WAR International Battles the World’s Underbelly of Human Trafficking with Hope

Written by Paul R. Kopenkoskey on . Posted in Local

war235WAR International founder and president Becky McDonald stands near jewelry “Monique” made. Monique previously worked in a red light district of Grand Rapids. She had no resume to list her employable skills. WAR International hired her through its pilot program that gives Monique the opportunity to repair and design jewelry.When customers make a purchase online, at a home party or at one of three Women At Risk (WAR) International’s boutiques, they’re not just buying handcrafted products. They’re enabling at-risk women and children to find freedom from human trafficking. And with their freedom, they gain what previously was not within their grasp: hope and a future.

Human trafficking is a euphemism that illustrates the underbelly of one of the world’s most heinous of sins. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security defines it as a modern-day form of slavery involving the illegal trade of people that forces them into labor or commercial sexual exploitation.

WAR International’s founder and president, Rebecca “Becky” McDonald has another term for it: a heart problem entrenched in avarice.

A heart problem

“This is a greed problem,” McDonald said. “It crosses every socio-economic group, and it’s not just men’s fault. It's a heart problem. Trafficking is about money and it’s just that sex sells. They’re recruiting girls who are 10 to 15 years old who can ‘easily’ earn $400 in a day because they want to buy a Prada handbag.”

war2352Some of the products WAR International sells includes nametags with the names of the people who made the merchandise so purchasers know who to pray for.One of the more visible ways WAR International battles this affront is through the 3,300 or so handmade products sold in support of at-risk women at its three outlets it dubs WAR Chest Boutiques. Those stores are located in Naperville, Ill., 4 East Jefferson Ave.; Rockford, Mich., 25 Squires St. Square NE, and in Wyoming, Mich., 2790 44th Street, a 22,000-square foot building which doubles as its world headquarters and training center. WAR International also raises funds through grants and gifts in kind.

“Every $250 of sales keeps a woman in an overseas safe house for a month,” McDonald said. “People who buy our products are lifting her out of the gutter, enabling her to go to college, to not be beaten anymore or to be sexually abused.”

McDonald traces her firsthand account of the mistreatment of women when she was 14. The daughter of a missionary doctor, McDonald spent her childhood in the jungles of Bangladesh, where she found a playmate wounded, raped and unable to speak because of acid poured down her throat to silence her.

The acid, McDonald said, burned a whole in her heart and set her on a course of action.

Includes Western Michigan

Thirty years ago, she launched WAR International. Today, it rescues women and children from sexual exploitation and modern day slavery in 45 countries, such as India, the Dominican Republic, Thailand and the United States, and that includes, Western Michigan.

WAR International started selling handmade products five years ago. Stocking a large inventory of merchandise requires keeping track of a multitude of details but in the end, it’s worth it, McDonald said.

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“People want to shop where they feel they’re doing something good, that is lifting a life to dignity, where they will live and work in a well-lit room where nobody is looking down on them and they’re doing things they can be proud of,” McDonald said.

McDonald, a 1980 Magna Cum Laude graduate of Calvin College, is both compassionate and passionate about the people she is determined to help. McDonald punctuates WAR International’s goals by sporadically poking the air with her finger or with a stern tap on a desk to emphasize her disdain for sexual exploitation and modern day slavery.

Children of God

“I do what I do because of my faith,” McDonald said. “I don’t bop anybody over the head with it. I show them unconditional love. I tell them you are a child of God. You were created to walk and talk in the cool of the day with God. You are valued. You are loved. You were born with inherent value and that’s because God created you.

“People are drawn to my faith because I love them unconditionally. Whether they agree with me or not, that’s the Holy Spirit’s job. The last thing I want to do is scare somebody to heaven.”

“We want her to dream.”

Making it possible for abused and exploited people to dream requires WAR International to develop what McDonald terms a holistic approach.

That mission includes helping women and children to escape slavery and sex trafficking they’re ensnared in. In the case of countries like China and India, WAR International works to avert killing female babies solely because of their gender before after they’re born.

Walking the journey of healing

“We pull all the resources in,” McDonald said. “By that I mean women may need a lawyer, a job, a roof over her head and education. I believe in sustainability. We get women to be self-sufficient. We stay involved in them for the long haul. We walk the journey of healing with them. This is not a job to me. It’s being family to a family that has been denied them.”

According to the U.S. State Department, an average of 17,500 people are trafficked in the United States annually. The CIA estimates it’s more than that, between 40,000 to 50,000 each year, or about one person every 10 minutes. Intra-nationally, 250,000 children are exploited in the United States annually as well as 100,000 teens between the ages of nine and 19.

West Michigan is not immune to human trafficking due largely to the ease of “finding” a forced sex partner though the Internet, McDonald said.

Carnage of innocence

“There are 2,400 minors in West Michigan for sale for sex, mostly on the Internet,” McDonald said. “There are 300,000 children, some six-days old and some six-months old that are at risk in the United States. This is carnage of innocence.”

Stemming that carnage takes place in a myriad of ways:

• WAR International partners with 15 orphanages in 10 countries.

• Safehouses, which range from 10 to 200 women each at any given time. Safehouses provide job training, education, counseling, therapy, employment, discipleship, medical services and spiritual mentoring.

• Preventative products, which are made or sold by vulnerable women to help them support themselves and safeguard them against trafficking. Generally, these are women targeted by traffickers such as widows, orphans and girls who have been abandoned, raped or have had a sibling sold.

• Curative products that are made by women rescued from a trafficking predicament and are now employed.

• Supportive products, which are products sold to support and expand WAR International projects that allows the nonprofit to reach more women such as through new programs, emergency funds.

“When I rescue a child, a woman or a man, the more energizing it is for me,” McDonald said. “We tell those we rescue, you’ll have a bumpy road of healing but you’ll never face that again.

“My job is to be faithful, to love whoever falls in my pathway.”

CONNECT

www.warinternational.org

(616) 855-0796.

Author Information
Paul R. Kopenkoskey
About:
Paul R. Kopenkoskey is a full-time freelance writer and editor for an assortment of publications including Grand Rapids Magazine, Grand Rapids Business Journal, and Faith Grand Rapids magazine. He has completed his first novel with the working title, Karl Beguiled. He and his wife, Barb, live in Wyoming, Michigan. They have three children and five grandchildren.

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