Have you ever spent your entire summer break working harder than you did during the actual school year? Did you ever think you might voluntarily sacrifice basically all of your free time and family vacations? Did you ever think you might actually enjoy doing such things?
My name is Jeremy Woltz, and I just finished my summer internship with The Gray Haven Project. I am a student at Union Presbyterian Seminary in Richmond, and I am also currently employed at West End Assembly of God as the Co-Director of a college-age ministry creatively titled, “Eighteen22,” to reflect the average ages of students within the community. These three mixed together equaled a summer of very little time off, and even less time to myself. Yet through the past three months, I never regretted a single minute of missed sleep, rushed commuting, or overtime work.
Working with The Gray Haven Project this summer was, at the least, an eye-opening experience. At this point, I think it is safe to assume that we have all been introduced to the concept of Human Trafficking in some capacity or another. I came in with cursory knowledge about this industry, and was quickly humbled by my ineptitude on the subject.
Like many people with only surface-level knowledge, I believed Human Trafficking was an issue in countries like Cambodia or Thailand. It took all of 4 hours on the first day to blow my mind with the realities of this injustice’s presence right here in my hometown of 21 years. Richmond, Va., is rife with human trafficking, both labor and sex. And it is hidden so well, we see it everyday and don’t even give it a second-look.
It is precisely due to that reason that I am so grateful to have had the opportunity to work alongside the caliber of people Josh, Andrea, and Sean have proven themselves to be. These three young adults, whose ages average out to 30, have shown an unbelievable commitment to doing the “dirty work” other trafficking organizations won’t.
Case management (which proves to be a misnomer once you see the relationship and care each Gray Haven staff member develops with those they serve) requires making these survivors a part of your life. Praying for them daily, allowing them a safe place to vent and make mistakes without the fear of being forced out and turned away, calming the anxiety of day-to-day activities, and accepting each survivor as a person who has as much to teach as they do to learn, as much to offer as receive, and as a valuable human being who is growing in all facets of life - just as you are.
Awareness is important. Without it, I doubt even Josh or Andrea would have gotten into this field. But once you become aware, or make others aware, what steps do you take next? This is the question The Gray Haven Project tackles with all their energy and strength, and their answer is, “Serve the individuals who need it. And serve them with a future of hope and restoration, not a daily reminder of their past.” (Disclaimer: I’m quoting myself here, no one ‘official.’ I was just an intern, but I can say things, too...right? Maybe I should go ask Josh...)
So as my internship concludes, I truly understand how something can be “bittersweet.”
Bitter, because my time interning here could never be considered a waste, or a poor use of my time. I have learned a great amount about leadership, about service, and about humanity. I have developed relationships I hope to maintain well into my old-age, and hopefully after. And as one headed toward Parish Ministry (honestly, I didn’t know what ‘parish’ meant, either. I looked it up...it means ‘church,’ as in the building), I have learned that not everything worthwhile has to come in a “faith-based” package.
Sweet, because while my time was well-spent between Gray Haven, School, and College ministry, it was all-spent. There were moments I wasn’t sure I could go to bed at 3am after draining all my energy with college students at karaoke night and then roll myself out of bed and into my dark-wash jeans and button-up shirt at 8am to go to work. But every day, I was welcomed warmly and reminded of why this place exists. And suddenly, a few hours lack of sleep didn’t seem to hold me back. That being said, I am excited to no longer lack those hours, but rather gorge myself on the sweet sleep I was denied all summer.
I have every intention of continuing to serve The Gray Haven Project where and when I can. And I encourage you to take such a commitment under consideration, as well. It is rare to find three people overflowing with such passion, and even rarer to have the opportunity to work beside them. Do yourself a favor, don’t miss it.