TUPELO • While Eight Days of Hope is known for its work ministering and assisting in the aftermath of natural disasters, on Friday EDOH hosted an awareness day to focus on what advocates call a human disaster: sex trafficking.
Approximately 40 people from area churches, organizations and the Northeast Mississippi community gathered as EDOH president and CEO Steve Tybor shared information about the epidemic and welcomed church leaders to do their part to end it.
“What I’m encouraging you to pray about is what your business, what you as an individual, what your church can do (to be a) part of taking care of the problem and being part of the solution,” Tybor said.
Currently EDOH has partnered with Elijah Rising in Houston, Texas, and The Refuge in Austin, Texas. At the event, EDOH also announced future safe house construction projects this year at Ascent 121 in Indianapolis, Indiana, and Transformation Garden in Verona.
Tybor’s own look into the epidemic was inspired in part by his adoption of two daughters from a Taiwanese orphanage. While asking what happens to children who age out of the orphanage, he became aware that sometimes they were sex trafficked after being released.
“This problem is real. It’s the fastest growing illegal crime in the world, and it’s happening in every town and city,” Tybor said.
He was further made aware of the issue during his time in Houston, where he was praying about what organization to serve. He was able to meet a man whose own daughter experienced sex trafficking and was led to begin partnerships with after care facilities, which are organizations that provide housing, trauma-informed counseling and support to survivors of sex trafficking.
Lee County Sheriff Jim Johnson shared how the epidemic is playing out even in Tupelo, describing it as “prevalent.” An undercover sting several years ago in which local law enforcement created fake profiles of teenage girls uncovered several offenders nearby. In the program, he saw several of the offenders who were law enforcement, school teachers, pastors and people of influence.
“That was an eye opener that this was going on right here in Tupelo, Mississippi. Within the last six months we indicted a case, right here in Tupelo, at the Motel 6.”
Law enforcement has also seen other attempts at trafficking, including as indicted case where two young girls were trafficked, trafficking recruitment occurring in a Lee County Juvenile Detention Center and a tag reader caught a stolen car returning after trafficking underage girls in Atlanta during Super Bowl weekend. He encouraged monitoring of social media to help protect children from potential trafficking attempts.
Other speakers, such as Anne Reed of the American Family Association and David Ball, lead pastor of Anchor Church, spoke about the importance of churches making sure they are aware of sex trafficking. Ball also shared the work Transformation Garden, a Grace and Mercy Ministry of Anchor Church, seeks to do this year.
Ball said the organization is renovating the second floor of the old First Baptist Church where they can do intakes and will also be building a 6,000 to 7,000 square foot facility on property they purchased in Lee County. The new structure will house 20 girls in recovery and officials hope to take girls starting mid summer. They currently need financial help and applications from volunteers who can assist in the day to day operations of the Garden, which will seek to have a full daily routine for residents.
“It’s all around us, and the church has been ignoring people for too long. It’s time for us to hear the cries for help and step up and begin to minister,” Ball said.
The Garden estimates 24 volunteers each are needed to cook, downtime, and morning and afternoon devotion/Bible study; 40 for creative artists; 16 for teaching classes and study; 12 for overnight help; and several who are willing to assist with horse/equine therapy. Anyone interested in assisting may contact Transformation Garden Director Cyndi Gillespie at email@example.com, (662) 491-1772 or (662) 732-5056. Applications are available online at https://transformationgarden.net/volunteer.
EDOH is looking for skilled volunteers to assist with 14 days of service at Transformation Garden in either April, May, or June. Interested volunteers may email firstname.lastname@example.org.