She arrived after dark on a warm December evening, her eyes revealing both sadness and fear – sadness because of where she had been, and fear because she was unsure where she was going. It had taken several attempts before she was finally able to muster the courage to call the hotline. While Amber desperately wanted to be rescued from her place of pain, she knew the consequences would be severe if she was discovered trying to flee. In a moment, when the desire to be free was greater than the desire to survive, she dialed the number, shared her location and, trembling, began throwing a few items in a garbage bag, hoping she would be able to take at least something of worth with her.
As she slipped through the back door of the home where she had most recently been trafficked, her breath came in short, intense bursts. Trying to quiet her emotions, she paused for a moment in the shadow of a large tree she recognized from days of looking longingly from an upstairs window in the room where she had been held.
Finding a measure of composure, she moved quietly to the sidewalk and tried to walk as casually as possible toward the corner where she had indicated to the rescue team she would meet them. Each step brought a measure of hope that she might really escape the horrors of that house this time. Each step also brought a measure of panic. What if they discover she is gone before the car arrives to take her away? Every sound seemed to indicate that someone was coming, someone was after her, someone was about to drag her back to the hell from which she had fled. Suddenly the brightness of car headlights caused her to cover her eyes. The driver’s window quietly lowered and a kind voice invited her, with a distinct sense of urgency, to get in the vehicle. Casting one final, fearful, glance over her shoulder, she jumped into the back seat, immediately lay down and clung tightly to her single bag of personal belongings. Though fear still hung in the air like fog, in moments the physical and emotional weariness she felt pulled her to a place of sleep. There were no dreams, no nightmares, just a deep, deep slumber like she had not experienced in the past four years.
The young woman jolted awake as she heard voices talking in hushed whispers. The sound of a gate opening caused her to sit up and survey the surroundings. Large warehouse buildings on either side, surrounded by a black fence, conjured up memories of the two jail facilities in which she had spent time. Wondering if she had made a mistake by making the call, she clung even more tightly to the bag of belongings and a tear made its way down her bruised cheek. She noticed the aroma of cologne before she saw the face of the security guard who opened the door of the car and invited her out. Recoiling in fear, memories of handcuffs and abuse tore at her mind and she cowered in the corner, as far away from the man as she could get. Recognizing the trauma he was causing, the guard stepped gently away, allowing the lady from the rescue team to climb into the back seat with the young lady. They sat quietly, not speaking, not touching, just sitting.
After several minutes, Amber asked the lady where they were. With incredible tenderness, the lady told her that they were at a place called The House of Cherith, a safe home for women being rescued and coming out of trafficking and exploitation. She shared that the house was operated by the folks at City of Refuge, an organization that does good work in the lives of those who find themselves in places of crisis. The lady told her that there was nothing to fear, that here she would be safe, cared for and accepted. Amber’s mind tried to comprehend such a place and, for a moment, a battle waged in her mind as she tried to decide if this was a good place or if this was all a cruel trick and life was about to be much worse than it had already been.
Shivering like a coatless child on a frigid winter day, Amber slowly opened the car door and stepped into the darkness of the night, trusting that those with her were angels and not demons like those she had known far too long. Gently taking her by the hand, the lady with the gentle touch led her down a long hallway, stopping just outside a pretty house front inside the warehouse. The door opened and a woman with a smile the size of the Grand Canyon greeted Amber, all the while reaching out to take the bag of belongings with one hand while wrapping the other arm around Amber’s shoulders and giving her a hug filled with warmth and acceptance. Taking Amber by the hand, the staff person showed her to the family room and quickly introduced her to another staff member, along with seven other residents. From there Amber was taken to a small, well-decorated area with a couple of chairs and bookshelves. The staff person began taking the items Amber had brought with her from the garbage bag and placing them neatly on a table in the meeting room. Pulling out the final item, the staff person held up a ragged, dirty, nearly worn-out comforter. Fraying around the edges, holes in several spots, stained with a multitude of beverages, food and blood, the comforter should have been thrown out long ago.
Understanding the potential discomfort regarding a conversation about personal belongings, the staff person held the comforter up and gently asked, “Why did you bring this?” Amber dropped her eyes to the floor, shifted from one foot the other and, after an uncomfortable silence, finally responded, “I thought I would be sleeping on the floor in a shelter and would need something to keep me warm.”
With a smile, the staff person took Amber by the hand, led her down the hallway and flipped on the light switch to illuminate the room where Amber would be staying. Brightly colored walls greeted Cherith’s new family member and her attention was quickly drawn to the full-size bed in the center of the room, beautiful pillows and comforter neatly arranged. Artwork enhanced the space and an open Bible lay on the nightstand.
Overwhelmed with emotion, Amber began to weep uncontrollably and her knees buckled. Reaching quickly to keep her from falling, the Resident Service Associate held Amber in her arms, allowing her to sob on her shoulder, all the while remembering her own story of desolation and redemption.
A young woman trapped and trafficked, abused, alone, consumed with fear and hoping only for a spot on the floor in a shelter. A staff person rescued from her own prison of hell, restored to be a part of restoration for others, given the distinct privilege of walking the broken down a hallway to their place of beauty and protection and rest.
Connecting them together a worn, ragged, stained comforter and connecting all those who are weary, worn-out, discouraged, traumatized with those who are healed, hope- filled, reconciled, and on the road to recovery is an Old Rugged Cross where the deliverer, healer and Savior of all mankind gave His life a ransom for all.
That old rugged cross, that dirty ragged comforter and that girl named Amber – that’s why we do what we do, and that’s why we will keep doing what we do.
Stories like Amber’s are made possible only by your support. Join hands with us today and help so many more women and children find refuge at House of Cherith. Take action and give now to help redeem and restore precious lives like Amber’s.