Restoration and the Master Craftsman

Ashley Vrabel: Survivor of Sex Trafficking

I think the one thing we all crave is a happy ending. It’s why we go to the movies. A story filled with drama and suspense that keeps us guessing is how we like it—as long it ends well. In the end, most of us want justice for the bad guy. We want the couple reunited, love saved, and the promise of hope as the credits roll.

Most of all, I think, we want restoration. When you get right down to it, most movies are ultimately about things broken that we desperately want fixed.

As I continue to speak with the survivors of human trafficking and share their stories for our Lighthouse for Life ongoing video series, “The Truth of Trafficking: From Dark to Light,” restoration is a recurring theme.

In truth, trafficked survivors are like antique pieces of furniture whose value was under-appreciated. Over the years, the furniture gets passed on or is sold to different owners. The wood gets scratched up and scarred. The shiny veneer fades, replaced by layers of paint as each new owner tries to make it fit their taste and décor.

But one day, after years of maltreatment in the wrong hands, the furniture lands in the hands of an expert—someone who recognizes the value of the exquisite piece beneath the paint.

And so the long, slow, meticulous restoration process begins. The sanding away of all those years, the removal of all those layers, takes time and attention.

Eventually, the hard work and devotion pays off. At last, the authentic wood—the beauty of the original craftsman’s work—is revealed, and the coverup is forever stripped away.

Now comes the time for fresh polish. For shiny new veneer. For the protective coats that will heighten the original beauty.

But the most beautiful part of the piece is its imperfections. Its dings and nicks speak to its strength and its years in service. It is as useful as the day it was first created and restored for an even greater purpose.

That is the story of the trafficked survivor.

The courage to get out of “the life” and leave it behind is only the start of a long, hard road pitted with setbacks.

Every day, she must will herself to chip away at the layers of paint—the deep stain of shame, of doubt and hopelessness.

She must sand away at the labels stuck to her: addict, prostitute, criminal, worthless.

She must resist the urge to reapply the familiar: This is what you know. This is all you’re good for. Or good at. You don’t deserve love.

The survivors I’ve been privileged to meet all have one thing in common: They’ve all surrendered to the Master Craftsman.

Like that antique piece of furniture, they have placed their lives in the hands of an expert who is restoring them.

“I have tried everything for 20 years to get clean and sober and free from trafficking,” survivor Ashley Vrabel tells me. “Nothing worked until I tried God.”

Once addicted to drugs and trafficked by gangs, Ashley now counsels other women out of the life. She is a remarkable spokesperson on the subject and mom to two beautiful, healthy kids.

But this isn’t a movie. There are no perfect endings this side of heaven. Each trafficked victim works long and hard to keep stripping away at the past. Each is working to make amends with family, to bridge gaps with their kids and make peace with their mistakes.  

There are setbacks and fears. Frustrations abound. And while most of them have forgiven their abusers, they wrestle hard with forgiving themselves.

But then comes their Creator, reminding them again and again that they were created for a purpose. All of them are deeply committed to helping other trafficked and abused women.

The Master Craftsman has his most treasured apprentices in these women, it seems.

He is a God of restoration, and His is the ultimate story of hope.