Today, 39-year-old SJ is a survivor who looks daily for opportunities to be used by the Lord to minister to others.
Born with a heart defect and abandoned in the hospital by her drug-abusing mother, SJ was cared for by her father and a revolving group of extended family members. She would not see her mother again until she was five. Although her heart condition protected her from the physical abuse her sister and stepmother suffered at the hand of her father, it did not protect SJ from nearly a decade of sexual abuse from her uncles that began at the age of five. Many parental figures—biological, extended, step, and grandparents—most of whom abused drugs and alcohol, continued to flit in and out of her life. Their partying lifestyle took advantage of the monthly disability checks SJ received due to the heart defect that required four open-heart surgeries throughout her childhood.
By the age of 15, promiscuity had become the norm for SJ. Tricking in high school for money and drugs, sleeping with anyone she could and dancing in clubs, all to support her drug use. Her parents had no objection when at 16 she quit school. A love of travel prompted her to hop on a Greyhound bus, and she traveled here and there, “setting up shop” as a prostitute.
SJ’s first encounter with Refuge for Women came in 2010 in Kentucky. But her stay lasted only six months because she was kicked out for not following the program’s rules. “I still had a couple more runs in me. I wasn’t ready for it yet,” she admits.
The next decade found SJ in and out of trafficking and recovery programs that lacked supervision and monitoring. After several months of being clean, she would be drawn back into active addiction and keeping company with men which would transition into trafficking. Her first trafficker came and went from her life throughout this dark time. “It was a constant battle to stay alive and to stay high.”
On April 27, 2021, she barely escaped a brutal assault that was part of a plot to kill her. And that’s when her life took a radical turn. Within two days, she was admitted to the Kentucky Refuge for Women Emergency Home. And she’s been clean from any type of drug since the day after the attack. But when her trafficker found her there, the staff put her on a plane to the Texas Gulf Coast home.
“That was where my true journey began. I fell in love with Jesus. I got baptized in the ocean. I was doing Celebrate Recovery classes.” SJ is quick to give all the credit to the Lord. “It had to be God to get me out of the situation I was in.” Soon, she was giving back, ministering to the other women in the home. Seeds planted as a small child when her father and stepmother took her to church began to bloom.
After six months in Texas, SJ transferred back to Kentucky Refuge for Women to complete the program. She maintains a daily relationship with Janice, the mentor and spiritual guide she connected with in Texas. When she graduated this past May 13, Janice and her husband traveled to Kentucky to be part of the celebration.
These days, SJ is all about giving back. She teaches weekly AA meetings at the farm and has received her certification as a Celebrate Recovery leader. She’s studying for her GED with plans to take the test in December. She is proud that she now works in gainful employment that does not involve sex. “I’m the candle girl at Survivor Made.”
She has high hopes for her future. Her goals include working at the VA Hospital with the veterans as a CNA, medical assistant, or in home health. Another example of her giving-back spirit, as many of her paternal family served in the military. She’s working toward her peer support certification, so that she can teach additional classes at the Refuge. Currently she’s living in transitional housing, but she’s saving money to move out on her own. “That’s a great goal for myself, to pay my own rent.”
She has reunited with her family, and she’s happy to announce that both her mom and dad have been saved and baptized. Both of her parents are sober as well. She is currently in contact with one of the two daughters that she placed for adoption.
Her feelings about the Refuge for Women flow from a heart full of gratitude and thanksgiving. “Refuge brought me to my knees. It brought me closer to the Lord, helped me to realize that I have self-worth, that I don’t have to be a victim. I am not a victim,” she insists. “I am a survivor. I no longer have to live in victim status. I’m living in survivor mode.”
It seems unnecessary to say that SJ’s Refuge experience changed her life. “Refuge has built up my confidence. Instead of being called a prostitute, a whore, a bad mom, now I’m chosen. I’m unbroken. My body is a temple. Those are the new names that the Refuge has given me. They are supportive and thorough. They will call you out. They are about accountability to the fullest.”
SJ could not be more passionate about recommending the Refuge for Women. “Their ministry is the best thing that can happen to a woman. But she has to want it. You have to work at it. As much as you pour into it, they will pour into you. But you have to be willing to pour.” With a depth of insight born from a hard-fought victory, she summarizes her experiences at the Refuge. “They give you a toolbox, and now you have to build your house.”
She is indeed a new creation in Christ. “My feet and my body are tired from being the old me, but God has given me new feet, a new mind, and a new soul. I don’t live in fear anymore. I live with peace. I want to be present in the moment for my kids, my family, for the Lord, and in the classes I teach.”
SJ’s parting thoughts come with a big smile. “Ked and Michelle are dipped in sugar. They are very sweet, amazing people.”