*names have been changed to protect privacy
Twenty-five hours. That’s how long our family sat on buses and vans to get from Phnom Penh, Cambodia to Chiang Rai, Thailand. We had been in Cambodia’s capital city visiting the Thai Embassy there, hoping and praying that we’d be granted new visas. We were, thankfully. In an effort to save money on the return trip we decided to forgo the two short plane rides in favor of motion sickness and insomnia. We no longer favor motion sickness and insomnia, but we do enjoy saving money. So there’s that.
We walked through the door of our home at around 6:30am Saturday morning and promptly passed out on our respective beds. A rare silence covered the house for nearly four hours. We awoke to a series of frantic messages from Nan* a former rescue girl who was married just last year and now has a beautiful newborn girl.
Nan is very special to our family. We have helped her young family in the past and she considers us second parents. A true honor from this sweet girl. Nan has been an example of quiet strength and faith to me since we first arrived in Thailand. We’ve even joked that her baby was, in a way, like our first grandchild. She is a great example of what can be achieved through rescue and loving aftercare. In fact, she has been living independently for some time now. We hadn’t seen her since we drove her to her remote village a few days after the baby was born.
Kimberly responded via text message, and we enlisted additional help from a close Thai friend and confidant of Nan’s in order to understand exactly what was happening. It turns out that Nan’s stepfather had taken drugs the night before during the Chinese New Year celebration. At some point he became angry and started fighting with Nan and her mother. Before the dust settled he had physically beaten them both.
Nan was devastated. This was supposed to be her safe place. We still remember her excitement over her new life at the wedding and her beautiful smile as we waved goodbye to her in front of their one-room grass hut just seven months ago. In one night, it all came crashing down. No safety, no peace. Only more pain and memories of a life she left behind years ago.
Her husband has been working in another city to provide enough income for his young family, and thus he wasn’t there to protect his wife and mother-in-law. He’s a good young man, doing the right thing by his family and working hard to provide for them. I can’t imagine how he must feel, knowing that he wasn’t there to stop the violence that night.
Nan needed to leave, and quickly. It had to be that same day, as the New Year celebration was to continue and there would no doubt be more drinking and more drugs. Such a brave girl, to take a stand as she did. We needed to get to her, and we knew it wouldn’t be easy.
We had a problem. Our decrepit old car had no hope of climbing the steep, unpaved trails leading to her village.
And with her carrying a newborn baby and a basket of clothes, we couldn’t quite bring ourselves to pick her up on our motorbikes.
So we set out to procure something a bit more potent. Fortunately, I’ve become friends with the local motorbike rental shop owner, Brian. After a bit of pleading and telling him the purpose of our journey, he agreed to loan us his very powerful Toyota truck. We paid him just $30, less than half what it would have cost from any other rental agency in town.
Our next problem was navigation. We had technically been to this village once before, following Nan’s husband.
But I’m terrible with directions and there are so many twists and turns and unmarked roads weaving through villages and over mountains, there’s no way I’d find it without help. Help came in the form of our superhero Thai daughter, G. She left her own New Year celebration to ride shotgun, frequently rolling down the window to ask for directions from the locals, and occasionally we found a patch of cell coverage from which to call Nan for added guidance.
We eventually came within a half mile of her home, where we found her standing on the side of the road, waiting. I slammed the truck into ‘Park’ and jumped out and ran to her. She squeezed me tightly and cried in my arms as I kissed her head and told her that everything was going to be alright. She was safe now. Kimberly embraced her too, and we all took a minute to let our emotions subside before driving over the final few hills.
As the truck slowed to a stop in front of her hut, I felt my gut tighten and my blood began to boil.
I was angry.
Very, very angry.
There he was, the man who hurt this sweet girl. This was a moment I had been imagining as the hours ticked away on the drive.I had prayed for wisdom, patience and control. And for a moment I wasn’t sure I’d have the strength to show restraint. My size advantage over him is roughly the same as his size advantage over Nan. Seems like poetic justice for me to show him what it’s like to be on the receiving end of an unfair fight. But it wouldn’t be right. It wouldn’t be God’s justice.
Knowing it wouldn’t be right is one thing. Accepting that knowledge is another thing entirely. I felt every breath. I tensed every muscle. I willed my face to smile at the little children who quickly began gathering around to see the foreigners in their village. I stared him down, once. Then regained control and slowly began to let it all go. Taking action would be easy. It would be incredibly gratifying. But it would very likely result in far worse consequences for his wife and others after I left. So I promised myself I’d deal with him later, and we focused on helping Nan load a few things into the truck.
Nan’s mother was heartbroken to see her daughter and baby granddaughter leaving. Before I got back into the truck, I gave her a deep wai – a sign of respect in Thai culture. She approached me and gently took my hand, tears in her eyes, and thanked both Kimberly and me for coming to the rescue. I couldn’t help but wonder what would happen to her after we left. I wanted to stay. I wanted to put her in the truck with us. I thought again about wrapping my hands around stepdad’s neck and screaming threats in his face until he feared me more than he desired the drugs. But nothing else I could do in that moment would have helped the situation.
It wasn’t until later that night during a conversation with a friend that we discovered a connection to the government official in charge of domestic abuse cases in hill tribe villages. We now have the option of bringing this case to his attention and hopefully having the weight of the Thai legal system on our side. Had I taken things into my own hands, it would have been pretty difficult to enlist this resource without being charged with assault myself. Which means that to keep myself out of Thai prison, we wouldn’t be able to actively pursue legal action without raising questions that would lead right back to me.
This weekend we were reminded that rescue is not something that happens just once. What good would the fire department be if they pulled you from a flaming car wreck and later let your house burn to the ground? Rescue is something we do when someone needs to be rescued. Whether it’s their first time in peril or their 50th makes no difference. Christ came to rescue us from our sin, and His rescue covers not just one sin but all – past, present and future. Only Jesus could act once to rescue us forever. We are called by Christ to honor the greatest commandment of all – To love God and love people.
We were reminded again through this situation of the mission to which God has called our family. Not to simply be a one-time catalyst for change but to empower girls to live strong and independent lives, with the knowledge that if things go horribly wrong, we’ll still be there for them. Even when they’re married and have become mothers. Even when they are working hard in safe occupations and saving to build a house. It’s not about money. Nan asked for nothing but our presence and a ride into town. She could have taken a bus. But she wanted us. And we wanted to be there for her. Puak rao rak deg phu ying khon nee loog sao jing jing. (We love this girl like our own daughter.)
Rescue is what all you moms out there do when your adult daughter calls for advice on a job decision. It’s what you dads do when their brakes need to be replaced. It’s what we all do as parents to support the long, slow march toward full independence. We rescue again and again, and we don’t stop. The girls we work with are very strong and very independent. But that doesn’t mean they don’t still need a lifeline from time to time. It boils down to a very small investment on our part to prevent them from a potential major setback.
I know we say it a lot, but we mean it: Thank you! Thank you for making it possible for us to be here for our precious girls. Thank you for the prayers, words of support, financial help, Facebook likes, etc. All the things you do to invest in us as we invest in them. We pray that God will lead you all to opportunities to rescue someone in your path, whether it’s your own child or family member or a complete stranger. Love God, love people. Follow this commandment and you might just accomplish God’s purposes without even knowing it. Go forth and rescue. Again.