Helper of the Fatherless: Orphans, Thailand’s Sex Trade & the Willingness to Serve

“I just kept thinking God still had more planned for me and I should be doing more for orphans, but I honestly didn’t know what… I thought, ‘Hey, I’m listening! God’s not telling me anything.'”

Guest writer: Sharon Vogel

Thai_kid_village

But Jesus called them to him, saying, ‘Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God.'” Luke 18:16

ORPHANS IN CAR SEATS WITHOUT CARS

When I was about 17 or 18 I saw a Dateline Special about Chinese orphanages. Nothing I had ever seen on TV or really anywhere else at that time in my life impacted me the way that show did. I can still vividly remember the scene that affected me the most – little babies buckled into plastic car seats because there weren’t enough orphanage workers to hold them. The workers were going down the line popping bottles into the crying babies’ mouths. No one to love them. I decided at that moment I would adopt my children when I was old enough.

About 4 years later, I started dating my soon-to-be husband, Brian. When we realized we were getting serious and started discussing marriage and children, I told him I wanted to adopt and why. He had seen the exact show and it had impacted him the same way! We both agreed in the early stages of our relationship that we would adopt our children.

Nearly 20 years later, God has blessed me tremendously, and although my children are not all adopted and none are adopted from China (four children — two biological, two adopted from Korea) I know a big part of God’s plan for my life are my children.

However, once my family was complete, I just kept thinking God still had more planned for me and I should be doing more for orphans, but I honestly didn’t know what. So, I just pushed it to the back of my mind.

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About three years ago, our pastor preached a sermon and basically the sermon was ‘Go!’  He talked about stepping outside your comfort zone; God is calling you to serve him, but you have to listen. I thought, ‘Hey, I’m listening! God’s not telling me anything.’ In that same sermon he talked about mission trips, including ones to Thailand, but I thought there was no way I could go with four children and a husband who travels for business constantly.

I forgot about the sermon, and a few weeks later I was flicking through the channels and landed on a Dateline Special. It was about child sex-trafficking in Southeast Asia. Dateline went undercover and was tracking one man and four women who were meeting other people to sell about five little girls into the sex trade.

The youngest was about 3 years old and looked like my daughter Sage. Dateline’s intent was to stop the sale, but one of the women got away with a child, and the child was likely sold. I sobbed for an hour. But what could I possibly do? I did the only thing I could think of and prayed for those children. I still felt totally helpless.

REMEMBER NHU

Fast-forward a few years. My oldest daughter, Avery, asked to go to an event at our church with some of her friends, a fundraiser concert for some organization called “Remember Nhu.” At the concert, a young girl, Nhu, (pronounced ‘New’) told her personal story of how she was sold into the sex trade and then rescued.

Families in Southeast Asia sell their children into the sex trade out of extreme poverty. Sometimes they are misled, believing their children are to be household servants or factory workers. Nhu’s grandmother was aware of the true circumstances, but had no other choice and sold Nhu. She was only 12 years-old at the time. A man named Carl Ralston heard Nhu’s story and was so moved he sold his Seattle-based insurance business and started “Remember Nhu,” an organization that prevents children from being sold into the sex trade.

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Instead of selling their children, poor families can give them to the orphanage where they get food, clothes, and an education. The parents often can even still see their children. Often the children are true orphans and have no parents. Avery, who was 12 years old (the age Nhu was when she was sold) was so moved by Nhu’s story she gave every penny of her savings to the cause. I gave some money as well, but still had this feeling God wanted me to do more. But again, what could I possibly do?

After Nhu came and spoke, my church did two mission trips to Thailand to serve at Remember Nhu Orphanages. Both times that they were announced, I felt like I was being led to go, and both times I made excuses: I couldn’t leave my kids – my husband travels a ton for his job – how could I travel too? And Thailand is so far away!

However, two years later, I couldn’t ignore it any longer. Everytime our pastor spoke about God’s calling, I felt ‘go to Thailand’ was being whispered into my brain. I talked to my husband Brian about it and he not only supported my decision to go, but he wanted to join me. Finally, I did it and signed us both up to go.

I’d like to say everything went perfectly from the instant I signed us up, and at first some things did, but about a month after we hit numerous hiccups that made me second guess my decision to go to Thailand. The least of the issues was that I didn’t feel like I was bonding at all with my team; the worse issue was two weeks before we were scheduled to leave Brian’s dad had a heart attack and mild stroke.

When I began to feel completely discouraged I attended our last team meeting, and I was reminded by our leader about spiritual warfare: when we are about to do God’s work, Satan attacks his hardest. Up to the day before we left, I continued to face challenges, but I would just go to God in prayer and listen to his guidance. (And God does provide reassurance! For example, I raised exactly $12.50 over my fundraiser goal for Thailand, and Dempsey, my son with severe separation anxiety, told me he wanted Brian and me to go to Thailand to help others despite the fact the trip dates fell on his birthday.)

Thai_Temple

IN THAILAND

The day came. We boarded that plane for Thailand.

The Monday after we arrived was time to get to work. Our first stop was a visit to the Lahu Tribe. In Thailand, there are ‘hill tribes’ all over. Thai laws govern these ‘hill people,’ but the Thai will not give them citizenship. As a result, they remain pretty much destined to a life of poverty. They survive by selling a small amount of farmed goods and making beautiful purses and wallets. About 5 years ago, the particular tribe we visited had no children between the ages of 5 and 15 in their village as they were all sold into the sex trade. Now, due to Christian organizations like Remember Nhu they had not sold any children in the past 5 years.

The leader of the tribe took us on a tour of his village as we handed out lollipops to the children. Some of the children played with a coconut as a ball. Their meager hut-style homes consisted of a wood burning pile for their kitchen and a mattress for the whole family to sleep on. Typically seeing poverty like this upsets me, but I was encouraged, knowing that the children we played with and give lollipops to have been prevented from being sold into a life of sexual slavery due to Christians that obey God’s calling for them.

At the Remember Nhu orphanage, the kids are in school during the day, so the plan was for us to do manual labor around the orphanage during the day, and then around 4:30 p.m., when the kids return from school, we would have dinner and spend time with them.

That night, we went to dinner at one of the boys’ homes (the orphanage consists of 4 homes, 2 boys’ and 2 girls’ homes, housing 160 kids). As we pulled up in our air-conditioned van, the boys pulled in next to us, home from school. They were piled in the backs of pick up trucks about 16 per truck bed.

We were greeted by a bounty of smiles. The boys were all so excited to see us!

Thai_boy_hands_village

One smile that particularly struck me was this little boy named Jew. He reminded me of my daughter Sage because he was always smiling, but he also had the same gap-toothed smile she did as Sage, who had just lost one of her two-front teeth. However, upon closed inspection, I realized Jew was missing several teeth due to other factors, such as malnutrition or poor dental care. Although the children of the poor villages or of the orphanage do get basic healthcare from the Thai government, I never asked about dental care and assumed it doesn’t exist. This, however, didn’t stop Jew from smiling.

The boys of the orphanage love to play marbles but share about 5 marbles between 10 or so of them. They all patiently wait their turn, and Jew would do it smiling. At one point, later in the week, I had some beads and was sitting with a group of kids making bracelets. Three times in the process of making a bracelet Jew dropped his and all the beads would spill off. He would just look up at me and smile and start over. I’m not sure what this little boy’s story was, and despite his friendly smile, he was one that kept more to himself. He’s also one child I will never forget.

Each night, we would have dinner in a different home. What I saw over the next few days in these orphanages completely moved me. It was God’s love like I have never experienced. These children have about two outfits each, a few toys and games to share between all of them, and sleep 17 to a room. They eat rice or noodles with very little meat. Dessert is a rarity. But unlike that Chinese orphanage I saw years ago in the dateline special, for the most part these kids are happy. They are a big family.

At one point, Jon, a man on our trip, asked one of the older girls (the older ones speak some English) “Who’s your friend?” about the other children she was with. She responded, “She’s not my friend, she’s my sister,” although there was no blood relation between them.

The older children looked out and cared for the younger children. If one of the little kids skinned a knee an older child would run for a band-aide (if they had any).

The first night we visited the girls’ home, a young woman named Net, who looked 12 but turned 18 while we were visiting, was touting a beautiful little three-year-old girl on her hip. I asked if I could take a picture of them because the little girl, who was named Tia, was such a cutie pie. However, Tia wanted no part of getting her picture taken. ‘Is she shy?’ I asked. Net responded that typically she is a happy child, but she was recovering from a flu-like illness that had been going around and had just left the hospital. Her fever had been very high, and combined with Thailand’s heat, the house-mother was concerned about dehydration.

That night, each of the older girls took turns carrying Tia around and comforting her. By the end of the night, Tia was her happy self again and playing card games with one of people on our team. I felt like Tia was healed just by the love of those girls. (I was told later than Tia came to the orphanage after her parents had both died – one, possibly both, of AIDS.)

Thai_boy_noodles

Another child that will never leave my memory is Songchim. Songchim attached himself to my husband almost as soon as my husband stepped out of the van and was his shadow everytime we were at the boys’ home. He reminded me of my son Sebastian in that he just yearned for that ‘male bonding’ and was a typical boy, wanting to rough house, play soccer, or do anything else that required running or muscle. He would even put on my husband’s sunglasses and make these faces that reminded me of Sebastian. It wasn’t long though that the other boys wanted to join in the fun and my husband suddenly had several shadows.

Each night when we visited the kids, they proudly recited their Bible verses, often sang Christian songs (in English and in Thai) for us. One time my husband talked during dinner prayer (he didn’t realize it, as it was in Thai) and one of the younger kids playfully punched him and shushed him.

Our last day there we had a ‘fun day’ with the kids with games and crafts. (Nhu, the one who inspired Carl Ralston, visits Thailand often and came to fun day and did face painting with us for the kids.) We brought drawstring cloth bags for the kids to paint with fabric paint. One of the teen girls drew a beautiful picture on her bag with the words ‘agape love’ on it. (Side note Jew proudly brought his bag to church with him next day).

These children understand the importance of prayer and of God’s love in a country that is almost largely Buddhist.

Carl Ralston obeyed God’s calling and started Remember Nhu. As a result, I met 160 children that likely would have been sold to the sex trade. (There are also homes in 5 other countries now, including Kenya,) This understanding of God’s love is evident in these children. It’s what they exhibit toward each other. It’s why they are a family.

That love is evident in the house-mothers and house-fathers too. They are carefully chosen, and they are there not just for the job but because they love God and they love the children. It shows. By the end of the week I felt their love as a house-mother would walk over and hug me when it was time to leave or if I did a good job. We didn’t speak the same language and barely knew each other, but we were able to bond through God’s love and the love for the kids.

Thai_kids_village

During the day, we did hard work in the Thailand heat, but I wished I could have done more. These kids had been through so much. One little girl, age 2, was homeless on the street by herself for a month until she came to the orphanage. Another girl was so malnourished when she arrived that she had no hair at age 4.

Despite their hardships, every time I walked into that orphanage I could feel God’s love, and it flowed into our team. Don’t get me wrong. Our team got on each other’s nerves sometimes, like I’m sure those kids do to each other too. We are human. But in just a week, I felt like I bonded with all of our team and genuinely cared for all of them, even the quirkiest. To like people better after experiencing together 30 hours of layovers, flying, and jet lag only happens with God.

BACK HOME

I’ve been home now for about 5 days and I am still on what my friends who have also been on mission trips call a ‘God high.’ To see his work and feel his love in a world that seems so God-less is an amazing feeling. I know normal life is going to get a hold of me again, but I also know all those beautiful faces at the orphanage will never leave me. They will keep me in check to remind me to thank God for my own beautiful children and remind me of how blessed I am.

It took me a while to listen, but I’m sure God called Brian and me to Thailand. However, I know that’s not all God is calling me to do. Maybe He just wants me to tell my story to inspire others. Maybe He wants to inspire my oldest daughter, Avery, to go and maybe He has amazing things planned for her, as she really inspired to go now. Maybe He’s calling me for something bigger, maybe not. I can tell you though, I really hope He calls me to go back to Thailand.

Thai_girls

Learn more about Remember Hu at: Remembernhu.org

“But you do see, for you note mischief and vexation, that you may take it into your hands; to you the helpless commits himself; you have been the helper of the fatherless.” Psalm 10:14

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One thought on “Helper of the Fatherless: Orphans, Thailand’s Sex Trade & the Willingness to Serve

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