Inside each of us is a story. A story that reveals the ups and downs of our journey through life and all the choices we make in between. For Karen and Artie Rayfield, theirs is a story of second chances and silent heroes who came alongside them… heroes who did not give up on them in their darkest days but gave them a reason to look up and keep going. Now they are the silent heroes for so many in our community, all because someone down the road stepped in and made a difference in their story.
Karen moved to Chicago at 19, leaving her home and an abusive relationship behind. Despite wanting to start over and live her dream, she instead found herself living on the streets, pregnant and alone. In her darkest time, she met a woman who helped change her course in life and find new purpose. “Rose gave me a ‘hand up,’ not a ‘hand out,’ because she made me accountable,” Karen said. “She helped me get back on my feet and able to live on my own. I knew that one day I would be able to give back because somebody gave to my life. She saw something in me that I didn’t see in myself.” Able to start again, Karen relocated to Texarkana and raised her son.
At the same time, Artie was also finding his way after the mother of his two young daughters walked out on them. A full-time single dad, Artie worked hard to provide for his girls. He did not want them to struggle like he did as a child. As one of nine brothers and sisters, Artie remembered life with no electricity or running water or shoes to walk to school. Now in charge of a family of his own, he worked multiple jobs to pay the bills, cooked, cleaned and sacrificed for his daughters.
Over the next several years, Artie credits the relationships he made through Church on the Rock and discovering a relationship with Christ as the thing that carried him through. “My co-workers kept inviting me to church, and I finally went because I wanted what they had. Then during my divorce, Pastor John (Miller) would call me and pray with me,” Artie said. “I barely knew him, but that meant so much, and it was during that time that I found Jesus. I found what was missing in my life.”
The next piece of the puzzle for Artie was a wife. “I told the Lord, ‘It’s been eight years. I need a wife. I can’t be like Paul! I want her to love you more than she loves anything else in this world. Because if she loves you, then she’s going to love me.’ Everything I asked for in a wife, He gave to me even more with Karen.”
Artie was shopping with his daughters at Walmart one Friday, when he saw Karen for the first time. “She had her back turned to me, and I said, ‘She looks good from the back!’ She turned around, and I said to myself, ‘Oh, she’s PRETTY!’ We spoke, and I went on to the check-out counter. I kept looking back, and she was smiling at me.” The couple married in 2005.
Because of her experience with Rose, Karen was passionate about giving back. “I was on a mission trip with Church on the Rock in Africa,” Karen explained, “and I remember God telling me that charity begins at home. So, when I returned home, I was at work one day and a guy came in who asked for me specifically. He begged me to come to a service at Church Under the Bridge. I had never seen the man before and have never seen him since. But I dragged Artie there with me that first time and we haven’t turned back.”
At the Saturday morning services, their eyes were opened to the often unseen, impoverished population of homeless in Texarkana. In getting to know these men and women, they saw each one had a story and needs like everyone else: clothes, food, shelter and an opportunity to be back in the workforce again.
When the Rayfields heard many were unable to wash their clothes, they started a laundry ministry. Still happening today, “they have to be homeless and attend the service at Church Under the Bridge. Afterwards, we transport them to Tanglewood Laundromat and provide the quarters and laundry detergent they need,” Karen said.
They also became aware of the hungry elderly staying at the motels on State Line. “They need perishable food because they don’t have a microwave or refrigerator,” Artie said. “Chicken Express gives me chicken every Monday. I pick it up and take it to the homeless camps in the woods and the elderly in the motels.”
Karen and Artie call their ministry “Project Hope,” and they work to not only help clothe and feed those in need, but also to help break the cycle for moms and their children caught in extreme poverty, sex trafficking and prostitution.
“Karen has helped so many women, I can’t even count them,” said Pastor LaNell Miller, wife of Lead Pastor John Miller at Church on the Rock. “She has such a reputation in town that these women know who to go to when they need help. She’s not afraid. I remember she confronted a pimp here in Texarkana about a young, pregnant woman. She stood up to him and said, ‘I’m not judging you, but she’s no good to you. She’s pregnant, so give her to me.’ That’s Karen. Her heart is for these moms and kids, rescuing women out of the sex trade and off the streets. Artie fully supports her mission, and our church is behind them, whatever is needed.”
Karen’s passion is to help women get back on their feet and able to support their families. “I’ll hear where a woman in need is and go to help her. I tell her, ‘Just because life has dealt you a bad hand, you don’t have to stay here.’” Through the support of Church on the Rock, Karen opened Grace House for moms and kids to reestablish themselves. The five-bedroom home is currently filled with ten kids and five moms, which includes a house mom who helps homeschool all the children and provides childcare while the women search for employment. “My long-term goal is to have a larger facility that is big enough to house 40 families,” Karen explained. “We would need churches and organizations throughout Texarkana to partner with us. This is not about me and Artie. This is about the generation we’re leaving behind. Because for these kids, it wasn’t their fault.”
In addition to opening Grace House, Karen (51) and Artie (67) are temporary parents to six young children, ages six years old and under. “This last year, God has just touched my heart. I’ve had girls who have called and asked will you take my baby?” With the Rayfield’s willingness to step up, they have opened up their home to two foster children and four children who were living on the streets. The Rayfields have become “Mimi and Papaw” to grandchildren in their own biological family, but they have also been willing to start over, caring daily for children who are in need. Their most recent addition is a
six-month-old baby girl named Journey.
Journey’s mom was first introduced to Karen six years ago. “I had gotten a call from a lady who thought one of her workers was homeless,” Karen said. “I came and met the mom at midnight when her shift started. The mom came into Grace House, and in the process, I ended up with custody of one of her sons. I kept up a relationship with her and six years later she found out she was pregnant again. She called and said she was going to have an abortion. I told her if she wouldn’t have an abortion, I would help her raise the baby. So now we have Journey.”
Karen is on staff in the Children’s Ministry at Church on the Rock, and Artie came out of retirement and went back to work to help support the new additions to their family. He sees his role as helping any way he can to support Karen and help raise the children. He said, “Pastor John was teasing me one day and asked, ‘What are you going to do with all these kids?’ And I said, ‘Well, Pastor, she said the Lord told her to bring these kids to the house. The Lord didn’t tell me that! But I trust God, and I trust her.’”
To the Rayfields, seeing lives restored reminds them of their own story, and gives them perseverance through the tough days. “The brokenness these moms experience can be messy. But when they see your heart, and if you stay for the long haul, they know they can depend on you,” Karen explained. “When the girls come to me, they see Jesus through my eyes. But by the time they leave and are out on their own, they know Him for themselves. It’s always my goal to reestablish the family. So once the family is back together, I still want to be their ‘Mimi.’ I want to have fun with the kids and be able to say, ‘Go back home to your momma!’ And I hope to God these women get there.”
Twenty years ago, most of us had never heard the term “human trafficking.” However, because of the hidden nature of the crime, it is essentially impossible to know with certainty how many people are trafficked in the United States.
Unfortunately, Texarkana, USA is not exempt from these detestable practices and it is up to all of us to be watchful and step up to offer a helping hand to victims.
Today, worldwide, there are 40.3 million victims. 75% women and girls, 25% children. *The International Labour Organization
Human trafficking is modern-day slavery and involves the use of force, fraud or coercion to obtain some type of labor or commercial sex act. *Department of Homeland Security
Sex trafficking occurs when force, fraud or coercion is used to cause a commercial sex act with an adult. Force, fraud or coercion need not be present for sex trafficking to occur with a child under the age of 18. When a commercial sex act occurs with a child under the age of 18, it is by definition sex trafficking. *U.S. Department of State
4.8 million people are involved in forced sexual exploitation worldwide, with more than 1 million of those victims being children under the age of 18. *International Labour Organization
Human trafficking is a $150 billion industry worldwide. *International Labour Organization
90.8% of trafficking survivors reported being arrested, whereas we estimate fewer than 10% of buyers are arrested. *National Survivor Network
92% of victims are physically assaulted. *Loyola University’s Annals of Health Law
To report a tip with an anti-trafficking service in your area or to request information, call the National Human Trafficking Resource Center at (888) 373-7888.
To find more information visit https://usiaht.org/the-problem/#facts-about-human-trafficking.