Led by the Spirit, Carol Loya raises awareness so sex-trafficking victims can find new life
Making her way along a crowded street in Pattaya, Thailand, Carol Loya was horrified by the scene: bar after bar where women could be bought for sex acts. Thousands more women and girls selling themselves on the street, often sent into the city to help support their families.
“It is men coming to buy women for sale,” said Loya, a member of Holy Family Parish in Kirkland. “We saw a 3-year-old for sale. Black magic was going on. It was a street of evil.”
Feeling called to help victims of sex trafficking, Loya made that eight-day trip to Thailand in 2012 with a local Christian group. They tried to get girls and women into safe houses and pray with them, if even for a short time.
That experience — and the inspiration of the Spirit — set Loya more firmly on the path she feels bound to follow.
“She came back with this complete sense of dedication that she was going to work against human trafficking,” said BVM Sister Joyce Cox, Loya’s spiritual director.
Two years later, Loya is still answering that call, often finding guidance during her time spent in daily eucharistic adoration. She recently founded “Escape to Peace,” an organization to raise the awareness that sex trafficking is not just a world away.
“I’ve always felt that the seed was being set that I was being called to do something,” Loya said.
The serenity and soothing scents of Loya’s spa, Truce, are a far cry from that street in Thailand. To understand how the spa has led Loya to anti-trafficking work, you have to start by rewinding nearly eight years.
Loya was taking a group tour of a new Bellevue hotel. When the group reached the fourth floor — still a concrete shell — the host explained the hotel was searching for someone to open a spa in the space.
Carol Loya in Holy Family Church in Kirkland. Photo: Stephen Brashear
Logic can’t explain what happened next.
“This is mine,” Loya said out loud, then wondered to herself why she said that. She had no experience operating a spa. In fact, she had been to spas only a few times.
But Loya had been praying at least five years about opening her own business. She felt this could be the answer. As she pursued the idea, “every door was opening for me,” Loya said. “That’s why you know it’s not coming from you, because you couldn’t line everything up.”
Loya opened Truce in 2008, not sure what its purpose would be in her life. “I gave everything, literally, in trust and faith, and the economy went sideways,” she said. But “when God wants you to do something, it’s clear and you just do it.”
The seeds of Loya’s faith and prayer life were planted while she was growing up near Chicago, the sixth of nine children. The family went to Sunday Mass and prayed before dinner. At night, “nine of us would kneel around the bed and say our prayers together out loud,” she recalled.
Although her father died when she was 11, Loya never felt worried about how the family would survive. “God provides,” she said. Her mother’s parents and brothers, all Catholics, were very prayerful. “I think that those prayers were helpful in our family.”
She met Lin Loya while attending Arizona State University. They married and settled in Arizona, where their three sons were born. The young family moved to the Seattle area in 1990 and joined St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Parish in Bothell. “I just was a ‘go to church on Sunday’ kind of Catholic,” Loya said. Although she tried Bible study, she usually dropped out because of her sons’ activities.
Then, one summer, everything was different. The boys were busy and her husband’s work hours changed. Internally, Loya kept hearing, “Be not afraid.” She began thirsting to learn more about the faith and decided to go to a “baptism of the Holy Spirit” weekend at St. Brendan Parish in Bothell.
The people who prayed over Loya that weekend told her the Spirit’s message was that she would have a business that would allow her to do missionary work. Also imparted were several Scripture verses, including Ecclesiastes 3:1 (“there’s a time for everything”).
“I was really excited,” Loya said. “It just was real, like God was in my life.” She started going to daily Mass and spending more time in adoration. “Nothing matters if you don’t pray,” Loya said. “It is life-changing when you sit with him every day.”
Loya began to sense that her purpose in starting the spa was going to be connected with the fight against sex trafficking. When groups raising money for anti-trafficking efforts asked her to donate spa gift certificates, it stirred something in her.
Loya mentioned this to Andrea Liggett, community and outreach coordinator at Holy Family Parish. After Liggett asked Loya to learn more about the trafficking issue, she attended a presentation on the issue. Three months after that, Loya learned about the trip to Thailand.
Carol Loya handcrafts soy candles in glass holders to raise money for her anti-trafficking work. Photo: Stephen Brashear
With just a week to make a decision, Loya followed the discernment steps learned through a spiritual mentorship program. In adoration that week, “I felt like God told me to make candles … it would be a way for people to join in and pray for these girls,” Loya said.
So she started making candles. Soon, two people had given her $1,400, most of the $2,000 she needed to make the Thailand trip. That was the sign that she should go. “It was just amazing,” Loya said.
Loya still handcrafts candles to raise awareness and fund her anti-trafficking work, but follows the call to keep expanding the mission. She tells her story at parishes and other venues and serves on an interfaith anti-trafficking coalition led by Sister Joyce, the archdiocese’s director of ecumenical/interreligious dialogue. “Carol’s a perfect example of someone who listened, got the message, saw the evil of human trafficking and really, truly believed, yes, she could do something,” Sister Joyce said.
Through prayer during adoration, Loya was led to a book showing how she can use her spa to drive her anti-trafficking work. Loya never thought about using “Escape to Peace” — her spa’s trademarked tagline — as the name for the organization. That revelation, too, happened during adoration, Loya said.
She is working to create an anti-trafficking movement parallel to the spa — each with the goals of retreat, relaxation and healing. “The mission flows together,” Loya explained.
So far, Loya has spearheaded collections of clothing and toiletries for the girls and women who local police agencies have rescued from sex trafficking. There are plans to sell luggage tags bearing an anti-trafficking hotline. She hopes to create a safe haven program at malls for young people targeted by traffickers, and envisions building “healing centers” for young women who have escaped the sex trade.
Although the timeline for these plans isn’t apparent, Loya continues spending time in adoration, placing her trust and faith in God. “I’m in patient waiting mode,” she said, “waiting for the word.”
Read more about local efforts to fight human trafficking on NWCatholic.org.
Sex Trafficking Awareness
100,000 to 300,000 underage girls are being sold for sex in America each year.
Within 48 hours of running away, a third of teens on the street
National Trafficking Hotline: 888-373-7888
Escape to Peace will use a puzzle-piece shape for luggage tags as
Sources: National Center for Missing and Exploited Children; U.S. Department of Justice
These resources can help you learn more about sex and human trafficking, and how you can help:
U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops
Intercommunity Peace & Justice Center
Escape to Peace www.escapetopeace.com
Candles for the Cause
Carol Loya handcrafts soy candles in glass holders to raise money for her anti-trafficking work. A variety of aromatherapy scents are available. Prices are $7 for a votive candle and $20 for a 3-by-3 candle.
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