The audience could have heard a pin drop as the speaker told of being raped, beaten and tortured as a young adolescent girl and being held against her will in a cold, dark basement. Joy Friedman was describing her 17 years of abuse as a human trafficking victim to a rapt audience at a Human Trafficking Conference in Oklahoma City. When she saw my uniform, her face lit up and she exclaimed, “Salvation Army! I wouldn’t be here today if it wasn’t for The Salvation Army!” Over dinner that night, she told me her story.
Taking Jesus to the Streets
It was 1996 in Minneapolis, Minnesota and The Salvation Army Temple Corps was dying as soldiers relocated to the suburbs and the neighborhood became a hot spot for drugs and prostitution. Crime had risen to the point that the corps building was kept locked even during the day, and the Social Service office had moved to another location. Majors Jerry and Nancy Curttright were sent to this corps in the brutally cold month of January, and immediately began to ask the Lord to show them who was in their neighborhood. A front page story in the newspaper listed the top 10 criminals in the city, and the majors had already met most of them during their first few weeks. Taking Jesus to the streets became their mission, so they took the first big step: they unlocked the door, literally and spiritually! Realizing that the people who lived on the streets were not welcome to use public restrooms, they welcomed them to utilize the corps restrooms, began serving coffee and doughnuts and offered them a warm place to rest.
The Temple Corps became known as the Lake Street Salvation Army. The Lake Street district was known for drugs, crime and prostitution. Word began to spread that the Lake Street Salvation Army welcomed everyone, and people started to trust the unassuming couple who loved them without judging them.
The Curttrights noticed that while the women were eager to come into the corps building for warmth and safety, the men remained aloof and distant. A few months after their arrival, as they were entering the building, one of the girls (accompanied by her pimp) yelled out to them “I know a Scripture from that book!” She was referring to the Bible that Major Jerry always carried with him. They approached her and asked, “What is that favorite verse?” She had learned it as a young girl––Isaiah 40:31. They invited her to the corps and she came by a few days later. Months went by and one of the girls was murdered. “Scripture Girl” came to the majors and told them they wanted to attend the funeral, but it was an hour away and they had no transportation. Majors Jerry and Nancy offered to take them to the funeral on one condition––their pimp had to come, too. Two men and two women ended up riding in the van. Major Nancy describes this as a turning point in their ability to reach the men who were the pimps and drug dealers in the neighborhood.
At a Thanksgiving dinner held at the corps, several girls and their pimps helped to prepare for the meal. A drug dealer came into the building—and passed out shortly after his arrival. A few weeks earlier, a Christian nurse from a local hospital had started attending the corps and immediately diagnosed the situation as a drug overdose. After calling 911, Major Jerry and the nurse went to the hospital to be with the man. He survived and credited them with saving his life and leading him to become a “regular” at the corps building.
First Bought Car
The Curttrights were determined to continue their ministry to the drug dealers and pimps. One of the girls set up a meeting with a well-known dealer. A casual pizza lunch was served at the corps for the dealer, the girl and Majors Jerry and Nancy. A few weeks later the dealer wanted Major Jerry to meet him at a private location. As Nancy prayed fervently back at the corps, Jerry listened as the drug dealer asked the simple question, “Is there any hope for the likes of me?” Through the ministry of Major Jerry and the practical and spiritual help of the Adult Rehabilitation Center, this man was offered a job at a major company within a year. After a year on the job, he called Major Jerry to let him know he had just picked up a car––the first car he had ever actually paid for!
The following winter, Joy Friedman was among those who came in for warmth and safety. “At first, I was not sure what they wanted from us besides coming to their church service. They gave out hope and food for free, and then themselves. I started to see that they really wanted to help me and my friends who lived at times on the streets. They always helped with whatever they had and never turned me away. I slept there, I ate there and they even helped to heal my cracked and bleeding feet and hands. Each time I came, they let me know that Jesus loved me and wanted more for me and didn’t care about what I had done.
They would always love me just like Jesus will always love me.” With Joy’s help, Majors Jerry and Nancy began to realize that these girls needed practical things, such as clothing, shoes, and personal hygiene items.
“Mom and Dad”
“Joy began to call me Mom,” says Major Nancy. Often we would find her waiting for us when we arrived at the corps in the morning. We were thankful, as we knew she was safe for another day. During those years at Lake Street, God gave us the privilege of friendship with Joy. Joy kept us a part of her life and wanted us to be there.”
In 2000, Joy went to jail for what would be the last time. “I fell to my knees and gave in and gave up to the will of my Father. I asked Him to drive my body, mind and life in the way He wanted me to go and that is just what He did. I listened to Him when He talked to me and followed what I was told to do, and today I am free from all that pain and suffering that had bound me. I now have a wonderful, fulfilling life, knowing the love of God. I have to give all the praise and glory to the Lord and God Almighty for bringing the Curttrights into my life!”
As Joy recounted her story to me over dinner that evening after the conference, I asked if she still kept in touch with Majors Jerry and Nancy. Many years had passed, and she didn’t know where they had been transferred after serving in Minneapolis. We were able to locate them, and learned they are now retired and living in Olathe, Kansas. Major Nancy told me on the phone how Joy “had become a tremendous inspiration to me of how to show Christ’s love in practical ways, without judgment or reproach.”
Joy is now a staff member with “Breaking Free,” a ministry that rescues prostituted women in Minneapolis. Joy shares these words about her relationship with Majors Jerry and Nancy: “Without people like the majors on this earth, the king of darkness will win. Thank you, God for sending me my angels. I love you, Mom and Dad! I will always love and remember who is my protector, friend and Father because of what you gave to me––unconditional love.”
Major Nancy Curttright writes, “I’ll never forget one of the things Joy said in the message she gave at our Women’s Camp: “I’m not ‘Joy, the former prostitute’; I’m ‘Joy, the child of God!’ Our greatest delight was and is the news of our Lake Street family leaving the haunts of sin and finding new life with a purpose!”
By Joy Freidman
as told to Major Nancy Hall