“He will give a crown of beauty for ashes, a joyous blessing instead of mourning, festive praise instead of despair.” Isaiah 61.3
Recently, Community Outreach Team Member, Kris Bennett, and I traveled into the heart of Seattle to visit New Horizons and R.E.S.T. (Real Escape from the Sex Trade), two new BelPres Mission partners. Our first stop was in the Rainier Valley at the R.E.S.T. offices to meet with Edward Sumner, Director of Development, and Deborah Masten, Clinical Program Director. Founded in 2009, R.E.S.T. focuses on building pathways to freedom, safety, and hope for victims of sex trafficking, as well as for people involved in the sex trade in King County. They do this through building relationships with sexually exploited young people and responding to their needs, including understanding the barriers that keep them from living a life of freedom.
On any given night in King County, more than 1,000 young women are sold multiple times for sex. It is estimated that an average of 300-500 are underage teenagers. Sadly, the average age of entry into prostitution in the United States is between 13 and 14. As such, these girls require specialized, trauma-informed care that addresses the compounded, complex abuse they have typically experienced since childhood. In Joel 2:12 we read, “Yet even now,” declares the LORD, “return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; and rend your hearts and not your garments.” The Lord calls us, the Church, to fast, weep, and mourn over the brokenness in our community, where young women, in what is the most intimate of acts, are robbed of their dignity, value and identity as created in the image of God.
The transformational work that R.E.S.T. does models the words of Joel 2:13: “Return to the Lord your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love….” Night after night, volunteers connect with young women on the streets of Seattle, building relationships, providing resources and offering a safe place to sleep and rest. They understand the absolute trauma these young women are experiencing, and offer Jesus’ steadfast and gracious love as an alternative to the utter devastation of sexual exploitation.
“Grace,” is one of numerous young women who have graduated from the two-year R.E.S.T. house residential program. Surrounded by friends, support staff at R.E.S.T., and other individuals from her rebuilt community, Grace was honored for reaching this milestone. Grace shared, “I can’t believe I made it. I can’t believe how loved I am.” Grace has now moved into shared living space with good friends, and has found a new life of freedom. God has truly turned the ashes of her youth into beauty.
Kris and I next visited New Horizons. Created in 1978 to serve street youth in the downtown Seattle area, New Horizons has grown to provide comprehensive services to youth experiencing homelessness. New Horizons is a safe place for youth ages
13 – 23 who find themselves homeless and on the streets. This population is at risk for exploitation, human trafficking, drugs, depression, and loneliness.
As we toured, Executive Director Mary Steele shared about street youth. In 2015, over 5000 young people, ages 18-24, experienced a period of homelessness in Seattle. On any given night, between 800 and 1500 youth are sleeping on the streets, under bridges, and in city parks. The New Horizons website states, “The young men and women we work with hear the same story day after day: that they are unloved and unlovable. We choose to tell a better story – one of restoration, reconciliation, and sustainability. It’s a story of transformation over time; gradual, subtle change that leads to long-term, lasting success. Ours is a story of walking alongside homeless youth on their journey toward healing.”
In 2012 New Horizons opened a 12-bed on-site housing facility on the top floor of their building. Every night, twelve young people have a safe place to stay where they learn about Jesus’ sacrificial love of Jesus, His desire to nurture and restore young people to themselves and their communities. Stable housing enables youth to catch their breath, to get back on their feet and to prepare to move into permanent housing.
Additionally, New Horizons offers street youth food, clothing, life skills, mentoring, help with homework, and case management. This is life-giving to young people on the streets, many of whom have left abusive homes and are in need of loving guidance and safe adults who will listen to their stories and care for them without judgment. As one young person shared, “New Horizons has been a big help in changing my life. …it has been years since I had a place to call home. The staff make me feel safe and they do not judge you, just love on you like you were of their own family.”
New Horizons also runs Street Bean Coffee shop on the first floor of their building. In 2007, New Horizons’ leadership dreamed of a place where homeless and transitional youth could learn job skills in a supportive environment, as part of their restoration and renewal. This dream became a reality when Street Bean Coffee opened its doors in 2009. Youth learn more than just how to be a barista. They learn how to be good employees and coworkers, the value of great customer service, how to give and receive feedback, and they grow in leadership and self-confidence. After 3-6 months, apprentices walk out of this program knowing how to be successful in any workplace. Having purchased a coffee roaster, Street Bean is now selling their own special blends of coffees. Street Bean is a delightful space for people to gather, work, or rest while enjoying great coffee, all while supporting young people in their transformational process.
Reaching into trauma and brokenness, R.E.S.T. and New Horizons partner with the Lord in bringing beauty and hope back to young people in our community. Kris and I were privileged to meet staff and volunteers who sacrificially serve the Lord in dark places, bringing Jesus’ light and healing into restorative relationships. We invite you to visit R.E.S.T. and New Horizons, to see firsthand how the Lord is bringing beauty out of the ashes of lost childhoods. We welcome you into conversation with us as to how you can get involved in God’s redemptive story at R.E.S.T. and New Horizons, and other BelPres mission partners who are bringing Jesus’ reconciliation to a lost world.