Childhood Abuse Survivor Becomes ‘Mom’ to Hundreds of Homeless Abused Teens and a National Advocate for Victims of Human Trafficking
Andi Buerger grew up severely abused, feeling desolate and suicidal by age 5. But God had a plan for her. She shared her story with The Stream — her ordeal, how God healed her and how He's healing others through her.
At age 5, Andi Buerger feared for her life. Her mom told her she was a problem and threatened to kill her. She felt alone. Her mother, father, older brother and extended family members preyed on her.
Little Andi went out to the curb of her street in Los Angeles, California. She knew cars could be dangerous. She waited for a car to come by so she could run out in front of it.
Buerger says it’s been a long journey of hurt and healing since then. Now she speaks with enthusiasm about her life, her connection to God, her marriage, and Beulah’s Place. It’s a non-profit she started to help homeless abused teens and young adults become independent. She and her husband have become mother and father figures to many of them.
“I have the most blessed life right now,” Buerger said.
The most redemptive part of her ministry, she says, is “knowing that my life wasn’t a waste.” She finds meaning in helping abused teens and young adults find their footing in life and learn to trust — “seeing them shine.”
“The child within knows that we went the distance in my life.”
The Day She Heard God
The sky seemed so big and blue to five-year-old Andi Buerger. No cars came down her street while she sat on the curb. Looking back, she says that was God’s provision. He kept her from running in front of a vehicle and ending her life.
“I looked up into the sky,” Buerger remembered.
“I wonder how far it goes,” she thought. “Who made it?”
She wondered if that God who made the sky could also help her.
“Deep inside I heard a voice saying, ‘There is a way.'”
Buerger said she grew up feeling desolate and alone. Her mother, her primary predator, began sexually abusing her when she was six months old. Her father also preyed on her. They abused her older brother and allowed him to do the same to her. Her mother told her she was a problem and that she could “take me out” — kill her. Some extended family also abused her. There was no safe person in her life. Buerger was “absolutely hated by the people who are supposed to love you.”
Buerger responded to God’s voice inside her. She told God, “If you keep me alive long enough to get out of here, I’ll do whatever I need to do.”
Dreaming of Her Future Self
Sometime when Buerger was between the ages of 6 and 8, she began dreaming or daydreaming of her future self. On several occasions she woke up at night and had an image in her mind. She saw herself on a platform speaking to thousands of people and reaching their hearts.
God kept placing a dream in Buerger’s heart that her pain would one day be worth it. She believed she would one day bring healing to others.
“But He didn’t show me what it would take to get there,” she said, laughing.
In the healing process to come, God would teach her to trust Him and require her to forgive her abusers. Throughout the next years of her life, first while still being abused and then while physically free, she clung to “a fragile thread of hope in my heart that I had value.”
At age 16 her mother was on top of her with her hands around her neck, trying to choke her to death. Her father pulled her mother off of her. It was the only time her father did anything decent for her, she recalled.
Coughing, she ran outside, away from her house. But where could she go?
Sometimes, her mother had taken her and her family to a church to try to convince others she had a perfect family. Buerger was too ashamed and afraid to go there. She didn’t want to tell anyone what her family did to her.
Realizing she had nowhere to go, she went back to her house. She had failed to escape. This felt like one more reason she was worthless. One more humiliation.
“I felt like a coward and a looser.”
A sense of disgust with her own life burdened her — “so disgusting not even a rat would go near you.”
“All victims carry that to some extent,” Buerger said.
Running and Growing
Buerger threw herself into her studies. She did well in school, but didn’t know how to have friends. Her parents had not allowed her to have long-term friendships. They had controlled her with fear.
“At 17, I was mentally ahead, but not emotionally ahead.”
When Buerger went off to college, it was her first time to be physically away from her abusers. She became an over-achiever, double majoring and graduating in three years. She took classes during every semester and term they were offered: fall, winter, spring and summer.
“When you’re running from something, it’s amazing the drive you can have.”
Here, away from the abuse, she began experiencing God on a more one-on-one basis. Before, she had known God on what she called a “nebulous basis.” Through various experiences and encounters with people, she understood that God cared for her personally and was active in her life. On one occasion, she prayed for her Jewish professor, who later announced to the class after she had walked in: “She prayed for me and that’s why I’m here.”
After college, she went on to law school, hoping to find justice and help other people. By the time she graduated law school, she knew the legal system wasn’t the right way for her to impact lives. She went on to become a successful businesswoman. In the midst these successes, she was able to compartmentalize her pain and push it away. She was forced to seek healing when her pain came back forcefully. That old pain erupted when she found herself in an abusive marriage.
A Marriage that Triggered Flashbacks
Buerger married a church leader whom she met at an adult singles class in church. But the marriage was dark. The childhood memories she had tried to push aside and leave behind came back in overwhelming flashes.
“I was again desolate and lonely and desperate towards the end of my first marriage.”
Both Buerger and her first husband were dysfunctional and co-dependent, she says. Six months into her marriage, Buerger realized she needed help facing her past. She began what would be three years of counseling.
Buerger said she highly recommends counseling, calling it “courageous.” “You’re getting help so that you can become all that God wants you to be,” she said.
Healing in Layers
While attending a church regularly with her husband, they also attended three church services with friends over the course of a few months. She had never been to any of these three churches before. But at each one, she felt the speaker was speaking directly to her about her healing process. In one case, the speaker announced that he felt there was a woman in the room who had never been to the church before. “God wants you to know He’s still healing you,” he said. From three churches and three speakers across a period of a few months, she heard one message repeated: “That it was complicated, it was in layers, that He was still healing me. And it would be a process.” In short: “I’ve heard your cries, and I am healing you.”
“Multiple times! Can you imagine?” she asked. “With all He has, that He would care about one person that way.”
“He cared enough to repeat the fact that he was healing me, so I wouldn’t let go of that hope — that thread — that had kept me going all those years,” Buerger said. “If He cared that much about me, then this is the God I’ve been hoping for my whole life. This is the God I’ve believed in my whole life. But He was suddenly becoming a tangible God. A God I could speak to, not just believe in for the big stuff.”
God released Buerger from her abusive marriage through a divorce, she says. During that dark marriage, and the time after, Buerger earnestly sought her healing.
The Thread of Hope
“I learned to take baby steps with my faith,” Buerger said, referring to an important lesson she learned from the devotional book Streams in the Desert, by Lettie Cowman.
She emphasized the importance of hope to anyone who is seeking healing. Hope that you have value and worth. “That hope is Jesus.”
“For the ones who are willing to grasp that thread of hope,” she said, “Jesus will do the rest.” That thread, however small, can be a “solid rope that we get to hang on to to be pulled through” abusive situations.
She spoke at length about the keys to her healing. Those keys are described in depth here.
Buerger says her hope, her desire to be healed, and her relationship with God proved essential to her healing. She described learning to trust God with a child-like faith, connect to God’s heart, and forgive.
“He is such a great Daddy,” she said of God. “He wants to take junk and turn it into beautiful things.”
She spoke passionately about knowing God’s love. “Love is an intimate relationship.” “He just loves to love us, and there’s nothing like it.”
The love she found in God also shines out of her second husband, Ed Buerger, who she married 19 years ago.
“If I didn’t know God, I would know God because of Ed,” she said. When it comes to finding pure love, she said, “Yeah, it can happen.”
In her husband, Buerger found a partner with a mutual desire to help young people transition into adulthood.
Ten years ago they birthed their vision to help at-risk homeless teens. They started Beulah’s Place.
Since then, they’ve impacted the lives of at least 400 homeless minors and young adults, ages 14-23, in the Redmond, Oregon area. Of those hundreds, 37 have stayed in their safe house program. They’re currently only equipped to house legal adults, but they still serve minors by helping them to get jobs and finish their education. Of those 37 young adults, 35 successfully completed the program in a few months, finding work and becoming independent. Of the 35 program graduates, 32 have not returned to homelessness: a 92 percent success rate.
Buerger said all of the homeless teens and young adults she’s served through Beulah’s Place are abuse survivors.
Being Love to Her Kids
Buerger’s greatest satisfaction is seeing “her kids” shine.
“I have a lot of adult kids, and I love all of them. They’re all mine,” she said enthusiastically.
“They’re very successful. I love hearing about their college, their careers, just their lives in general. Because that means they’re focused on their future, not just their past.”
“We will be here for you no matter what,” is what she tells them.
Every Fathers’ and Mothers’ Day, Buerger and her husband receive cards. They’ve become parents in the hearts of dozens of young adults who grew up abused. One young woman asked Ed if he would be the man to walk her down the aisle one day at her wedding. He said yes.
She said she loves that many of her kids choose to keep her in their lives even after they’ve graduated from Beulah’s Place. She has graduates at her house weekly, even some who graduated five years ago.
“I convey everything I can give them about healing,” she said. “The main thing I try to do is be very real with them, and in all things, in all ways, definitely be love to them, because that’s who Jesus is to us.”
Buerger has no paid staff, but she has many partnerships and volunteers. Local families provide host homes for legal adults. A local church provides emergency shelter for homeless minors during bad weather. Local businesses partner by interviewing any job candidate who mentions Beulah’s Place on their application. Buerger said she’s working out the details of a partnership that will enable Beulah’s Place to house minors at night.
Dreams Coming to Pass
Through Beulah’s Place she’s provided teens a way out of homelessness, and in two cases, out of trafficking. Last year, she gave advice to a person who sought her out for counsel on a three-state human trafficking case. Her experiences and legal expertise from her law degree come together when she speaks about human trafficking.
Last year she spoke to law enforcement officials, sharing her in-field expertise on the successes and the challenges of dealing with human trafficking victims, law enforcement and the community at large. This year she will be sharing her story with lawmakers in Washington D.C. She will also be touring the nation speaking to leaders and college students on how to prevent human trafficking.
“I believe God is fulfilling the visions He gave me from an early age,” Buerger said. “Whether we’ve reached the pinnacle or not — I don’t think so. I think we’re just beginning.”
Call to Action for National Slavery & Human Trafficking Prevention Month
“Learn to do right; seek justice. Defend the oppressed. Take up the cause of the fatherless; plead the case of the widow.” Isaiah 1:17
In honor of National Slavery & Human Trafficking Prevention Month, The Stream is highlighting stories related to human trafficking. Please join us in educating ourselves about this fight and committing ourselves to prayer. Pray for slavery to end in our nation and in the world. Pray that God will give wisdom to leaders in the church, world governments, business, and communities to promote justice in their lands. Ask God that he will change our own hearts to care about what He cares about, to pray for His will on the earth and to give and act as He directs.
Consider giving to RescueLIFE, a ministry of our publisher, James Robison. RescueLIFE allocates funds to vetted Christian ministry partners in the U.S. and around the world. These ministry partners fight traffickers, educate communities, rescue victims from the hands of traffickers and restore those who have been rescued through the love of God.
For more stories related to human trafficking, see here.