(Photo: The Christian Post/Ivana Kvesic)
NEW YORK - Restore NYC, a faith-based nonprofit created in 2006 to help rebuild the lives of foreign-born survivors of sex trafficking in New York City, celebrated its third annual gala Tuesday night to raise funds for restoring freedom and hope to survivors of sex trafficking.
The Christian Post was on hand for the event, held at City Winery in downtown Manhattan, and spoke to volunteers, staff members, and other attendees about the importance of Restore NYC and its mission to assist survivors of one of the fastest growing transnational crimes on Earth.
Current Executive Director of Restore NYC Jimmy Lee began working with the organization in 2008 by volunteering as a board member. Lee had been working for several years on global health issues, particularly HIV/AIDS, and quickly realized that it was women and girls who are most affected by not only the disease – but injustice.
"The more I worked on those issues the more I realized they are issues of gender violence, rape, gender inequity, gender oppression – and that's what got me interested," he shared with CP.
It was through his wife that Lee got connected with former Executive Director and co-founder Faith Huckel and started out as a board member to the organization. Now, as someone who has succeeded Huckel to the position of executive director, Lee finds that it is the faith aspect of Restore NYC that makes the organization truly unique.
"We know that the ultimate restoration can only happen through Jesus," Lee said.
"Trafficked women in New York are some of the vulnerable and oppressed women in our great city. They really have nowhere to go and Restore plays such a unique role," Lee told CP. "Our safe house is just groundbreaking in what it offers – there is nothing else like it and we are really the only Christian organization that is working actively on this in the city and that's why we pray that God sends these women to us – that we can offer them complete care in every sense of the word.
"I feel like being part of a social service organization if we didn't have that faith understanding, (it) would be great, but incomplete. If we weren't a Christian organization we would still be unique. But being driven by faith and giving women optional opportunities to seek God and to know God for me makes us all the more unique and important," he added.
Attorney and board member Sarah Shore was also in attendance at Tuesday night's gala, and shared what she felt was the most challenging aspect of working with an organization that helps survivors of egregious crimes.
"What is most challenging is that at the root of trafficking is treating people, and in the case of our clients – particularly women – as less than human," Shore said. "As a Christian, I believe that we are made in God's image, and it's just a very dark, an incredibly dark thing, when other people are capable of treating these women really in the way that you wouldn't even treat an animal."
Shore said that working with such crimes is challenging because "it's one of the darkest parts of the human heart coming out" but despite her job being overwhelming at times, having trust in God helps get her through the difficulties.
"You have to focus on what it means to help one client at a time and to believe that God is at work in many places and much bigger than you know in terms of his influence, his guidance, and his knowledge of what people need," Shore shared with CP.
Fay Sardjono, head of external affairs for the organization, became involved with Restore NYC because she "wanted to bridge the gap between knowledge and suffering of victims of human trafficking."
"I wanted to work with a Christian organization because I didn't think that kind of suffering could be healed without God," Sardjono said at the gala.
For Kara Kim, a former program manager who was a part of Restore NYC at its beginning stages, working with the nonprofit was not just about watching the organization grow and evolve – it was about establishing the connection with clientele who had faced indescribable abuse, mistreatment, and grave injustices.
"Making the connection with clients was the most rewarding. Showing (them) a semblance of love, kindness, and respect and looking into their eyes and seeing their reaction is something I can take with me forever," Kim told CP.
Although Restore NYC is a Christian organization that offers Bible-based spiritual guidance and support to clients, it does not mandate that its services go solely to believers of Christ, but opens its doors to all victims of sex trafficking.