Eyes Opened and Hearts Changed

By Bethany Winkel, WAR, Int’l Staff Writer

Here at Women At Risk, International (WAR, Int’l) headquarters, we hear many real-life stories from our partners—stories that break our hearts for those who suffer violence and injustice, while also inspiring us with testimonies of hope and changed lives.

Among the most poignant stories are those from “Rebecca,” who visits our headquarters each time she is in the U.S. and shares with us about the work she is doing. Rebecca works with at-risk and trafficked young women in two small Eastern European countries—one a hotbed for sex trafficking rings and the other a primary source of victims for such rings. The stories she shares about the horrendous situations there and the experiences of the girls she works with are both shocking and distressing, yet it is heartening to see that the work she does is making a difference for many.

Last year, we published an article about a brand new summer camp Rebecca had coordinated and hosted for at-risk teen girls in one of the countries where she works. Many of the 150 girls attending had experienced abuse, abandonment, and dire poverty, leaving them especially vulnerable to trafficking and exploitation. Thanks to the efforts of Rebecca and her dedicated team of volunteers, these teens were treated to an enjoyable week of fun, enrichment, and community.

But Rebecca’s vision for camp went beyond simply providing the girls with a fun experience. Along with tackling relevant topics such as suicide prevention and conflict resolution, Rebecca and her volunteer staff educated campers about the lures and tactics of traffickers, equipping them with the tools and knowledge needed to avoid becoming victims. They also introduced them to the saving grace of the gospel. Rebecca reported back to us that the camp was a huge success, with many eyes opened and many hearts changed. She is confident that for some of the girls, the week they spent at camp has made a crucial difference between a future of slavery or one of freedom and safety.

WAR, Int’l has the honor and privilege of partnering again with Rebecca for this year’s camp. She is very excited about some new things she’s going to implement this second time around. Fueled by a passion to mentor and raise up a strong generation of local youth, she is selecting some of the girls from last year’s camp to be junior leaders, with high hopes that some will become full leaders at future camps. She is also excited to have hired an experienced camp director to join her committed team of translators and other volunteer staff.

Rebecca and her team are also thrilled to hold this summer’s venture at a better facility where the campers can enjoy real bathrooms, ample food, and fun things such as a swimming pool and a rock-climbing wall. (Bathrooms and an abundance of food are things we in the United States take for granted, but for many of these girls, they are unheard-of luxuries.)

In an upcoming article, we’ll share with you how WAR, Int’l’s board and staff teamed up in an exercise challenge to sponsor a number of girls to attend camp this year. As you look forward to reading that story, we encourage you in the meantime to consider how you might help as well.

Please read last year’s article for further details about the camp and some background information on the dire situations in which the campers are living every day. And then please prayerfully consider helping to sponsor a teen to attend this year’s camp. The cost to sponsor one teen to attend this week-long camp is $195, but we will gladly accept donations toward camper sponsorship in any amount. Thank you for joining us in helping Rebecca create a circle of protection and love around these precious young women!

To donate, click here.

Afterword – Fall 2018: Like the first camp, this second camp was a great success. We recently received a letter from Rebecca rejoicing about the lives that were changed during the third camp this past summer. She is now preparing for the fourth annual camp, to be held during the summer of 2019. WAR, Int’l has sponsored campers each year and is collecting donations now for next year’s camp sponsorships. Please consider partnering with us to help more teens experience this life-changing camp!

 

Book Drive

By Brittany Jacobson, WAR, Int’l Staff Writer

When Women At Risk, International comes alongside an organization, particularly a safehouse, we immediately address the needs they may have. Whether they are searching for someone to furnish a room, purchase specific items for their residents, or cover their team in prayer, our goal is to support them in the most holistic way possible.

Recently, we joined forces with Cherished Heights out of California. This survivor-led program takes a comprehensive approach to the recovery of victims of human trafficking. Its mission is to walk alongside women who have survived the trauma associated with exploitation as they go through their individual journeys of healing. This program equips and empowers them to live healthy, flourishing lives while becoming productive citizens within their communities.

Not only does Cherished Heights provide a residential program for victims of human trafficking, but also weekly support groups for survivors, and employment through the creation of jewelry, clothing, candles, paintings and spa products. This safehouse has a trained outreach team visiting local strip clubs each week, as well. Through small gifts and invitations to their support groups, they remind women how valued and loved they truly are.

We have taken on Cherished Heights as a partner of our organization, committing to assist the program in its areas of need. In this case, Cherished Heights hopes to fill a brand new library with Christian books that will uplift, inspire, and encourage the women in its program.

If you have new or very gently used Christian fiction, Christian Living, or devotional books, please send them or bring them to our headquarters at 2790 44th St SW, Wyoming, MI 49519. We have a collection box in the Volunteer Center of our building as well, and you are welcome to drop off any book donations there.

We also have an Indian partner who is need of classic, English language literature. This elite high school is teaching students about the significance of reading, and is looking to expand their growing library. We are interested in receiving works by classic writers including Jane Austen, Shakespeare, Charles Dickens, Robert Louis Stevenson, or Joseph Heller, to name a few.

This book drive for both partners will run from May 1st to May 31st, and we hope to collect as many books as possible! We welcome your donations in person or via shipping to our offices.

If you have any questions about your book donation or this book drive please contact our headquarters at (616) 855-0796, or email us at info@warinternational.org. Thank you so much for partnering with us in this way! With your gifts, you are creating a healing environment for victims of human trafficking.

 

Please note:

If we receive an abundance of the same titles, we will distribute them to other safehouses and at-risk women in our partnering programs. Also, due to the number of books we anticipate receiving throughout this drive, we are unable to provide the funds to cover the cost of shipping books to our headquarters. We greatly appreciate your understanding in this matter and look forward to blessing these programs with your help!

Trip Report: Learning and Loving in Guatemala

By Bethany Winkel, WAR, Int’l Staff Writer

No one had ever made Maria feel special. Never before had she been offered a gift with no strings attached. Yet here she was, enjoying a sumptuous banquet with the other women from her safehouse, being served and pampered without having to do anything in return. She hardly knew what to do with herself!

At the next table, Anna knew exactly what to do: close her eyes, relax, and soak it all in. She didn’t get much opportunity to do that anymore. Most of her days and nights were spent nurturing others, breathing life into the wounded. In a world where she was always serving and rarely being served, this day of learning and refreshment had truly been a blessing. The conference held earlier that day had been invaluable, full of eye-opening insights and practical knowledge she could take back to the community center where she worked with at-risk families. As if that were not enough, the event was topped off by this lovely banquet, where, for once, she could rest, eat her fill, and enjoy being an honored guest.

Maria and Anna were just two of the many faces at the Women of Hope Banquet, a highlight of Women At Risk, International’s recent Professional Circle Tour to Guatemala. After hosting a productive day of training workshops, WAR, Int’l staff and volunteers were now pulling out all the stops to provide an enjoyable, relaxing evening for both conference attendees and women from their programs. Although the training conference may have been the “main event” of the tour, this opportunity to love, honor, and pour into these precious individuals was no less important or significant.

The welcoming atmosphere of the banquet that night reflected the hearts and commitment behind the Guatemala Circle Tour. For this endeavor, a variation on WAR, Int’l’s biennial Circle Tour in Thailand, several WAR, Int’l staff members and board members were joined by professionals in various fields to conduct workshops and clinics for the benefit of our partners. Yet the trip was as much about ministering to people as it was about conducting seminars and clinics. WAR, Int’l’s passion to nurture and encourage those we serve was borne out in each aspect of the Tour:

  • The training conference,

    attended by 154 staff members from twelve partnering programs in eight Latin American countries. The conference included several workshops, taught by professionals, on such diverse topics as writing business plans, interviewing trauma victims, and recognizing the effects of stress on children born to at-risk and rescued moms. Of the latter workshop, WAR, Int’l President Becky McDonald noted that it was “like watching 154 lightbulbs go on.” Yet just as important as the training was the encouragement our partners received, not only by listening to speakers but also by simply being there and enjoying time spent together with others who are doing the same kinds of work. Valuable relationships were formed as partners bonded over shared passions and experiences, formed networking connections, and began to establish rapport with one another.

 

  • On-site medical clinics

    for two partnering organizations. In addition to supplying needed medications, WAR, Int’l and our partners brought in two doctors, a nurse, a dental hygienist, and a medical translator! Other Tour participants came along to the clinics to help with various tasks, play with kids, and share smiles and stories with those waiting to be seen by the doctors. Some patients brought smiles to our team, like the charming little boy with a Lego stuck in his ear. Others carried unspeakably tragic stories that evoked tears. These clinics were places to address not just physical scars but also emotional wounds, as our team engaged, listened, wept, and prayed. Joining in were local pastors who came to pray and lead worship in the waiting areas, lending a sweet “family” atmosphere to each clinic.

 

  • A visit to a new partnering orphanage,

    where the team enjoyed touring the facilities and getting acquainted with staff. Team members also relished the opportunity to hold babies, oblige eager teenagers by posing for selfies, and best of all, serve up popsicles to excited and eager children of all ages.

 

  • Training in jewelry-making and design,

    helping our partners to increase their sustainability. Like many of our partnering organizations, our Guatemalan partners rely on jewelry-making and sales to both sustain their work and provide vocational training for those in their care. In a hotel room and on a safehouse porch, WAR, Int’l staff and volunteers taught women new jewelry-making techniques and designs to help them improve their skills and grow their businesses. As our American team and Guatemalan partners pored over designs, sorted beads, and created samples, they chatted, laughed, and shared stories. In those moments, much more than beautiful jewelry was being created; bonds between hearts were formed as well.

The Guatemala Circle Tour is a reflection of WAR, Int’l’s heart for the wounded and at-risk. We are not just concerned with projects and programs and products; our primary passion is for the people behind them. Of course, we are engaged in funding and training our partners around the world. But more than that, we seek to mentor, encourage, and support every life we engage. On the surface, the Guatemala trip was about training workshops, medical clinics, and practical help. Underneath, it was about coming alongside our hard-working partners and the men, women, and children they serve, to love on them and encourage their hearts and minds. This is what we do, and this is who we are. This is our calling. We invite all who believe in our mission to join with us in changing lives, uplifting hearts, and creating circles of protection around men, women, and children in Guatemala and across the globe.

CFR

 

You never know when you might come across someone in need of your help. For one flight attendant, it happened when she was on the job. On a flight from Seattle to San Francisco, Sheila Fredrick, a stewardess for Alaskan Airlines, spotted a pair of passengers who seemed suspicious. When she saw a young girl traveling with an older, very well-dressed man, she acted, leaving a note for the girl in the airplane bathroom, which the girl responded to. Fredrick made sure that police were waiting at the terminal when the plane arrived. Fredrick had previously been trained by a group called the Airline Ambassadors. They are an organization teaching flight attendants how to spot trafficking victims traveling with their captors. The program has been effective, as Fredrick was able to put her knowledge and training to good use.

When Uber driver Keith Avila picked up a few passengers heading to a hotel last month in Sacramento, California, he heard some unusual talk and knew something was off. Instead of the normal chatter heard in the back of his cab, he overheard two women discussing the delivery of a young trafficking victim to a john. Avila called the police as soon as the women had left his car. Both women were arrested, as well as the john at the hotel. Avila was congratulated by Uber, who praised both his actions and his professionalism.

Law enforcement officers use their training to help victims of human trafficking on a daily basis. In the first few days of February, the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s department made 474 arrests, all in relation to human trafficking. The arrests were part of the department’s yearly Operation Reclaim and Rebuild, an annual effort to focus and crack down on sex trafficking in the Los Angeles area. This year, 28 children and 27 adults were rescued as part of Operation Reclaim and Rebuild.

Dr. Robert Pless is also using his training to fight human trafficking. As a professor of computer science and engineering at Washington University, Pless’ research focuses on computer vision. He works to find what satellites, cell phones, and other devices can see, and how what they see can help us understand the world around us. Part of his work has been focused on developing an app called TraffickCam. With TraffickCam, people can take photos of their hotel rooms whenever they happen to be staying in one. These photos can then be run against photos in online ads, which help police identify where a victim might be located. Pless’ training in camera software has allowed him to help others rescue victims of this crime.

After attending a Women at Risk, International Civilian First Responder (CFR) training recently, one Virginia woman was able to use her training and knowledge to save another human trafficking victim. This woman spotted and reported a child abduction in her neighborhood while walking her dog. She was able to keep herself safe in a dangerous situation, and help others in similar danger.

If you want to be prepared, both to protect yourself and others, please consider attending an upcoming Civilian First Responder training through Women At Risk, International. At these events, you will learn more about the lures used by traffickers, signs of exploitation, helpful reporting techniques, and how to get involved in the fight against this injustice. We encourage you to be prepared in case you come across someone who might need your help.

Voices of WAR: A Celebration of Rescue and Hope

Women At Risk, International is excited to announce the recent release of our first CD project, Voices of WAR. You won’t want to miss this stirring compilation of worship songs sung by four talented survivors near and dear to the heart of WAR.

The inspiration for the Voices of WAR CD took root several years ago when two of the women unexpectedly met each other at WAR, Int’l headquarters. President Becky McDonald introduced them, saying, “Survivor, meet survivor,” and asked them to sing for each other. She describes what happened next:

Standing in the shelter of the WAR boutique, they sang—binding their hearts. Staff and shoppers held their breath as they witnessed the unique “circle of protection” that exists between survivors: a powerful, invisible bond, an instant connection. The trauma scars that once held their bodies and hearts captive evaporated as these survivors found safety and refuge in each other’s presence. They held each other’s hearts tenderly, without judgement, with eyes too old for their souls, having walked the same path.

That day, the dream of recording their voices was born.

Several years later, these talented vocalists, along with another talented survivor, gathered in Nashville, Tennessee, to make that dream come true. (The fourth singer recorded her songs separately.) Joined by a world-class producer and musicians, they assembled in Reba McEntire’s studio and poured out their hearts in song and celebration of the journey to healing.

 

For three days, they sang, laughed, cried, prayed, and sang some more, as Becky sat and scribbled in a journal, capturing the thoughts and memories of those days:

I’m sitting in Reba’s studio. It doesn’t look like a studio. Oh, yes, there are buttons everywhere that the sound engineers are magically controlling. But it looks like my home. This makes me happy. My survivors will feel like we are hanging out in a cozy safe place. This is good. I feel at home.

I look at the women gathered here for this precious day. Oh, Evil, when you picked on these girls, you picked the wrong crowd. They have been to hell and back. But you cannot keep them down. … I look at the pain on their faces as they sing and I determine—so help me God—to buy it back, one tear, one song at a time. May their tears of joy turn those listening away from sorrow and into a new circle of protection and hope! I want every listener to feel God’s presence like light seeping into their darkness.

We invite you to be one of those listeners, allowing the joyful voices of these gifted women fill you with God’s presence as you join them in a celebration of rescue and hope. From the rousing strains of “Break Every Chain” to the quiet strength of “In You,” from the fiery declaration of “Giving Back Love” to the worshipful tones of “The One,” Voices of WAR will inspire you, delight you, and draw you into a worship experience like no other.