Last weekend, I flew up to Reno to take part in the Redeeming Love Conference put on by the Awaken Reno ministry and hosted by Outlook Christian Church. Before the event, I had the opportunity to hang out with the five amazing women of faith who put this event together. The idea started with their small home Bible study. Each addressed important issues all women face; identity, purpose, rest, joy and love. The conference was designed to offer hope and show the power of Jesus Christ to free captives and bring soul-deep healing.
Awaken Reno helps prostitutes escape their traffickers and works with them to reclaim and rebuild their lives. The shame, degradation and paralyzing fear these women suffer often keeps them silent and trapped. Helping them escape can be a dangerous job anywhere — especially in Nevada where prostitution is legal.
A few facts:
13 is the average age a girl enters prostitution
22 licensed brothels in Nevada employ 600 “legal prostitutes”
81% of the women working in Nevada brothels want to escape
27,000,000 people around the world are in bondage
2% of sex trafficked victims are rescued worldwide
My purpose in going was to share why I wrote Redeeming Love and how the character of Angel developed. I also shared some personal experiences. I grew up in a loving family and was a very naïve girl of eighteen when I moved to Reno to attend the University of Nevada. I lived off campus in a sorority house. Every day, we girls had to pass by two frat houses on the way to and from the campus. One was called “the animal house” for a reason. The boys living there loved to party, drink and cause trouble. Late one afternoon, a friend and I headed home. Several of these boys grabbed and pulled us into a car. They thought it was funny to drive us out into the desert and dump us. I was furious. My friend who was wiser about the area and the dangers was afraid. We were miles from Reno, had no water or flashlight and it was getting dark. We could see city neon lights in the distance. We picked our way over rocky terrain, hoping we wouldn’t fall into a ravine or step on a rattlesnake. Spotting a large residence with lighted windows, we headed for it. When we knocked on the door, a man answered. We told him what happened and asked to use the telephone to call for help. He ushered us inside where we met the property owner. That’s when my friend became very nervous. The man said he’d have a car take us home. I thought that very kind. My friend looked scared, but didn’t say anything. In fact, she didn’t say much of anything or relax during the entire ride. When we arrived safely at our destination, she told me the man was well known in Reno. He owned brothels.
I was ignorant then and thought mistakenly that women chose “the life”. Hence, I didn’t think we’d ever been in any danger. Now, having read countless letters from women who have read Redeeming Love and connected with the character of Angel, I know differently. What little girl dreams of being raped and then continually used and abused by countless men? What woman wants to be owned by a pimp who takes every dime he makes off her enslavement? Who wants to be considered “product” and “expendable” if she dares make a run for her life? By the grace of God, my friend and I didn’t disappear that night. Tragically, far too many do. Thousands every year.
Awaken Reno started with one woman (Melissa Holland) doing research on sex trafficking in Reno. What she learned appalled her. God lead her to start a ministry to reach out, befriend and help women escape their captors. She is a woman of incredible faith, strength and purpose, and there are many others who share her passion, faith and determination. She inspired me, as did the four other women who spoke. I count myself blessed to have spent time with them.
We all need to awaken to what is happening in our own communities. Too often, we think human trafficking is happening somewhere else, in a country far away. Tragically, it is happening in cities and towns across our nation. God is awakening Reno. God has awakened many communities, including the one in which I live.
May God awaken each of us to do what we can in this battle to free the slaves among us.