Born in East Tennessee, Allison Hale is a Southern girl at heart who has spent more than half her life in the Dominican Republic actively involved in ministry work.
Having grown up with a missionary father starting churches throughout the Dominican, Hale discovered her passion for ministry young age, later fell in love with the country, and opened a church with her husband in San Pedro in 2003 called Iglesia Bautista Evangélica de Macorís.
However, it wasn’t until 2009 that Hale began taking her women’s ministry to the streets, rescuing and restoring women from prostitution.
“I began spending time with the women of the church and over the years they started asking me ‘Do you know what’s going on in our town, in our city, in our country?’” said Hale. “It all kind of came together.”
This accumulation of circulated information combined with similarly related Godsends, such as a “Law and Order SVU” episode on the violence that coincides with prostitution, resulted in the founding of the MERCY Center, comprised of a safe house, a workshop and several opportunities for employment.
After acknowledging the issues within her community, Hale said she decided to make a change by first educating herself and experiencing the environment firsthand by walking the streets and talking with the women.
“We just wanted to talk to these women and find out what their stories were,” said Hale. “One of the things we found out was that they were all mothers. They had shut their kids in the house, and then they would go outside and prostitute themselves in the streets and hope that they would make enough food to feed their families.”
After having built trust with the women overtime by listening to and validating the women’s stories, Hale has now provided the women with honor jobs - jobs that they can be proud of - making jewelry and renting and making dresses. Through that, she has built community within MERCY that emanates safety, trust, and restoration.
For Hale, one of her most meaningful moments is watching the women get their official government ID card listing their new occupations.
“I always go back to how proud they are when they get their government ID Card. Theirs says they are artisans and they’re so proud of that."
Because of her reputation with the women, Hale is somewhat of a celebrity on the streets as she makes her pilgrimages through the red light district.
“I was desperate so I didn’t hide, but I did think that Allison would talk a long time and I would lose money. But I didn’t want to be on the streets and was desperate” said Vanessa, a rescued woman currently employed by MERCY Jewelry.
Vanessa, whose name has been changed to protect her identity, said she made the right choice.
“I’m very happy here. I love the girls who come on internships, and I love that we can bring our children,” she said.
But Hale’s work doesn’t only instill pride and joy in the women seeking restoration; She is an inspiration to her team members as well.
“She’s not just a woman in a ministry. She’s a woman living a Christian life. She is my best friend. She is my co-worker. She is the pastor’s wife. But she is like my sister” said Ana Ricardo, Hale’s right-hand-man in the ministry and close friend.
And while Hale has success in the town of San Pedro, she knows there is more work to be done. In a country where prostitution is legal, there are hundreds if not thousands of women involved in the sex trade.
Hale would like to reach everyone. She dreams of expanding her ministry across the country and ultimately across the border to Haiti.
She envisions a community of women, empowered.
“Multiple safe houses. Multiple workshops,” said Hale. “That’s the dream.”