Over 20 years ago, Dr. Matthew McAlack gave Jolien (Bruso) Haggard ’01/G’04 an assignment. As the final project for his Philosophy of Youth Ministry course, she needed to make a PowerPoint presentation on an idea for a youth ministry program. She admittedly had no idea how to make a PowerPoint, and her final product definitely had too many scanned images from her Horses 2001 calendar. Despite the presentation’s lack of aesthetics, her idea was clear: own a ranch and use horses as a ministry tool to work with troubled youth in a residential setting. Given the expenses that come with such a ministry, Jolien saw her vision as a pipe dream more than a reality. But Dr. McAlack’s response after class continued to stick with her in the years after graduation: “I really could see this being something that the Lord uses you for.”
Dr. McAlack ended up being right. In 2017, Jolien and her husband, David Haggard ’01, opened Blazing Hope Ranch, a ministry that exists to “restore wholeness to female survivors of human trafficking and weaken the sex trade through the power of Christ.”
The time between Jolien’s PowerPoint pitch and the opening of the ranch was a period of deep refinement for the Haggards. After graduating from the youth and family ministry program, Jolien continued to study at the University and
earned an MS in Christian Counseling. In 2008, the Haggards moved to Oregon, where Jolien worked in a residential
treatment center. She interacted with young women who were abused by the sex trafficking industry, often coming from the I-5 corridor that runs from Mexico to Canada up the West Coast of the United States. Living so close to the “West Coast track” for trafficking opened both David and Jolien’s eyes to the horrors of sex trafficking and burdened their hearts for the women who suffer at the industry’s expense. They knew that the hope of the gospel and the healing that comes from having
a relationship with Jesus was what these women desperately needed. It was around this same time that they discovered Crystal Peaks Youth Ranch, a ranch ministry that offers youth programs—a similar vision to Jolien’s PowerPoint. In addition to running Crystal Peaks, the leadership of the ranch trains other individuals on how to start their own nonprofit ranches. Jolien was able to attend the training before they moved to Tennessee in 2011.
They arrived in Tennessee holding two dreams: running a nonprofit residential ranch program and bringing the gospel to women affected by sex trafficking. David said he saw these two dreams coming together before Jolien did, “mostly out of naivety.” Jolien had the first-hand experience of working with these women in residential treatment centers. She knew the need existed, but she also knew how difficult filling that need would be on her, David, and their young family. A residential
program does not allow you to put in eight hours a day and go home. If they were committed to such a mission, they
needed to be all in: committed to the work, committed to the women, committed to living and raising their family
on the ranch property, and most of all, committed to God in full-fledged trust to supply their every need—because
ranches are expensive.
Over the next few years, God continued to burden their hearts for this cause and build their faith in him to provide everything they would need to open the ranch. In 2015, they sat down with their pastor and his wife to confirm their calling to this ministry. “I was secretly hoping that they would say it was a crazy idea and to not do it,” remarked Jolien, “but that’s not what they said.”
As David recalled, those next two years were full of “confirmation after confirmation” that this ranch was indeed God’s will for the Haggards. One of the most significant confirmations came in the provision of the ranch property. The Haggards did not have the means to purchase any land, and the doors closed on every opportunity to lease a property from a larger organization. The circumstances were discouraging, but David continued to write support letters for the budding ministry, asking individuals to pray for God to provide the land. Eventually, he got a letter back: A woman responded and introduced the Haggards to her dad, who is the pastor of a local church. This church owns a 120-acre property that had been sitting
unused for several years. After hearing about the Haggards’ vision for the ranch, the church leadership extended an offer: a 25-year lease of the property at a rate of one dollar per year.
God continued to provide everything needed to start their ministry in equally miraculous ways. The doors of Blazing Hope Ranch officially opened in 2017. Their mission, “to restore wholeness to female survivors of human trafficking and weaken the sex trade through the power of Christ,” is carried out through three initiatives: Restoration, Resistance, and Reduction.
Blazing Hope plays an important role in restoring sex trafficking survivors through their residential program, HOPE Haven (healing, opportunity, protection, and education). Women who have left the sex trafficking industry and already completed an initial treatment program are invited to the ranch for 18–24 months of additional therapy. The ranch offers a place for women to continue to heal, to be still, and to pursue a relationship with Christ.
The two residential homes are designed to allow each woman to have her own room, providing the opportunity for personal expression in paint color, artwork, and design. Each day starts with breakfast and devotions, and each night ends with dinner and a group session. Between breakfast and dinner, the activities change from day to day. Trauma impacts eight areas of a person’s life, and Jolien intentionally builds activities and experiences that help address each of those areas. In addition, they have individual trauma therapy on Tuesdays, Bible study on Wednesday nights, and church Sunday mornings.
Of course, a large part of the ministry is the time women spend with horses. Jolien has known since she was nine years old, when she met her first horse, Sugarfoot, how horses can play an important role in a person’s life and character-building. Horses make great therapy animals. They are experts at reading nonverbal communication, thus providing immediate feedback. For example, one of the ranch’s horses, Cocoa, requires that people interact with “calm assertiveness.” Through interacting with Cocoa, the women have to learn to set boundaries and display confidence without being too aggressive. When it’s warm enough, the women get intentional time with the horses twice a week in addition to interacting with them as they complete daily barn chores. The Haggards hope to build an indoor arena on the ranch in the future to make the time spent with horses a year-round experience.
The average age of sex-trafficked youth in the United States is just 13 years old. In order to protect children and give them the tools to resist the tactics of human traffickers, Blazing Hope runs Camp Run Free, a no-cost, five-day horse camp for kids ages 8–13. These camp weeks are hosted at local fairgrounds and offer equestrian experience, a Bible lesson, an additional activity or project, and a lesson on trafficking prevention from an age-appropriate curriculum. The camp aims to help children understand their “God-given identity and value” and is as much of an evangelistic opportunity as it is a chance to offer prevention education before children reach the age of being the most susceptible to trafficking.
Every year, the weeks of camp offered are full with a waiting list. Since the camp runs independently of their property, the Haggards know that this program has the potential to be much bigger than what they can offer while simultaneously running HOPE Haven. They are working to put training materials together for groups across the country to run Camp Run Free in their own hometowns. They hope to see all children in the United States equipped with the prevention tools to resist human trafficking and be able to see their value as a son or daughter of God.
The ranch’s efforts in “restoration” and “resistance” lend themselves to the overall reduction of sex trafficking in the United States. But part of the reduction efforts must be directed at the source of the problem. The consumption of pornography, engagement in sexual exploitation and violence, and seeking of sex outside the bounds of God’s design encourage and drive the desire for human traffickers to find victims to meet the demand. But if that demand could be reduced, the ranch’s efforts in “restoration” and “resistance” would be less and less needed. As David said, “There would be no need for efforts of resistance or restoration if there existed no demand for sex or sexual gratification apart from healthy, God-honoring relationships.”
The ranch aims to raise awareness of the contributions men make to fuel the exploitation of women through trafficking. Through the ranch’s Guardians of Hope ministry, David works with men to (1) recognize the suffering that is inflicted on women to satisfy sexually immoral desires and (2) build up leaders who will create accountability systems and protect the value and honor of the women in their communities. This is the newest arm of their ministry, but it is one that they consider to have incredible importance and the potential for the greatest impact.
In addition to David and Jolien, who intentionally receive no income from the ministry, six staff members and dozens of volunteers work to further the mission of Blazing Hope Ranch. David is the nonprofit’s executive director, and Jolien serves as the clinical director. Jolien’s role in the organization is a natural fit for her education and work experience, but David’s role doesn’t use his education in quite the same way. Nevertheless, he continues to see the value of his Cairn education in his daily life and work:
“I was a biblical studies major, so I had no formal training whatsoever for what I’m doing now. But my education at Cairn gave me a foundation of knowledge and the ability to think critically and problem-solve. It also gave me the foundation to truly know and trust God. So now being the executive director of a nonprofit, connecting with people on a personal level about our mission, writing a mission statement, completing HR-type duties—all of these roles benefit from the education I received.”
The ranch has been open now for six years, but one can see how God began writing this story long before the Haggards developed the program, acquired the property, or even accepted the difficult but important mission that God has given them. It started with Sugarfoot, a biblical education, and a bad PowerPoint presentation—all because a lifelong horse girl and her husband decided to use their talents and abilities in a way that would uniquely glorify God and point the
world toward the healing only he can offer.
Lydia Garrison ’18/G’22 is the managing editor of Cairn magazine. She can be reached at email@example.com.