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A Survivor's Heart

Toni McKinley's speech from The Refuge Ranch's Groundbreaking on October 25, 2016. Tony is a Director Crowns of Hope,


A Survivor's Heart

By Toni McKinley

When I read [Corrie ten Boom's] quote every nerve in my body agreed; I have been seeking love for so long. When I used to think of love I had immense pain in my soul and it brought tears of hurt to the surface. Corrie goes on to say, “Love is the strongest force in the world, and when it is blocked that means pain. There are two things we can do when this happens. We can kill that love so that it stops hurting. But then of course part of us dies, too. Or we can ask God to open up another route for that love to travel.” After much endurance I decided to kill that love. I was 17 years old. By this time I had been trafficked more times than I care to remember. That is when I gave into a purpose that man planned for me. To be used by men. I thought I stopped the hurt by killing love, but God had another plan. And later in life someone brought that love back. That someone brought hope. That hope relit my spark and brought back my desire to be loved and to love again.

The Refuge can nurture that hope for girls who have gave up on ever being loveable. I do not know if they know this, but I have been watching and learning about the Refuge before they ever knew about me. Over time, I learned a lot from their actions, their demeanor, and their grace. I knew they were building something with purpose and with love.

At the age of 15 I had been in two homes for girls. I do not know what my guardians went through to find these homes and I do not know options that were available at that time. What I do know is that the environment was not trauma informed, they did not have an educated caring staff, and it was not safe from exploitation.

Currently, as a therapist, I have had to research safe homes for adolescents who needed a safe place to heal. The results of my findings shocked me and the more I researched the more appreciative I became for the Refuge. The Refuge took their time to do the research needed to ensure that trafficked girls receive the best care they deserve. I never thought that my story of hurt and pain could be used to help build a safe and nurturing environment. As I sat with the architects from Reach, who designed this beautiful refuge, I told them my experience, the good and the bad, of living in a home for girls. They intently listened and asked questions in order to ensure the design was going to be a safe and therapeutic environment. We had lots of fun hashing over how I would run away and the best places to get in a fight when the house mom was out of sight. I told them activities I thought would help me recover as a teen and design ideas that help curve boredom. I am deeply grateful to know that someone cares enough about us, survivors of trafficking, to take the time to make sure their home is survivor informed.

As a therapist who works with survivors, I am excited that there will be a place available that I can trust; a place where I would literally send my own daughter. There are few places that have taken this great of care to ensure the safety and healing of the trauma that trafficked girls have had to endure. I am proud to have been a part of this inspiration. The Refuge has contributed to my healing and will deeply contribute to the healing of trafficked girls all over our country. Because of caring people like the ones at the Refuge many girls will have a route to love. They will not have to kill the love to block the pain, but they will be guided to a new route that God will provide so they no longer consider man’s evil purpose and desire for their life, but know the purpose that God has desired, to take the pain and use it for good, the saving of many lives.

I want to thank Reach Architects for their time and compassion and for the Refuge for blessing me and giving this part of my story a purpose. And thank you Brooke! Thank you from the bottom of my heart for taking on this almost impossible task for us. Your love will bless survivors for an eternity! And thank you to all your staff and volunteers for putting in the hours it takes to make this dream happen. Thank you for opening a route to love!

Toni McKinley, M.A., LPCI, is a survivor and Director of Crowns of Hope. Tony gave this speech at The Refuge Ranch's Groundbreaking, October 25th, 2016.