Women at ‘The Well’
“Thank you for saving my mom’s life.” — daughter of a client
Jenny Clark had been living in Portland, Maine, for just one week. While attending an evening service at the Portland Citadel Corps, what felt like the hand of God tapped her for a huge assignment.
The speaker was Dee Clarke, a human trafficking survivor who now runs a non–profit organization in Portland. As Clarke delivered her riveting testimony, Jenny knew she wanted to help.
The timing was right. Lt. Colonel Patricia LaBossiere, who was then stationed in Portland, was launching an anti–human trafficking program. Jenny volunteered to help. Today, she is the anti–human trafficking ministries coordinator for the Portland Citadel Corps.
“It was just really God bringing people all together at the right time,” Clark said.
The first effort to combat human trafficking in Portland was the establishment of a street outreach modeled after a Salvation Army program in Columbus, Ohio.
“For a few months, we just drove around and prayed,” Clark recalled. “We didn’t really see a lot of people. We weren’t really sure what to look for.”
The situation soon changed. In the last year alone, The Salvation Army has had 80 interactions with women and distributed 74 gifts, including toiletries, snacks, clothing—and shared a lot of conversation and love.
“People wanted to talk to us,” Clark said. “We’ve really seen a relationship and a reputation build.”
One night when a woman needed medical help, Clark traveled to a local drugstore for ointment and bandages.
“It was like the story of the Good Samaritan,” she said. “It’s cool to see how God works within this ministry.
“People have learned to trust us. We offer love to them. Today, they seek us and know we care about them—no matter what.”
Finding ‘living water’
A loving relationship opened the door to “The Well” day center, a popular program replicated from Columbus, Ohio. Once a week, a few women drop by the Portland Citadel Corps to escape sexual exploitation.
“It’s a time when women have coffee and do crafts and build relationships with us,” Clark said.
The day center got its name from the story of a woman who met Jesus at a well (John 4). Clark said the story inspired her.
“That’s what our ministry is about—helping these women develop and contribute to our community.”
Some of the women have worked kettles and gone to Salvation Army camp. Others come to the corps for Sunday worship. They also ask Clark questions about God.
“A lot of the women seek a relationship with God or desire to be more spiritual,” Clark said. “If they don’t come to the corps, I still have those conversations to encourage them.”
Clark said some of the women are growing in their faith, thanks to a young adult Bible study at the corps.
“It’s been amazing to see them engage the Word,” she said. “For the first time, some women have prayed out loud at the Bible study.
“I’ve worked with women, one–on–one, and I’ve seen tremendous growth in their lives.”
Clark said the women drop by the corps to get food, clothing, and housing assistance—or just to talk to employees.
Ministry of presence
“The employees are loving and compassionate toward the women,” Clark said. “The corps is a space where women feel love and compassion rather than judgment. Being present with them is really the heart of our ministry.”
Clark extends her relationship with the women outside the corps by supporting them at meetings and during court appearances. She has taken them roller–skating and organized baby showers.
“We were at the hospital with a woman who had a baby. We made it a happy occasion,” Clark said.
The Salvation Army partnered with other churches and provided Christmas presents for 19 women and their families. Clark was surprised when the daughter of a woman who had been trafficked and addicted to heroin thanked Clark for getting help for her mother.
“Her daughter said to me, ‘Thank you for saving my mom’s life.’ ” Clark said. “That makes it all worth it.”
Clark said many of the women she helps were sexually abused as young girls and were often in and out of foster care.
“They’re women the community has failed,” Clark said. “They’ve been ostracized. They’ve missed the love, compassion, and support everyone receives. My mission as a Christian is to restore their humanity and dignity.”
Clark said she is drawn to the Good Samaritan story in Luke 10.
“These women aren’t just people I care about,” Clark says, “they’re my neighbors. I want to welcome them into our community and embrace them as citizens and sisters in Christ. I think one of the biggest injustices these women face is being excluded from our communities.”
A social conscience
Clark, 25, grew up in northern Maine and majored in intercultural studies (with an emphasis on missions) at Houghton College in Caneadea, N.Y.
Her interest in human trafficking and other social justice issues germinated at Houghton. She also met The Salvation Army there and learned it bussed Houghton students to a nearby corps.
Clark said she and her husband, Chris, are drawn to The Salvation Army’s mission “for the least, the last, and the lost.”
“They are the victims of human trafficking,” Clark said. “They’re the people whom no one really sees. I’ve been called to serve them.”
COVERING THE PAST
Jenny Clark’s mother, Beth Stumpfel, started an organization called Restoration Ink, which provides cover–up tattoos for women escaping human trafficking. Find the organization on Facebook at www.facebook.com/restorationink.
by Robert Mitchell
Finding new life
Katie, a young woman who lived on the streets, now attends “The Well” day center, where she hopes to make a new life for herself and her son.
Learning to trust people has been a slow process, but she continues to embrace the nurturing staff and officers. She worked as a bell ringer last Christmas and now volunteers at the Portland Citadel Corps.
Katie said for all the help she has received—which includes a Christmas meal, gifts for her one–year–old son, and assistance in finding an apartment— she wants to give back.
She now attends a young adult Bible study and is learning about God and how faith can guide her. Having participated in Life Skills classes, her goal is to find full-time work.
“I’m really grateful to The Salvation Army,” Katie says. “I don’t know where I’d be right now without it.”