“Thank you for everything!” I have heard these words many times this year spoken by the precious Ugandan women who have been given a way out of their trafficking situations and a way into new lives of hope.
We recently had a goodbye party for four of the women who have been staying in NightLight’s shelter. The shelter is an amazing place! Anya, the shelter manager, and her assistant, Kim, have made the place a refuge of love and joy. I love visiting and seeing the women relaxed and at home. The shelter atmosphere is peaceful and removed from the stress and noise of the city. There will be challenges waiting for the women when they return home, but, for now, they can be still and rest in safety. Since the shelter opened just recently, not all the trafficked women we have assisted this year have been able to come into the shelter. When we visited the women who live outside the shelter, we enjoyed their company, as well, but the women outside carry more stress and face more pressures. A few of them dropped off the waiting list because the pressures they faced from the outside pulled them back into prostitution. The shelter removes them from those pressures and allows them to dream again in safety.
The goodbye party was a joyful celebration. The women greeted us with warm hugs and beautiful smiles. They put on African music and then went back to their cooking. The women love to share their African food and culture with us. We eat and laugh and encourage the women. They would be going home very soon and they were both excited and somewhat nervous. Here, they formed a community of sisters who understand what they have been through. They have found some healing and a lot of hope. They have some idea of what they will face when they go home, but don’t realize how much they, themselves, might have changed in their absence. Our volunteer staff has tried to prepare them for the adjustment ahead of them.
When we prayed together to end the evening, the women said the words again that they have said so many times, “Thank you, ladies, for everything!” These aren’t casual, polite words, but are sentiments from their hearts. They have left exploitation, abuse and desperation and now have hope and strength to face their futures.
I grew up in Africa and a large piece of Africa has never left my heart. I’ve been in Thailand for 19 years and now I can say that while God has not called me to move back to the continent of Africa, God has brought Africa to me. It’s amazing how God weaves life stories together. God knows our hearts’ desires and, as the weaving continues, the emerging pattern displays the dreams we thought were forgotten. What God planted in my heart as a child, He is using to fulfill part of His purpose here in Bangkok among the Africans who are trafficked here. I am humbled and in awe as so many others have also joined this vision – many others, who also have strong bonds with Africa.
“Thank you for everything!” I heard these words again at the airport when we went to send the women home. Tears filled the women’s eyes as they tried to express their gratitude. “Thank you! May God bless you! If it weren’t for you…” The words were spoken to us, but I share them with you because they belong to you, as well. Thank you – all of you who lift up prayers for these women and our team. Thank you – all of you who have sent funding in response to our urgent pleas to get a woman home. Thank you – all of you who have donated in kind to make the shelter a home. And, thank you – all of you who have volunteered hours of your time to love these women and fill them with hope. Most of all, I am thankful to God whose love never ceases to amaze me. He has woven the threads of our lives together to use us where we are, with what we have. We are woven together in His tapestry of love to bring hope, healing and freedom to those who need it most. Thank you for everything!