By Kara Witherow, Editor
Just like a dilapidated former crack house in downtown Brunswick has been transformed into a beautiful, bright spot in the neighborhood, a ministry in Brunswick is working to shed light on the growing and pervasive issue of sex trafficking, bring hope and healing to victims, and transform lives.
Faithful Love, a ministry founded by United Methodist Carrie Nellis, helps rescue women from sex trafficking by giving them resources, providing a safe place to rest and recover, and fostering relationships to help them know there is hope and life beyond what they currently see.
An adoption attorney, Nellis has seen an increase in sex trafficking in recent years, especially among the birth mothers with whom she works. Unable to turn a blind eye to the issue, she began walking Brunswick’s streets, going into the brothels and drug houses, and building relationships with women she’d meet.
Through the relationships, she learned about the women, their lives, and the issues they face.
“Their chains are different than what a lot of people imagine,” Nellis said. “A lot of people believe that the women being trafficked are literally being chained to a wall or something like that, but what we are dealing with here in Brunswick is that men get them addicted to drugs and they trade drugs for prostitution.”
The goal of Faithful Love, she said, is to love the women as they are, just as Jesus does.
“It’s to do life with these women. To build trust with them. To love them,” she said. “They know we want them out, and when they’re ready, they’ll let us know and we’ll help them find and get into a program.”
Many people don’t believe or refuse to believe that sex trafficking is a problem in the community, but it’s a “huge problem,” said Nellis, a member of The Chapel in Brunswick.
Faithful Love Executive Director Judi Riccio says sex trafficking is a pervasive problem, prevalent in every community and in every zip code.
“We may not see it, we probably won’t see it, but it’s everywhere,” she said. “It’s behind closed doors and it’s everywhere.”
At Faithful Love, Nellis, Riccio, and a handful of faithful volunteers work tirelessly to rescue women and restore hope.
The former drug house is now a haven for women who need a safe place to rest, recover, and find hope. It’s not an overnight facility, but does have a few bedrooms, bathrooms, and laundry facilities where women can sleep for a few hours, shower, and wash their clothes.
Currently open two days a week, the home offers a hot lunch on Mondays and coffee and art therapy on Thursdays. Faithful Love hopes to soon have the resources to be able to open and offer lunch each weekday.
They believe that, through building relationships and friendships, trust will begin to build and that hope and new life will begin to grow.
“Our hope is that they see Jesus,” Nellis said. “That it’s not what we say, but it’s in the mundane tasks of helping them with their laundry or making brownies with them or pouring a cup of coffee and sitting with them. I hope that they see Jesus and then, in that, that they see that there is hope. That’s our prayer.”
The problem is widespread and rampant, and Faithful Love can’t do it alone. They rely on partnerships with local ministries, agencies, and churches to serve the women. One partner is the Remedy Project, a faith-based counseling and education organization. Another is The Chapel, a United Methodist congregation in Brunswick.
“Faithful Love shares Jesus’ compassion, good news, and hope with women who are being sex trafficked. What a purpose and inspiration,” said Bryan Kelso, The Chapel’s director of deployment and groups. “At The Chapel, we rely on all of our mission partners, like Faithful Love, to help equip us with knowledge and resources in a variety of faith, justice, and mercy causes, and to help us engage people we would not have reached otherwise. We are so grateful for the creativity, passion, and determination of our mission partners.”
The answer won’t be quick or easy, Nellis and Riccio say, but they are making strides in some of the darkest corners of the community.
“Our heart is to walk with these women as long as they need,” Riccio said. “We want them to see that there is hope for something else and realize that hope is in Jesus Christ.”