Joyce Oden remembers 1975 and the way she and her husband, Bill, felt “nudged” by the Holy Spirit. They’d both experienced nudges before and had spent the previous twenty years pastoring. But in 1975 there were new thoughts from God, putting a whisper of missions into their minds. It didn’t come when they might have expected – in the five years before, when they’d chaperoned sixteen college students on a trip overseas. In 1977 the Odens met Valetta Crumley, an OMS missionary. Valetta saw their potential and began pursuing them for recruitment to missions work with One Mission Society (OMS). More than thirty years later Joyce sees these promptings as divine, part of God’s plan, and in line with scripture.
“It’s like the scripture says – ‘How will they know?’ ” says Joyce, referring to Romans 10:14, a verse reminding Christians that in order to come to Jesus unbelievers must hear about Him from believers. Joyce says that Valetta had a vision of what God could do. As she shared it with the Odens, God began confirming and fulfilling that vision.
The Odens put their years of pastoral experience to use in places like the Philippines, Ireland, and Hungary. Three years ago, Joyce founded HOPE61 following a quiet time in her life. It is a story Joyce has told many times; how God made a space in her heart and filled it with a burden for justice. For a missionary of many years it seemed a natural segue.
“It’s bringing salvation to the lost; that’s the goal of missions, to bring the lost to Christ. It [trafficking] is a global problem, and we feel that our role is to…educate the national church…” said Joyce. The focus on souls is reiterated at weekly department meetings, when HOPE61 staff gather for prayer and updates. The need to make HOPE61 work overseas about partnerships and relationships with national Christians, rather than a strict do-this-our-way-or-no-way mentality, is also a consistent desire.
Joyce believes justice is “giving people what is right, what God the Creator intended.” This definition of justice never wavered, though her focus did.
Joyce realized the magnitude of the issue after founding HOPE61. “I now more clearly see injustice in the world than I did before. I just didn’t understand how many people are robbed of having their God-given rights, of having peace, forgiveness, and freedom and love. [Before,] I was focused on one-to-one issues…abusive husbands, depression, etc. I didn’t see before the world in this prison, as much bondage, as I do now.”
Doris Waters, a regular volunteer with HOPE61, says Joyce means the world to her and “has given me a heart for the oppressed of the world that I didn’t have before I knew Joyce.”
Allison Gilmore, part-time office manager, agreed, saying “Joyce has opened my eyes even more to the issues behind human trafficking. I am thankful that she had the obedience to ask if OMS was dealing with the issues of human trafficking, [and] without her HOPE61 probably wouldn’t exist today.”
During her time as HOPE61’s director Joyce recruited missionaries for the Two for Two overseas programs, spread awareness in the US, built a homeland staff, worked with many interns, stood as an advocate for the voiceless and enslaved, and raised funds. Even more vital Joyce fostered a strong Biblical foundation, creating a heritage that each current and new staff member of HOPE61, both overseas and homeland, will continue to benefit from.
One of those foundational scriptures is Isaiah 58:6.
“Is this not the fast that I have chosen:
To loose the bonds of wickedness,
To undo the heavy burdens,
To let the oppressed go free,
And that you break every yoke?”
Though Joyce has stepped down from the role of HOPE61 director, the loosed chains are still on her mind. She plans to spend more time praying for HOPE61, consulting with and mentoring Tom Overton, the new director. Joyce has already begun to spread the word about HOPE61’s vision to local churches and small groups. No doubt Joyce will continue to remind HOPE61 staff of what she clings to when the issue of slavery today seems too horrible and too great to fight.
“Jesus is enough. He can do what I can’t do.” The way Joyce sees it, freedom is another one of those things He can do. “We all have strongholds at times in our lives. We fixate on…a hurt we can’t get past…and we’re in bondage…” Joyce says. “Freedom is when chains are broken.”
How has Jesus broken the chains binding you?