By Gretchen Bartels
Rebirth Homes is transforming the lives of survivors of sex trafficking in Riverside, California with a holistic approach to healing.
When a butterfly emerges from its cocoon, it breaks through the translucent chrysalis that has been protecting it during its transformation from caterpillar to butterfly and enters the world head-first, ready to stretch its wings and take to the sky. The emblem of the butterfly beautifully represents the healing survivors of sex trafficking find with the help of Rebirth Homes. Rebirth Homes is a faith-based nonprofit organization in Riverside, California that provides safe housing and healing resources to women who have been affected by sex trafficking.
Rebirth Homes opened its first home in September of 2017, but it started years earlier as a glimmer of an idea. When Rebirth CEO Debbie Martis was wandering through Riverside years ago, she saw an abandoned house that had fallen into disrepair. The image of this broken and battered house with so much lost potential later resonated with her as she began learning about human trafficking worldwide. Why couldn’t someone rebuild this house? Why couldn’t a house like this one give trafficking victims a place to rebuild their lives? The seed idea for Rebirth Homes was planted, and over the next few years, Debbie prayed over the vision, learned more about trafficking in Riverside, gathered together a team, and raised funds to open the first home for adult women who are survivors of sex trafficking in Riverside County. From the beginning, Rebirth Homes has been an organization founded firmly in prayer, dependent on God’s leading and provision, and born out of deep love for those who are trafficked.
To address the multifaceted effects of trafficking, a holistic approach to healing is essential, and Rebirth Homes offers a program that fosters spiritual, physical, emotional, and mental healing. Women in Rebirth Homes’ two-year program receive a safe place to live, counseling, job training, and community with each other, staff, and mentors. This loving support is a key component to helping victims regain control of their lives and become survivors with bright futures.
With the guidance of counselors from the Grove Counseling Center in Riverside, the women study healthy boundaries and work through their trauma in weekly individual and group counseling sessions. We also offer equine therapy and art therapy. The women have developed strong connections with the horses and have also created some beautiful art pieces that express the darkness of the life they lived being trafficked, as well as the hope they now have for their futures.
In the first year of the restoration home, we have seen transformation in women’s lives as they achieve the goals they set in their care plans. When a new woman arrives at the home, she is often withdrawn from others, she speaks little, and she shows signs of the trauma she has suffered, but within weeks, she will laugh and smile, play board games, study the Bible, and talk about her plans for the future. This year, one woman completed her high school degree and two women have pursued their goals by taking college classes. Access to mental health services and medical treatment has also been instrumental in the lives of the women of Rebirth Homes.
The path, however, has not been an easy one. Walking with those who have experienced deep trauma is challenging. Some days triggers are active, tension is high, or energy is low, but through it all God sustains our staff, volunteers, donors, and the ladies in our program. God is at work in the lives of survivors of human trafficking. Many women in our program have renewed their Christian faith or have made a first-time commitment to Christ. Four women have been baptized over the last year, and the women in the program have been sharing Christ with new women who join the Rebirth family.
And in the midst of tough challenges, small moments of blessing shine through all the brighter. One week not long ago, I was heading to the home to spend time with the ladies, and I knew that some of them were processing through stress that was causing anxiety and insomnia. As an avid crocheter, I brought along crochet hooks and skeins of yarn in cheery yellow, blue, and purple, hoping that this skill that often calms my own racing mind would help them too. I sat down, working on my own project, and started talking to one of the women. I offered to teach her how to crochet, and within moments, a group of three women were sitting around the table learning how to crochet. A peaceful stillness fell over the room. I had hoped that sometime far down the road that this skill might bless the women with an outlet to relax, but that very day one of the women proudly declared that she had found a new coping mechanism. Even in these small moments, I can see God working His healing in these women’s lives.
From Fall 2017 to Fall 2018, we have graduated two women from our program, and we are so excited to celebrate the growth and healing that we’ve seen in their lives as they have soared off into the future on new wings born of God’s love.
Gretchen Bartels is a mentor at Rebirth Homes, writer, and an associate professor of English at California Baptist university, where she teaches predominantly upper division literature, creative writing, and the senior capstone. She earned her BA in English and Chemistry from Wheaton College, IL and her MA and PhD in English from the University of California Riverside. She is passionate about supporting survivors of sex trafficking and sexual violence in their healing journeys.
NOTE: This article was originally published in the Winter 2018 edition of VOJ Magazine.