Writer’s identity has been withheld for privacy.
Last November our family was taken by complete surprise to find out that our son who had just begun his sophomore year at a college that one year earlier awarded him an almost full scholarship to a private college had become addicted to drugs and was being controlled by drug traffickers. His activities included illicit sex, pornographic pictures / videos, vile parties and delivery of illegal drugs. We didn’t know these things initially but became gradually aware over the next 8 months. During this time we experienced the most horrific events we ever imagined. It brought our family to an abrupt halt.
I received a phone call just previous to Thanksgiving from our son who told me he had some kind of breakdown or panic attack. He said the resident advisor was helping him get through it and he was feeling better. He also told me he thought he should see the campus medical/psychological facility to help him as well.
Thanksgiving arrived and all of us gathered together at his sisters’ apartment to celebrate located in the same city where the college was. It was obvious there was something wrong. Our son seemed to be a different person. He mumbled things, at times he had a hard time staying awake, his personal hygiene was noticeably bad, he shook at times and more. We left that day agreeing to keep in check with each other and make sure he was getting proper medical and psychological care.
He came home for Christmas. The condition had worsened. We asked what was wrong and how could we help. No answers from him. He would sleep for days, not coming out of his room. He returned to school and after 2-3 weeks and had to drop out. We still were confused about what was wrong. There were so many affects. We didn’t know what we should do. Then one night at the dinner table he had a complete psychological / physical breakdown and we rushed him to the ER.
The circumstances that followed that night at the hospital were unexplainable. My wife and I watched our son disintegrate for more than 3 hours straight. We were unable to do anything about what was happening before our eyes. I’ve seen some situations in my day but this was hell and we couldn’t escape.
It started to become a little clearer about what was wrong over the next few months as we were able to get him into a state funded outpatient treatment center for mental health, alcohol and drug addiction. This failed to work for him and he was quickly back to the destructive life of drug addiction and suffering from the effects that human trafficking left him with. We had no idea how to get our arms around the human trafficking part of his life. This was so far beyond our imagination and his diagnosis was still unclear. Was schizophrenia a part of this? There was just too much even for the doctors to accurately process everything. The prognosis was unknown as well.
I continued to search for help. I couldn’t find any medical, psychological or mental health care facility that helped men who fell victims to trafficking. There were hundreds that helped young girls and women but nothing for men. On top of it all the cost for resident programs was so far out of range. The cost for residential programs ranged from 20 – 120 thousand for one month of treatment. I was able to get my son into a state resident program dealing with drug and alcohol addiction. This really helped. He was able to dry out and start thinking clearly again. Now that he was beginning to heal and wasn’t under the influence of drugs the PTSD started surfacing from the trafficking experiences/trauma.
I continued to search for someone who knew something about finding help for men involved in human trafficking. I found Restore One director Anna Smith’s project on the internet so I called and left a message. Anna called me back and was able to direct me to an organization that had experience in helping men. She listened to me for a long time. I really needed that. I was at the end, out of gas, ready to throw the towel in and she gave me one last ray of hope. It sounded like a total long shot but I took her up on the person she told me to call.
After a month of communicating with this person, by a miracle my son was accepted into their program at no cost. He has been there for 4 months now and is doing well. My wife and I were afraid that he would get there and it wouldn’t be a good fit. To our absolute joy the next day after he arrived we received the first call from him. I almost didn’t want to answer. His voice was filled with the son I thought we lost. Weeks earlier it was like he died and now I hear the son I’ve know all these years. He was back. It’s hard believe the process God worked all of this out considering the complex problems and limited resources that were before us, but he has and we’re thankful for all who have been a part.
There is one last piece to this puzzle. It was something that came up unexpected one night when my wife and I were trying to put together the pieces of how and where this all began. We sat down with our son (this was during the time when he was still using and living at home for the previous 3 weeks) I asked him the question “When did this all begin”? He took us back to a kids Bible camp we took him to 15 years earlier. He told us of the horrors of being molested by a young man and how confused he was about all that took place. May the boys and young men who walk through these doors find healing from the trauma they’ve experienced, from the injustices of abuse, human trafficking and the exploitation of those who are vulnerable.
For many, high school is the time of trying to fit in with the cool kids or planning for college, for me it meant finding my calling in life. In Johnston County, in order to graduate high school, students must complete a graduation project on a topic of their choosing. While my classmates were building a life size Barbie, or teaching kids to make healthy snacks, I wanted to end human trafficking. Crazy idea for a sixteen year old to think, right? When my parents and my teachers asked me how I thought I was going to do this, I answered, “I have no idea, but God does!” That was the beginning of Operation Restoration was born and the first steps in shaping the rest of my life.
The main goal of Operation Restoration is to bring awareness of the issue of human trafficking as a whole, while focusing on the issue in North Carolina, as well as partnering with the safe homes in North Carolina for survivors and overcomers of human trafficking. Since the creation of Operation Restoration in late 2011, we have done a number of presentations to church groups, local news and government, and various community groups throughout the state. I had no idea that this one assignment would take me where it has.
Earlier this year, in March I was approached by Ressie Toland, the wife of Whitman Toland, the pastor of C3 Greensboro, to discuss some things that God has put on her heart. I have known the Toland’s for fourteen years, due to growing up in the church when it was first founded, but since moving away from Greensboro our communications had not be consistent. Ressie called me one Saturday afternoon and shared that God was putting the issue of human trafficking on her heart and she knew that this was not a burden that she was meant to carry alone. She then presented a partnership between C3 Greensboro and Operation Restoration in order to sponsor the safe homes in North Carolina for a year. I sat in my car in tears, explaining to her that this is something we at Operation Restoration have been praying for, someone to come forth with a reach much greater than our own and back us up in sponsoring these homes in order to make a difference in the lives of survivors that they serve.
Throughout the next few months, the planning of the partnership, that was now called the Freedom Initiative, went about and June 22nd was decided as the date for the first “Freedom Sunday” When deciding which of the four houses in North Carolina would be the first home to be sponsored in the Freedom Initiative I felt that draw to Chris and Anna at Restore One and in discussing with Pastor Ressie, we agreed that the Anchor House would be the first to be sponsored.
The morning of the 22nd came and I continued to pray that the Lord would speak through me and begin to stir in the hearts of the congregation. After the service we were overwhelmed with the response of concerned church members asking how this could be happening and what they could do to stop it. My heart was humbled as I saw mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers all concerned for these sons, daughters, siblings, that were being trafficked everyday and having a desire to end this tragic injustice. As we were packing up the Operation Restoration booth that afternoon, Pastor Whit came to me and said that the offering taken up for the Anchor House was $7,000. I cannot say thank you enough to all of the church members for their open hearts and minds as we feed into this amazing ministry and join in the fight against human trafficking together.
I never imagined that four years ago any of this would have happened because of a crazy dream I had at sixteen years old. Human trafficking is still happening all around us everyday, but if we continue to work together and be a voice for those without a one, we will see it come to an end. I want to commend Chris and Anna Smith for their diligence and obedience to the things that God has placed on their hearts and am believing for breakthrough and provision in their next steps in opening the Anchor House.
By Nelli Agbulos, guest blogger.
Nothing in my life has ever been properly planned.
I first became interested in anti-trafficking initiatives in my senior year of high school, when I wrote my first MLA research paper on street prostitution. The research I conducted on that paper led me to discover the connections and differences between street prostitution and human trafficking, particularly how prostitutes who became trafficked were unjustly treated by the law. I was saddened by what I had read, but also fired up to do something to help. From then on, in my spare time, I read reports on human trafficking from non-profit organizations and government agencies. I didn’t realize what I was doing would eventually become a major part of my life.
First year of university arrived and I’m caught in the excitement of frosh week and all things freshmen related. For one of my political science classes, I did a semester project on how street prostitution and sex trafficking were connected in Germany. Germany was the most random country I could have picked, and one that caused the most difficulty in researching information. I remember spending more hours on that semester project than my other school work. But that experience taught me to exhibit patience while researching, to think creatively in terms of problem solving, and to always go the extra mile. After all, human trafficking is a multi-faceted problem that doesn’t have the traditional “one size fits all” solution. It’s an issue that needs to come to light so it can be properly discussed and advocated for, particularly in terms of the gender construction placed upon by society. Since female sex trafficking is the most advocated type of human trafficking, it’s easy to forget about the 5% of male sex trafficking victims who are affected but rarely regarded.
The process for my involvement with anti-trafficking initiatives came about gradually, and it was the most unexpected thing that ever happened to me. I went through this serious phase thinking I was going to university as an art major, but a random (but life-changing) moment made me want to double major in Political Science and Women’s Gender Studies. This past spring semester, I collaborated with my school’s Community Center of Action and Research on a “Take Action! To End Human Trafficking” petition post card event for the International Justice Mission – and that started with a random tweet I sent them. I also conducted my first flyering event where I posted flyers around school in some of the common and unconventional places you could think of. I wouldn’t have done the flyering event if it wasn’t part of the final project for one of my classes, but still – this was again something that had happened by chance.
There were moments where I almost lost faith in what I was doing and even questioned why I was doing these things. When I volunteered at the “Take Action! To End Human Trafficking” petition event, I had a guy walk up to me and say “I really don’t care. Human trafficking doesn’t affect me at all.” I launched into an explanation of why it did matter, but he walked away from me without even letting me finish. Besides that being a completely rude gesture, this guy infuriated me to the point that in a weird way, he motivated me even more to stay involved in what I believed in. I have to thank that guy for his thoughtless comment since it served as a reminder to me as to why I choose to advocate for anti-trafficking initiatives – to fight injustice and to empower survivors to become involved in their fight for freedom.
I wasn’t joking when I said nothing in my life has ever been properly planned. I didn’t even introduce myself at the beginning of this post. The name’s Nelli, and I’m a blogger at The Anti-Trafficking Independence Project. Anti-trafficking initiatives set my heart on my fire and fuel my desire to work in the non-profit world and fight for justice. I have no idea how I’m going to make it there, but I’ll find a way. I just need to stay calm and keep faith. I also think of this quote from one of my favorite high school teachers whenever I get discouraged:
“For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.” – Jeremiah 29:11
You will be seeing a lot of multimedia coming from Restore One in the following months. Zach Pomeroy, who specializes in digital media is the man behind camera. Pomeroy will come alongside RO for a whole year too! Here’s a little about him, Q&A-style:
What did you do previously when you volunteered with RO?I began volunteering at RO last summer. I started just by coming to the office hours that RO had every Friday. As I became more involved, I designed and put together the Email and Print Newsletters for RO. I continued designing the Newsletters throughout my senior year at UNCW.
What has happened in your life in the past year/since you were last in Greenville?Since last summer, I completed a Bachelor of Arts in Communication Studies with a Specialization in Digital Media and a minor in Spanish. During my senior year, I co-led a Bible with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, I traveled to Swansea, Wales to shoot a promotional video for the Office of International Programs at UNCW
What will you be doing with RO this year? Have any goals? What are you most excited about?This year at RO, I will be a Communication Intern. I will shoot video updates from the staff, design email and print newsletters, manage the social media handles, and assisting with the BOY$ Documentary. Some of my goals include working with the BOY$ Documentary and learning how to make videos and run social media for a non-profit. I am most excited about working with such an incredible team.
Fun facts? I love to travel and have been to three different countries Dominican Republic, Nicaragua, and Wales. Playing music is my favorite thing to do when I want to relax. I can’t stop listening to my favorite band Johnnyswim.
Updates about The Anchor House and other Restore One happenings.