Guest Blogger: Lexie Smith
I am sure my new youth pastor never expected the words that came out of my mouth. It was evident by his slightly dropped jaw and wide eyes toward his wife. Never in a million years did anyone suspect that one of the most involved families could be so broken and their oldest daughter walked around with an extreme amount of trauma.
Did I say I was trafficked? No. I just learned what sex was two years prior and believed I had a one-way ticket to hell for “losing my virginity” at the age of six to my cousin… Not to mention my current “relationship” with a high schooler who was pimping me out in the summers. I didn’t have the vocabulary to describe all of that.
Honestly, even if I did, I probably wouldn’t have told because the teeny bit of information I did give was not handled well… in fact, it was not addressed at all. I was told I had to tell my parents about the abuse. I wrote my mom a letter and hid in my house terrified that she was going to kick me out. She found me trembling, tears were streaming down her face, absolutely heartbroken that family members sexually abused me for years. I didn’t tell anyone at that time that I was being trafficked.
There was never any follow-up. My youth pastor never spoke to my parents about it. Our pastor never offered counseling, and no one ever talked to me about it again. I finally mustered the courage to overcome my fears and the response was the equivalent of a “no one cares, kid.” It sank in. Everything they said is true. No one would believe me. No one cares. I am worthless.
This pivotal moment could have completely changed my story.
Had that moment been handled with care, maybe all the future mental and self-afflicted suffering could have been avoided. Maybe a better reaction would start unraveling the lies that I had begun to believe, that my sole purpose was to be a commodity to men.
There are many things I wish would have gone differently, but I want to focus on the three that my church could have done to make a difference.
My parents were left to figure things out on their own. My church didn’t offer pastoral counseling to direct them in the steps to take next. Momma and papa bear went into full fight and protect mode. Cue the helicopter parenting. Suddenly everything was changing and I felt like I wasn’t allowed to do anything. Not the best way to get the traumatized 12-year-old girl to open up. I wonder how things might have been different with a familiar, wise voice in their lives praying with them, giving advice, and making sure they were not alone as they navigated healing for our family.
My parents and I needed mentors. A safe, neutral person could have helped unravel the lies that were taking root in my heart. My parents needed a strong couple to encourage them, maybe even a family who walked through something similar. We needed people dedicated to loving us through it, to help us from falling into the traps of anger, self-blame, denial, and fear. There are layers to healing. An important layer is spiritual. Instead of bowing out of our redemption story, our Church could have played a leading role.
3) Clinical Therapy
Many churches deal with everything “in-house.” Sometimes leaders or members are designated “counselors,” regardless of whether they have the credentials or experience to fill such a role. In many cases members don’t need clinical therapy but rather wise advice, encouragement or a new perspective. Not us. We needed clinical therapy. Believers I knew were notoriously anti-psychologists. After getting my degree in psychology, I acknowledge some methodologies are a little experimental and odd. Yet, many Christian counselors bring Jesus into their sessions in very powerful ways. We need to connect with professionals outside of our four walls, vet them, and refer members out.
The Faith Summit will be filled with countless ways the Church can address human trafficking holistically, effectively, and justly. The Church must be prepared for the 6th grader who shares the unthinkable. For the young woman who stumbles in looking for help or the member whose trauma is brought to light.
The worst thing we can do is say “We will cross that bridge when we get there.” Waiting to cross at a moment of crisis with no preparation is a guaranteed way to burn it. It is time the Church stops burning the bridge of healing for victims and starts building it.
Hear from Lexie Smith on April 20-22 at the JuST Faith Summit in Orlando, Florida. Learn more here: www.justfaithsummit.org
About Lexie Smith:
Lexie is a first generation college graduate with a degree in Psychology from Lee University. She is a dynamic speaker with a purpose-filled life that developed from overcoming child sex trafficking, exploitation, and incest that took place right in her grandmother’s neighborhood. What was meant to destroy her is now being used to inform communities on how to better protect the vulnerable, and properly respond to human trafficking. She has been an inspiring voice to over 42,000 teens since 2012 and imparts a sense of worth, identity, and awareness into a digitally relational generation. Her expertise has been utilized by a number of agencies including local Churches, NGO’s, Tennessee Corrections Institute, ICE, Nashville Metro Vice, and local officers as a trainer, on-call advocate, and consultant. Lexie serves as a member of the Rebecca Bender Ministries Speaker Team as well as a mentor for the Virtual Mentor Program. She and her mom are currently working on their first book about restoring the family after abuse.