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Healing Broken Lives with Love

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Founder, Thistle Farms, a holistic residential program offering employment, education and job training, medical care and therapy for women rescued from sex trafficking, addiction and prostitution

Author of 10 books, her latest: Love Heals, Nelson 2018

Speaker

Episcopal priest

Justice entrepreneur

Graduate: University of the South & Vanderbilt Divinity School

3 honorary doctorates

Recipient of numerous humanitarian awards

2011 White House “Champion of Change” and 2016 CNN Hero

Married to Marcus

3 sons

Related Topics

FROM PAIN TO COMPASSION
Becca’s father was a pastor and passed away when she was five years old.  After his death, a “leader” in their church stepped in to help their family.  Instead of helping, the man sexually molested Becca for years. “His intrusion into our family began my two years of wandering in the lonely fields of sexual abuse,” says Becca.  “Holding on to that secret and feeling angry made me pretty sick,” she says.  “I felt scared and acted out in ways that I later wished I hadn’t.”  She experienced anxiety around authority and had significant abandonment stress.  As an adult, Becca still suffered the effects of her abuse.  When her son was five, she knew she needed to be well to serve her family and children.  “I needed to be about the business of getting stronger,” says Becca.  “And that started with forgiving my abuser.”  It took a lot of time and soul searching.  “It didn’t happen in a moment, but it did happen when I made the decision not to hold on to it any longer.”  

The first thing she did was talk to her husband and trusted friends.  Then she talked to a counselor.  She earnestly began praying for the man.  “I started to see that everyone in the story needed mercy and that, in fact, the hard lessons I learned through that trauma had given me a gift of compassion for women on the streets and in prisons,” says Becca.  Then Becca went to the abuser and his wife and shared her story.  After she confronted the man, Becca says she wasn’t instantly healed.  But somewhere along the way, she forgave him.  “In the act of forgiving, drops of freedom began to seep through the dry ground of my heart, and it turned back into a place where something could grow.”

THISTLE FARMS
In 1991, Becca was ordained as an Epsicopal priest and started working as a chaplain five years later.  She and some friends opened the first sanctuary for women survivors of trafficking, addiction and prostitution. In 1997, the first five women came to live at Magdalene (the residential arm of Thistle Farms).  “It not only changed their lives but mine dramatically,” says Becca.  “The community was a powerful witness that acceptance, commitment and love help women find healing from some of the deepest scars this world has ever known.”  After a couple years of meeting with survivors and seeing the miracles of healing love, Becca knew this is what she was destined to do with the rest of her life.  “The survivor-leaders were living with a new power and grace that I knew could potentially bring healing throughout the world.”  

Since then, thousands of women have become thriving members of their community through work and partnerships. The residents at Thistle Farms are offered two years of free housing with no authority in the the homes – meaning the women are not supervised but live with independence.  They are provided with medical care, therapy, education and job training without charge or government funding.  “Our hope is for the entire community to give to one another in gratitude for all the mercy and healing we have known,” she says.  The women work to gain financial independence through the social enterprises of Thistle Farms.  They produce candles and body-care products and operate a café and artisan studio under the motto, Love Heals.  “We realized that the women we were serving were dirt poor, so we created this bath and body care company so women could have jobs, earn wages and make choices in their lives,” says Becca.  “It made perfect sense to me to make body care products that were about healing bodies that had been abused for so long.”  Her hope is that when their products are purchased that others are reminded that they are helping a community of women re-establish their lives.  

One such survivor from Thistle Farms is Dorris Walker.  She suffered childhood trauma at a young age that eventually led to her drug and alcohol addiction, prostitution and abuse.  “My father and mother were humble believers in God and I have always carried that belief inside of me, even throughout the devastating years of my addiction,” she says.  For more than 20 years, Dorris endured the violence and trauma of the Nashville streets.  Thistle Farms has given her a chance to heal.  “I have managed to put my life back together again with the blessings of the Lord and the dedicated love of Magdalene and Thistle Farm,” she says.  “I am dedicated in paying the love forward and speaking out for the women around the world who have yet to find their way home.” Today, Dorris is the Events Coordinator and on the travel team for Thistle Farms.  She is an accomplished speaker and advocate, has been interviewed multiple times, most recently by Jenna Bush Hager for The Today Show.                                                   

HEALING POWER OF THISTLES
Becca loves thistles.  Thistle extract is used to detoxify and restore the liver.  It is also used for calming purposes after trauma and aids in digestion.  Without thistles, monarch butterflies would starve! The down from thistles also make strong and beautiful paper.  “Some people think of them as a noxious weed and yet they have this beautiful purple and deep center.”  When they were going to meet the women on the streets, that was the last wildflower that was there.  “So it made sense to name our company after it and remind us all that something to be discarded is also something to embrace and see beauty in.  That’s what we’re reminding women: They are fully bloomed, wonderful gifts already.”

Today Thistle Farms is the largest social enterprise in the US led by survivors of prostitution and addiction with over $2M in sales revenue and a national network of 50 sister communities.  More than 25,000 volunteers have served at Thistle Farms and Magdalene. Thistle Farms has 19 international partners to employ women survivors.  Last year alone, they: shipped more than 4,900 packages to 3,800 customers in all 50 states; served more than 3,000 customers at the shop at Thistle Farms and nearly 7,000 people in the Thistle Stop Café; employed 41 survivors across all departments; housed 61 in the Magdalene program; provided 1,873 medical and mental health appointments to survivors; funded 208 women’s salaries around the world through global partnerships; and launched the Welcome Project (employing 10 Syrian refugee women who have manufactured more than 900 mats). In spring 2016, Becca watched a grim video about the refugee crisis in Greece and decided to do something about it.  In April of last year, Becca arrived at a barren refugee camp on the Greek island of Evia armed with two looms and a unique idea: to teach the women there how to weave welcome mats from discarded life jackets worn during the treacherous sea crossing from Syria.

Through their work at Thistle Farms, Becca and all the residents prove every day that they are more than what they were led to believe and that their potential is unimaginable.  “We will continue to rise to the occasion for the thousands of women still on the streets, who deserve to be more than just survivors of child rape, trafficking, prostitution and addiction.”

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