Haven for sex-trafficking survivors will have its own water well, thanks to nonprofit
Water for Christ has drilled a well in southwestern Arkansas at the future site of Hebron Hills, a facility for those who escaped or were rescued from sex trafficking. Water for Christ is a faith-based nonprofit agency in Conway that drills wells in the African country of Ghana to provide people with access to clean drinking water.
Hebron Hills is the undertaking of We Are FREE (Fostering Respect, Eradicating Exploitation), a faith-based organization established by Angelyn McMurray in 2011.
In 2008, McMurray, a lawyer in New Jersey, and her husband were planning to begin a family when she was compelled to become an activist after learning about the sex-trafficking industry.
“I specifically said to my husband, ‘I won’t raise children in an environment where this happens,’” McMurray said.
The United Nations defines human trafficking as “the acquisition of people by improper means such as force, fraud or deception, with the aim of exploiting them,” while the U.S. Department of Justice defines sex trafficking as engaging in a commercial sex act “by force, fraud or coercion,” or when the act involves a minor. A 2014 report by the International Labour Organization states that all forms of forced labor generate $150 billion annually in the United States.
“If you talk about slavery in the world, people just think about the North Atlantic slave trade and slavery in the [U.S.] colonies — young America,” said McMurray, who compared the manner in which sex-trafficking survivors are moved with the circuits that circuses once traveled around the country, staying only a few days in each city.
“Now, it’s by the highway system,” she said. “People are being transported in trucks the same way that Home Depot is transporting their lumber from the northwest [down to] Florida.”
According to the National Human Trafficking Resource Center, 7,572 human-trafficking cases were reported in 2016. Forty-five reports of human trafficking in Arkansas were made last year through its national toll-free hotline. Of those 45 calls, 38 calls were reports of sex trafficking.
McMurray established We Are FREE in 2011 to raise awareness about the issue “in the pews, in church communities.”
“With Christianity in America, people tend to go to church and just think that we live in this great
place,” McMurray said. “[We Are FREE] felt compelled to say ‘Hey, this [country where sex-trafficking occurs] is the country you live in.’
“I love this country. America is awesome. But it could be a lot better.”
After McMurray learned that survivors of sex trafficking suffer physical and psychological consequences months and years after their ordeal ends, We Are FREE decided that a center that serves the medical, psychological and therapeutic needs of those emerging from a traumatic situation was needed.
“We started to pray about what that would look like,” McMurray said.
The organization sought to build the facility in a rural location that would provide “more emotional tranquility,” McMurray said.
Angelyn’s grandmother, Joyce McMurray, donated a 25-acre plot of land in southwestern Arkansas to be the future site of Hebron Hills. McMurray’s grandfather — Silas McMurray, a missionary and minister who passed away in 2005 — had dreamed of using the land he had inherited and farmed during his life “for the glory of God,” and Joyce thought the property “should be a place where people in need could find restoration and hope,” according to Angelyn McMurray.
It was then that McMurray left her career in New Jersey and moved to Arkansas with her family to lead We Are FREE full time.
A lifelong surveyor, Tim Tyler founded Water for Christ in 2011 after learning about the need for clean water in Ghana during a series of mission trips focused on medical care he made with Bobby Bowman, a doctor and fellow missionary.
To date, Water for Christ has drilled 55 wells, Tyler said. Two more are being constructed, he said, and the organization has repaired 40 existing wells. The organization strives to build wells on any site containing a mission church or a school and simultaneously spread the word of Jesus Christ.
“You take care of people’s physical needs, they’ll listen to you a lot better about their spiritual needs,” Tyler said.
McMurray and Tyler first met in 2015 at the Baptist Ministry Association of America’s national meeting in Springfield, Mo. Initially, Tyler did the survey work for the plot of land in southwestern Arkansas through The Tyler Group, his surveying and engineering company in Conway, and then agreed to return and drill a well.
The drilling rig that Water for Christ keeps for use in Ghana was first tested in the drilling of wells at the Baptist Ministry Association’s former headquarters in Little Rock and before being sent to
Ghana, according to Tyler. The organization bought a second, smaller rig to send to Cambodia, but instability in Cambodia’s government meant that the rig could be confiscated so it remained in Arkansas.
Before the well could be drilled, though, money needed to be raised, said Ben Temple, Water for Christ’s marketing director. He and Tyler agreed the money raised for drilling the well in Arkansas would need to be separate from contributions made to Water for Christ, and Temple began a separate campaign to raise funds through Red Basket, a crowdfunding site, along with fundraisers held in Conway.
McMurray held a dinner to benefit We Are FREE earlier in the year but said churches and individual donors
are providing most of the organization’s funding. She speaks to church groups and civic organizations in an effort to raise awareness about sex trafficking and to encourage people to commit to donating $10 a month. McMurray said she thinks of those giving $10 a month as “modern-day abolitionists.”
McMurray’s goal is to have 10,000 donors giving $10 a month. Once that goal is reached, over the course of a year those donors would raise $1.2 million — the cost to build the facility’s first counseling center and group home, and the associated operating expenses of each one.
Once completed, the after-care facility will have administrative office space, two counseling offices, a wing with two exam rooms and a room for storing records and medication. Other spaces will include separate
living quarters for men, women and children; a large conference room, which will be devoted to group activities; and — once people have recovered enough to be considered no longer in a state of crisis — therapy and education, and eventually vocational training.
But first, McMurray would like to see people enter a space where they feel safe and can simply experience life.
“There have been survivors that have been incorporated into art therapy and they had never painted with a paintbrush,” McMurray said. “[If you say] ‘Draw what you want,’ they say ‘I don’t know what to draw.’ They haven’t done things I do with my 5-year-old.”
WELL ON THEIR WAY
Over a period of months, Water for Christ raised just more than $3,000. It was far
short of the $50,000 Temple envisioned it would take to cover the drilling, an electric pump, a well house, pipes and a maintenance fund, but it was enough to drill the well at no cost to We Are FREE.
On June 9, the Water for Christ team left at 5 a.m. to drill the well and returned at 10 p.m. Another team returned the next morning and finished drilling the 218-foot-deep well.
Having a well dug, McMurray said, eliminates the need to pay a water company, which she described as a “huge, ongoing operating expense.”
McMurray said she can’t sing Water for Christ’s praises enough, emphasizing Temple’s talent for organization and Tyler’s dedication to We Are FREE’s cause.
“Mr. Tyler has such a heart for individuals who have needs, [and] there
are so many needs in this world,” McMurray said. “His generosity has overwhelmed me and has been a testament to who he is and what Water for Christ stands for.”
Tyler and the staff at Water for Christ will return through The Tyler Group to work on the facility’s foundation work, an electric pump and landscaping. McMurray aims to have the facility completed by next year.
“What Angelyn is doing by giving up her career to dedicate her life to [fighting sex trafficking] is just phenomenal,” Tyler said. “[Those] that [McMurray] can save and rehabilitate, and get them away from that kind of atmosphere … it’ll just mean everything in the world to them, and it is everything.
“Whatever the cost is, it’s worth it.”
Jason Riddle (left) and Ethan Tyler pause during the well-digging project in southwest Arkansas that will ensure clean drinking water for survivors of sex trafficking. The project was funded and completed by Water for Christ, a faith-based nonprofit agency in Conway that drills wells in the African country of Ghana to provide people with access to clean drinking water.