On a cool Atlanta night, our outreach van pulled into the parking lot of a dingy-curtained motel. A few team members slipped out and approached a young woman, perhaps just 18 or 19, standing by the motel door, her hair pulled back in a bun. They offered her a single pink rose—a hotline number was attached with twine—and spoke loving, encouraging words to her. I watched from the window as Santesa, a member of Exodus Cry’s outreach team, hugged this precious girl.
Santesa describes, “When I embraced her there was a moment of pure love—it almost felt as if time stood still. While holding her I whispered that I would not let go until she did, promising to stay as long as she needed. Not sure how long it lasted but that moment is one I can never forget. I felt as if I was releasing hope and peace while hugging her.”
From the window I saw the face of the girl—she closed her eyes, smiled and nestled her head on Santesa’s shoulder. She held on and wouldn’t let go. Santesa began to rock her gently back and forth in a mother’s embrace. Tears rolled down this girl’s cheeks as her heart opened and she felt the love of the Spirit, shown through Santesa.
“As we parted she smiled and whispered she would call the hotline. Though I do not know what is next, I know that was a powerful moment that will not be forgotten.”
Watching this encounter (teary eyed myself!) from the window, I (Helen) was reminded that our primary role on outreach is to love. It is our number one agenda and, when we love the women well, it releases the power of God to move. I witnessed a simple embrace, given in love, speak deeply and loudly into this girl’s identity and value.
Earlier that night, a survivor-leader on our team shared that back while she was being trafficked she experienced a similar moment to the one that just took place. She revealed it was a key moment that helped lead to her exit and recovery from trafficking. Our prayer for this girl was the same.
This is why our team went to Atlanta in the week leading up to the Super Bowl.
Together we reached over 5,000 sexually exploited individuals that week.
During the week we had the honor of collaborating with Atlanta Dream Center, Out of Darkness, and 25+ other organizations for “SafeZone Atlanta.” Together we reached over 5,000 sexually exploited individuals that week. We connected with them on the streets, online, in strip clubs, at motels and bus stations. Looking into their faces, loving them in the midst of their stories is what our time in Atlanta was all about.
I also had the unique opportunity to train a group of men in sex buyer outreach (using the EPIK model) instructing them how to confront sex buyers in order to disrupt demand. The men I trained spoke with dozens of men on the phone that week—who had responded to a local ad for illicit sex—informing them of the realities of sex trafficking and offering resources for sex addiction. They also offered prayer to these prospective sex buyers. As a result of this training and outreach there are now plans to launch a sex buyer outreach ministry in Atlanta!
In addition, throughout the week, we were able to pass along tips to law enforcement on possible trafficking situations we came across.
During that time, a total of 169 people were arrested during an 11-day, FBI-led human trafficking sting. Of these arrests 26 were alleged traffickers and 34 of the sex buyers were attempting to purchase sex acts with minors. Nine juveniles were rescued and nine adults were offered freedom from a life of exploitation, by the Violent Crimes Against Children/Human Trafficking Program and Metro Atlanta Child Exploitation Task Force. The report gave our SafeZone partners a special thank you.
Hope is scarce for the exploited, something our team member Catherine experienced during online outreach. Throughout the week we contacted women being advertised online, and also set up fake ads to reach sex buyers. During one of these phone conversations Catherine encountered a woman in a rock-bottom moment.
“Her mother had passed away recently and she was really depressed… I think she just needed to hear that it will all be okay. As I was talking to her I remembered how prevalent suicide is among prostituted women. We talked and prayed. She was so grateful at the end and she assured me that she would reach out for assistance.”
Sometimes new and unexpected doors open on outreach. We experienced one of those moments through being invited to give out roses at an LGBTQ drop-in center/HIV clinic in Atlanta. No one from the Dream Center had done outreach there before.
This population is at very high risk for sexual exploitation and we were excited about the opportunity to connect with them. We introduced ourselves to the manager, explaining that we would like to give out roses with a message of hope and encouragement. She look pleased and agreed.
So myself and two of my male team members spent the afternoon getting to know the names and stories of several individuals there. We made several new friends. Many were transgendered and some were living on the streets, enduring sexual exploitation daily. Some of their stories were heartbreaking.
This rose is a simple reminder of the beauty in this world, that there is hope in the future, and to let you know that you are so loved by us and by God.
“This rose is a simple reminder of the beauty in this world, that there is hope in the future, and to let you know that you are so loved by us and by God,” I would say, as our conversation began.
At one point I offered to pray for two of the new friends I had been getting to know. Halfway through the prayer, with my eyes still closed, I realized the whole room had gone silent. I felt nervous, hoping my prayer wouldn’t cause us to be unwelcome there. But when I opened my eyes I saw, to my surprise, that everyone had gathered round to join with us in prayer.
“That was so beautiful,” the manager said beaming. “This is a message of light and hope that is so needed here. Imagine sitting in that room across the hall, waiting for your HIV test results. It is the most frightening moment of your life. To receive a rose in that moment means the world to these folks. Could your team come back?”
Halfway through the prayer, with my eyes still closed, I realized the whole room had gone silent… everyone had gathered round to join with us in prayer.
The following day another team returned, and they received a similar reception. We were later told that two individuals had called the hotline number which was attached to the roses. One of those was the first person we spoke to there. As a result of this experience, Atlanta Dream Center decided they would do outreach there on a regular basis. A new ministry in Atlanta has begun!
This Super Bowl outreach was a week of stories changed. We want to honor the leadership of Jeff Shaw from Atlanta Dream Center, and all of the groups and organizations that came together to reach over 5000 exploited individuals with a message of love and freedom.
We are thankful for the trafficking arrests, the exits from the sex industry, and the thousands of people interacted with on the week of Super Bowl LIII. For me, it’s the pictures of these faces receiving love that impacted me the most—genuine connections made, warm embraces, even the tears. These are the moments I know His love is being shown. And our hearts are being transformed in this process too. On all of these outreaches we want to be Jesus’ eyes, hands, and feet. But most of all, His heart.
We pray that the city of Atlanta will continue to fight for the freedom of the exploited, and that His justice will roll down like a mighty river!