Hungering for Love

Overcoming the darkness of trafficking


“Sometimes it’s painful growing up.”

These are the first words Darly is able to string together as she digs into her story. I see her transported back, gaze distant, struggling to know how to begin.

You wouldn’t know what Darly has been through upon meeting her. Her spirit radiates light, joy, and positivity. She instantly connects with everyone she meets, bringing laughter and levity to any space. But as Darly shares her story, I am moved to tears.

You Don’t Belong

At 18, Darly and her family moved from Germany to Florida after her father finished serving in the Air Force. Integrating into life in America proved challenging. “I was completely lost. I was looking for a mentor,” Darly says. Anything seemed better than living with her parents, who were physically, emotionally, and sexually abusing her. She ended up in a house with other young, at-risk women. That’s where she met Connie.

“I was sleeping on the floor. I didn’t have a bed, a job, or a car. I didn’t know how to make friends. I was lost. I was already broken, and I was in a country foreign to me,” Darly says.

One night, Connie whispered in her ear, “You don’t belong here. Come live with me.” Darly thought this was her chance for a better life—safety, security, and a family. Connie started talking about her life as a prostitute and taught Darly how to dress and do her makeup. Darly
didn’t think much of it—until one day Connie took her to a hotel parking lot and said, “Come home with $100 or don’t come home at all.”

She was 19 years old. And a virgin.

This became Darly’s life for the next six years. She hitchhiked back and forth across the region, picking up work to make $100 every night. Connie began drugging and beating Darly, threatening to kill her grandmother and force her sister into the business if Darly left or didn’t make the money.

Darly recalls being gang raped one night and thinking she was going to die. She felt completely numb.

“Chains of love kept me on the street,” Darly says. She was fearful for her grandmother and sister at all times. “I was paralyzed by fear. And people associated with Connie were getting murdered all around me.”

So Alone

This went on until she was 25.

“I was often trying to find a way to escape that life,” Darly says. “Eventually, I thought, I’m just gonna have to leave and suffer the consequences. Fear is so strong.”

One day, Darly told Connie she was going out to get cigarettes. “I prayed, ‘If the dog is outside Connie’s house when I get back, I’ll know I can go.’ The dog was outside. Then I prayed, ‘If the dog gets in the car, I’ll go.’ I opened the car door, and she immediately jumped in.”

So Darly left. She knew she was a target, so she drove around for hours, not knowing what to do or who to trust. Eventually she ended up at her parents’ house. She was there for three weeks and got a job at a gas station, saving money so she could move out.

Connie found out where she was working and started sending her drugs, trying to persuade her to come back. “You never escape a past like this,” Darly says. “My brother still thinks I chose to be a hooker. He told the whole extended family. He blames me for ‘tearing the family apart.’ I’m so alone because of that.”

A Redemptive Movement

After almost a year and a half, Darly escaped to the West Coast to get away from Connie, but it was still almost 30 years before she found true community and the love of Jesus. The week before she came to Hidden Creek Community Church in Olympia, Washington, her dog was hit by a car. Having lost her only companion, Darly thought, That’s it. I need a community.

Darly first went to the church after seeing a sign for their community food bank (see cmalliance.org/hiddencreek). After a while, she began attending services— sneaking in and sitting in the back—then quickly leaving. One day it was announced that a member of the congregation had died. Darly started to leave because she thought she was intruding upon their grieving. One of the members asked where she was going.

“You’re a part of this church too,” they replied. Darly realized this was a family and finally felt she belonged.

“If people you’re helping seem ungrateful, just know that they might not be used to it,” Darly says. “They’re afraid of being threatened or hurt. It’s a love you’ve just never known, so you don’t know how to comprehend it.”

Soon, Darly was ready to tell her story. She poured it out on a few pieces of paper and drove to Hidden Creek. The doors were locked.

“I slid the note in between the doors and left it up to God. I thought it may help someone in the church. I was 
hoping a janitor would find it,” Darly recalls. But it was the pastor, Tim Heffer, who discovered the letter.

He called Darly with tears in his eyes, thanking her for her courage, and asked if she would be open to testifying in front of the Washington State Senate Law and Justice Committee. Darly hesitantly agreed. Tim and Darly’s goal was to help pass stricter laws against prostitution—working toward bringing freedom to victims like Darly. But this would be only her second time sharing her story after the letter—and it was nerve-wracking.

“I was pretty overwhelmed by everything,” Darly says. “It was God’s blessing that I was able to speak at all, because when I get really nervous, I can’t speak.”

Despite Darly’s fear, change began to unfold when she bravely chose to tell her story. She was featured in a documentary, Rape for Profit (produced by Liberty Road Foundation), about human trafficking. Darly sparked a chain reaction in her community. She spoke at subsequent hearings over the years before various legislative committees at the state capitol passed 45 new laws to protect girls victimized by prostitution.

What began as brokenness transformed into a redemptive movement.

He Wastes Nothing

This is the heart of the Father. He wastes nothing—not an ounce of brokenness, defeat, darkness, or pain. He has rebuilt Darly’s life within a life-giving community, one that speaks the truth of her worth over her—she is loved, seen, and valued.

“I didn’t know love when I came to this church,” Darly says. “I couldn’t get to that place of even recognizing I was really a human until I had been shown consistent love over and over and over—meeting my food needs, asking me if I needed something, taking me to doctors’ appointments. That consistent love helped me to know I was a human being.”

Darly became more involved at Hidden Creek over time, serving and loving others with the same care she had been shown.

“It fills an emotional need having the same people here all the time and the same faces,” Darly says. “And sometimes I would just come to the church to be loved and to not be alone, you know?”

Welcoming the Broken

As I listened to the story of this resilient, radiant woman, I was completely in awe of her strength. And I grieved for all that she suffered. And I wondered, How many people do I interact with daily who are hungering for love, barely hanging on?

Darly’s story serves as a powerful reminder: We often don’t know what people are going through. And how we love others, even in small ways, might be their one open door to community and hope, breakthrough and healing.

“My story may bring tears and nightmares, but it’s my story and God gives me grace for it,” Darly says. “The only way to make it worthwhile is to make it not happen to someone else. The Church needs to know there will be more people like me, and they need to know how to love them . . . or else they’re gone.”

The issue of trafficking needs to be talked about and acted on. There are so many others like Darly in our communities and circles—their stories obscured in darkness, silence, and secrecy. It is our job to call injustice out, to help release those not living in freedom, and to meet the afflicted with empathy.

Darly encourages vulnerability, transparency, authenticity, loving and listening well, welcoming those with messy stories, and praying frequently. “I want to know people deeply,”
Darly says. “Will we dare to get our hands dirty? We could be a powerful church if we just got together.”

We, as the Church, need to be a safe space. May we not choose complacency and ignorance, but instead meet the people who slip through our doors with true compassion, engaging with their pain and brokenness.

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