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THANK GOD, SHE GOT OFF THAT BUS


By John Grossi

Photos by Monique Kuhlman


Warning: The following story delves into heart-wrenching, painful, adult content.


Meet Janelle Williams (name changed for privacy), resident of the Long Beach Rescue Mission’s Lydia House since June 2022.


This is the face of someone who’s been rescued. The face of someone who desperately needed to be rescued.


Not from homelessness—though she was homeless when she got off that bus. Not from sex trafficking—though she was trafficked and lived in a prison-like house as a sex slave from ages 14-24.


She got on a bus to escape that situation. One morning at a hotel in Michigan, 10 years into her imprisonment, her captor sent Janelle to the lobby for some snacks. She was told to come right back up.


Experiencing her first 15 minutes of freedom in a decade, Janelle bolted from the hotel lobby with nothing but the clothes on her back, and headed for a Greyhound station. No money, no ID, nothing. A nice couple paid for her bus ticket.


Folks—this is not a story from some dark past in history. This was 2007-2017 in America. While her peers graduated from middle school, high school, then college, and began their careers, Janelle was held captive by a man who was supposed to babysit her for one night when she was 14.


Where were her parents? Surely outraged, right?

Her parents were both dead. She was raised in a series of foster homes in California and Texas. Janelle had been with her last foster mom and dad for three years when one night they told her that their friend was going to watch her while they went to dinner. That “friend” drove her to a drug house where she was thrown into a cage. She had become a sex slave. She prayed and prayed to get out of that cage. But the same prayers that she whispered at age 14 were still unanswered at age 16. They were still unanswered at age 20. She lost all faith.


Didn’t your foster parents look for you? Did they know what happened?

I asked her in disbelief. “Oh yah, they knew,” said Janelle, who can talk about her past for the first time ever at age 30. “The man I had called my foster Dad paid me quite a few visits in that cage.”


At age 24, all of that was behind her and she was on the run. Yes, she was “homeless.” She eventually got back to California where she knew she had some family.


She met a man with whom she began a relationship. The two lived together in the city of Carson and had a daughter. Then the relationship became rough. Abusive. She put up with it for a while. Until she realized her daughter was becoming old enough to understand what was happening. This was not the reality she wanted her daughter to grow up watching. She fled that situation in the middle of the night with her daughter by her side.


She stayed on couches with friends and family for a few months. Long enough to find out that she was once again pregnant. Long enough to hear that the father of her children had been incarcerated.


Life moved fast. She gave birth. She wore out her welcome on the couches. She ran through her government vouchers for hotels and motels. All of the sudden, she had nowhere to go. She had two kids, no job, no money, no home, a horrid past, and an unsure future.


“I didn’t know what to do that day I ran out of vouchers, but I had to distract my kids. So we hopped on a bus and went down to the beach,” she remembers. Her kids played on the beach while she cried. Then they hopped back on the bus. Going nowhere.


GET OUT HERE!

Janelle’s kids were crying on the bus. People were looking at them. She was crying. She was closing her eyes and she was praying. She cried and prayed and cried and prayed. The bus kept driving.


“All of the sudden I heard this voice in my head. Get out here. Get out here. It wouldn’t go away. It felt like God was yelling at me!” said Janelle. So she got off the bus.


“I got out and looked up and saw a school and I was just like, why the heck did I get out here?” But then, Janelle looked across the street and saw a sign that said Long Beach Rescue Mission. “I thought, well maybe they can rescue me.” She went and knocked on the door. She had never heard of Long Beach Rescue Mission or had even been to Long Beach. She was hopeless and homeless yet sure that God had finally answered a prayer in her life. Why else would she have gotten out right in front of this Mission?


RESCUED

Almost a year later, Janelle Williams feels rescued. No, not from homelessness but from things much worse. She has been rescued from her past and so many of the mental complications that go along with it. Through therapy and counseling, she is now able to talk about the things that happened to her.


“The counselors made me understand that what happened was not my fault and that I’m not being judged by people. And even if I am, that it’s not their place to judge me. I’ve done a lot of unpacking here.”


In addition to stabilizing her mental health and understanding the importance of being emotionally strong for her children, Janelle has also been rescued from a deep state of dependency.


“I was a very dependent person- always looking for someone to tell me what to do or how to do it. Being here has taught me that I can do things on my own. It’s me that makes things happen with prayer. It’s not anyone else’s responsibility to make sure that me and my children are okay. No one’s going to take care of them the way that I do,” Janelle reflected.


Most of all, at Long Beach Rescue Mission, Janelle found Jesus again. “Life keeps testing me, but I know my faith is stronger. I don’t know how else to describe it. When I was on that bus, my prayers were answered. Right when me and my kids most needed to be saved.”


While at the Lydia House this year, Janelle found out her oldest daughter is autistic. “Everything that comes at me, I don’t know how I’d handle it if I didn’t have my prayer back. To have this security of prayer and faith in Jesus and the trust I have in people here, it’s such a blessing.”


Through the help, guidance, and accountability provided by the Lydia House at Long Beach Rescue Mission, Janelle applied for and was granted a rare scholarship that will allow her to continue going to school (she’s working to be-come a mortician) while sending her daughters to Precious Lamb Preschool here in Long Beach.


Why did she choose a career path as a mortician?

“A lot of people think what I’ve been through would have broken me. I think I can shine a light to other people dealing with sadness,” she says. “A lot of people don’t want sympathy. They want empathy. I want to show people peace and kindness and love.”


When she graduates from the one-year program at Long Beach Rescue Mission, she’ll be moving with her daughters into an apartment while continuing to work toward her career. Until then, she will continue in her recovery in the hopes that her children won’t ever need to be rescued the way she did.


LONG BEACH RESCUE MISSION

The Long Beach Rescue Mission (LBRM) is a non-government affiliated, Christian-based homeless shelter in West Long Beach. The Mission accepts donations of any type and welcomes you to visit in-person to learn more about the way they are transforming lives, one person at a time. Want to learn more? Executive Director, Jeff Levine invites you to a personal tour or ride along with him. You can email Jeff at jlevine@lbrm.org or call him at 562-277-4697 to schedule a visit and experience for yourself.


(562) 591-1292 | 1335 Pacific Ave, Long Beach, CA 90813



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