Rebuilding Ancient Ruins

“They will build up the ancient ruins; they shall raise up the former devastations; they shall repair the ruined cities, the devastations of many generations.” 
Isaiah 61:4

“Why Waco?” people used to ask us. It’s no secret Waco has a weird, infamous history. It has been affected by oppression, a horrific lynching, a devastating tornado, poverty, and cults. 

Yet, it has also boasted a slew of noteworthy accomplishments and natural gifts: the Suspension Bridge, Cameron Park, Baylor University, Dr. Pepper (hello), Balcones, and Word Music even got it’s start here. I could go on and on. Five years ago when we told people we were from Waco, we usually got a “bless your heart” nod or some would recount “Oh, The Branch Davidian place?”.  Today, without hesitation, people respond: “Oh yeah, The Magnolia/Fixer Upper town.” 
Times are a changin’. 

But, I wonder if you know of the reason God placed Brett and I here? Waco, Texas -- the place that would be the home and headquarters of Jesus Said Love. A town that would hold a space for women affected by the commercial sex industry and help them rebuild their lives. 

When you think of commercial sex today in America there’s a couple of places that come to mind: Las Vegas and Silicon Valley … not Waco. However, about five years ago, I discovered a piece of Waco’s history that knocked the wind right out of me, giving me the clarity to actually see Waco.

In 1889 Waco, Texas became the second legal red-light district in the nation. San Francisco was first, Waco followed suit. At the turn of the century we had over 100 legal working prostitutes and several “bordellos” (brothels) along the banks of the Brazos called “The Reservation” where the convention center now lies. The women paid licensing fees to work in the sex industry, money that went to our city to pay for infrastructure and averaged the equivalent of $25,000 a year by today’s standards. Over a period of 28 years, that’s nearly half a million dollars in taxes to The City of Waco from the commercial sex industry.

Many working prostitutes died of drug overdoses, alcohol, or violence...not much has changed. Reports of insanity are also documented. The average age of consent was 10 years old and many of the working prostitutes who birthed children raised them in the same line of work. The Reservation was shut down by the federal government in 1917.

When we said “yes” to Waco, and planted roots for our family, we had no idea we would be saying “yes” to the work of redeeming a place long devastated. When I drive through Cameron Park now, I don’t just see a pretty river and new development, I hear voices asking to be heard. I see history begging to be shared in order to repair generational poverty. And the good news is, God had Waco for JSL because it’s the perfect place to reconcile past sexual exploitation and “raise up the former devastations.” JSL gets to be a part of this, but today … the women get to be the heroes! 

April 10th, at Wild Torch, you will hear the stories of women who now herald a clarion call to our city and to our state. They are a part of redeeming a space, repairing the gap, in a way that no one else ever could. For such a time as this, they will repair the devastations of many generations and change their family’s legacy. We can’t wait for you to join us in this journey, awakening hope and empowering change!

Emily Mills

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