The following is from Lee Anna Stoker, First Fruit Ministries’ Executive Director and co-founder. She works with the residents of Wilmington Dream Center, a transitional housing program of First Fruit Ministries. Please be warned that her words are disturbing:
Some things hurt so much to hear we almost can’t bear them. The stories of women who apply for First Fruit Ministries’ transitional housing program, Wilmington Dream Center, can haunt me for days. For all their chaos, they bring into context the irresponsible choices or self-destructive behaviors that baffle me. Upon closer inspection, I have realized life can make us all irrational at times. We all have our stories. What makes these stories extraordinary is the depth of the trauma and unimaginable cruelty suffered. More than 90% of all the women who have taken refuge at First Fruit Ministries are victims of human trafficking, sexual assault, physical abuse; they come from broken homes of addiction and dysfunction without a compass to go forward.
One story stands out to me as an example of why the work at First Fruit Ministries is so important. Honestly, if it had happened to me I don’t believe I could have survived, much less considered how to move forward in my life. I will say her name is Leah. Walking down the sidewalk one day a van pulls over to ask for directions. As Leah raises one arm to point down the street, in a kind gesture to strangers, the side of the van opens. Two men grab her and haul her inside. There are six of them altogether. They take her to a secret location and brutalize her, uninterrupted, for three days. Leah fights and struggles, finally giving in to unconsciousness as they torture her. After three days they drive her to another section of town and push her out of the moving van onto a sidewalk. Someone finds her and she is taken to the local hospital where she is in a coma for weeks. After six months and multiple surgeries she is released from the hospital. Her soul is cracked. Emotionally she is shattered. Her life has been stolen. She drifts into substance abuse to hide from the memories and the faces she sees in her mind. From there it is a short distance to human trafficking. A new abuser takes charge of Leah’s life, holding her by the throat as others pay to use his merchandise. This continues until Leah finally escapes, again.
In a state of brokenness and desperation Leah calls me one day. She found First Fruit Ministries while looking online for some kind of help. Can she come here? Will she be safe here? She’ll do anything from scrubbing floors to obeying every rule if I’ll just let her have a bed. We talk over the next few weeks as she gets into a rehabilitation center and tries to find some thread of life she can hold on to. Promising not to “let me down,” Leah is invited to be the newest member of our community. We make up a bed with new sheets. Put together a welcome basket of little comforts. Someone finds a robe that was donated. My six-year old daughter makes a welcome home card for when she arrives. The bus from “rehab” gets delayed, so I go pick her up in the dark of night. Her journey has brought her to the first safe place she has known.
When you have no family where do you go? When no one has any idea how to help you from the things you’ve suffered, where can you begin to heal? After opening in June of 2000, Wilmington Dream Center has been home to almost 400 women and families. You have an opportunity to be the family for Leah. If you want to be part of a community doing things that really matter, please consider a gift to First Fruit Ministries this season. Let the kindness in you be a comfort to ones like Leah. Stories like hers are not unusual here.