By Rebecca Bender
Editor’s Note: For nearly six years, Rebecca Bender was sold across the underground world of sex trafficking in Las Vegas. She was branded, beaten, told when to sleep and what to wear, and traded between traffickers. This article shares the beginning of her restoration and deliverance from slavery and drug addition, adapted from her book In Pursuit of Love.
Jesus said to them, “Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God ahead of you.” — Matthew 21:31
I knew I needed professional help if I wanted to get my life together and my little girl back. Bryan my pimp was furious about the hospital incident due to my drug overdose and kept his distance, spending time with his other girls. Yet somehow he convinced me that it was my drug use that caused all the prostitution, and that he wanted me to go to rehab because he loved me. I called my mom and got a list of women’s rehabs in the Pacific Northwest that she’d compiled for me. Last on the list was Victory Outreach, a Christian women’s home.
“Those Christians don’t have a clue what real life on the streets is like,” I told her as she read the phone numbers to me. I hung up and began calling the numbers on the list.
It was as if they had all teamed up against me. I learned that most treatment centers fill up right before Christmas. Apparently, there is no shortage of addicts and homeless people searching for a “room at the inn” for the holidays.
I swiftly came to the last treatment center on my list: Victory Outreach. I called, and a young lady answered.
“Hi,” I said. “I was wondering if you have any beds available?”
“No, sorry,” she replied quickly.
Overwhelmed by all the closed doors, I started bawling.
“Listen,” I sniffed, “I’m a prostitute and a drug addict, and I’m in Las Vegas, and my mom has my daughter. I need to get her back . . . please, I’m begging you . . . can you please help me?”
“Hold on,” she quipped.
Great, I thought. I probably shocked the poor Christian girl. I blew my nose and sat patiently for a few minutes until I heard an older woman’s voice.
“Hello, this is sister Debbie. How can I help you?”
“Hi. I live in Las Vegas, but my mom lives in Oregon. She has my daughter, and I need to get clean before I can get her back. I’m a drug addict and a prostitute, and I was hoping you have a bed available.”
“Well, sister, God must really want you here. I’ll tell you what. I have one bed left, but I can hold it for only 24 hours. Can you be here by tomorrow?”
“Yes, I can,” I blurted without thinking. She explained that I would have to commit to a one-year program. I agreed, privately planning to leave as soon as I was clean.
The only problem was, I had zero dollars to my name. I called and got the cost of a plane ticket: $342. I cleaned up in a flash and dialed the escort service to request a call, knowing full well that calls were scarce during the holidays. Most men spend that season with their families, not with working girls in Vegas.
After a long wait, a call came in. I walked out of that hotel room with $350 in my pocket. The next morning, I drove directly to the airport. I bought the first ticket to Portland, Oregon. I had already called Mom to let her know when I was arriving and where she could take me. I left a message to my drug dealer and a terse voicemail for Bryan.
“I’m done. I’m going home.”
As I boarded the plane, I wondered what this place would make of me. Would the sheltered Christians be disgusted by my past? Would they judge me? Would they make me feel like the girls in Grandma’s Sunday school class did, staring and keeping their distance as if divorce were contagious?
I stared out the plane window at the miniature casinos. How bad could this Victory Outreach place be? I’d survived worse things than detox.
A New Beginning
Mom, Ken, my daughter Deshae, and I squeezed into their Toyota Tacoma at the Portland airport parking lot. I was talking a mile a minute, happy to see everyone, but the waves of dread crashing over me made the cramped 30-minute drive to Battle Ground, Washington, feel like hours. The name of the city was fitting, though I had zero understanding of the significant spiritual battleground I was about to enter.
At first sight, Victory Outreach wasn’t what I’d expected. I later learned that the ministry was renting out the U-shaped building, formerly a nursing home, to operate their rehab home for men and women.
I stepped out of the truck grateful that I still had a few cigarettes left. I lit one and sucked in the menthol deeply. The drag calmed my nerves. Deshae and Mom were grateful to stretch their legs after their five-hour drive from home. I leaned back and exhaled smoke into the crisp, chilly air. The clear sky was rare for this part of the rain-ridden Pacific Northwest.
A man came out of the house attached to one side of the building. A wide smile lit up his weathered olive complexion, and a tattoo peeked out from his shirt collar. He walked with a confident skip in his step. His look reminded me of an old school gang member. He extended his hand to me.
“You must be sister Rebecca from Las Vegas,” he said with a gravelly voice. His thick accent gave away his Latino roots. I nodded, taking my last drag, and shook his hand weakly.
“I’m Pastor Joe, the home director. It’s nice to have you,” he said. Strangely, I believed he meant it, likely because he hadn’t heard my whole story.
“You ready for Jesus to change your life, sister?” He half smiled and laughed.
I smiled back in agreement. I was ready, and Pastor Joe struck me as someone I could open up to without the fear of shocking him. Maybe homeboy is a’right.
Inside, Pastor Joe took me to an intake room where a tall African American woman greeted us. She stood as we entered.
“I’m sister Monica,” she said, smiling warmly. “Nice to meet you.”
I felt an instant connection to this woman, who was the assistant head staff. I can do this. I’ll do 30 days, get clean, and get Deshae back.
We filled out a bunch of forms, and they searched my clothes to make sure I had no weapons or drugs, then we toured the building. The first room in the long hallway was known as the “detox room.” I would spend three days detoxing without having to adhere to the daily routine. After that, it’d be one week of blackout—no phone calls or visits. It was supposed to help me adjust to the new daily schedule. The “women’s side” was a hallway that housed up to 18 women in nine bedrooms, each with two twin beds. There was a half bathroom between each pair of rooms and one shower at the end of the hall. We were restricted to five-minute showers on a closely monitored schedule and would be disciplined for going over time.
After the tour ended, my family and I circled up for prayer with Pastor Joe, who walked me through the “Sinner’s Prayer.” I was too strung out to appreciate its spiritual significance, but I knew I was beginning a new journey. Whatever was ahead couldn’t be worse than what I’d been through. I would dig my heels in and stay for Deshae.
Detox and Much More
Cocaine detox is not as extreme as heroin withdrawal. I experienced fatigue, restlessness, nausea, and strong cravings. But after a few days with more sleep than I was used to and regular meals, the cravings began to lessen. I relied on the buzz from my nicotine patch and nicotine gum, since smoking was not allowed.
I adjusted to the new routines, which were mostly a welcome distraction from all my cravings. Much like military boot camp, we woke at five o’clock and had to keep our rooms clean and our beds made. We’d groggily walk into our small living room area and pour cups of coffee (with sugar and powdered milk if some kind soul had donated them). The building was old and musty, with moldy window seals and peeling linoleum. The living space was filled with an odd combination of garage sale furniture. A “Read the Bible in a Year” plan torn from the back of Our Daily Bread was taped to the wall. We’d find the date and read the Scripture while waiting for sister Monica to finish room checks.
One morning, not long after detox, I turned to our required daily reading. Tingles swept across my entire body as I read the words of Exodus 3:6 (NLT 2000): “When Moses heard this, he hid his face in his hands because he was afraid to look at God.” And then in Exodus 14:13: “Don’t be afraid. Just stand where you are and watch the Lord rescue you.”
Those were his words. The words my friend Kyra had spoken to me in her sweet voice: Do not be afraid.
Sitting on the dumpy couch in the Victory Outreach living room that morning, I stared back at the words in Exodus.
“He hid his face in his hands because he was afraid to look at God . . . Do not be afraid.”
Did that really happen? Could God have actually sent a working girl to deliver a word to me? Moses was afraid to look at God. I’d been unable to look at Kyra, hiding my face in my hands. Is it possible that this book, written thousands of years ago, has the same words that Kyra spoke to me that day?
Something stirred in me, and the Bible didn’t seem quite so boring anymore.
Every morning after Bible reading, we’d go into the dining area, where we’d pray for one hour. At first I didn’t know what to make of this. An entire hour? What the heck could we pray about for a whole hour? Bless the food, keep it movin’!
Sister Monica showed us what to do. As worship music filled the dining room, she prayed out-loud. She started by praying for the women’s home, then for our pastors, the home directors, the city, the government, each woman, the lost, the brokenhearted. By this time, the Spirit of God was flowing out of sister Monica, and she wept and prayed for her family, her children, her marriage, and thanked God for her deliverance and the renewal of her mind and heart.
I was mesmerized. I’d never heard or seen this kind of prayer. I listened to the music, soaking up the peace I felt in these still moments of the early morning. I looked out the window to the earliest whispers of light before sunrise. I yawned and stretched my arms above my head. I wasn’t used to being up early unless I was coming home from a call.
I closed my eyes and lifted my hands.
A strange sensation crept over me and my body quivered. It felt exactly the same as the night a man tried to strangle me, right before he stopped. Memories of that night came racing back. It startled me, and I opened my eyes.
Why am I remembering this now? I thought I had buried that terror in the back of my mind.
A silent thought, much like my own but altogether different and set apart, came suddenly, piercing my heart: “That is the feeling of life, not death. It was me who released his hands from your neck.”
I fell to my knees and wept tears of gratitude.
“Well then, my life is yours to use as you wish,” I prayed silently. “If it weren’t for you, I wouldn’t be here. Why did you save me? You not only helped me escape; you saved my life. What do you have for me, God?”
A fire lit my soul and made me hungry for more. I began soaking up God’s Word daily. For the first time in my life, I read the stories of Mary Magdalene, Rahab, Tamar, the woman at the well, and the alabaster jar. I realized that Jesus loves girls like me.
Adapted from In Pursuit of Love: One Woman’s Journey from Trafficked to Triumphant by Rebecca Bender. Click here to lean more about this book.
Through her own gripping story of escape from human trafficking, Rebecca Bender teaches us what trafficking in America looks like — and what we can do about it — as she reveals the light of God in even the darkest places. In Pursuit of Love is a riveting read that will give you the confidence to pursue your own purpose and take you on a journey to places you never thought possible.
Born and raised in a small Oregon town, all-American girl Rebecca Bender was a varsity athlete and honor roll student with a promising future. Then a predator pretending to be her boyfriend lured her into a web of lies that sent her down a path she never imagined possible.
For nearly six years, Rebecca was sold across the underground world of sex trafficking in Las Vegas. She was branded, beaten, told when to sleep and what to wear, and traded between traffickers. Forced into a dark sisterhood, Rebecca formed bonds with her trafficker and three other women, creating a false sense of family. During that time, God began revealing himself to her. And in the midst of her exploitation, she found the hope she needed to survive.
After a federal raid, Rebecca escaped. Her life was forever changed as she felt the embrace of her heavenly Father guiding her to healing and wholeness. Rebecca soon began to use her own experiences to change the lives of others as she went back into the darkest places she had known — assisting FBI, VICE, and law enforcement across the country in some of their most difficult cases.
Through Rebecca’s incredible story of redemption, we remember that our past does not have to determine our destiny.
Rebecca Bender received the kind of restoration that only God provides after escaping nearly six years of human trafficking. Now an award-winning social entrepreneur, she is the CEO & Founder of the Rebecca Bender Initiative, a nonprofit that works with law enforcement, FBI, Homeland Security, and aftercare programs and provides expert testimony, trainings, and consultation across the globe. She is also the founder of Elevate Academy, an online school for women who want to pursue the call of God regardless of their pasts. Rebecca has earned her Masters in Christian Thought from Bethel Seminary and enjoys influencing culture by teaching biblical truths for various audiences. Rebecca and her husband, Matt, live in the Pacific Northwest with their four daughters.
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