By Dan Kersten ’03
Jonathan Barratt ’10 had the ultimate dream to play Major League Baseball, and his talent put his target within reach.
While hurling fastballs for Hillcrest High School in Springfield, Missouri, Jon attracted big league attention and was drafted by the Tampa Bay Rays in the fifth round of the 2003 major league draft.
“I felt like I was put on earth to play baseball,” Jon said. “I was determined to go as far as I could. I dreamed about playing professionally and being called up to the major leagues to face the best players in the world.”
Jennifer (Grant) Barratt ’07, Jon’s high school sweetheart, wanted to care for others. “I’ve always felt like God was preparing me to work with people who needed compassionate, personal care,” she said. “My parents were missionaries and we worked with survivors of sexual exploitation. I always knew my ultimate dream was to be a wife, a mother, and a compassionate caregiver.”
Jon and Jennifer married in 2007 while pursuing their dreams vigorously. Jon pitched in Tampa Bay’s farm system for more than five years. Jennifer completed nursing studies at Evangel University and later became director of nursing for a Mercy Health Systems long-term care facility.
But in 2009 God began redirecting them into new opportunities that meant leaving their own dreams behind to fulfill the dreams of others.
Over the next seven years, both had to make a decision together: Are we okay with giving up these dreams?
In April 2009, an unexpected illness brought Jon’s pitching career to a disappointing end. Even with the probability of eventual recovery, God was clearly closing that door.
So Jon focused on completing his bachelor’s in business at Evangel in 2010, and later went to work as business administrator for Project Rescue, the Assemblies of God World Missions outreach to survivors of sexual exploitation and human trafficking. Later, in 2012, Jon became director of the newly formed Project Rescue Foundation.
Likewise, Jennifer felt God leading her into uncharted territory. Earlier this year, she left Mercy and came to work full time in a supportive role with Project Rescue.
In their new positions, Jon and Jennifer work to facilitate the rescue and restoration of women and children who are caught in sexual slavery in seven countries throughout Europe and Southern Asia. The children are cared for from the time of their rescue and raised in Project Rescue-affiliated homes. They are also given a chance to go to college, which used to be merely a dream for such children.
For years, children in Project Rescue homes were asking, “Could someone like me ever hope to go to college?”
Without funds in the budget to support such a dream, a miracle was needed. Jon was determined to find a way. Finally, in 2013 he had an idea: sell a specially designed t-shirt to provide proceeds for a scholarship fund. With that, the Dream Tee project was born.
To date, almost $200,000 in shirt sales and donations have been generated to underwrite 123 full ride one-year scholarships for children from Project Rescue homes to realize their dreams of attending a Bible school, community college, university or trade school.
Thus far, 23 young men and women in two countries (mostly India) have earned trade school certificates or college degrees in ministry, social work, government service, cosmetology, nursing and others. A number are currently using their scholarship to pursue graduate degrees.
“What God has done with this Dream Tee project is just mind-blowing,” Jon said. “Most of these are children who were born in brothels, or trafficked into one. They were destined to one day enter the flesh trade. Without significant intervention there is a low chance of survival, much less a chance to heal, grown, learn and become something else.
“Seeing them rescued, healed, coming to know Christ, and then growing up to live amazing lives full of joy and purpose is amazing.”
Though his baseball days are over, and Jennifer’s medical career is at least on hold, neither have lost their identities. Jon especially still finds time to mix sports and ministry. In January 2016, he took a group of seven men from his home church to India to minister in Project Rescue homes and play cricket with 40 boys at a home in the city of Nagpur, India.
“Jon and I allowed God to draw us into a new season and a new chapter- -working to support victims of sexual exploitation and allowing them to realize their dreams,” Jennifer said. “We started out with certain hopes, dreams and ideas for our life, and now God has redirected us to this new dream together.”
To learn more about the Project Rescue Foundation and The Dream Tee Project visit www.projectrescue.com.
Dan Kersten is director of advancement communications at Barefield and Associates in Springfield, Missouri.