The first Refuge for Women farm is nestled down a zigzagging series of rural roads in Lexington, Kentucky. Home is a traditional white farmhouse set in the middle of nowhere surrounded by rolling hills, ponds, and fencing.
There’s a reason it’s set apart. It’s a place of healing for victims of human trafficking. The farmhouse once was a flea-infested, broken-down termite haven destined for demolition, but it’s nothing like that now. It’s been restored, much like the women who find new purpose and life there.
Ked and Michelle Frank took a winding path to this place.
Fresh out of Bible College, Ked’s ministry goal was to get people off the streets and into seats in churches. Michelle, on the other hand, wanted to get people out of comfortable seats in churches and on the streets. Close, but not the same.
Three years serving at Refuge for Men in the middle of nowhere became training ground for a brand-new ministry—one they could not imagine at the time.
The Franks heard God tell them to live dangerously, to go to places no one wants to go, where people are hurting or struggling.
In 2009, Ked and Michelle were asked to return to ministry in Lexington. Ked thought it was to start a Refuge for Men chapter there, but direction changed to providing a safe place for women leaving sex trafficking. It was the beginning of Refuge for Women, now the nation’s largest program for victims of human trafficking and sexual exploitation with care offered in six states with seven locations and 11 homes.
They soon will expand to the Louisville area with the construction of an emergency house in partnership with Southeast.
The statistics are staggering. Trafficking is a $10 billion industry. If there is no safe recovery home, 80% of victims end up back on the streets. Twelve states have only one house offering safety and recovery, and 16 states have no recovery home at all.
The farm in Nicholasville belonged to Tim and Dawayna Aulick, owners of a chemical company and close friends of Ked and Michelle. One morning Ked asked Tim to meet him for coffee, nervous about asking a big question: Could he use the farm to help women who have been trafficked? That same morning, Tim woke up at four o’clock. He heard God say the farm was not his property. He was going to use it for ministry.
So, it began.
The first call for help came from a mom whose daughter in Miami needed a place to go. She came for three days and left. That put both couples on their knees. But after much work, the home was filled with eight women in a 2-year, faith-based rebuilding program.
“The world these women have seen is so dark that there’s no healing outside Jesus,” Ked said. “They come with complex trauma—sexualized as children, substance abuse, stolen childhoods, abuse, and fear.”
Trauma is so deep that the farm became an ER. Professional staff deal with a variety of issues, including attempted suicides and those who cut. One woman drank drain cleaner in an attempt to end her life. Another fashioned a noose for her neck. Those who were barely surviving needed intense care.
“Most women come with complicated stories and messy trauma,” said Michelle, who left a job she loved leading Women’s Ministry at Southland Christian Church in Lexington to direct the Kentucky chapter of Refuge for Women. “These women need deep healing with a specialized staff and then transitional living. We serve 18 women on a daily basis in the emergency house, and we’re breaking ground on a housing complex where they can transition.”
The original plan to keep women in the program sheltered from neighbors—including the Aulicks—didn’t last. For 12 years, Tim and Dawayna invited the women to Monday night dinner at their home, while another neighbor put dibs on another weeknight. The result was deep, healthy friendships.
When Tim and Dawayna thought about moving to another farm, they offered the property to the ministry at a reduced price. Refuge for Women now owns the 53-acre farm.
When Michelle first went into clubs, she saw labels on the foreheads of women she met—lost, broken, hopeless, searching, help.
“Compassion is not a feeling,” Michelle said. “It’s action. God invites us into dark places. These women are worthy of dignity, opportunity, health, and freedom. This ministry is carried and populated by miracles. The work demands nothing less than the restoring power of God.”
Alia, a survivor of abuse and trafficking, was in the adult film industry when a friend in the program at Refuge for Women invited her to church.
She’d never been before.
Alia continued to go to church for the next six years while continuing to work in pornography and prostitution.
“I didn’t make the decision to leave, I didn’t hide what I was doing, and I didn’t make the decision to follow Christ either,” she said.
Even so, her pastors and friends continued to invest in her and invite her to their homes every week.
She considered Refuge for Women as her world became darker and more desperate.
Her journey at Refuge for Women began with extensive trauma recovery. In time, she completed her GED and found her voice, strength, and intelligence.
Eventually, Alia enrolled at Moody Bible Institute in Chicago, where she gained a new community and church.
“When I got to tell my story at the church level to hundreds of people, what I learned was not only does my story lead people who are like me to Christ, but we all understand the experience of shame. We all understand what it’s like to not trust, be afraid of failure,” she said.
Alia is now Director of Aftercare Development for Safe House Project, creating a standard of care and network for minors.