Moving girls from cruelty to compassion

Butterfly Project helps sexual abuse victims thrive again

Girl Behind Tree_smallMANILA, Philippines – Michele Clinton knew something was wrong with Mary Jane as soon as she walked into the girl’s room.

Inside, a female caregiver and a male security guard at Mary Jane’s group home struggled to hold the 15-year-old girl as she writhed and screamed.

At first, Michele thought, “seizure” and tried to comfort the girl. But when Mary Jane growled and tried to bite her, Michele realized she was dealing with something much more serious. She immediately called her husband, Dave, at their apartment a short distance away.

“We’ve got a demon on our hands!” shouted Michele, who had never witnessed such a thing.

“I was so freaked out,” Michele recalls. “I had chills running down my spine and realized, this is something else – it’s not Mary Jane.”

Dave grabbed Mike, a missionary buddy, and rushed over to the Arthur Center, the girls’ home that the Clintons run in Antipolo, a poor suburb of Manila.

For five hours, the missionaries and the caregivers prayed and read Bible passages aloud to Mary Jane while the girl rode an emotional/spiritual roller coaster: For 10 minutes at a time, Mary Jane would try to bite the adults restraining her or claw out her own hair; then she would collapse, nearly comatose, quietly sobbing. During calm moments, Mary Jane said she saw a black figure with large black eyes attacking her and trying to pull her into hell by her feet, Dave remembers.

At then end of the five hours, at about 3 a.m., Dave knelt and prayed by Mary Jane, specifically talking about God’s sovereignty and power. Right then, Mary Jane opened her eyes and exhaled three long, terrible-smelling breaths.

“It was foul,” Dave says. “I believe three spirits left her body at that moment.”

Mary Jane then asked Jesus Christ to come into her life. Two nights later, when another missionary woman explained what asking Christ to come into one’s life really means, Mary Jane again prayed to receive Jesus.

The Clintons’ care ministry involves housing, feeding and clothing the girls; getting them to school; driving them to visit doctors and counselors; driving them to legal hearings to testify against their abusers; and providing round-the-clock care from staff workers. Providing all that care costs about $375 a month per child, which the Clintons raise through donations from families and churches, mainly in the United States. Donations to their ministry can be made through First Love International Ministries.

Between those two prayers, Mary Jane repeatedly saw black creatures in doorways, in windows. She said she even felt something physically tugging at her, like the first night. The night that she prayed for the second time, all the creepy aftermath stopped. Since then, Dave says, she’s pored over her Bible daily, memorizing dozens of verses and sometimes reading verses so loudly in church that she has to be quieted down.

Special needs – and then some

When Dave and Michele agreed to take special-needs kids into their children’s home, they didn’t think praying a girl out of demon possession would come with the package. Then again, they didn’t think sexual abuse would be the “special need” that the Philippines government would ask them to take on as a stipulation of approving the Arthur Center. But since opening the 12-bed girls’ home in October 2013, caring for victims of sexual abuse has been the mainstay of the Clintons’ ministry. “I think when people get into the orphan ministry, you’re envisioning that you’re going to get shiny little happy babies that are left on your doorstep, and it’s going to be real easy work,” says Dave, 39, field director for First Love International Ministries in the Philippines. “This is a whole other ballgame.” Statistics on abuse in the Philippines are unreliable; much goes unreported and unpunished because of victims’ fear and the social stigma that paradoxically gets foisted on them instead of their assailants. The Philippines Department of Social Welfare and Development estimates that 20 percent of Filipino women have suffered physical violence of some kind. In the U.S., 25 percent of women are raped or physically assaulted by a spouse or dating partner, according to the U.S. Department of Justice and American Bar Association.

Spiritual wreckage of abuse

Mary Jane was 8 when a policeman raped and beat her in her hometown in the southern Philippines.

For seven years, one thought – “You were raped, you were raped, you were raped” — tormented her daily. Painful as the psychological trauma was, the spiritual agony heaped on Mary Jane as a result of the attack turned out to be worse.

When Mary Jane arrived at the Arthur Center (named for a ministry supporter who helped build the home), she charmed everyone there with her smile and vibrant personality. However, after receiving a Bible at a birthday party for another girl at the home, what every witness in the room agree were demons manifested themselves in Mary Jane.

“She was so strong, and then I was calling the guard to help us because we were only two caregivers at that time,” says Mylene Abaja, 34, one of the Filipina caregivers on duty that night. “She was screaming, and you could see there was a spirit in her.”


For Dave, Mary Jane exemplifies the freedom that she and girls like her are experiencing after years of sexual abuse at the hands of their fathers, brothers and total strangers. Stories like hers inspired the name “Butterfly Project.”

“Just the new life that she has, I can’t even believe that we’ve been a part of something like this,” Dave says. “It’s really amazing. That’s what we’re looking for. That’s our goal with every one of these girls.

“We’ve had a couple of girls who have had some major psychological breakdowns. And it seems like that’s a pattern. They have to come face to face with it before they can start healing and learning how to deal with it properly. But when it comes out, it comes out in a storm. And we see that after that happens, real change starts to take place. It’s been remarkable in seven months’ time to see how far some girls have come.”

Dave and Michele have worked in numerous compassion-focused ministries in and around Manila for 10 years. Before they opened their ministry in the Arthur Center, they were involved in feeding poor children and families, a widow-sponsorship program, church planting and other ministries. Now, all those have taken a backseat to caring for victims of sexual abuse – Dave simply doesn’t have time to attend to anything else.

“Our goal is to take these girls and give them a brand new life – help them to start life over,” Dave says. “Some of them might be with us for six months, and some of these girls might be with us for 18 years. As long as it takes for them to be healthy and whole and able to stand on their own two feet, that’s what this ministry is going to be.”


  1. Great job on the article Lincoln! Thanks so much for sharing the story of the Butterfly Project!

  2. Thank you for taking the time to write, Darrel. It’s our privilege to publish stories like this one because they (we hope) clearly illustrate God at work, redeeming the world. Thank you for reading. Please pass this article along!

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