I still remember the first time I stepped across the threshold of a brothel in Haiti. The heaviness almost felt tangible, and the heartbreak was overwhelming. The women slowly came out of their rooms and joined us under a little gazebo, and we began painting their nails and starting classes on sanitation and health.
My mind could not get past what their day to day looked like. The thought of what they had to do in order to feed their babies made my stomach drop. As I began to learn their names and hear bits and pieces of their stories, my healthy heartbreak deepened. These were no longer numbers, prostitutes, or hurting women—they became real.
The week came to a close, and I was given the opportunity to share my story of restoration and redemption through Jesus. I stared deeply into eyes that were full of hurt and brokenness as I described my experience with sexual abuse at a young age and the way it changed me. I shared that healing was possible through Jesus and that He could heal us so completely that we would be able to talk about the past without feeling pain.
As we wrapped up our day by praying with these women, I heard a voice say to me, “This. This is what I made you for Salem.” An electric shock of fear bolted through my body, and I knew this voice was not my own. I returned to Mission of Hope, where I was interning, and I shared what I had heard with a fellow intern.
After that day, my mind would not rest. I could not move on and forget the faces of the women. They were imprinted in my mind and tattooed on my heart. It kept me up at night, and I just couldn’t let go. Soon I realized that I would no longer be able to go on without doing something about it. “Who will fight for them? Who will step out onto the battlefield and reach them?” Even as I type this I still hear the answer, “You.”
I have to be honest—to this day, I still do not know why God chose me. There was nothing special about me other than Who I belonged to and my choosing to surrender to whatever God had for me in the future. Despite all the doubts and insecurities, He still chose me. It still blows my mind. But nevertheless, He did.
Eight months after my four month internship with Mission of Hope, I found myself back in Haiti, sitting in front of the brothel with the same faces under the same gazebo. One specific woman, Laicia, held a baby who was only a few weeks old. I picked him up and thought of what his life would look like if he remained in the brothel while growing up. What experiences would he have that would shape his life? Would he go to school? Would he have a healthy view of sexuality and love? He became one more reason I continued to show up. I realized that fighting for his momma’s future meant fighting for him as well.
The first year following my return to Haiti, our team returned to the brothel and invited Laicia to our public classes every single week. She did her best to keep her hard exterior up and our team at bay until one day she decided it was time to leave that life behind.
At the time I was in the States fundraising for the ministry. That particular day I was feeling a bit discouraged, until I received a short video from our English teacher. There in our classroom was Laicia. She stood next to our chalkboard and repeated the alphabet with a soft smile on her face. I was overwhelmed with joy, and tears filled my eyes. God whispered to my heart, “See Salem, the ONE is worth it.”
A year and a half later, Laicia is one woman graduating out of six. She has begun a relationship with Jesus and has let God refine the rough areas of her heart. She is stepping into a full-time position as a cook and has dreams of becoming a plumber. She is working toward returning to the village where she used to live in hope of reaching others who are unsure if it is possible to be restored and renewed. She fully believes that God can use her to share the gospel and grace of Jesus with others. Her son is now three and is attending his first year of school. His life’s trajectory was changed the day his mother stepped into a new life.
When I first met Vanessa Johnson and the Women’s Empowerment team a few months ago, I recognized the same healthy heartbreak for the women of Haiti that I had experienced myself. When we decided to form a deeper partnership with Mission of Hope and their amazing team, God showed us that we can accomplish more together than we can alone.
He has continually shown us that not only is one woman worth it, but that He has a vision for many women to step into a new life with Him as well. We get to be a part of His vision for restoration, redemption, and new life in the women of Haiti.
As we round our third year of ministry, I personally stand in awe of all God has done in and through this much needed ministry. After three years of foundation building, we have the joy of joining hands with Mission of Hope, the organization that first drew me to Haiti and helped plant this vision in my heart.
My mother has always told me, “Salem, if you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go deep, go together.” Both our ministries firmly believe that the hope of Jesus will transform lives in Haiti. And it is because of this belief that we are joining hands and running this race together. We ask you to continue to pray and support women’s empowerment as we fight for restoration and new life for women in Haiti.