Christ Church has an impressive and generous missionary program. On March 15, two of its partners spoke to the congregation: Agape Flights and Selah Freedom.
CEO and Pastor Allen Speer spoke for Agape, an organization that assists missionaries in the Caribbean by transporting cargo. As a longstanding partner, he’s spoken to the congregation before.
Selah is a new partner since the church made a $50,000 donation in December, which the Patterson Foundation matched. The money was earmarked for a new consulting branch to help anti-trafficking organizations nationwide.
Selah is an anti human trafficking nonprofit organization based in Sarasota with an 87% success rate of transitioning survivors out of the sex-trade. In addition to consulting and supporting survivors, it also offers an education program to local schools.
“We can not always be there to protect our children, so we have to teach them and empower them to protect themselves,” Executive Director Stacey Efaw said. “The actual Department of Education did a report. It’s a 12-year-old report, you can look it up, it says one in 10 children, from the time they’re in kindergarten to a senior in high school will be approached by a school employee for a sexual relationship.”
As disturbing as that statistic is, the most impactful words of the evening came from Mia Braddock, a sex-trafficking survivor, who is now a prevention advocate and survivor mentor employed by Selah.
After Braddock shared her personal story of trauma and redemption, Mission Chair Jerry Fox took to the stage to open the floor up for questions. But first, he paused for a moment to simply say, “Wow.”
Braddock’s story starts in a good home, but when she was molested at 12 years old, fear and shame stopped her from telling her parents. They only knew their daughter’s behavior had changed, not why.
“Their honor roll student was gone. Now, I’m suspended every other week. I’m in trouble at school, if I go, and I was just completely out of control,” Braddock said. “And then at the age of 16, I was raped at a party I wasn’t supposed to be at, so how can I tell my parents what happened? All those feelings I thought when I was 12 came flooding back, and it was kind of like the catalyst on this downward trajectory I was on.”
A year later, as a 17-year-old runaway, Braddock met a 27-year-old man who would become her first trafficker. He got her off the streets, supplied her with drugs and made her feel special. He earned her trust, then quickly flipped the narrative into one where she owed him for his kindness.
It took Braddock five years, two more traffickers and 13 drug arrests before entering Selah’s TYLA program, which stands for Turn Your Life Around. The one- to two-year prostitution diversion program is a choice between legal punishment or treatment that requires trauma therapy and drug testing.
“When I came to Selah, I did not identify as a sex-trafficking survivor. I was not kidnapped. I was not handcuffed. I was not tied up. It didn’t look for me the way it looks in the movies. I didn’t know that it could still count as trafficking — that being lied to, that being tricked, that being manipulated — I didn’t know that was a part of it,” Braddock said. “So now, I have the opportunity to go to different places and make sure that youths know that exploitation and trafficking can happen in different ways. Yes, kidnapping happens, but I get to be the person that brings reality to the situation and shows how it looks more often than that.”