Iowa Trafficking Hotline: 800-770-1650 or text "iowahelp" to 20121
National Human Trafficking Hotline: 888-373-7888 or text "Help" to BEFREE (233733)

You Just Might Be Surprised

Emma Bykerk

The day began like any other. The women awoke, getting ready for a new day. With the blinds open, sunlight pouring in, music softly playing in the background, we gathered in the living room for morning devotions. We began by reading Rick Warren’s The Purpose Driven Life. The chapter was titled “Cultivating Community.” Some of the characteristics of community mentioned were honesty, humility and courtesy. Little did we know, that in a few minutes, those characteristics would be put to the test.

After we discussed the devotional, one of the women said she wanted to share something. It was evident that she was wrestling with whether or not to say something, but she believed God was calling her to do so. She revealed something personal about herself, something the other participant had been vocally against. I held my breath waiting for the reaction. Would there be an outburst, an insensitive comment, an argument? The reaction to the revelation surprised both me and the participant who had shared.

The other participant began sharing her own personal experiences. She explained her difficulty with loving “those people” because of what had been done to her. It was a rare glimpse of vulnerability by this woman. She allowed us to step into her pain, to help us understand her better, to help us look beyond her previous actions and words. The exchange between the two women was a beautiful image of community coming together: raw honesty, humility, and courtesy of each other’s experiences and how they have shaped their beliefs. 

Sitting there among two brave women, once at odds on a subject, now coming together, was a beautiful thing to witness. It was a reminder to me about what it means to be human; what it means to be complex, multifaceted, multidimensional. It’s so easy in the world we live in to judge based on what we see on the surface. We label people based on an action or a comment, not realizing that they are more than that. We are people made up of different stories, beliefs and experiences. The beauty of community is being able to embrace people despite how very different they may be from us.

So I ask you to reflect on the encounters you have with others. Are there people you find difficult to love? Are there people you are quick to judge and label? Do you find yourself quick to argue when you don’t agree? I challenge you to take a step back, to quiet yourself, to listen. You just might be surprised at what you learn about another person.

Emma Bykerk
Direct Care Coach & Volunteer Coordinator

A Brighter Life

Nicky Sanders

In life, we are constantly learning and growing. In just a few short months, I’ve learned so much through the staff and participants at Wings of Refuge. In particular, I think about what I’ve learned from one of the participants. What stands out the most to me is how selfless, kind, and caring she is towards others. I’m always amazed at how she thinks about and delights in serving others whether it’s using her artistic ability to create beautiful prayer boards for the staff, baking something delicious to give away, or volunteering her time with the elderly.

I remember just a few days after I joined Wings of Refuge, she went outside to scrape the snow off my windshield so I wouldn’t have to do it. She’s teaching me more about what it looks like to put others ahead of myself which is a perfect example of Jesus. She has graciously shared parts of her difficult story with us. Throughout a majority of her life, she did not have people modeling acts of kindness and love towards her. However, I believe God is the One who has given her the wonderful traits she has and He’s using them to brighten the lives of others. She has and is certainly brightening mine.

I also see how God is helping her learn and grow in her restoration. She’s gaining more independence and thinking towards the future. She was recently talking to a “safe contact” on the phone and told the woman, “It’s like a family here.” What a smile that brought to my face! She knows she is cared for and loved in this home. We also tell her that she is teaching us and helping us grow as she models care, kindness, and love towards others.

Nicky Sanders
Direct Care Coach

What Lies Beneath?

Taylor Temple

What would it look like for us to see past certain behaviors in order to seek to understand a person? On the surface, many times we see quirks, addictions, and personality traits and we evaluate them at face-value. I used to get confused and frustrated when a participant would start storytelling, when it was obvious to me that these stories were made up.

I didn’t know how to respond.

Over time, I began to understand the different ways that people respond to the trauma they experienced in life. Lies and manipulation are a huge part of survival in the life. Sometimes, they would have had to use these tactics to satisfy emotional and relational needs and desires such desiring to be wanted, loved, or cared for. In the midst of my frustration, I was reminded of this when a coworker reminded me, “Their stories serve a purpose for them.” I had to retrain myself to think and respond differently to these behaviors.

On a particular car ride one day, two things happened when a participant shared a story with me. The first was my newfound ability to see through the foggy details in order to ask the question, “What purpose is this serving her right now, true story or not?”

The second thing that happened was a softening of my heart to hear deeper. I heard her heart. I heard in her a desire for the innocence of a child. The freedom of a child.

It was a bittersweet moment. It’s exciting thing to see her operating in the purity of her heart’s desires of freedom and innocence and at the same time, hard to know that some details are more desires for her life than they are realities of her past.

This has really helped me to understand how Jesus looks at us and how we should look at others, not just those who have escaped modern day slavery.

It’s so easy to make judgements at face-value. It’s easy to stop at the behavior and say, “They shouldn’t…”

Praise the Lord He doesn’t stop there. He sees how we are all broken, and sees that who we are goes deeper than our behaviors.

What would it look like for us to see past the behavior to seek to understand what purpose it may serve that person?
What brokenness or emptiness are they trying to mend or fill?
What can we do to show others the love and care that they are seeking?

Taylor Temple
Direct Care Coach

Beyond Awareness – 3 Steps to End Slavery

Last month, thousands of people from all over shared similar photos. A photo that in some way represented Human Trafficking Awareness Month. I was one of them, because I understand the importance of awareness when it comes to modern day slavery.

You can’t change what you don’t know of.

The purpose was to raise awareness on the issue of modern day slavery, or human trafficking. It’s a great concept and the reach is far. The followthrough on the other hand, is somewhat lacking.

Being involved with Wings of Refuge, I have had a unique first hand look and experience with the other side of the issue.

Awareness is the first of many steps in the process of eradicating sex trafficking today. It is vital and important, and at the risk of becoming numb to the realness of this issue, we cannot stop after awareness.

So, what do we do once we are aware and have in turn, spread that awareness? What comes next?

Here are 3 simple ways to help in the ending of sex trafficking, beyond awareness…

  1. Financial & Item Donations
    Recovery and restoration is expensive work. In restoration work alone, it takes medical visits, therapy, full-time staff, housing, groceries, clothing, bedding, electricity, water, education, training, and so many other aspects to provide daily restorative care for survivors.
    a. Host A Speaking or Awareness Event
    b. Become A Monthly Partner
    c. Host or Develop A Fundraiser for Wings of Refuge
    d. Donate Household Items; you can find a list in our “household needs” section below!
  2. Volunteer Your Skills
    You possess the skills and abilities needed to make a difference in someone’s life. You can teach those lifestyle or professional skills to aid in equipping survivors for life beyond a restoration program.
    You can also volunteer your skill in other ways; grant writing, development, event planning, create and sell items that profit an organization working in the area of rescue or restoration, there are SO many options when it comes to this!
    Get creative and get going! Your skills can change someone’s life!
  3. Make Lifestyle Changes
    Many of us are unaware of the ways in which our daily lifestyle contributes to both labor and sex trafficking. One simple yet eye opening way to gauge your footprint is by taking this quiz!

These things alone may seem to barely make a dent in the issue that is 27 million lives, but when we work together, we change things, one life at a time. There are so many aspects that feed into the supply and demand of human lives, and it will take a moral and ethical revolution to overturn the trends. Your daily decisions make a difference and your voice and actions are desperately needed.
Marissa Price
Development Assistant

Blank Canvas

Throughout their participation in our restoration program, women have the opportunity to explore a variety of interests and experiences. One of the favorites is the art room. I love that each survivor has a completely unique journey, but one girl’s journey sticks out to me in particular. She is the epitome of an artist; bold, creative, and vibrant. But it wasn’t always like this.

Upon her arrival in the home, she took to painting like it was her lifeline. She spent hours on end in the art room, radio blasting as she sang at the top of her lungs. Painting was the thing she turned to when she was angry, when she was overjoyed, when she was sorrowful.

I wish I could take all of the paintings she created and hang them along the walls of a museum exhibit, displayed in a dimly lit room with dramatic wall lighting as the timeline of her journey at Wings of Refuge unfolds. The story would progress like your favorite book.

In the very beginning, darkness and despair fills the canvas, resembling the condition within; baring her deepest and darkest pain. As you walk along and the paintings become more and more recent, you would see flutters of hope. Mixed within the black paints, sparks of color and light gradually take over and begin to overshadow the shame of the past.

By the end of the journey, the script has been flipped. Dark colors and desperate themes have become a thing of the past. Hope, joy, and the dream of a new future are vibrantly brushed across the canvas. The last canvas you would see would is a blank one. What story will this canvas tell?

Perhaps this one will not be painted by the artist herself but by the One who holds her future.

I have had the privilege of watching this and similar stories unfold, and I am equally amazed and baffled by the goodness of God that can be seen throughout it all. The journey is not easy, and each day brings its own challenges, but every challenge is an opportunity to triumph.

Every journey paints the story of a sovereign God.

Marissa Price
Development Assistant

She Chose To Believe

Kelly Butcher

One of our participants decided that she was ready to move into her own apartment for the first time. The other staff and I expressed support and concerns because we didn’t think she was ready quite yet to take on independent living, especially since she would now be spending the hardest part of her day – nighttime  – by herself.

She took our comments into consideration, but continued forward with her plans and found an apartment. The night before moving day, she and I packed boxes and hauled them into the living room, all while she made me laugh with her random comments and silly banter. We stopped to take a break and admire how well we had stacked boxes, which made the living room look like a warehouse.

We talked about what excited her most about being in her own place and what led to her decision to leave the Wings’ house. For the first time in the six months that I had known her, she asserted her needs: her own space, her own kitchen to clean, and her own schedule to choose. And looked me in the eyes while doing so. This may not sound like a big deal, but this brave girl avoided eye contact at all costs because she had learned in her exploitation that eye contact led to punishment. She had learned that telling anyone if she needed something – be it food, medical care, or toilet paper – led to punishment.

This simple action indicated to me that she had overcome an element of fear that had lurked beside her for years. This action indicated to me that she was ready to prove to herself that she didn’t have to depend on anyone else to live, which was a lie she heard constantly from her trafficker. If she could disprove that lie, how many more lies about her worth and purpose could she contradict?

This woman dared to look at everything working against her and instead believe that she was capable.

Her First Thanksgiving

Brandi Schleisman

It was the night before Thanksgiving and meal preparations were underway. They were busy chopping, measuring and prepping the food until the wee hours of the morning. There was so much excitement for the meal to come. Thanksgiving morning, we awoke to the savory aroma of collard greens and ham hocks permeating the entire house. The turkey was seasoned and placed in the oven while we worked on making all the other wonderful Thanksgiving fixings. The Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade was playing in the background while we cooked and enjoyed each other’s company. The table was adorned with beautiful fall decorations and set for a feast fit for a king.

Finally, the time had arrived. The perfectly, golden brown turkey made it’s way out of the oven to be carved. The kitchen was filled with so many delicious foods and pies. The looks of pure satisfaction of the meal they had prepared were priceless. We filled our plates, grabbed our sparkling cider and sat down at the table to give thanks to our amazing God. As we ate our meal and reminisced about different holiday memories, she became quiet. I glanced over just as tears rolled down her cheek. She looked up and said this was the first Thanksgiving she had experienced in many years, and it was good. All the years that had been stolen from her were beginning to be replaced with good memories. She was truly grateful for what she had been given…not just the food, but the atmosphere and community. It was a moment I will never forget and will cherish forever.

Every day she is in our home, it is an opportunity for God to fill her with hope and purpose. Everything the enemy meant for evil and harm, God is turning around for good. Psalm 31:19 says, “How abundant are the good things that you have stored up for those who fear you, that you bestow in the sight of all, on those who take refuge in you.” My prayer for this Thanksgiving season is that you will experience the goodness that God wants to abundantly lavish upon you, just as our participants get to experience. I thank you for investing in this ministry and the lives of the most amazing women I have ever met! Your giving allows for many wonderful memories to be made and for the goodness of God to be shown each and every day. Give thanks to God, for He is GOOD!

Brandi Schleisman
Direct Care Coach

I Have Learned Her Name

Bev Shipley

This week marks eight months in my journey with Wings of Refuge to “End Exploitation for One More Girl.” I’ve read books, watched videos, attended conferences, and networked with other organizations. I’ve learned much about human trafficking: the scope of the problem, the statistics, and the dark realities of this modern day form of slavery.

But, I’ve learned much more than statistics. I have learned her name.

I’ve cooked with her, walked with her, and prayed with her. I’ve laughed with her, cried with her, and most importantly, I’ve grown with her. She has changed me.

I’ll never forget Easter, 2016. I had the honor of sharing an Easter egg hunt with her. This particular egg hunt was also a scavenger hunt. Her smile grew as she opened each egg and figured out the clues to the location of the next egg. When the final clue led her to a basket full of small gifts, squeals of delight filled the room. It was a special moment for me. It’s one of several moments that have changed my life as I have been privileged to share similar life changing experiences at Wings of Refuge. It isn’t always easy, but she is always worthy!

God is on the move in this house and in this organization. Rest assured that your donations are changing lives, bringing restoration, and spreading God’s love.

And for those of you who still want statistics, let me share this small statistic:
Purchasing an Easter basket filled with small gifts………..….. $14.00
Spending time with an incredible Sister in Christ………….. Priceless
Sharing the real message of Easter ………………..………… Priceless
Witnessing unashamed joy…………………………………..… Priceless

Bev Shipley, Executive Director


Courtney Sowder

There are countless movies about people who go on a trip across the country and chaos ensues. They get into trouble, sometimes fight bad guys, some have the best time of their lives. They are low budget movies done on a tight schedule but they still become popular because the message is so relatable. We’re all on journey and we all want to arrive.

Wings of Refuge is a restoration home. Simple enough sentence right?

Restoration. Easy. Let’s just put some spackle on the wall and repaint. You won’t even be able to tell that it there was water damage. Except, anyone who has every lived in a home or done some remodeling knows that it’s often not that simple. Where is the water coming from? How much water is there? What will it cost to get it fixed? The risk of ignoring the damage could be catastrophic. The cost for finding and repairing the problem can be high. If we do ignore the problem; it will build up, mold will grow, more spots will need to be covered up, until eventually it breaks through and your ceiling collapses, your walls fall in, and your home is nearly uninhabitable.

The lives of survivors who seek restoration have often had years of damage build up. They’ve been beaten, assaulted, abused, manipulated, threatened, injured, ill, and we can’t just ignore the damage. It’s a long and laborious process for the survivor and it takes bravery to enter the rubble. She has to pick up the pieces, throw away the shrapnel from lies she has been told about herself. Each room in the home needs to be evaluated, items need to be examined for their worth. The structure of the building needs to be uncovered. Who is she, what is her layout, what stairs creak and what doors sing. What is her color scheme, the things that make her so uniquely her.

Restoration is not about covering up the pain of survivors. It’s not about making them presentable and mainstreaming them with the public. Our goal will never be to get a pat on the back and a big check for a job well done. She is a heroine in her own right but her journey never ends. There will be points along her timeline where she is victorious and every single one should be celebrated. There will also be marks along the way that show relapse but all that really means in restoration is that she hasn’t remodeled the guest bedroom yet.

Courtney Sowder

1 2 3

PO Box 562

Iowa Falls, IA