A guest post written by Ginger Coakley, CEO of Eden’s Glory.
“Hospitality means primarily the creation of free space where the stranger can enter and become a friend instead of an enemy. Hospitality is not to change people, but to offer them space where change can take place. It is not to bring men and women over to our side, but to offer freedom not disturbed by dividing lines.”
Every day when I’m in my office, I see this quote from Henri Nouwen posted right in front of me. It resonates deeply with me and the journey my team and I have been on for the past six years as we’ve explored what hospitality means within the context of caring for survivors of human trafficking.
This part of my journey started several years ago. I was initially drawn into the anti-trafficking world through the Set Free Movement, where I encountered a segment of people in our society who had been cast aside, forgotten, used, and exploited. Being part of this world exposed an extreme dissonance in the way I lived and the commands in scripture to care for the widow, the orphan, the stranger. These instructions reminded me that I, too, was once a slave, captive to my brokenness—and that I must invite others into the same freedom I know through Jesus Christ.
This way of thinking—identifying that we have all experienced brokenness, but that none of us are outside the reach of Jesus—is core to our programming at Eden’s Glory. We did not invite our residents in with the expectation of “fixing” or “saving” them—only Jesus can do that. Only Jesus rescues and restores. What we do is cultivate a safe, trusting, spirit-filled space where we meet these women wherever they’re at and walk alongside them as they find rest and healing.
In the last two years, we have walked with seven women who have survived exploitation and abuse. Some have stayed for a few months, while three of the women have stayed for at least a year. In that time, we have seen transformation happen—not only in our residents, but also in each person involved with our residents. Shalom has not only been extended to our residents but received from them.
Several of our residents have formed deeper relationships with the Lord, which is the ultimate goal of our program. But our staff are experiencing this spiritual development, too. Within the last couple of months, one of our staff members reported to us that being a part of a faith-based organization like Eden’s Glory was a scary step for her. But being part of the Eden’s Glory family has restored her faith in faith. Her hope in Christ and in the faith community has been renewed in the same space that our residents have been growing spiritually, too.
There is no room for a savior’s complex in this line of work. After all, that implies that “we”, our staff, have all the answers and “they”, our residents, are voiceless victims—and this is both untrue and unhelpful. When we first meet with our residents, we work them to create an individualized life plan based on their goals. From this planning, some of our residents have gone on to obtain their driver’s license or GED. One of our residents is pursuing her Bachelor’s degree while another one is writing her memoir. Several are even at the point where they’re not only investing in their own healing, but in the wellbeing of others as well.
God’s vision of shalom is something we’re all called to participate in. Our staff and volunteers do this every day as we walk alongside our residents. But our honored guests living at Eden’s Glory actively seek shalom and extend compassion to others, too. Whether it’s mentoring at-risk youth, singing in the church choir, or visiting residents in the local nursing home, each woman gives back to the community in some way. Last year, when our residents met a homeless family, they swiftly decided to host a bake sale to raise funds for the family’s security deposit for a place to live. Because of Christ’s work through Eden’s Glory, our residents know not only how powerful it is to have someone walk beside them as them as the hand of Christ, but to be the hands of Christ for someone else, too.
The learning, growth, and healing that has taken place at Eden’s Glory has been mutually experienced within our community of staff, residents, and volunteers. For us, “hospitality” is all about relationships. We want our staff to be in relationship with our residents, our residents to be in relationship with God and with safe, positive people of integrity.
We’d like to invite you into that space as well. Would you consider being part of this environment of hospitality and these stories of transformation by praying for us, sending us a note of encouragement, or supporting our ministry financially? Gifts may be given online or checks can be mailed to: Eden’s Glory, PO BOX 164, Maryville, IL 62062.
Written by Rev. Ginger Coakley, CEO of Eden’s Glory. Ginger is an ordained elder of the Free Methodist Church and holds a Master of Divinity degree from Asbury Theological Seminary. She has been a team leader at the Set Free Movement since 2011 and opened the doors of Eden’s Glory, a two-year residential treatment program for survivors of human trafficking, in 2015.