ROSEDALE, Ohio — When Karissa Brenneman and Taylor Herr arrived at Rosedale Bible College as students last year, they didn’t know that in 2015 they would be driving the streets of Columbus in a van, seeking out trafficking victims.
The students are pioneers in a new RBC internship program. Bridge is a nine-month internship that pairs study and reflection with ministry and vocational exploration.
The venture is new, but the motivation is not. RBC has always emphasized practical outcomes for an education grounded in Scripture. In 1952, fulfilling the school’s goal “to nurture and guide our youth in Christian service” included sending gospel team quartets to churches and “mission stations” in several states.
Musical groups still go to churches and schools, and students volunteer with local agencies. Bridge offers a more in-depth experience, allowing interns to serve with area ministries and study part-time in a context of mentoring and discipleship.
Brenneman and Herr work with the Salvation Army’s Anti-Human Trafficking program. They do street outreach several nights a month and assist on Tuesdays at The Well, a drop-in center for women who are trafficked or sexually exploited.
Both have found Bridge helpful in giving them direction for the future. Brenneman has decided to pursue social work, something she “would never have done without Bridge.”
Struggle with addictions
The magnitude of the issues the women face can be overwhelming, but Brenneman can celebrate with people who are “nine months clean” and women who have spent their first week without being high.
“Hearing that progress makes you feel like the support you’re giving is really doing something,” she said.
Brenneman and Herr arrive early to set up tables and chairs for The Well, make sure food is scheduled for the meal, attend staff meetings to discuss the day’s activities and help with those activities.
Created to be a safe space for sexually exploited women, The Well offers food, Bible study and Empower Hour, a time devoted to helping the women enjoy themselves and sharpen life skills.
Brenneman had expected to see young, pretty women “all glammed up,” but for the most part, the women are in their late 30s and 40s.
“Some are still under pimp control, most are not,” but they’re still struggling with their addictions, “and they want out,” she said.
When she goes on to subjects like Counseling Theories later in her studies, “it won’t just be classroom stories,” she said.
The only male
Herr already knew he wanted to go into law enforcement. Now he’s looking at specializing as a detective in anti-human trafficking.
“I now have a better idea of what is needed from law enforcement in that field,” he said.
Working as an intern has let him see trafficking from the perspective of victims and people who work with them. He understands more about the victims’ mindset, what they can and can’t do on their own.
A victim’s mindset is shaped by many things: abuse, substance abuse, post-traumatic stress disorder, growing up on the wrong side of the law, and fear.
“A lot of them still care about their pimp and want to believe he loves them,” he said. Some fear losing their trafficker, who provides drugs, food and shelter.
Herr is the only male who participates in the program on a regular basis. Boys over 10 aren’t allowed in The Well, but Herr says, “They’ve accepted me.”
He accompanies Brenneman and Salvation Army staff members who do street outreach. When they see someone, two women hop out of the van, one with a bag of toiletries and food, one with a card for The Well.
If the woman is interested in assistance, they ask how she’s doing and tell her about The Well and the 24-hour hotline she can contact.
Brenneman said it can sometimes be dangerous, but workers follow strict safety protocols. Once, a car pulled up right behind them when they hopped out to hand things out and followed them for a while.
“We feel God’s calling, even if it’s dangerous,” Herr said. “Going overseas is not safe. Being safe wasn’t Jesus’ goal for his disciples.”
Jillian Potter-Bonsell, a clinical specialist in the Anti-Human Trafficking Program, supervises Herr and Brenneman. They are both, she said, tremendously helpful. Describing them as “humble and selfless and willing to serve in any way they can,” she added that “much of what they do is behind the scenes, but at the end of the day, I think, what would I do without them?”