Linda Smith’s earliest memory was laying on a wooden pew in La Junta, Colorado, looking up at a spinning fan, hearing her grandfather lead music.
Linda was only 4 or 5 when her mom and stepfather packed the family up and drove to La Grande, Oregon. She remembers her stepfather was often looking for work while her mom’s sewing machine brought in money here and there. They ate what Linda now realizes were commodities, and she and her sister wore hand-me-downs from her relatives. There was a church within walking distance where Linda’s mom would take Linda and her siblings, but they had to walk across the railroad tracks to get there.
She’s not sure how or when she realized it, but Linda could feel the glances and stares of people toward her at school and in town. They lived on the other side of the tracks, and she knew they saw her differently. Except for Opal Golden—her Sunday school teacher.
Opal Golden is where Shared Hope International really began.
From the Pew to the Tracks
That church across the tracks was where Linda first met Jesus. She had known about Jesus all along, thanks to her grandparents’ solid foundation and very real faith. But in that church, Linda saw the hand of God in people; Jesus became very real to Linda because of people like Opal Golden.
She didn’t look at Linda the way other people did. Linda felt accepted by Opal, regardless of what she wore or where she was from.
“Opal taught me who Jesus was,” said Linda. “I was totally accepted.”
One Sunday morning, Opal came to Sunday school with a box wrapped up for Linda, for no apparent occasion. Inside was brand new underwear, just for Linda, not like the handed-down underclothes she was used to. And she remembers it being beautiful. So beautiful.
“She was protecting me and loving me, and all I saw was total acceptance,” said Linda. “That’s the love of God that I learned. It branded my heart that people need people just to love on them and accept them.”
From the Tracks to Congress
Linda’s family moved around plenty of times, but wherever they went, Linda made sure to find a church—a place where they sang like Grandad—within walking distance. Because at age 7, in Opal Golden’s Sunday school class, Linda had made a decision to live for the Lord.
One church in particular holds a special place in her heart—Vancouver, Washington, where she met a young man whose dad had a station wagon with enough room for Linda and her siblings to ride to church. The station wagon was just a bonus, though. She was attracted to that godly young man who was “so happy and so filled with the Lord,” and a few years later, they married.
“Anywhere I’ve succeeded, it’s grounded in God giving me a husband who would allow me, and be there for me, to be who I am.”
And, Linda says, God made her a “pretty aggressive visionary.”
A visionary, indeed, and she says each of those successes has been launched from a person standing in front of her and a call from God to just show up.
From Congress to the Brothel
The visionary spark in Linda’s heart led her from a life of hard work and responsibility to a successful career as a tax consultant—and eventually into politics. In the state Legislature, she chaired the State Senate Children and Family Services Committee, where she learned and labored in the legislative processes that worked to protect children.
All in all, from local government to Congress, Linda was elected in nine races, but she only ran in eight of them. She wasn’t actually planning on running for Congress. In fact, she never did. But, while she was out of town on vacation, a grassroots, write-in campaign sprang up, and over 35,000 people wrote her name on the September 1994 primary ballot. Linda credits that to nothing other than the hand of God.
Linda represented the state of Washington in Congress for four years, where she also served on the Human Rights Caucus. And that’s where the first flames of Shared Hope International began.
A simple phone call from David Grant, a missions director for the Assemblies of God in South Asia, was what set Shared Hope International in motion.
Forty minutes of listening to Grant’s passionate work in India with Bombay Teen Challenge piqued Linda’s interest. He spoke of girls, many just children, trapped in cages, used for lewd and evil acts. He described it as slavery. Linda was both appalled and compelled by what she heard: appalled by the description of evil, compelled to do something about it.
A few weeks later, Linda found herself on a plane to Bombay, India. And within hours of her arrival, she saw exactly what David Grant had described to her.
Just Show Up
Falkland Road, a notoriously seedy part of town, was home to sordid brothels. The nightmarish scene Linda witnessed there cannot be erased from her mind: the stench of bodies being kept alive simply to turn a profit for masters; the beaten and broken souls of young girls whose innocence had been stolen and whose bodies had been used and molested for money; the young children whose mothers had to care for them all while obeying their masters.
Linda was ill.
The next evening, Linda was asked to pray for the girls she saw before her. She didn’t want to touch the girls as she usually would when she prays for someone. She was repulsed. The girls were unkempt, unable to be clean for any amount of time. They came with a certain stench, a cocktail of body odor and horrific living conditions. But she knew God was asking her to reach out and touch the girl.
She didn’t want to, but she knew she had to.
And it was in that moment—when the girl’s frail body fell into Linda’s—she knew she couldn’t leave India without a plan to help those girls. It was an undeniable longing; there was no shaking this mission.
Linda had briefly tried to barter her way out of this unpleasant, messy, decidedly un-glamorous work. She was doing just fine as a policy-maker in Congress, right? She was making great strides for justice of the unborn and families from her nice, warm, fragrant, clean office. Surely someone else could do the job.
But it was no use. Linda knew looking the other way wasn’t an option. She had come all the way to Bombay, to Falkland Road, to hold a girl. To accept her. Just like Opal Golden had accepted that poor little girl from the other side of the tracks with a few pairs of new underwear.
Before boarding a westbound plane home, she made two calls. The first, to that godly man who had given her the freedom to be the visionary she is—who readily supported her new passion. And the second to a friend who could financially back the first step of the dream. That friend said yes.
And Shared Hope International was born.
Looking back on it now, Linda says she never set out to begin Shared Hope International, or even go to India. In fact, Linda felt so small, so insignificant at first, especially in the face of huge injustice and evil, she didn’t think anything she did could do anything. But when God sets something so huge in front of you that you can’t ignore–even if it looks like a petite young woman—Linda says, all you have to do is show up.
“God doesn’t rely on my will,” Linda wrote. “He just asks that I show up…and obey that urge to step forward. God uses that willingness to accomplish valuable things.”
Shared Hope International
Linda shares her story of that first trip to India in her book, “From Congress to the Brothel: A Journey of Hope, Healing, and Restoration.” She tells of the women she and her team have rescued since that day on Falkland Road in 1999.
But the problem isn’t just in India. It’s in the United States, too. Linda’s book, “Renting Lacy: A Story of America’s Prostituted Children,” exposes the industry happening in the dark corners of our own country. Linda Smith and Shared Hope International can’t turn a blind eye to that, either.
Shared Hope International is dedicated to ending sex trafficking both in the United States and around the world through prevention, restoration and justice. Shared Hope International serves to prevent trafficking by training law enforcement workers, raising awareness and stopping the cause-and-demand aspect of human trafficking; they work to restore victims’ lives through helping local organizations and shelters plan and care for survivors; and through Linda’s governmental expertise and influence, Shared Hope International works to put policies in place at the legislative level to expedite justice and protect victims.
Shared Hope International serves as an umbrella organization for justice-fighting initiatives including The Defenders USA, a coalition of men committed to opposing all forms of commercialized sex, like porn and domestic violence; Women’s Investment Network (WIN), which helps survivors build new lives; Terry’s House, which offers affordable housing for young women pursuing education or job training; National Restoration Initiative, a Shared Hope Project that helps local shelter and service organizations; The Protected Innocence Challenge, a report card for each American state on child sex-trafficking laws; The Demanding Justice Project, a research and advocacy program for anti-demand efforts; and JuST Response, a research and analysis-driven legislation and policy implementation initiative.
You may just be someone’s Opal Golden.