You Can’t Kill Hope: A Conversation With Becca Stevens Of Thistle Farms

When we reach Becca Stevens, founder and president of Thistle Farms, she’s sitting on a shuttle bus at Reagan National Airport in Washington, D.C. She’s just left a lecture at Shenandoah University where she spoke to 300 freshmen about the global issues surrounding human trafficking and how students can stand in solidarity with survivors. Her next stop? Haiti, to meet with potential partners on future projects. A frenetic travel schedule is regular for the Nashville-based author, priest, social entrepreneur and mother of three. After opening Magdalene—a sanctuary and home where victims of trafficking live independently—in 1997, Stevens spent the last 17 years building a movement known as Thistle Farms. This community celebrating women’s freedom has birthed more than 50 sister organizations and a handmade product industry whose proceeds have now surpassed $1,000,000 in sales worldwide. Better yet, all of these organizations employ residents and survivors of trafficking, and directly promote a healthy, autonomous lifestyle.

Thistle Farms operates under the mantra “Love heals,” an idea that Stevens exudes during our conversation. As she moves between shuttle buses and flights with her team, she shares a bit about her history, happiness and the power of healing.

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Do you remember how you felt the first time you met someone who had been trafficked?
I am with a woman right now, Regina, who was one of the first residents of Thistle Farms 20 years ago. She helped hone my understanding of how advocacy work should be done and how community can heal. She was and is a true hero.

Can you talk a bit about your personal connection to abuse and how it brings you closer to your work?
My abuse started after my father was killed by a drunk driver when I was five. I don’t think my abuse, which lasted almost three years, really compares with the horrific stories I have heard over the years. I know it gave me an understanding of how abuse affects all areas of your life, undermines your sense of justice and seeps into all your relationships. I believe that in early childhood trauma, the seeds of trafficking are sown. I also believe that even in
that trauma, the seeds of compassion and freedom can be sown as well.

How has your strong spirituality and faith impacted and contributed to your work with Thistle Farms?
Love is the most powerful force for change in the world. I believe that with all my heart. It impacts my work, allows me to abide in hope and frees me to work without judgment. I used to stress about women I was working with in the community, money or even just the small things. The more I have learned to trust love, the less stressed I have become. It impacts my relationships, my work, my dreams and my daily peace. Even sitting on this bus, I can feel love all around.

After starting the residential program, how did you make the decision to branch out by creating bath and body products?
The women in the program weren’t getting hired, even after they were doing incredible work on recovery and making restitution with the courts, so we just decided to start our own company. If you are talking about loving women, you have to be concerned about their economic well being.

We’re now sitting on the plane on the tarmac. I am still amazed that this work carries us around the country and into the wider world to share the story. I love sitting on this plane with Regina and a current resident who is making her second trip as a Thistle Farmer. She is a former runaway, inmate and street woman. She is just beginning to come into her own. She is an entrepreneur, a friend, a woman in recovery, and she is just beginning to get glimpses of her own beauty and power.

The Thistle Farms model has expanded to include many additional programs, including Magdalene in St. Louis, Missouri, where ALIVE is based. How important was it for you to branch out nationally and even globally?
Branching out is critical to the mission of Thistle Farms. Our National Thistle Network is comprised of more than 50 organizations around the country that bring together advocates and survivor leaders. This network increases our capacity to serve more women, allows us to share best practices with each other, and increases our ability to speak to the country about how women recover and how we can stop being a country that tolerates the buying and selling of women.

What would you tell someone reluctant to get involved because they didn’t think they could make enough of a difference?
We are a thriving and growing movement about women’s freedom because people keep hoping with us. This movement is scalable and sustainable. If people are reluctant, it is because of their own internal fears, cynicism or stress. I know I have all those voices, but I do the work and then those voices soften. What’s important is that we keep sharing our gifts with one another so love is present and washing over all of us. Volunteer, speak
your truth, donate money, be a conscientious consumer, become a social media advocate, go on a journey, do what feels right to practice how you can love the world.

Who are your role models?
I love Dorothy Day and my mom, Anne Stevens.

Tell us about your family and free time. When you are not saving the world, what are you doing?
My husband Marcus Hummon and I have three sons—Levi, Caney and Moses. Marcus is a songwriter who has a Grammy for writing “Bless the Broken Road.” He is a loyal, talented, patient and good man. Our oldest son, Levi, is a country music artist in Nashville establishing himself as one of the Top 10 new acts Billboard says to watch! Caney is a junior at the University of the South, and Moses is in his junior year of high school. As a family we love eating, hiking and taking long vacations. I take time to practice yoga almost every day, and to walk in the woods whenever I can find them.

What are some tools you use to stay inspired and positive?
I am sometimes in the presence of tragic stories, but I am also invited to be in the presence of great joy and wonder. We laugh as much as we cry in the community of Thistle Farms. Our story is more than just the scars of our past—it is the hope and dreams we carry. You can’t kill hope in women. You can rape them, jail them, cause them all kinds of pain, but you can’t kill hope.

 

Photo by Heidi Ross.

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