Above, Lee Howard (right) with an employee.
September 2021 – Adjacent to the front lawn of a historic church in Memphis, Tennessee, stands a statue of Johnny Cash celebrating the location of his first public performance.
Today Memphis Tabernacle has another legacy – helping women who have escaped a sexually exploitative lifestyle break free from its thorny clutches of trauma. Founded and operated by 27-year-old Lee Howard, it houses a social enterprise that exists for that specific purpose. After earning a psychology degree, Howard worked for several years with A Way Out Ministries (AWO) in Memphis, a long-term residential program for sex trafficking survivors. At AWO she became heartbroken for the women nearing completion of the program, but who struggled to find safe, meaningful employment.
Howard grew up in the tiny town of Mullins, South Carolina. “I was sheltered, Howard told AFA Journal. “I lived a picture-perfect life in the sense of do’s and don’ts.”
But after experiencing painful rejection, disappointments, and loneliness in college, she traveled down a sinful, codependent path with a boyfriend who was an abusive alcoholic. She began to drink and allow him to take advantage of her sexually. It was a lifestyle that became her new normal – all while employed as a children’s minister at a church an hour’s drive away.
“I lived a double life,” she said. “I would go to church, and be broken, and promise to change. But I just kept returning to the party lifestyle.
“I didn’t want to be rejected, and I would do anything [my boyfriend] wanted,” Howard explained. “My spirit was absolutely ripped from me. I didn’t know who I was anymore.”
God used Howard’s experience of good-girl-gone-bad and a seemingly random series of events to place her on a trajectory that would eventually lead her to truly surrender her life to Christ and start RE+NEW+ALL Candle, a safe work environment for trafficking survivors to gain job skills and implement recovery strategies.
“It’s one thing to have talk therapy,” Howard explained. “But it’s another thing to actually walk it out – to apply the things they’ve learned. [In a residential program], they live in a bubble. So they need a place to apply what they are learning.”
Howard is acutely aware of behavioral issues caused by unhealed trauma. “When they have a meltdown, I welcome that,” she said. “It gives me a chance to work with them – to help them work through it when it happens.”
She continues to work on her master’s degree in clinical mental health with a focus on cognitive behavioral therapy and, by faith, is preparing for growth at RE+NEW+ALL Candle, expanding with two full-time administrative staffers who were previously trapped in sexually exploitative situations themselves.
“My goal is for these ladies to take ownership as teachers and leaders in the future,” she explained.
God has performed countless miracles since the high-end candle line was created in late 2018 including a wide swath of business consultants and construction professionals offering their expertise, a church offering free space, and most importantly, traumatized women being set free.
Howard explained the significance of the plus signs in RE+NEW+ALL Candle, acknowledging that there is always room for more. God wants to renew all people – just as He renewed her and gave her a life of purpose.
“And now, I want to help people learn to dream,” said Howard. “That’s part of the bigger picture – helping them reach their dreams. The more candles we sell, the more we can do.”
▶ RE+NEW+ALL Candle
renewallcandle.com | 901.308.4689
Each hand-poured candle is made of all-natural soy wax and comes with a card signed by the woman who made it.