Noemi is a church planter in the Los Angeles area and one of the co-founders of Brave Global, a non-profit that educates and empowers young girls who might otherwise be vulnerable to human trafficking.
During the process of church planting, Noemi and her team realized quickly they needed to pay attention to the needs of the community. On Friday nights they would offer food and prayers, as well as counseling, medical care, and support for anyone looking to take steps away from situations they recognize are exploitative. Another woman from the church, who worked for the city, learned at a conference that 80-90% of young women at risk of being trafficked had contact with the foster care system. This led to the creation of their own conference designed to empower young girls who are at risk in this way: the Brave Conference. Noemi loves sharing this story because it highlights the fact that the best ideas for ministry don’t often come from the pastor, but from the pastor listening to their congregants and hearing their passions.
Brave Global partnered with the DHS and the probation system to bring girls to their first conference in 2014, hosting nearly 200. All the speakers were women who had gone through something difficult and talked—without preaching—about how faith changed their lives. The response they got from DHS and the probation system was overwhelming, with stories of girls who changed their attitudes toward education and authority. They hosted the conference 2 more times and it grew rapidly by 75-100 girls per year. They most recently hosted an event with 600 girls.
Nationwide speaker Danielle Strickland, who also does a lot of work with exploited women around the world, suggested that the conference could be global. Now Brave Global trains churches around the country and internationally to do this same work. In just 2 years they have hosted over 25 conferences across the country as well as several more abroad. At the conferences they give resources and materials to participants to take with them, including a postcard with all the music played at the conference, bits of scripture, how to follow the organization and speakers on social media, as well as a journal they have produced themselves. Currently, they are working on a Spanish language version of the journal as well.
Over the years the Brave Conference has grown into what Noemi calls, “a beautiful Kingdom collaboration.” Churches in Long Beach donate thousands of dollars to the conferences, and she has seen how the local church can be mobilized to reach out to vulnerable girls. One story that sticks out for Noemi came from a probation officer. An officer went into the home of a young girl who had attended a conference and in her home was a shrine of all the things they had given away at the conference. The officer offered to connect her to the church and a relationship developed. Now a woman from the church stays in touch with this young girl and picks her up for worship.
One of the biggest key practices for Noemi is trusting that our lives speak the Gospel in real and relatable ways. In the story of Zaccheus, Jesus’ presence and love is what transforms him, not a sermon. Highlighting how faith influences and transforms lives has been a guiding principle for Brave Conference speakers and how they share their stories.
Another key practice is that the conference ideally takes place inside a church building because many of the participants have no connection with a church or even negative impressions of churches. This can help associate the church with positive experiences, transformation and freedom. However, during the conferences they are very careful and intentional with words and references, to minimize triggers related to past negative experiences.
One of Noemi’s biggest insights throughout this whole process is that people outside the church are more excited to work with churches than people inside the church may expect. Service organizations and professionals are looking for help and partnerships. Churches can be a critical piece in that puzzle. Building outside relationships with the DHS and Probation have been crucial for the success of Brave. The relationship is so strong now that they are allowed to pray for girls at the conferences if they ask for it, LA county has begun handing out gift cards to girls who attend the conferences, and there have been inquiries about doing something for young boys as well.
Loving and healing God, you make all things new. Mend fences between congregations and communities that we may have ignored or neglected. Motivate us to see people we have overlooked, including vulnerable young people. Amen.
About the Author
Timothy Bowman is an ELCA pastor currently serving in the Southeastern Minnesota Synod along with his wife, Allyson. Most recently serving as Associate Pastor at Christ the King Lutheran Church in Mankato, MN, he is now serving Grace Lutheran Church in Nerstrand, MN, and also serves as a board member of Crossroads Campus Ministry at Minnesota State Mankato. Tim has an MDiv (Luther Seminary) and a BA (Bethel University). As part of the Seeds Project Tim is partnering with Luther Seminary’s Faith+Lead platform as a Digital Journalist working to share the stories of identified Innovators on Faith+Lead.