Getting people to talk to you at a hotel known for prostitution and drugs isn’t that difficult, says Rhiannon Dobson. All the time, she asserts, people are watching.
“We’ll cruise the parking lots and knock on doors. Everyone wants something for free, man,” testifies Dobson, a member of Sherwood Baptist Church and co-founder of Rahab’s Haven, a separate ministry that reaches out to the lower-income community, and in particular, those impacted by human trafficking.
Dobson knew God had called her to minister in areas of her city that others tended to avoid. She started Rahab’s Haven in the summer of 2018 with her friend Karma Scardino, whose husband Mark serves as children’s pastor at Sherwood. Their motivation hasn’t changed: tell others about Jesus.
“We didn’t realize the extent to which this ministry would go,” Dobson said. “We were just two mamas who went with our children and felt a younger generation needed to hear the Gospel.”
That began with hosting backyard Bible clubs almost anywhere they could find an unoccupied patch of grass. Whether in public parks or local housing projects, the two and their children would lead in games and stories.
“We felt called by the Great Commission as believers,” Dobson said.
It began with a day at the lake when she heard their kids talking to some others. One of her children had been singing a song about Noah’s Ark, piquing another’s curiosity. That led to a Gospel conversation, which led to a few of the kids praying to become believers.
That child’s unfamiliarity with a part of Scripture she knew so well struck Dobson.
“It made us realize there’s a generation that’s not going to come into our churches,” she said. “That led to the backyard Bible clubs. They were simple. We’d hand out freeze pops, Bibles and share the Gospel. Other kids started bringing their moms. Many of them were women working on the street.”
Dobson’s prior experience in jail visitation and similar ministries led to a desire to work among those in Albany caught up in human trafficking. So, following the backyard Bible clubs, she and Scardino would drive around looking for women who needed food and/or feminine hygiene products.
“It started out with just a bottle of water,” Scardino recalled. “Then, we saw a spark in our children’s eyes when they shared the Gospel.”
They still provide a bottle of water and hygiene products, but now their offerings may include something to eat and other supplies. Over the last few months, medical and cloth masks have been readily received.
“These are people who need someone to recognize them,” Scardino said. “By that, I mean to see them as people who need healthy relationships. A lot of these women are recognized for the wrong reasons. They want others to see them as a person.”
Gift bags have remained a staple of the outreach efforts of Rahab’s Haven. Photo from Facebook
The name of their organization — Rahab’s Haven — points to the prostitute whose story is told primarily in the second and sixth chapters of Joshua. It focuses on a place of security, a safe haven. First, Rahab’s home that was built into the wall of Jericho kept the two Israelite spies safe. Later, as Joshua led his army into the city, Rahab and her family were kept safe there upon the promise of the spies.
Rahab’s story contains all kinds of aspects one wouldn’t automatically align with the Gospel. First of all, she was a “harlot,” a prostitute. Her first act was to lie to the king of Jericho to throw him off the scent of the spies. But despite her past, she would eventually become part of Jesus’ lineage.
The impact of Hurricane Michael in October 2018 forced a temporary pause in the ministry. Meanwhile, Dobson took a position at Sherwood Christian Academy.
“But I got convicted that I wasn’t doing what God had gifted me — and burdened me — to do,” she said. “I spent time fasting and in prayer with my husband Scott. In the end I felt led to leave my position with the school.”
She and Scardino spent three days at Wellspring Living in Atlanta to receive training on working with trafficking victims.
Rahab’s Haven has grown in volunteers. Plans include building a restoration home where trafficking victims can spend 12-18 months for education and recovery.
The COVID-19 pandemic has had obvious downsides, but there is also a silver lining for Rahab’s Haven. Dobson attributes an increase in volunteers to those now at home with more time to get involved.
“We just want people to be in this for Jesus,” she said. “I know what Jesus has done for my life, and I want that to be for other people.”
Scott Barkley is editor of The Christian Index.