HOUSTON, TX-- You'll never see it in the travel brochures, but Houston is a major hotspot for human trafficking. Whether it's people enslaved as maids or as prostitutes, Mayor Annise Parker has done her best to fight it. But it's not enough for the folks at Elijah Rising.
That's why on the fourth Friday of every month, after the sun goes down, volunteers show up at their 5818 Southwest Freeway headquarters. The building used to be the site of a not-so-secret brothel. That is, until Elijah Rising founder Cat French and her friends got it shut down. The fact she convinced the landlord to let her open up shop here feels, somehow, like divine justice.
And these folks believe strongly in the Divine. Before the night's work begins, they pray intensely, asking God for guidance and protection from any danger they may face.
Then they divide up into teams. Some will pray all evening. Others get on laptops and reach out to online "escorts." First-timer Brittany, who looks as if she stepped off the cover of Seventeen magazine, is on this team, "We're calling these girls and leaving a hotline number for the girls that are interested in getting out of the business."
Justin Wall's group will take to the streets on this frigid, 38-degree night in January. Volunteers of all ages and colors approach prostitutes (and anyone else they encounter) along Bissonnet at 59, an area frequented by men looking for paid companionship. They huddle with the ladies, offering prayers, encouragement and a helpline number. Some of the women welcome the prayers; others make a beeline in the opposite direction. One woman says she can't talk because her pimp is watching, and he won't allow her to speak.
When the ladies do stop to talk, the volunteers let them know their group can get them out of the life and away from their pimps that night, but there are no takers. More often, they walk away, saying they will think about it. Since starting their crusade, French estimates Elijah Rising has pulled about two dozen women off the streets.
Surprisingly, it's not just the prostitutes who feel trapped. "Last time we went, two pimps, in particular, were deeply convicted," says Wall. "They wanna get out of that lifestyle. They're just struggling because they live in a house full of pimps and it's hard to leave."