Wind’s assessment of human trafficking... until her pastor preached a sermon on the subject.
Andrea is a mother of two young children. The thought of children being trafficked for sex horrified her. The Spirit laid a burden on her heart that would not go away.
Wind investigated and learned sex trafficking was not only happening in the United States but was also in the Midlands of South Carolina, right in her own back yard. The FBI reports the average age of women coerced into prostitution is 12-14. The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children reports each year over 100,000 American children are trafficked in the underground sex economies of the United States. Her investigation drew her closer and closer to home. She found the Richland County Sheriffs Department very much engaged in the fight against child prostitution and sex trafficking. She developed relationships with law enforcement and listened to real life stories of abuse, depravity, and exploitation of children in the Midlands.
As her knowledge increased, the burden laid on her heart grew heavier still. She resolved to do something, but what? The child victims of sex trafficking especially impacted her. What child is cognitively, emotionally, or spiritually equipped with the maturity to make a decision to sell their bodies?
The path leading to prostitution is varied and complex, but it is clear it is not a decision made by the child: they are coerced into it. Often, sexual abuse in the home or elsewhere paves the way, making children vulnerable to the deceit and lies of a pimp. Sometimes the traffickers are members of their own family or acquaintances. Wind soon learned the experience traumatized the children leaving them broken, powerless, and unable to break out of a prison of shame, exploitation, and abuse.
Wind founded Lighthouse for Life, a residential rescue ministry for child victims (age 12-18) of sex trafficking. A management structure, beginning with a board of directors, was a necessary first step. In the past two years, Lighthouse for Life progressed through the stages of con - cept and planning and on to the conversion and the filing for all permits needed for a residential home of healing. It may all sound simple and straightforward, but it is not. The process was made even more daunting by the fact that there are no residential rescue facilities for children in South Carolina. Government regulatory agencies had no experience permitting a facility principally focused on rescuing and healing children broken by sex trafficking. Wind and the state worked together to develop reasonable covenants that would protect the children without being so restrictive as to stand in the way of the objective of healing. This process continues. She notes, “It is a team effort. Without a wonderful staff of volunteers to help with every facet of the ministry, none of this would be possible.”
Operating a residential non profit like Lighthouse for Life is an expensive endeavor. As the ministry moves closer to becoming a reality, Wind spends more and more time raising funds to meet operating expenses.
During the time Lighthouse for Life has been moving towards becoming a reality, one other residential rescue ministry opened to receive young adult victims (age 18-24) of sex trafficking. Hopewood Haven began operations in Greenwood County late in 2014. It quickly filled to capacity. Wind expects Lighthouse for Life to do the same. She points out, “Lighthouse for Life’s first facility is a beginning, but the need is so great we must plan for expansion even before we open our doors.”
Originally published in 2015.
Update by Jen Thompson:
Lighthouse for Life turned five years old in 2019. Our mission has always been to raise awareness regarding the realities of human trafficking while restoring victims to wholeness. The Lord has allowed us to share awareness and prevention education with over 35,000 people since we began keeping records in 2016. We had no idea the awareness portion of the ministry would blossom this way. Time has taught us that prevention and awareness helps tremendously in keeping people out of the world of trafficking.
Statistics show only 2% of those who are taken into human trafficking ever escape. There is a strong psychological, emotional, physical, and even spiritual grip on these individuals. Despite these disturbing and discouraging statistics, Lighthouse for Life has had the honor of providing assistance to over 37 survivors so far. We’ve provided transportation, clothing, funding for school, legal assistance, and counseling. In December 2018 we networked someone to local law enforcement and saw her transition from being trapped on Monday to being safely rescued on Wednesday.
Most recently we celebrated the opening and occupation of our safe house in Richland County. We’ve basically worked for five years to open Karis Home, and now the real work begins. The house is fully staffed with several small teams including nine caregivers, one teacher, one social worker and one program director. The first residents stepped across the threshold in August. This has been a journey of failure and triumph; sometimes both happening on the same day. We can’t control the future, but we will do our best to keep our eyes on Jesus. This is His ministry, and He has been and always will be faithful. To God be the glory.
liaison for Lighthouse for Life with the State Legislature, is a freelance writer with a focus on Christian ministries.