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Hope Lives Here

Hope Lives Here

Simone Halpin sees God transforming the lives of sexually exploited women.
  • Linda Piepenbrink
  • December 31, 2021

After her 17th arrest for prostitution, Becky’s mug shot was posted on Facebook by a local police department. Unkind comments like “I’d pay her not to touch me,” and “Yikes, who would pay for that?” added to her indignity.

As a child, Becky suffered from sexual abuse, but when she reported it to her family, no one took action against the abuser. Believing the message that no one would protect her, that her body belonged to someone else, she became a target for sex traffickers and was commercially exploited as a teenager.

For the next 15 years she was “pimped out” again and again until she had racked up seven felonies, skirted death from a severe addiction to opiates, and finally found the courage to leave the horrific life she’d known since adolescence.

Law enforcement referred her to Naomi’s House, a Chicago-area residential ministry for women trapped in commercial sexual exploitation, where adult women like Becky can find hope and healing in Christ. Today she’s the first graduate hired by Naomi’s House as a peer specialist to help other women who have suffered from exploitation.

“You would not believe the transformation Becky’s experienced. It’s why we do what we do,” says Executive Director and Cofounder Simone Halpin ’08. “It’s only the power of the gospel, only the power of the community coming together and providing opportunities that she would not have otherwise.

“While Becky was in our program at Naomi’s House, she developed her leadership skills. She would encourage the other residents and tell them, ‘Don’t leave the program before your first miracle.’”

Like a miracle

For the women who have persevered through the 15-month residential program, Naomi’s House is like a miracle. It provides long-term housing for eight women, who receive trauma-informed, faith-based programming, individualized to match each woman’s unique approach to healing. The program also includes life-skills training, daily devotionals, job training and placement, access to health care, education, and Bible study—all free to each woman and with 24-hour staff support.

The women progress to independent living programs, and this year the ministry expanded to serve more women through day programming and drop-in services in other Chicago-area locations. With a budget that has grown to $1.1 million, Simone spends most of her time fundraising for the ministry, which is 100-percent privately funded.

“That’s a good thing,” says Simone, who believes God has called the church to rise to meet the profound needs of sexually exploited women. “And they have answered the call. Every year we serve more women, and every year our budget gets bigger, and every year God is faithful.”

Meeting women caught in prostitution

Just a decade ago, the idea of human trafficking was barely on Simone’s mind. But her master’s degree in Biblical Studies at Moody Theological Seminary prepared her not only to teach and disciple women from the Bible but also to integrate into a community. (“I learned so much about urban ministry, specifically,” she says.) After a few years at a crisis pregnancy center, she transitioned to director of women’s care at The Moody Church.

Late one night, she joined a group of Christian women with gift bags and flowers to minister to women caught in prostitution. Seeing women of all ages on street corners was “very eye opening,” Simone recalls. “I just couldn’t believe that we went through a dozen roses and a dozen gift bags in less than an hour.”

This was happening just blocks from where she sent her kids to school and attended church. “It was definitely something that I couldn’t turn my back to,” she says.

Simone continued the street ministry, telling each woman that she mattered and that God loved her and that there was hope if she ever wanted a different life. “Our conversations would be short, but our prayers would be intense,” she recalls.

A new ministry emerges

As God moved in Simone’s heart, He was also gripping others, including Dr. Pam (Kistler) MacRae ’79, MA ’02, director of Women’s Ministries at Moody Bible Institute and program head for a new undergraduate major, the BA in Ministry to Victims of Sexual Exploitation. After considerable prayer, research, and meetings with area churches, law enforcement, and various organizations, plans were made for Naomi’s House, a nonprofit residential ministry under the umbrella of The Moody Church.

Simone has learned much since the doors of Naomi’s House opened in 2016. In October, she spoke at Moody’s Missions Conference about sexual exploitation and took questions during a panel discussion. A common question posed to her was “When women are being abused and exploited, why don’t they just leave?”

Simone explains, “The lies that are so deeply ingrained in how women see themselves and how they think God sees them—these massive lies take a lot of slow and intentional work to overcome.”

The dark road to getting trafficked

While each woman’s story is unique, they all seem to share three common adverse childhood experiences that make them vulnerable to the lure of a trafficker—childhood abuse, family disruption, and the neglect of their core longings (to be seen and cared for.)

Typically, the woman is coerced into a romantic relationship with a trafficker whose true intent is to make money off her. Once she’s romantically committed, he’ll make threats, use violence, and withhold drugs to keep her from leaving. She’s often bound by addictions and mental health issues, and if she doesn’t make her quota, the consequences can be severe, even death.

Today, street prostitution is a subculture of the greater world of commercial sexual exploitation that takes place on apps and through online relationships. But the effects are the same.

“What I’ve learned from working with and walking alongside women whose lives have been shattered from sexual exploitation,” Simone says, “is that many times there’s a mountain of obstacles that she’s facing, vulnerabilities that she was born into.”

A vulnerable childhood and God’s rescue

Simone had her own childhood vulnerabilities that she now recognizes prepared her to have empathy and compassion for others who suffered from childhood trauma. “I was born into a very dysfunctional and toxic family,” says Simone, whose parents divorced when she was eight because of deeply rooted abuse and addiction. “By junior high, I had begun to question my own worth and value. That played out in unhealthy relationships, and I experimented with drugs and alcohol.”

But by God’s grace, Simone didn’t continue down that path. The first time Simone heard about Jesus in high school, she instantly wanted to follow Him and have her sins washed away. “I heard the gospel and ran to it,” she says.

She started attending church, and her Sunday school teachers, Jim and Lisa Bailey, discipled her like their own daughter. “They are still very much a part of my life,” says Simone, now married for 18 years with four children. Her parents are also now walking with the Lord, reminding Simone that God can redeem anyone.

A heart for women’s ministry

The mentoring Simone received awakened her to the beauty of serving women through women’s ministry. Her education at Moody also helped her understand God’s heart for the poor and marginalized. “One of my favorite things to communicate to women in our program,” she says, “is that the more you study Jesus and His ministry, the more you start to see that His heart was for people who were abused and marginalized and forgotten and discarded.”

Simone’s favorite Bible story is the woman who came to Jesus after bleeding for years (Mark 5:24–34).“She was marginalized, she had run out of resources, had twelve years of suffering. She was both desperate for Jesus and brave enough to reach out to Him,” she says.

The result? Jesus healed her and freed her from her suffering. “We literally see this happen every day in the work that we do,” Simone says.

So far 13 women have completed the residential program, and Naomi’s House has hired three of them.

Dr. MacRae is on the board for Naomi’s House. “Simone has been the best executive director I could have ever imagined for that,” she says. “And we didn’t know that was exactly going to happen when we started sitting together. But Simone is a gift, and she is a blessing.”

Simone gives all the credit to God for the opportunity to serve and the lives dramatically changed at Naomi’s House. She sees the ministry as merely a conduit of His grace and power to redeem. “I’m always careful to say that we’re not here to rescue people out of human trafficking,” Simone adds. “We’re an organization that provides resources to people who have experienced human trafficking, but God is rescuing. God is meeting people in these places and pulling them out of these dark pits. And we just get to be a part of it.”

About the Author

  • Linda Piepenbrink

Linda Piepenbrink is managing editor of Moody Alumni & Friends and senior editor for Moody’s Marketing Communications department.