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Beautiful Redemption

- by Rachael Athearn

Restoring Lives Shattered by a Polygamist Cult Leader

Driving by Zion National Park, you’re instantly struck by the beauty of the landscape. As you make your way south, you’ll see massive sandstone cliffs that soar into the sky, with bright red, pink and orange rocks painting the horizon.  

Then eventually, you will come upon a small town right on the border of Utah and Arizona, where you’re instantly transported back in time.  

You will find women wearing tattered prairie dresses, and lots and lots of children. You’ll begin to notice poverty. There are large compounds with unfinished additions, remnants of a small zoo and streets with abandoned buildings.  

It’s a stark contrast to the beauty that’s natural all around you. What has happened in this town is not natural at all. This is a broken town, and much of it is because of the work of one man.  

This is Hildale, Utah, where a cult leader wreaked havoc on nearly the entire town through systematic control and manipulation. Part of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, or the FLDS, this man was called the prophet of this polygamist society.  

He determined what the people ate, how they spent their money, how they dressed, who they married as well as the makeup of their family. He controlled it all.  

His name is Warren Jeffs, and today he is serving a life sentence in prison for child sexual assault. The scars he left are still seen and felt everywhere in this tightly woven community. 

From a Prison to a Place of Healing 

At 18 years old, Briell Decker was forced to marry Jeffs, becoming his 65th wife. She knows firsthand the horrors inflicted upon many women and girls in the FLDS community.  

She saw families torn apart and children separated from their parents. At one point, even toys were banished, and instead young children were put to work. The abuse was horrifying and took many forms.  

Briell was psychologically tortured by Jeffs and his followers, and after nearly a dozen attempts, she managed to escape. Now, she is doing something courageous to help these families heal, and Hand of HopeJoyce Meyer Ministries’ outreach arm, is grateful to be a part of it.  

After Jeffs’ imprisonment, Briell was awarded his 24,000-square-foot house for the purpose of fulfilling her dream of transforming it into a rescue and recovery home.  

Through partnering with the Phoenix Dream Center and with the support of Hand of Hope and other organizations, Jeffs’ former home has been remodeled and restored to serve as a place of hope and refuge for other women and children leaving the FLDS.  

What was once a place of pain and abuse is now used for rescue and residential recovery, community outreach, hunger relief, education, training and so much more.  

It is now a wonderful, loving, safe haven called the Short Creek Dream Center. It serves as a transitional home for up to 40 souls who are escaping domestic violence or are overcoming addiction or homelessness—primarily women and children.  

“They Were Such an Answer to Prayer” 

For Lucia Rodgers, the Dream Center provided the help she needed at a critical time. Born into the FLDS, Lucia was married off when she was only 16. She was raped every night by a man who was appointed to be her husband. But she was strong and resilient and had the courage to leave behind everything she had ever known for the sake of her kids. 

Yet the freedom she gained came with very little knowledge of the outside world, and things seemed to go from bad to worse. In the middle of the night, her house went up in flames. As she was standing hopeless in the rubble, staff from the Dream Center approached her and offered to help.  

“I just remember staring at these strangers… (they were) such an answer to prayer that I just crumpled to the ground and started wailing. I just remember thinking that was the light at the end of the tunnel,” Lucia said. “And so I came here and they loved me through that whole process.” 

Lucia moved to the Dream Center, where they provided her with free trauma counseling, legal assistance and other programs that helped her to heal. She has come so far—she’s fully independent now and has a personal relationship with the Lord. Today, she is walking out the great big, beautiful life God has for her as a chaplain, sharing God’s love with other women in her community who are suffering and oppressed.  

“I went full circle,” Lucia said. “I was staring at another lady who walked through this door who was in the same position that I was in after my house fire, and I (told her), ‘I know exactly what you’re feeling, and you are amazing and resilient and strong, and you can do it. If I can do it, you can do it!” 

At one time, this was a place meant for evil, but today, beautiful things are happening, and God is working for the good of women and children in this community. Lives like Briell’s and Lucia’s are being restored, and then they are reaching back out to help others.  

It’s what our Project GRL initiative is all about. Together, we are a part of the restoration that’s happening at the Short Creek Dream Center in Utah and all over the world.  

If you haven’t yet joined this effort, you can help us fight for women and girls who have been abused, unvalued and so terribly hurt. Just like Briell and Lucia, you can reach out and let women know that they have a purpose and are loved and have immeasurable worth.  

JOIN THE FIGHT

Find out how you can help women and girls everywhere by visiting ProjectGRL.org

Project GRL - Fight for Girls