That was the key message that Mary Francis, Founder and Executive Director of Wellspring Living, shared at the White Umbrella Night of Worship at NCC Barracks Row this past Tuesday night.
Mary Francis was in Washington, DC as a part of the campaign for her new book, The White Umbrella. While centered around the trauma and horror of sexual abuse and exploitation, the book is primarily a story of hope.
The statistics are deplorable: 1 in 4 girls experience sexual abuse by the age of 18, the average age of a child first used in prostitution is 12, and there are over 300,000 prostituted children in the U.S., most of whom are girls. Mary Francis and her team at Wellspring Living face this reality every day. Yet despite the darkness and hopelessness that these numbers represent, Mary has found reason for hope in working with girls through the healing process. She has seen shattered lives restored, she has seen hate dissipate from the most wounded places, and she has seen forgiveness poured out freely from once-broken hearts. She has seen girls transformed through the power of love.
Located near Atlanta, Georgia, Wellspring Living is at the epicenter of sex trafficking in the United States. The organization “fights childhood sexual abuse and exploitation through awareness, training, and treatment programs for women and girls.” Started in 2001, Wellspring Living has grown to operate two residential restorative programs, an assessment center, a community counseling center, two independent living programs and four upscale resale stores that contribute to the operating costs of the organization. Mary’s first-hand experience leading this effort has given her remarkable insight into both the causes and cures of sexual exploitation.
The White Umbrella. Have you ever been caught in a storm without the protection of an umbrella? If the answer is yes, then you understand why that’s such an accurate representation of what sex trafficking victims face. The winds blow, the thunder claps, the rain pours. Girls who are forced into sex trafficking find themselves in the worst storm of their lives — physically, emotionally, psychologically — and what they need more than anything else is an umbrella. An umbrella offers a respite from the elements. And when it’s offered in love, we the umbrella holders, must draw near. We must hold the umbrella over the girl soaking wet, for she cannot hold it herself. The umbrella has many panels, representing the roles that different people in the community play in combating sexual exploitation. Whether we are educators, health professionals, police officers, advocates, or simply concerned citizens, we can contribute. If one panel is missing from an umbrella, the girl is not fully protected from the rain, and in this way, we must all play our part. Finally, the umbrella is white, the color of purity. For girls who have been forced into sex trafficking, their purity has been stolen from them. A white umbrella not only protects from further harm, but restores purity.
NCC ASE would love to help you find your place in the effort to fight slavery and exploitation. Organizations like Courtney’s House, Fair Girls, and Restoration Ministries are doing amazing work, and are looking for volunteers to help them meet the needs of victims in your community. If you’d like to get involved, or just want to learn more about trafficking here in DC, send us an email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
The storm continues to rage in the lives of girls (and women and men and boys). So, what about you? Where’s your white umbrella?