NASHVILLE, Tenn. (Christian Examiner) – *Sarah's bizarre story is a modern one of tragedy and triumph, hopelessness and helpfulness. It is a story of sex abuse and sex trafficking, drug abuse and rehabilitation, devastation and restoration.
After giving her heart to Jesus as a youngster, Sarah was sexually abused by a trusted adult.
She wanted to tell others, but she faced a "norm of silence," a barrier created by a culture of, "those are things we don't talk about."
So the sexual abuse continued through her teenage years.
Even after the assaults stopped, however, the damage that had been inflicted continued to haunt her: physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual hurts that would not heal. And she felt she had nowhere to turn.
The abuse had robbed her of her self-esteem. It had destroyed her hopes for life. It caused her to think she was not worthy of happiness, or holiness. It led to poor decisions and to destructive behaviors like drug and alcohol abuse. It also made her believe she didn't deserve any better.
"There is a lot of deeply engrained self-resentment," Sarah said.
It also made her ripe for sex trafficking by one of her former husbands. This self-loathing was at the heart of five failed marriages. It denied her freedom in Christ until she finally confronted her feelings of helplessness.
"I didn't know I could ask for help," she said. "Then on Dec. 16, 2002, I went into my bathroom and I looked myself in the mirror. I was sobbing, and I said 'God, please help me; I don't know what to do.'"
God gave her the courage to call her parents, who took her to a drug and alcohol treatment facility.
Sarah emphasized that treatment and aftercare for drug and alcohol abuse and recovery from sexual exploitation can take a very long time, "because you have to learn how to live again."
She also said it was difficult learning how to trust and who to trust. But others encouraged her to grow out of this distrust with prayer.
"Prayer has given me comfort and peace," she said. "Prayer gave me back my hope – I started to see God. I clung to prayer and God began revealing Himself to me."
One of His answers to her prayers was to give her a heart for people nobody wants to hug. He also "put people in my life who helped me learn who God is and who He says I am," she said.
As part of the healing process, she joined a group last year that reaches out to those in the Nashville area where a reported 100 minors are sex-trafficked each year.
"One of the things I love so much about the [ministry] God has brought together is that I get to see them love [others] like me.
"One of the lies victims tell themselves is that we are unlovable and worthless, that nobody loves us," she said. "But there is a whole world of people who want to love us, who God has given the gift of mercy, compassion and exhortation."
Sarah offered a grave caution about the pervasiveness of slavery and sexual exploitation, encouraging others not to think it won't affect them.
"I hear a lot of people say, 'This doesn't happen here," Sarah emphasized. "And it has and it does. We have to let people know it happens in our own backyard."
She also encouraged victims and survivors to come forward for help and to help others.
"If the 'me's' don't speak up then nobody is going to know what to look for," she said. "My family didn't know. Nobody at my church knew. Nobody at school knew.
"Out of my own situation, God has let me know I need to speak up," Sarah explained.
What can others do?
She encourages people to get involved – or even start – local ministries that assist victims of sex trafficking, sex abuse, and drug abuse to become survivors.
Sarah said whatever a person's passion or spiritual gift, there is a place for everyone to serve in these ministries. It's "all about reaching people and letting them know there is freedom in Christ, they are worthy and important, and that they matter."
"It takes so many people to do this."
And she stressed that although ministries need donations and volunteers, the most important thing anyone can do is to pray for those who have been victims.
In the end, she said, it's all about love.
"My grandmother is 97 years old and I got the opportunity to ask her for her favorite scripture," she said. "Grandmother said, 'Love one another.'
"My grandmother has got it right," Sarah continued, "and for me the best way we can love one another is to let others know about freedom in Christ."
*Name changed for confidentiality.