Two Milwaukee congregations, Ascension Lutheran Church and Hephatha Lutheran Church, have partnered with the Benedict Center Sisters Program to help women whoare victims of sex trafficking to find hope and lead healthier, safer lives. “We meet people where they are, but we don’t leave them there,” is how Executive Director Jeanne Geraci describes their approach to service. The Ascension location (Sisters Program South) opened in 2016 and as the Benedict Center quickly realized the demand for the program and came to better understand the needs of participants, it expanded to Hephatha (Sisters Program North) in 2019.
For women in the street-based sex trade, having a safe place to go can be the difference between life and death. The Sisters Program has a unique, low-barrier entry process where no large commitments, drug tests, or documents are required to receive shelter. Women are given authority to make their own choices as a way to build trusting relationships with program staff. “It’s about letting that person be the expert on her needs and identifying where she is motivated to start,” says Ms. Geraci. “We have to give up our preconceived notions.”
"We meet people where they are, but we don't leave them there."
Hephatha’s Pastor Mary Martha Kannass recognizes that the Holy Spirit is up to something special. “Hephatha and Ascension’s partnerships provide an opportunity for these women to experience Jesus and to share that presence with one another,” added Ms. Geraci. And while the Sisters Program team is practicing compassion and Christian love, it is simultaneously providing women with tools to become self-sufficient, secure stable income outside of the sex trade, and find safe and affordable housing.
The collaboration between the Benedict Center, Ascension, and Hephatha has provided stability and improved sustainability for the Program to serve women. “Partnering is a great asset,” according to Pastor Kannass. “The Benedict Center is an opportunity faith partner that gives Hephatha a meaningful way to engage in true Gospel activity and fulfill our call to ministry.”