On the bird hierarchy, sparrows are lowest on bird-watchers’ “must-watch” list. They possess no unique skills and are, in all, quite unexceptional. But Jesus gave special regard to the slighted sparrow, that if birds were cared for, surely we would be, too.
At Reedemed Ministries, women in its program go by the same name. Rather than being tagged as “survivors” or “victims”, they are named Sparrows, a reminder they are human beings who are “of more value than many sparrows”.
Founded in 2005, the Houston-based non-profit is working to combat a growing sex trafficking epidemic in the middle of one of the nation’s most trafficked areas. Husband-and-wife team, Bobbie and Dennis Mark, joined Redeemed in March of 2006 and began to understand the bigger issues surrounding women once they exit sex trafficking or sexual exploitation.
“We began focusing on aftercare and mobilizing the Body of Christ to meet the needs of those victimized by sexual exploitation,” Executive Director Dennis Mark said.
Awareness has brought this issue closer to the surface.
“However, the emphasis now needs to placed on the process of healing from sexual trauma caused by sexual exploitation,” Mark said. “Many people still don’t understand the time, energy and resources required to bring about holistic healing, and simply removing a woman from exploitation will not work.”
Many women required years of restoration and rehabilitation to overcome the months or years of abuse, he said. Redeemed set its core objectives to include outreach, aftercare and advocacy.
The most important resource Redeemed volunteers can offer is consistent contact with the women, bringing care-packages to the brothels and letting them know they are prayed for.
Numbers are difficult to track due to human-trafficking being mostly underground. But if you thought Texas was immune to the human trafficking, you have been fooled.
“In every city, every town and every population,” Mark said. “The reality is that many do not understand it or simply ignore it.”
Kaylen Runyan, senior communications major from Houston, spent her summer interning with Redeemed, hands-deep in work not for the faint-of-heart.
“I have never experienced such beautiful and tragically sad times,” she said. “I watched women relapse and return to their former life. I watched women receive news of health issues they were unaware of. I watched women shake from utter fear out of running into their pimp at a Walmart. But I also watched women sing to Jesus, make a scrapbook for their daughter, cry from laughing so hard and crumble at the face of love.”
Runyan’s internship with Redeemed alternated between work in-office and in the field. Office work involved grant-writing to utilize more funds and training days for future volunteers working with Sparrows.
“I was also heavily trained to track signs of trafficking through internet pages as well as how to interact with victims and the process they internally face,” she said.
On the alternating weeks, Kaylen lived in the safe-houses, attending doctor appointments and meetings with case workers, art therapy, personal reflection time, physical activity and worshipping alongside the Sparrows.
“The days with the women in the safe house were my favorite days,” she said. “I was able to see the redemption in store for them as they worked through more difficult experiences than I will ever understand. I was able to be a friend and love women who had not had people love them. I was able to speak truth into women who had only been told lies. My work over the summer with these women was mostly spent trying to emulate Jesus’ love and truth to them.”
Passionate for marginalized members of society, Runyan wanted a more radical means to halt human-trafficking before she began work with Redeemed.
“I had quite the ‘bull in the china shop’ mindset,” Runyan said. “I wanted to pull on my combat boots, raid these brothels with a Jeep and take these women with me. But that’s not how it works. Because if that’s what I did, I would be kidnapping them, I would be taking them just like somebody else took them.”
Human-trafficking has no clear-cut solution, because it has created a profitable cycle of supply and demand.
“In the past, I think a lot of attention was spent on the ‘supply’, the victims,” said Runyan. “It’s taken quite a bit of time for society to understand these women as victims and not whores. Now, I think that we are finally starting to take measures to end the ‘demand’ side.”
Prosecutors are at last starting to focus in on the “Johns”, the men that buy the sex, and working to bring them to justice, she said. Cases against pimps can be extensive, but have been more successful than any other time.
Through organizations like Redeemed and leaders like the Marks, the lives and reputations of Sparrows are being redeemed.
“They seek justice until it is found,” Runyan said. “Seriously, these people do not sleep. Passions are temporary and can be futile without follow-through. Saying the Marks have a passion for what they do would be an understatement and an underrepresentation of who they really are. The Marks have a lifestyle that is completely centered around what they do.”
Human-trafficking hits much closer to home than often realized, an injustice which demands action.
“It is so important to do something and not be paralyzed by either the issue or our sense of insignificance,” Mark said.
Mark said it is critical for young adults such as Runyan to get involved, because they are the ones with greatest energy and ideas when it comes to turning a social justice movement into social justice action.
“As I drive through Houston I recognize brothels,” Runyan said. “I watch the way that girls act in risky areas of Houston, I notice strange dynamics between women and men’s interactions. My perception of trafficking and its increase has ruined me for the best.”
To learn more about Redeemed Ministries visit http://www.redeemedministries.com/