I have felt called to anti-trafficking work since I was a young girl. My life has felt marked by the classic verses urging Christians to “proclaim freedom for the captives” (Isaiah 61:1) and to be a “light [that] shines in the darkness” (John 1:5). After many years striving to be a modern-day abolitionist, I moved to Cambodia as a missionary straight out of college. For three years I served with Agape International Missions (AIM) in their Restoration Home for underage girls rescued from sex trafficking.
Everyday in Cambodia serving survivors and the staff that loved, valued, and equipped them for a new life of freedom was full of purpose and value. While some days the immensity and scope of the needs felt overwhelming, it was also affirming that God could use me and whatever small difference I could make mattered. Any sacrifices of a life-overseas felt worth it for each girl that received healing and restoration. When my time in Cambodia came to an end, in addition to the grief of leaving those I loved behind, that sense of daily purpose felt really hard to give up. How could God have a plan for me in ministry better than that?
Upon returning to the states, I joined Arukah Project, a faith-based non-profit that works to restore, renew, and rebuild the lives of survivors of sex trafficking in Santa Cruz County. After serving with Arukah Project for six months now, I see the need for Christ’s love and the ability to shine His light in the dark places here, where God has planted me. I have found it especially powerful how Arukah Project’s ministry is grounded in God’s truth. I believe the words in Isaiah 58 reveal how Arukah’s mission follows biblical instruction.
In this passage, the people are reprimanded for their “bottom line” being “profit” and for “driving [their] employees much too hard” (verse 3, MSG). As a faith-based nonprofit, Arukah’s goals are people focused. Arukah Project offers assistance to survivors free of charge at all times. Arukah Leadership embraces that God also wants to work in the lives of everyone on our staff, employees and volunteers alike. God’s desire to “restore to wholeness” is for all of his children, not just the survivors we serve. Arukah Project fundamentally believes that people are composed of Spirit, Soul, and Body. Therefore, they promote integrated health and self-care in all areas of life, while further encouraging it through their example. This creates a culture of supporting good boundaries and preventing compassion fatigue.
Isaiah 58 then describes how believers ought to “fast”, or humbly deny themselves and become more in tune with God’s spirit. The mandate speaks to the Freedom Arukah Project stands for. The chapter commands we “get rid of exploitation,” like Arukah Project is fighting for an end to modern day slavery, and to “free the oppressed,” like is found in the freedom of a new life of healing and restoration for a survivor. It calls us to “break the chains of injustice.” Arukah Project is dedicated to fully supporting each survivor through legal matters, such as court hearings, meetings, and more, to help them seek justice. This is important for healing emotional chains as a result of the crime and for protecting potential future victims by successfully convicting traffickers. It also says to “cancel debts.” Arukah Project assists clients with financial management, through teaching tools, budgeting, and addressing financial problems such as debt (verse 6, MSG).
The passage goes on to share what God is interested in seeing us do. First, is to “share your food with the hungry,” and “when you see the naked to clothe him.” Arukah project supports survivors with immediate solutions and resources in times of crisis, emergency, or need. We have even collected food, clothing, and toiletries to provide for women or girls that come to us directly after being rescued. Additionally, we should “provide the poor wanderer with shelter” (verse 7, NIV). Arukah Project supports survivors in finding and securing safe and stable housing. The chapter in Isaiah also instructs that we “get rid of unfair practices” (verse 9, MSG). One of Arukah Project’s Core Values is being “committed to integrity and ethics as it relates to staff, volunteers, or clients, earning their trust, providing information and services, and shunning any form of deception.”
The passage says if we do these things, “the lights will turn on,” “lives will turn around at once” (verse 8 MSG), “healing will quickly appear,” and “the Lord will answer” us when we pray (verse 8, NIV). This aligns with Arukah Projects vision of being a light in Santa Cruz. ”We see a vibrant city, where the body of Christ, fully engaged in all sectors of society, is creating a network of safety and light, where darkness can not dwell.”
When we “are generous with the hungry” (verse 10 MSG) and “satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then [our] light will rise in the darkness” (verse 10, NIV). The bible says we will “use the old rubble of past lives to build anew, rebuild the foundations from out of [the] past” (verse 12 NIV). Is that not the results we see from the work we are doing - to restore, renew, and rebuild the lives of survivors of sex trafficking?
Finally, it says, “You’ll be known as those who can fix anything, restore old ruins, rebuild and renovate, make the community livable again” (verse 13, MSG). Through our integrated approach of engaging with the local church, businesses, partner agencies, law enforcement, and healthcare, survivors are able to successfully reintegrate back into society. A trauma-informed and justice seeking community provides a safe and healthy place for survivors. As others see lives being changed through our ministry, they may know that God has called us to bring healing and restoration.
I invite you to read all of Isaiah 58 and pray that you too will be moved by the words. I am confident in God's call for me in anti-trafficking ministry and honored to be a part of His work with Arukah Project. As you partner with us in support and prayer, may you also feel His call and see the heart of Arukah Project embodied in these verses. God Bless.