A Christian ministry in Texas that strives to help survivors of human trafficking is remaining in good spirits, even as it faces potential discrimination in the form of delays in obtaining a permit.
Light of the Pines in Lufkin opened its doors in January of 2021 with the hope of offering victims a new beginning through therapy, education, and opportunities for spiritual growth.
Sonya Brookins, the center's executive director told CBN News that they had to stop offering services because they couldn't get a full permit to operate.
"For one year, Light of the Pines was setting up operation," Brookins said. "It had to close down last November because we were unable to get a permit."
She said there was an issue as to whether the owners had to attend a public hearing and false information was circulating about the center and its purpose.
"There was a lot of misinformation that was spread like pimps would populate the area or the girls would be raping kids," Brookins told CBN News.
Even though Light of the Pines is working to have its own education system for the victims, some local residents believe state funds will be misused by the ministry.
"They would be using up services at the school district that should be going towards kids who live in the area," Brookins explained. "Schools would need to provide additional special teachers that would cost extra money. The girls are learning online. There's an assumption though that if the online school ends, girls will have to attend the public school."
"Texas has a huge human trafficking issue," she continued. "The residents are so far behind in thinking that this is something that happens overseas. It's not just immigrants or a certain type of kid. There's a bunch of kids that are coming from good families."
And Brookins mentioned that State Rep. Trent Ashby told the ministry that the local sheriff, local judge, and juvenile services were also against them
Brookins noted that Ashby now says he is "neutral" toward the ministry and its cause.
Despite the pushback and discrimination that Light of the Pines has encountered, owner Chase Nielsen said he is looking ahead toward fulfilling its mission.
"We are hopeful that we will continue making progress through this permitting process and we look forward to serving children in the foster care system soon," Nielsen told CBN News.
The group has even garnered support from Australian Evangelist Nick Vujicic, who is also passionate about ending human trafficking through his Life Without Limbs ministry.
In a video shared on Facebook, Vujicic pointed out how Light of the Pines aims to help girls restart their lives.
"If you're in Lufkin and you're a young person, please understand that it's a little bit of a fight for their license to keep going," Vujicic said. "Just because there have been enough people in the community, whose voices have been heard, that the general view of a rehabilitation like Light of the Pines - which is doing incredible work - is not actually so welcome in your community."
He added, "They are a crucial part of our community that we are all supposed to understand that everyone has value and everyone should be given a chance to be rehabilitated back into community and society."
Brookins told CBN News that Light of the Pines is currently waiting on the State of Texas to approve their application for a permit.
Even though there is no timeline for the process, she is keeping her faith strong, saying "This is a God thing."