“Six years ago, I realized trafficking isn’t something that just happens in other countries.” says Amy Fatzinger, a Georgian wife and mother of three boys.
She can’t recall quite how her research started. One day, provoked to learn about ministries geared toward women in stripping, pornography, and prostitution, she simply started to stumble upon one repeated phrase: sex trafficking. As she dug deeper, her eyes were opened to the hellish world that thrives closer to home than she ever expected. Girls are forced into sexual slavery every day. To put things into perspective, The Urban Institute reported in 2014 that Atlanta’s 2007 sex trade revenue was 2.5 times higher than the Atlanta Falcons’ 2013 payroll.
Even more shocking came the realization that such inhumanity is often hiding in plain sight.
“I soon realized that what I know as reality is not reality,” Fatzinger explains. “[Sex trafficking] is happening in suburbia. It’s happening in the city. It’s happening to people from all kinds of socioeconomic backgrounds.”
Indeed, victims of sex trafficking may come from upper-middle class, church-going families and earn straight As in school. Abusers may be teachers, coaches, or dentists. The bad guy isn’t always a shady villain in a trench coat; sometimes he or she hides behind the face of a person who seems most worthy of trust. Appearances don’t matter. Darkness doesn’t discriminate.
As her knowledge of the issue grew, so did Fatzinger’s desire to do something about it. She says, however, that her efforts to connect with ministries targeted toward women involved in the sex industry were long met with disappointing silence.
“I wrote emails to different ministries asking if I could wash dishes, clean floors, cook, whatever. I just wanted to serve,” Fatzinger explains. “For about a year, I didn’t hear anything back. Then all of a sudden, I started getting emails back, [but] didn’t feel ready anymore.”
She accepted one invitation to serve, nonetheless, and cooked and cleaned for an assessment centre in Atlanta. By serving abused women who were coming out of prison, addiction, and prostitution, Fatzinger took her first step toward a better understanding of God’s compassion for the trafficked.
“I think the best thing to do is just plant yourself under someone already in the fight and serve while looking for needs,” she says.
The new volunteer’s picture of God’s vast love grew as her heart continued to break for the women she met — women with brilliant minds and beautiful souls, tucked deep inside lives ravaged by devastating circumstances.
The Stepping Stones
It quickly became apparent that Fatzinger had an affinity for connecting with the girls she ministered to. In 2011, when Jeff Shaw launched Out of Darkness, an anti-trafficking ministry of the Atlanta Dream Center, Fatzinger was recommended to him as a trainer for outreach volunteers. Fellow staff members soon came to lean on her for support and wisdom.
“I would say she was definitely a person I would draw from because she had worked so closely with the women,” says Anne Kerr, founder of TrueNorth Freedom Project, a men’s ministry intended to decrease demand for pornography and prostitution, and former assistant director at Out of Darkness. “I would call her because she had connected with them on such a deep level.”
Early on, Fatzinger cultivated that connection through her willingness to answer 3 a.m. calls, provide rides when needed, and sit up overnight with fear-stricken girls.
As a musician, Fatzinger carries her guitar almost everywhere. In the darkest hours, she acts as a conduit for the Holy Spirit, singing girls to sleep with a melodic reminder of hope. It is a simple act of love for those precious to her.
“My favourite thing to do is just sit with the girls through the night, singing Scripture, singing Psalms,” Fatzinger reveals.
It was during one such overnight stay in Atlanta that “God of the Breakthrough” was born. Now on the radio, Fatzinger’s song of triumph and healing was written for her friends who have been trafficked.
Initially, Fatzinger hoped to launch her own recovery centre, a campus where victims of human trafficking could be at home and receive healing through strong friendships, responsibility, and education.
But as time went on, her view shifted to “protecting the vulnerable,” those most at risk for being targeted by traffickers. In an effort to stop slavery before it begins, Fatzinger focuses on 18-year-olds exiting the foster care system without familial protection or job training. So began the plan for Sparrow’s Nest, a place to help young women become self-sufficient by providing shelter, teaching marketable skills, and demonstrating the love of Christ.
Fatzinger’s husband Shane is key member on Sparrow’s Nest’s Board of Directors, offering strategic administrative guidance. In addition, Fatzinger says her spouse “provides an anchor to reality,” reminding her of goodness when she is surrounded by injustice, and encouraging her when she questions her calling.
“I try to support her vision, especially when she feels like maybe she’s misheard or misunderstood the Lord on it,” Shane says. “I can see through what has happened in the lives of the girls that this is where God has led her.”
Others can see it too.
“When I think of Amy, I think of obedience. The Lord calls her, and she goes,” Kerr says. “She has been refined for this in the fire, through her experiences as a young adult and young mother, and God is faithful to finish what He starts.”
Fatzinger likens her vision for Sparrow’s Nest to the mission of Moses, a man of weak speech and weaker confidence, called to free a people dear to God. Though Sparrow’s Nest is expected to launch no sooner than 2016, efforts to partner with other ministries and agencies are already in motion.
“I don’t mind slow,” Fatzinger shrugs. “I want something that far outlasts my earthly life. My weak, weak, weak, lame ‘yes’ is still on the table. He’s going to do what He’s going to do anyway. This vision has never been mine.”
It has been a hard path. In giving herself to ministry, Fatzinger has not shielded herself from the shocking reality of hurt that humans are capable of inflicting on one another. She has opened her ears and eyes to painful stories that many would close their eyes and cross the street to avoid. Far from emerging unscathed, she has at times contended with feelings of deep depression and anxiety in the process. But, she says, His enduring faithfulness makes her able.
“There is a very high rate of burnout on this end of ministry. I just have to rely on the fact that He cannot be unfaithful. He cannot be untrue.”
Featured photo by Holly Etchison.