Hard Steps Towards the Light: Meet Rev. Bonnie Gatchell [Interview]
Welcome to EGC's Leader Profiles, where you can get to know the unique stories of Boston area Christian leaders. Our vision is for a surprisingly well-connected Christian community across cultural, generational, and denominational lines throughout the city.
Rev. Bonnie Gatchell is an ordained minister in the Evangelical Presbyterian Church and the Director of EGC’s Route One Ministry. Route One ministers to women exploited in the sex industry in Massachusetts.
Rev. Gatchell also raises awareness among Massachusetts churches about the realities and systems of sex trafficking, exploitation, and abuse, and where the Church can intervene.
Tell me a little bit about yourself and your family.
My parents just celebrated 48 years of marriage. They live in Michigan, that’s where I grew up. My brother is my only sibling, and I’m the oldest.
Tell me a little bit about your spiritual journey and relationship with Jesus now.
I think, “constant.” I’m thankful, grateful, that He is constant with me. Constantly shows up, constantly forgives, constantly meets with me despite my own flawed-ness, my own wanting to be distant from Him, forgetting about Him. So there’s this constant peace in me now of just being more honest about where I messed up the day before with Jesus. This is different than a couple years ago.
What’s a food you can’t live without?
I’ll give you two. M&Ms have always been my Achilles’ heel. Health-wise, anything avocado. I could eat it raw, I could just crack it open and sprinkle a little salt on it, make it into guacamole, mix it with some tomato, and make a salad.
What’s your most treasured possession?
My grandmother’s journals. When I open them I read of events that happened before me, like commentary on family members and things, which is funny. Most of the people in the journals have passed away. The journals connect me to my family's past in a powerful way.
Tell me about your work in Route One Ministry. What is your role in that?
I started the ministry. But my role now, 8 years later, is training the trainers and facilitating conversation around, What is trafficking? How are women in strip clubs trafficked? What is exploitation, what does that look like? What would freedom look like for women who are currently working in strip clubs?
What would you say is your passion?
I think my passion is the Church. In particular, for women to have more of a voice within the Church, and more of a voice more often.
What would you say is your greatest joy in ministry?
When a light bulb comes on – and that may be in a church leader, or a volunteer, or a woman in the strip club. It’s just this moment where you can almost watch the person’s face shift. Also, any time a woman in the club asks for any type of connection with us, like “Can you come to my daughter’s birthday party?” “Instead of you coming here, can we meet at my house for prayer?” “Am I allowed to go to church and still work here?”
What do you find challenging?
Helping the church understand that women who work in clubs are victims of exploitation—not perpetrators, not offenders—is challenging. Getting the Church to come behind us financially can also be slow. I first have to get Christians to understand who strippers really are, and then to understand why we need their support.
What’s been the greatest lesson for you in this ministry so far?
I’m learning about longsuffering. There were so many points where I’ve wanted to throw in the towel. So many points where I thought, What are we doing again? So many points where I thought, I’m not the right person to lead this team, or, I don’t have anything more in me to give. And yet, He held me together and He whispered in my ear, Not yet. Don’t give up yet. And so we move on.
What’s your prayer for the people amongst who you work?
My prayer for women who are sexually exploited is that they would find healing. I pray that they would not walk around with shame, or a jaded perspective of themselves, but that they would be able to take steps to a place of healing, self-confidence, a place of hope, light, fresh air.
I also pray that women wouldn't suffer silently with the abuse that's happened to them, but that they’d be able to find safety—in the Church and Christian counselors—to start digging that up and handing it over to Christ.
My prayer for the Church would be for a shift in posture in how they understand and see women who are sexually abused and exploited and trafficked, and women experiencing domestic violence. Sometimes we can be stingy with love, and stingy with forgiveness, and stingy with listening. But in Christ we have this endless bucket of resources. My prayer is that we draw on Christ better to bring people to healing and life.