An account from team member, Meg Biallas, on her team’s experience from the recent Southwestern USA mission —
“Why are you guys here again?”
“We are here because we want to spend time with you.”
“But why? I mean, don’t you know we are all just prostitutes?”
“That doesn’t matter. We don’t see you that way.”
Last month I was part of the mission team that learned about human trafficking and exploitation in the Southwestern part of the United States. The conversation above happened while working on a craft project with teenage girls at Streetlight USA, a restoration campus in Phoenix for trafficked children. The craft was fun and light-hearted, but out of nowhere, one of the girls asked us in a more serious tone, “Why are you guys here?” Our team leader, Circe, engaged with the young girl by denying her label as a prostitute, and encouraging her to see herself as full of worth and potential. In fact, many minors who are trafficked don’t see themselves as victims (even though they are). Many, like this young woman, cling to damaging labels and blame themselves for their circumstances.
In this particular activity, we encouraged the youth to create a “garden of my heart,” using different shapes to symbolize emotions, such as passion, joy and anger. After learning about the Streetlight philosophy from the staff, we made sure to incorporate the concepts of self-worth and positive images, as we taught them cultural dances, made ice cream sundaes and even went on a slushy run to the nearby gas station.
Guests who visit Streetlight USA are invited to take home a painted rock as a memento. The rock is painted black to represent the darkness of the hearts of the girls when they arrive at Streetlight. However, the girls can paint colored designs over the black rock to symbolize their bright hope for the future.
One of my favorite rocks, which I took home to give to one of my supporters, showed several flowers with rain pouring down from the sky. On it, a resident had painted this simple phrase: “Room to grow.”
As children of God, we see how no matter how dark our hearts, God’s light is always upon us. We find our identity not in the label others give us, but in the identity we find in God —
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come:
The old has gone, the new is here!
2 Corinthians 5:17
Just before we left Streetlight on our final day with the girls and staff, we added our name to their wall of volunteers, and included one of NCC’s core values: “It’s never too late to be who you might have been.” Our prayer upon departure was that the young women at Streetlight – past, present and future – would see themselves as bright and shining daughters of God.