Flow­ing grace

Haven for sex-traf­fick­ing sur­vivors will have its own wa­ter well, thanks to non­profit

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - RELIGION - FRANCISCA JONES

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.

MOD­ERN-DAY ABOLITIONISTS

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.

MONEY RAISED

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.”

SPE­CIAL TO THE DEMO­CRAT-GAZETTE/BEN TEM­PLE

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.

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