By Shannon Baker, BCM/D National Correspondent
BALTIMORE—In a self-described Solomonic moment, Jeanne Allert hit “a wall of affluence.” She amassed a great deal of worldly success, but inside was wrestling with, “What’s the point?”
The former Internet consultant realized she had experienced much entitlement and joy, but what was she doing to help others?
Surrendering all that she’d accumulated, she sought to purchase 23 acres of disheveled farmland, tucked inside the Baltimore city line, with the goal of creating a place of healing for women.
The property appraised for $14 million, but was put on the market for $1.6 million. Allert and her business partner offered $550,000. But, three days before the settlement, Allert’s business partner excused herself from the deal.
“I went to my knees and bawled for two days,” Allert recalled. She herself was prepared to walk away, but God—and the landowner—had other plans. The owner was moved by the mission, accepted her price, and proceeded with Allert on a good old-fashioned handshake.
That weekend, Allert blurted out a confession of what she’d done during an adult Bible study. There, a 20-year old woman offered to help.
The following Saturday, the woman brought 30 people to work on the property. The group, growing in number, came every Saturday for the next two years, clearing the land and repairing the old farmhouse and former nursing home on the property.
Other volunteers heard of the effort and soon, churches and corporate giants, such as the U.P.S., Constellation Energy, T. Rowe Price and Johns Hopkins University, were sending volunteers.
Thousands of volunteer hours later—already 457,000 volunteer hours clocked in the past six months!—The Samaritan Women (TSW) now operates a residence program for women recovering from trauma and trafficking, one of the only programs of its kind in the Mid-Atlantic.
The non-profit also offers a vocational program in culinary arts and manages the large urban farm, complete with greenhouses, to grow produce to support their programs.
TSW expanded its scope through the Maryland Rescue & Restore Coalition (marylandcoalition.org) to provide public awareness, caregiver training, and collaboration with law enforcement on prevention and intervention of exploitation. Their ultimate goal is to unify the Church around a shared vision of eliminating slavery and exploitation in our lifetime.
Included in the education: BWI Airport in nearby Linthicum is one of the United States’ largest hubs for moving human trafficking victims (surpassed only by New York and Chicago). The newly voted-in casino in Hanover, Md., will invariably result in an increase in sex entertainment, and the demand for illicit services.
[pullquote]“Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute.” (Prov. 31:8)[/pullquote]
Since opening, TSW has expanded its staff to include former trafficking victims who have a unique ability to minister to hurting women. Allert is the first to tell you loving hurting women isn’t easy. She offers these lessons learned:
Love with less.
With a culture of accumulation and possession that is particularly skewed for those who have had less, victims try to hoard whatever they deem necessary for their survival.
“We have to prove that such thinking is faulty, and it’s antithetical to Scripture,” Allert said, adding they can learn to trust in His provision.
Rules mean love.
Our impulse as care-givers is to freely and abundantly allow whatever the survivor says she wants. But she may not yet understand structure and boundaries are also forms of love.
The best advice I ever heard from a survivor was, “Rules mean love, because if you care enough to have boundaries, then you must really care about the person.”
Let her do it for herself—even if it seems small.
It is arrogant to assume women have been taught even the simplest things, like how to vacuum or care
for their bodies. If she’s struggling, we have to first ask, “Does she know how?”
Teach them how to do it. Find ways for them to serve alongside you. During their period of victimization and trauma, so much of their own autonomy and agency was taken away. Help them rebuild confidence and strength by patiently guiding her to self-sufficiency.
Keep a long view.
If she’s been trafficked since she was five years old, Allert said, “We have to be patient. In many ways, she’s going through those childhood developmental stages as a grown woman.” We need to be patient and celebrate simple milestones.
Want to learn more?
The Maryland Coalition will host a free Church United seminar on Feb. 23 at Heritage Community Church, 8146 Quarterfield Rd., Severn, Md., for congregations to learn how to be involved. Email Melissa at [email protected] or visit http://thesamaritanwomen.org for more details.
Also, the Baptist Convention of Maryland/Delaware provides four Introduction to Human Trafficking training videos by The Samaritan Women’s Jeanne Allert: Definition and Scope; Victims and Perpetrators; The Church’s Response; and Talking to Youth about Human Trafficking at http://bcmd.e-quip.net.