Rebecca Jowers has been on a mission since earning a seminary degree in 2012.
The mission: to provide help for victims of human trafficking, defined by Jowers as modern-day slavery controlling a person through “force, fraud or coercion to exploit the victim for forced labor, sexual exploitation, or both.” Often the targets of human trafficking are children.
Trafficking is the fastest-growing and second-largest criminal industry in the world, with an estimated 100,000 to 300,000 American children at risk for becoming victims of commercial sexual exploitation, according to the website of the Poiema Foundation, which Jowers founded the year after graduating from Dallas Theological Seminary with a master’s degree in Christian education.
Photo courtesy of Poiema
Rebecca Jowers, executive director of Poiema Foundation, shares about how churches can be involved in anti-trafficking ministry.
Jowers, a wife and mother of four, believes her work with the Dallas seminary’s spiritual formation department, with its emphases on leadership and articulating one’s life story, prepared her for the nonprofit, with the encouragement of Rod Vestal, then a pastor at Lake Pointe Church in Rockwall, Texas.
During a conversation following a Lake Pointe mission trip to China in 2012, Vestal asked Jowers about her post-seminary plans.
“My big, hairy, audacious goal is to establish a safe house for women coming out of human trafficking,” Jowers replied. Until then, she had only shared this vision with the Lord and her husband Raymond.
Months later, Vestal approached Jowers about starting an anti-trafficking ministry he envisioned at Lake Pointe. Jowers agreed to serve on the leadership team.
“It turns out, I was the team!” Jowers laughed.
For the next year, Jowers continued to research issues related to human trafficking. She visited safe houses in Texas and in Atlanta. She read volumes and attended conferences. With help from others, she developed an after-care program based on Scripture and sound counseling principles. She recruited volunteers and accepted speaking engagements at churches, schools and community groups. In 2013, Poiema Foundation was incorporated as a 501c3 nonprofit entity.
“We knew if we were going to have a safe house, it would take the body of Christ, not just one church,” Jowers recounted.
Though an independent ministry, Poiema retains ties to Lake Pointe, where Jowers has been a member 23 years. The church provides meeting space at its Rockwall campus, and Tracy Tuttle, pastor of local mission mobilization, advises Jowers.
“We consider Poiema an alliance ministry,” Tuttle said. “We have vetted it to ensure it aligns with our missions strategy. We encourage member involvement and provide support.”
Many volunteers and board members attend the church. Jowers addresses life groups and speaks at women’s events. Lake Pointe life groups have also held fundraisers for Poiema.
By 2013, Jowers had refined Poiema’s ministry target. Her research revealed major gaps in assistance for victims over 17 who have aged out of foster care and have nowhere to go. The idea for a safe house geared for girls ages 17 to 28 emerged.
“We felt called to step out in faith. God was calling us to establish a safe house,” Jowers said. Potential donors asked where the safe house would be located, but Poiema had no answer.
“We prayed someone would donate a house. But who donates a house?” Jowers said.
In April 2015, Jowers, volunteers and the organization’s board began planning fundraisers for a safe house. Halfway through the month, before any fundraisers were announced, gifts started coming in.
“Before I could even step out in faith, God affirmed our work,” Jowers said. “It was as if He said, ‘I’ve got this. This is My work. You just have to show up.’”
In June, fundraising took a surprising twist when Jowers was invited to speak at a women’s Sunday School class at a church in Frisco, Texas. Lunch at a restaurant afterward found Jowers answering questions about Poiema and the safe house idea at a table of eight with the friend who had invited her to speak.
As they left the restaurant, one of the ladies told Jowers, “I think you may be the answer to my prayers.” She had a home in Texas she no longer needed and offered its use for free. The woman said she had been in the church service asking God what to do with her house.
Jowers, dumbfounded, arranged to meet the woman at her Dallas-area home.
“It was in excellent condition: fully furnished, a safe place with washer, dryer, lawn mower and a refrigerator,” Jowers said.
At first, Jowers assumed the woman intended to sell or rent the home to Poiema. She was wrong.
“It’s going to be your house,” the woman replied. “I am giving it to Poiema.”
Jowers, shocked, realized she had forgotten to ask the donor what the balance of the house note might be. She texted the lady, who texted back, “Paid in full. Don’t you love those words Jesus gave us?”
The Poiema board voted to accept the house and launched fundraising efforts for staffing, house maintenance, operating expenses and property taxes. The legalities of deeding the house to Poiema were finalized in September. As added blessings, Caren Martin, a Lake Pointe member and insurance agent, volunteered to provide insurance for the house, and the ministry was gifted a car in October. The community has no homeowners association or restrictions. The city has no zoning or housing restrictions that might impede the safe house ministry.
Eventually, the safe house will be home to young women involved in the Poiema Foundation after-care program.
Meanwhile, since Labor Day, the safe house has been used as a transitional home for one woman who has completed a 14-month program.
“She is slowly integrating back into life outside a safe house,” Jowers said. “We will provide housing, medical care, counseling, Bible study and mentorship for her for the next year until we officially open.”
Jowers hopes that the official opening date will be in late 2016. For more information, visit poiemafoundation.org or follow Poiema Foundation on Facebook.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Jane Rodgers is a correspondent for the Southern Baptist TEXAN texanonline.net, newsjournal of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention.)