David and Jo Haggard

When David and Jo Haggard, directors of Blazing Hope Ranch [BHR]), talk about the three R’s, it’s not reading, ‘riting, and ‘rithmetic they have in mind. Instead, they are referring to Restoration, Resistance and Reduction, the three R’s that comprise the mission of Blazing Hope Ranch, a ministry focused on the social problem of human trafficking.

A simple definition for human trafficking is the business of stealing freedom for profit. Traffickers trick, coerce, defraud or physically force victims into selling sex. The traffickers, of course, receive the money while the victims are held against their will or in other threatening conditions. Blazing Hope Ranch in Rhea County exists to provide hope and recovery for those victims of modern-day slavery who have escaped from their captors.

The Ranch is preparing for its sixth annual Hootenanny for Hope, an event where the entire community is invited to dinner, entertainment, a silent auction and an inspiring after-dinner program.

Blazing Hope Ranch opened in 2016. It was a dream in the minds of the Haggards, but even more it was a reverberation in their hearts that couldn’t be ignored. Jo discussed the history of the ranch with me during a recent visit.

The idea for the ranch began at Philadelphia Biblical University. Jo had been given the assignment of designing a youth ministry. Her proposal for the assignment was a residential ranch for troubled kids. That was not her only proposal in Philadelphia. She and David met while in school there, and his proposal led to their marriage shortly after graduation. Now two people began to consider the possibility of a ministry ranch.

While working as a therapist in a residential mental health facility, Jo had her first encounter with victims of human trafficking. She recognized the particular needs of those individuals, needs that were different from other mental health patients.

When the couple came to Tennessee in 2011, they became aware of the limited number of facilities in the state for survivors of human trafficking. And they kept hearing that reoccurring “voice” encouraging them to pursue the possibility of a ranch that could be therapeutic to individuals who had experienced trauma.

It was a posting by Jo on Facebook that led to acquiring the ranch. A member of a Hamilton County church read that post which expressed the Haggards’ concern for victims of human trafficking and the couple’s desire to have a ranch where victims’ lives were reclaimed. The church owned a large tract of land and was willing to lease the land for a nominal fee as long as the land was used for the ranch’s stated mission of RESTORING WHOLENESS to female survivors of human trafficking and WEAKENING THE SEX TRADE through the power of Christ.

For the Haggards, the land was the first of many answers to prayer. Financial supporters made it possible for them to purchase one module home and as a result they were given three additional homes by Vanderbilt Mortgage.

John Blevins, a local supporter said, “I started donating to BHR about six years ago. I had met David and Jo early on, and I kept up with what they were doing to help young women who had been forced to live with the physical, emotional, and mental scars of sexual slavery. I try to help with their financial needs.”

To give you a better understanding of the operations of BHR, let me explain the three R’s. First is Restoration of wholeness to survivors of human trafficking. BHR is a two-year secondary program for survivors who are experiencing difficulty after initial recovery efforts.

The Ranch’s newest employee is Dayton resident Michele DeBoer. When discussing her interest in working at BHR, Michele shared her experience volunteering at the Rhea County Jail.

“I learned there that so many vulnerable women have a low self-worth. I believe they can be so much more, and I look forward to my mentoring role with women at BHR,” she said.

Resistance describes the ranch’s strategy of empowering youth and families to identify and defy the tactics of human traffickers. Youth camps during the summer at the fairgrounds in Rhea and Bledsoe counties provide not only horseback riding experiences, but also training on the dangers and realities of human trafficking.

The final R is Reduction of the market for human trafficking by developing leaders who will protect the value of women. The Haggards envision a formal organization, Guardians of Hope, whose purpose is to bring greater attention to the social problem of human trafficking and to promote activities that acclaim the worth of women.

Jo described the Hootenanny as an opportunity to make local folks aware of the ranch, a chance for donors to have an evening of fun, and a way to raise funds for the operation of the ranch. Tickets are available on the Ranch’s website www.blazinghoperanch.org. Come and “hoot for hope” with us.