We live in a world where many are blind-sighted by the harsh reality of modern day slavery; human trafficking. This was the case for Mary White! She is a humble women's ministry leader at her church and founder of, Gems Uncovered; a drop in center, for victims who want to get out of “the life.” Her journey has been a miracle driven by her unbreakable faith and bond with God.
“The life,” is a term used to describe when pimps sell, resell and re-distribute humans world-wide, mostly women, in many cases girls under the age of 18.
First and foremost, please take a moment to recognize the magnitude of Mary White’s dedication. It is important to understand why in a world where the bystander effect is the norm, she chose to stand up and speak out! Although she has had a great support system of encouragement; she has had setbacks. Every single setback has been met by a spiritual enlightenment that has kept her going.
(On a Monday evening, I wait in my car, just outside her drop in center. It is getting dark and I feel my caution level rise. The center is located in an area close to Long Beach Blvd which is known to have a lot of “activity”. Mary ran late that day due to a court hearing, which she attended, as support to one of the victims of human trafficking. When she arrives, we greet each other with thanksgiving and hugs. Luckily, we are both huggers. She welcomes me into the center and I am blown away! The beauty inside is a breath of fresh air. It is obvious that a lot of love and care went into building such a “gem” in the heart of the city. I can’t help but feel overwhelmed with joy by the spirit felt inside those four walls. We get started with our conversation after a brief tour.)
She Arises: What drew you to this cause? Why Human Trafficking?
Mary White: I went to a women's conference about five years ago, and one of the subjects was human trafficking. I had no idea this existed here in our own backyard! That day god spoke to me through scripture, “Speak up for those who can’t speak for themselves, those being crushed.” He whispered into my heart and said,”Ok now that you know, what are you going to do about it?”
The seed had been planted. Mary took that god given purpose and used it as fuel to get involved. Mary’s journey began when she and her Pastor, Noemi Chavez, were invited to be a part of Kingdom Causes’ human trafficking task force shortly after attending the women’s conference.
There she met Pastor, Paula Daniels, founder of Forgotten Children Inc. A ministry that goes out into the streets of Lynnwood and prays with and for the girls in “the life”.
Inspired by Pastor Paula and with the encouragement of Pastor Noemi, Mary decided to create, a ministry of her own. She called it, Gems Uncovered.
She Arises: How long did it take you to get where you are now?
Mary White: We just celebrated our 4th anniversary. It all started because we felt moved to act and do something. Training was very intense. There was one moment where I stood and saw an exit sign and thought to myself, “no one would notice if I leave” but God had me fully planted there.
-ROLLING UP HER SLEEVES IN THE NAME OF GOD’S CHILDREN-
Her first three months of service were dedicated to, Forgotten Children Inc. There she experienced first hand the shocking truth of human trafficking. The girls who were soliciting were as young as 14! One of the many heartbreaking memories; a 17 year old, pregnant, and being sold! In Mary’s words, “She looked lifeless!”
After a few months of service in Lynnwood, Mary decided to bring the cause to Long Beach. On July 15, 2011 the first stand was set up by Mary and her team. The set up; a table and chairs. They had: coffee, chips, fruit, and gift bags. The gifts include a letter of hope. They prayed as a group beforehand and got ready to do god's work. She was in for an awakening. The first night they did not make contact with any women.
Mary White: The first night we encountered all men! I was annoyed by that. That Sunday god whispered into my heart. He said, “It starts here.” If you didn’t have the demand, there wouldn’t be a need for the supply. I understood. These men didn’t wake up and say I want to be a pimp! Something happened in their life to open a door for that!
Men need prayer too. Men are the majority of the people who sell and purchase girls. Eventually Mary would start a ministry for men to pray for other men. During the ministry they have found that these men are looking for nurture. They seek prayer. There is hope for them. They need to be reminded that God’s love is unconditional and if they repent, they can have a place in God’s Kingdom.
-FINDING THE DROP IN CENTER-
Mary found the spot that would become her drop in center during one of her women’s ministry; walk of prayer. She would peek into the empty space and see potential for hope. After peaking through the window for sometime she decided to follow her faith. Mary would have to be persistent with the landlord who tried to discourage her and even told her at one point that it had already been leased.
It is amazing to me how God works. At first thought many would conclude that God throws obstacles that are too hard to overcome. But if you think deeper you will find that it is not an obstacle it is merely a test. I believe God is always testing our hearts to make sure we are on track. The weary hearts fall off. Those planted, like Mary, who are in tune with their faith are able to listen and hear the spirit in the moments of chaos when everything seems to be falling apart and your first instinct is to run. Planted hearts; persevere.
-FIGHTING FOR THE DROP IN CENTER-
Facing obstacle after obstacle and a discouraging prospective landlord, Mary’s support system sent her on a trip so she could recharge. As life would have it, Mary heard the holy spirit on her way to her destination. Test. She heard him loud and clear, “Go back and fight for the space.”
That is exactly what she did. She marched the on the streets with the support from her women’s ministry and her Pastors for 7 days, 7 times around the block where the spot is located. After a few days, the people in the neighborhood began to ask what they were doing. Soon after, the neighbors became cheerleaders for the group. On the seventh day, Pastor Paula joined the group. They prayed and asked God to “tear down walls”. He answered their prayers by sending help from local advocates. She was given the green light to call the landlord again. He did not discourage her this time. Her faith and hard work, with the support from her close knit ministry, paid off. She got the spot!
Looking back, Mary admits, “God was testing us...will you stay at your post?” They stayed and god has been opening doors since then. Gifts began pouring in to fill the the drop in center. Gems Uncovered has grown from a seed planted in Mary’s heart, to a table and prayer, and now a drop in center with a program for restoration. And it is only the beginning!
She Arises: Have you had any setbacks?
Mary White: Every time we save a girl, the slavery mentality draws her back into the life. It takes 7-9 times before they fully accept our help.
Looking back at when she started her journey in this ministry Mary recalls, “The girls would try to avoid us at first but after seeing us consistently you could see it in their face that they were glad to see us. One time one of the girls told me, ‘I knew you would come!’ ‘the girls ask for safety, health, and for the safety of their mothers in prayer. They feel ashamed, afraid, with no direction.”
Mary White: Hope comes in many forms and although we may not be able to free all of the slaves of HT, we can give them hope by introducing them to God’s love. Part of our mission is to be there and be ready when they need us.
She Arises: What keeps you going?
Mary White: (pauses for a brief second) What keeps me going is letting these girls know that they are worth more than what they are conditioned to believe. I remember one girl in particular. I don’t think I will ever forget her. Her name is Tiffany. I encountered her one night during our ministry. She was dressed for “the night”; she walked back and forth in front of our table. She looked at the silhouette on the banner on the table and asked, “What is this about?” I answered, “You! We have a gift for you! Can I pray with you?” Tiffany said, “Yes.” We prayed with our heads bowed down. When we looked up Tiffany’s eyes were flooded with tears. Her eyes said, “ I can’t get out!” Before walking away she said to me, “remember my face, remember my name.” She needs to know she is loved, she is valuable. I have not seen Tiffany since that day.
She Arises: What is your hope for this world?
Mary White: “Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute.” Proverbs 31: 8 This verse says to me, speak up for those who are being crushed. When I look at these poor children, I imagine they are being crushed like an aluminum can. But like aluminum cans are recycled, God recycles our pain. He restores us. These girls need to know they have purpose; they need to know they are loved! I have faith in our younger generations; that they will create a change. Make an impact. I believe they can achieve that by having spiritual eyes.
(At the end of our conversation, a moment of silence makes the air feel heavy. Neither of us can believe this is a real problem in todays world. I thank Mary for her time, and we embrace each other with encouragement.)
Below are some facts that make Human Trafficking horrible and difficult to battle:
■ Globally, the average cost of a slave is $90.
■ There are approximately 20 to 30 million slaves in the world today.
■ California harbors 3 of the FBI’s 13 highest child sex trafficking areas on the nation: Los Angeles, San Francisco and San Diego.
■ The average age a teen enters the sex trade in the U.S. is 12 to 17. Many victims are runaway girls who were sexually abused as children.
■ The average “shelf life” is 3-7 years.
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