“When I left Refuge, I thought, ‘I’ll do anything, Lord, the only thing I don’t want to do is tell my story.’… and especially not to underage victims of trafficking.”
Such a thought was only one of the ways Alia Dewees has found herself gifted and called beyond her own wildest expectations. As she has increasingly seen her story as the Lord’s rather than her own, her own possibilities have unfolded according to her own willingness to surrender that story back to the one who created it. Yet, the narrative isn’t one that turned in an instant.
With a background in abuse and trafficking, she was in the adult film industry when she watched her friend Deanna find freedom through Refuge, and another friend brought her to church.
“I felt a brokenness when I went to church that I didn’t feel in my day-to-day life,” Alia explained that she had never been to church before, but it was an experience she inexplicably attached to. “There was something about being in a service that really made me feel that brokenness, but feel it in a way that was really safe. It didn’t feel like a brokenness that was hopeless.. it was a recognition of my brokenness with hope.”
Equipped with this awareness of her own brokenness and a vague idea of hope, she continued coming to church, all the while continuing her work in pornography and prostitution.
“I didn’t make the decision to leave, I didn’t hide what I was doing, and I didn’t make the decision to follow Christ either. I just continued to show up to these services.” For six years, she continued to show up, caught in a life she was unsure how to surrender, and not yet broken enough to let go.
Even so, her pastors and their families continued to invest in her and invite her into their homes every week. As time went on, however, her world became darker and more desperate.
“Toward the end of my time in the industry, my life just got darker and darker. It was much closer to a trafficking situation,” Alia explained, also noting that while drugs were not typically her problem, that she reached a point where she “was always numbing my pain.” At her darkest moment, she realized who she was without the industry, and faced the decision she had been avoiding for six years.
“I could go back, I could commit suicide, or”––she recalled her friend Deanna who had graduated from Refuge––“I could do the one thing where I saw one girl get well.”
At the beginning of her journey, she still wasn’t thinking about her faith. “This is not why I’m going or why I’m trying to get well… that’s not something I was interested in,” she noted her priority at the time, and her stubbornness to where the Lord had been planting seeds for years. “And yet, the Lord opened that door on my first day at Refuge.”
Her journey from there began with extensive trauma recovery, including such severe panic attacks and tremors that neurological damage was suspected for a period of time. They learned, however, that it was all a physical manifestation of trauma, and her healing from it ended up being a crucial step to functioning for normal life.
Beyond this significant healing, Alia also used her time at Refuge to complete her GED, take her SATs, and rediscover her voice, strength and intelligence that had previously felt so discouraged. Simply said, “I had to relearn what it means to be an adult.”
“I can do things outside the industry,” she reflected on her realizations within Refuge. “I can do things that are hard. It’s not too late… and I have a network of people who I can share my joys and my achievements with, who believe in me. It really set me up for where I am now.”
These simple, yet meaningful beliefs gave Alia the foundation to eventually enroll with Moody Bible Institute in Chicago, and as she moved there, also gained a community and a church where she was given the opportunity to lead outreach and use her unique voice. Not to mention, she’s gotten straight As every semester.
While Alia began with a defiance to telling her own story and working with underaged girls, a few non-coincidental opportunities softened her to see that she was able to be God’s mouthpiece in those moments, and she was telling his story.
“When I got to tell my story at the church level, to hundreds of people, what I learned was, not only does my story lead people who are like me to Christ,” she recalled her surprise at her own impact, “we all understand that experience of shame. We all understand what it’s like to not trust, or be afraid of failure; those things can lead people closer to Christ, too.”
Equipped with the power and healing within her own story, Alia is returning to California to finish school online and will be working with the Safe House Project, where she will be stepping into a role created specifically for her. Under the title of Safe House Developer and Small Business Training Lead, she will be creating a standard of care and network for minors (which does not currently exist), reaching out to safe houses to connect them and resource women, and developing training for home service providers.
“I’m going back to California, which was always a super unsafe place for me,” she explained the challenges of returning somewhere once so marked by darkness. “[But I’m] coming back into new life, and on fire for the healing of other people.”
As someone who speaks with such clarity, confidence and calling, Alia’s servant-heartedness and surrender to the Lord is unmistakable, if not by her testimony alone, then by her sharp turn in perspective from someone who couldn’t risk a failure, to someone who so clearly serves and leads with vision.
“I was never somebody who liked to do hard things. The option of failure was something my heart couldn’t take,” she explained. “Being able to walk through a failure was a miracle for me.”
There is no shortage of miracles in Alia’s life, but spoke of nearly all areas of her life as being touched by redemption, rooted in her experience at Refuge and the support she found there. Speaking of her Refuge family, and how they have continued to support her, she said, almost in disbelief, “the things they see in me are amazing things I didn’t know were there before I went to Refuge.”
“The way they treated us made me understand the way the Lord sees me. That brought so much healing, even outside the studies we would do or the therapy we would get.” Her healing is already being powerfully leveraged for the Kingdom, with innovative dreams and ideas and a spiritual tenacity spurring her well on her way to bringing the redemption that touched her life to so many others.