"Relying on God has to start all over every day, as if nothing has yet been done."  
C. S. Lewis

And just like that, January is already over.  This month flew by, but it's been one heck of an adventure.  While I was planning for a time of rest and recovery, God was planning for a time of ministry and opportunity.  I didn't see it coming.  

The days have been filled with church functions, relationship building, speaking engagements, outreach presentations, baptism celebrations, local human trafficking awareness projects, and even an application (and acceptance) into grad school!  Whew, you still with me?!  *Tries to catch breath*

As I've journeyed through each one of these busy days, uncertain of what the next afternoon would hold and uncertain of how I'd even pay for the gas in my car, I've been challenged to cling to Jesus.  When I try to force things or events or relationships in my own strength, I continuously get burnt out, emotional, and overwhelmed.  But when I let Jesus take the lead, holding me kindly by the hand down a path I've never traveled before, things always seem to work out just fine.  (Temper tantrums, freak outs, and tons of grace and love still included.)   

So onwards we go!  One step at a time.  Here's a little glimpse into all of the "happenings" of this month!
On January 16th, my mom invited me to speak at the Miami Shores Community Church School Career Day event!  The preschool through fifth-grade classes were present during the presentation.  I told the kids about what it meant to be a missionary, and I shared the "Valuable to Jesus" lesson with them!  The kids learned that they each were uniquely created by God, that God has a dream for their lives, that they are loved and cherished by the King of Kings, and that they can say No against all kinds of abuse!  It was so much fun getting to partner with my mom for this event and getting the chance to share about the work I do with STOP in South Africa!
On January 19th, I was asked to speak on an anti-human trafficking awareness panel at Calvary Chapel Plantation.  My friend Karis Williams organized the event; she is the founder of Sparks of Grace which is a platform that works to unite likeminded ministries in the fight against human trafficking.  The panel was called "Together for Freedom," and its focus was to equip and empower the church body to combat human trafficking on both a local and global level.  Practical ways to partner with ministries, how to donate to the cause, ways to raise awareness, and how to volunteer were all items up for discussion.  Through a Q&A session, we were able to dig deeper into several of the issues that were specifically plaguing the South Florida area.

The panel event had a turn out of over 100 people, and the topics stirred the hearts of many in the audience.  We hope that this event is just the beginning of a fierce movement where the church will choose to stand up against sexual exploitation and human trafficking in our world today.
On January 20th, ADAPT Gym in North Miami partnered with me to set up a human trafficking awareness fundraiser!  The fabulous team of trainers joined hands with me for Human Trafficking Prevention Month to plan a high-intensity workout, speak out against this injustice, and raise support for the work that I am doing with STOP in South Africa.  We had a blast "sweating for a cause" so here's a big THANK YOU to everyone who made this event possible!
On January 17th and 24th, I attended the Hands of Love bible study in Ft. Lauderdale!  This bible study was written and created by Linda Cucci, a woman from my local church who is passionate about raising up princess warriors and teaching girls about their worth and identity in Christ.

After I attended the first bible study session as a guest speaker, I was asked to come back to teach the girls a lesson in self-defense!  It was such a joy to help equip these young women with the tools and the knowledge necessary to protect themselves AND each other from harm.  As daughters of the King, these beautiful girls learned that they are princesses by birth (through faith in Christ and adoption into God's royal family) and that they can and should embrace their strength and courage as warriors who have a voice.  Seeing their confidence grow from the beginning of class to the end was so special.  The girls learned how to defend themselves from chokeholds, wrist/arm grabs, bear hug attacks, and more! 

One of the teachers who participated in the self-defense class said to me, "Sam I had no idea that I was allowed to defend myself and fight back as a Christian woman.  I had no idea that Jesus wanted me to not just defend myself but also defend other women who might be in danger too.  I didn't know I could be loving and strong!"
It's so cool when God connects different people to make big things happen for His kingdom!  While I was at a church fundraiser in December, I met a missionary and bible teacher named Charlene who invited me to be a speaker during her school's chapel session! She provided me with the opportunity to speak to both the middle school and high school learners at the Boca Raton Christian School, and the Lord moved in exciting ways!

After sharing two presentations with the middle school and high school learners, I was approached by a group of sweet, energetic, and passionate young women who were ready and willing to stand up against sexual exploitation and human trafficking in their school and their local community.  They had plans to fight back by starting an anti-human trafficking initiative with their classmates and they wanted to learn how to organize local street outreaches.  I am so excited to see what will take shape over these next few months as I brainstorm with these girls!  
Just yesterday, I was asked to speak about the dangers of human trafficking at my old high school, Chaminade-Madonna in Hollywood, FL.  Being able to go back to where it all started was surreal. 

The entire school was gathered together which gave me the chance to speak to both the students and the teachers, who were so welcoming and receptive!  I taught the kids about various human trafficking scams, the different types of trafficking that occur both in the US and on a global level, ways to identify HT and prevent it, and how to report it.  The students were equipped with the tools necessary to combat HT on a day to day basis in their local communities.  I ended the presentation by informing the students that they are the next generation of freedom fighters and that gaining victory over this battle starts with them.  When they know who they are in Christ, respect and honor one another as brothers and sisters, and stand up against injustice - change can happen.
Can you guys believe that it's been three years since I first moved to South Africa?  Looking back at the journey, I am amazed.  Each season has challenged me to grow in ways I never thought possible.  My heart has been broken, my faith has been strengthened, and my passion has intensified.  I have held hands with victims, spoken at conferences, walked through the streets with women caught in prostitution, played soccer with pimps, and shared the Gospel message of hope with children all across the Western Cape of South Africa. 

Through the anti-human trafficking work that I have been doing with STOP, I have learned that prevention is always better cure, that raising awareness is necessary for change, and that building grace-based Jesus relationships with survivors is the key to helping them find freedom and rediscover their identities. 

I desire to go deeper into ministry than I have ever gone before, specifically with sex trafficking survivors.  There is a great need that I want to help meet.  God has given me a heart to teach, disciple, and counsel, and I want to steward the gifts He's given me by learning how to wield them most efficiently.  One of the best ways to use my gifts is to help those who have been caught and trapped in human trafficking find hope, healing, and the love of Christ. 

So I applied to grad school, and I got accepted.

This coming March I will begin my first online class at Liberty University pursing a degree in their 60 hour Master of Arts in Professional Counseling Program.  My goal is to continue the missionary work that I am doing with STOP in South Africa while I take one online course at a time.  By the end of my studies (hopefully in three years time), I hope to finish my internship hours stateside and pass the exam to become a Licensed Mental Health Counselor.

My vision is to use my counseling degree and license to counsel and disciple female sex trafficking survivors all over the globe, by partnering with safehouses, ministries, and NGO's.  Through a biblical and Christ-centered approach to trauma counseling, I hope to share the love and grace of Jesus as I help these victims/survivors find freedom, healing, hope, and restoration.  There are very few counselors who currently work with sex trafficking survivors, so I want to be one that does.  By equipping myself with the tools, experience, and knowledge necessary be the hands and feet of Jesus in their broken world, I want to find ways to enter into their dark place and shine the bright light of Jesus. 

Because I will still be a full-time missionary on the field living solely on donations, this is a huge step of faith, but during these past three years, I have experienced God's faithfulness to provide for the dreams He's planted in my heart.  He truly is the God of the impossible! 

So please join me in prayer for financial provision, for the Holy Spirit to empower me to work as a missionary on the field while I study at the same time, and for this long-term vision of walking hand in hand with sex trafficking survivors all over the world. 

To all of you reading this newsletter, thank you for believing in me and in the work that God has called me to do.  Thank you for your constant support, prayers, and encouragement, because without it, I wouldn't be where I am today.
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Sam Stokesberry · P.O. Box 2302, Dennesig · Stellenbosch, Wc S-7601 · South Africa

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