The Impact of Relationships
The Story of Carmen & *Precious Gemstone
Written by: Angie King Sullivan
I may never comprehend the vast impact of relationships. The opportunity to share about God at work in our lives ignites the passion He instilled in me. Prior to moving to Thailand in the early spring of 2016, I had the opportunity to share with a large group of women in Cartersville, Georgia. The encouragement and response from the ladies continues to bring joy to my days.
Fast forward to the Summer of 2018, I received an encouraging message from a lady who attended the aforementioned meeting. Carmen introduced herself and shared how God spoke with her that evening. She shared her journey in joining Him at work through her church family and on mission to Ethiopia. She shared how God spoke with her to connect with me to impact the lives of marginalized women and children in Thailand. He had gifted her with tremendous creativity and called her to yield profits and pour the resources into His work through GRACE. We rejoiced and planned a time for Carmen to join us for a couple of weeks in Thailand later that Fall.
Meanwhile, across the ocean, I received a call from a Thai lady who worked for a restaurant in our community. She was seeking resources for a neighboring family. Unsolicited by the parents, she expressed great interest in the two children, ages three and eight, being left alone and locked in their apartment. The children would beg for rice from their window. I expressed our willingness to meet with the parents. We collaborated with two other organizations who provided educational and occupational opportunities for the parents. We established daycare for the toddler, and enrollment in GRACE’s after school program for the child. The parents seemed elated. The leaders and staff of the organizations were excited to see God’s provision.
*Precious Gemstone (the meaning of the girl’s nickname) faithfully attended GRACE’s after school program until consecutive days of absence in September. Our staff called to check in on the family. Ghosted. Why are they avoiding us? What happened? Is everything okay? Then, I reached out to the other organization leaders. The parents are both attending as expected; seemingly unconcerned. Then the call came in from *Precious Gemstone’s grandmother apologizing that she couldn’t financially afford the fees required for her granddaughter’s participation at GRACE. We were shocked as there are no fees for the families. Seeking clarification we learned that the mother was exploiting her child for funds from her own mother. Our staff met with the mother to provide clarification. We discerned her lying and expressed our concern for the children. She apologized and *Precious Gemstone was able to return to the center. Things were going well and *Precious Gemstone became sponsored. Carmen chose to sponsor *Precious Gemstone. Such excitement. This family would soon meet their sponsor as Carmen will soon arrive for her short-term mission trip. The love was instantaneous and mutual. *Precious Gemstone received eyeglasses, she was gaining in knowledge and social skills, developing friendships, and progressing in her overall development. *Precious Gemstone participated in community activities including the annual Praise Pattaya celebration which afforded the GRACE children an opportunity to perform songs and dances for the Christian community.
I will never forget that January day, nor my location, when we received the phone call. Mai, our Thailand director, and I were in our GRACE Korat center with the after school program staff and children. It was a staff member of our Khao Noi center. *Precious Gemstone had been sexually abused. She didn’t complain nor tattle. The staff member was sitting next to her in the floor during reading time and noticed a foul odor described as “like when a woman hasn’t cleaned up after sex”. She escorted *Precious Gemstone to the bathroom with personal hygiene products to learn *Precious Gemstone was not wearing underwear. *Precious Gemstone said the panties hurt. Further unsolicited disclosure revealed *Precious Gemstone had been making sex videos with her stepfather. Please keep in mind, this did not occur in the USA where child protection laws govern the next steps. It’s a different culture who abide by different guidelines and are saturated with corruption. Mai and I returned to Pattaya the next day after the activities finished at the center. *Precious Gemstone wasn’t there; she had been picked up by one of her stepfather’s friends. But stepfather had sent the man’s name via group texting and the man signed his name on the checkout documents. YIKES!!!
We met with the entire team of staff the next morning. We were so grateful the staff member had insight to video her encounter with taking *Precious Gemstone to the bathroom. We watched and cried. I encouraged the staff with unity in seeking God for strength and maintaining confidentiality for all in this matter. This is the first exploitation case of Khao Noi but our third since August. Not coincidentally, I met the Chonburi Chief Commander of Thailand’s Internet Crimes Against Children (TICAC) division in September; we exchanged contact information. I called his number; an organization social worker answered the call. We were directed to get *Precious Gemstone from school and place her into our safety; then, wait for the next instructions. We did. Then, the seemingly long minutes turned to hours. The other children are arriving and we need to act quickly.
Together, Mai, our staff member receiving the report, and I took the child to our municipality police station to process a formal report. Immediately, the police contacted the child’s grandmother who agreed to provide safe shelter. The grandmother communicated to the child’s mother a desire for the children to stay with her for a couple of days and she would pick her up from GRACE. During the three hour interview process the stepfather sent another group text to disclose yet another male friend to pick up the child from GRACE. Our staff communicated with him to let him know the grandmother had already made arrangements with the child’s mother to get her and he dropped the request. Whew, we are sitting in the police station. Grandmother spoke with the police and agreed to also submit a formal report as she suspected sexual abuse.
*Precious Gemstone was interrogated by various officers; her descriptions were detailed and consistent. She described the videos and seeing the viewers who requested certain actions. She was groomed to believe all girls who love their daddy performs sex videos (the spared details would infuriate and sicken you). Two representatives from different shelters showed up requesting to take the child into custody as they saw potential funding opportunities. The police investigator reprimanded them and dismissed them from the station. Turns out the organization fielding calls for TICAC had contacted the shelters with a potential new child to their care. Their motives were exposed and I was pleased with the policeman’s reaction. Nearing the end of the interview, the investigator came to me, gathered my hands in his hands, and with good English language skills thanked me for intervening on the behalf of *Precious Gemstone. Stating he has a fourteen year old daughter, he promised to personally ensure excellent investigation and prosecution of the stepfather. He asked us to be patient as it will take time to gather the necessary evidence in this case. We were provided papers and told we could take *Precious Gemstone to the government hospital for rape assessment. We were at the hospital for more than six hours. Then, we took *Precious Gemstone to her grandparents home; it was after two o’clock in the middle of the night. We sat with her grandparents and aunt to share about the events and the upcoming appointments. They were committed to intervene on behalf of both of their grandchildren.
The experience at the hospital is another chapter; as is the following two months of medical and psychological assessment in which *Precious Gemstone told her story twenty-two times. Yet another chapter would describe the antics of her stepfather and the manipulative behavior of her mother. The rumors spread quickly throughout the community and our GRACE team stood close with each other and maintained confidentiality. I communicated with Carmen requesting prayer as I knew her love for the child and her family; she was actively engaged in her sponsorship.
It was a seemingly very long two months when the stepfather was arrested and charged with sexual abuse. He admitted to sexual abuse and providing child pornography. The mother became belligerent, threatening her mother’s life and kidnapping *Precious Gemstone. The grandmother informed the police of her daughter’s behavior and intention to kidnap her from school. The police were rescuing *Precious Gemstone from her classroom as the mother was storming the school’s administrative offices with threats demanding her daughter. *Precious Gemstone was ushered to an undisclosed safe haven shelter for long term care. The mother attempted to remove her mother’s report from the police to learn GRACE was the initial report. She then threatened our staff. All the while, we are praying and trusting God as our Provider, Protector and Strength.
Carmen returned to Thailand for two months that summer. She had the opportunity to meet *Precious Gemstone’s grandparents, aunt, uncle and little brother. She was able to minister to them with gifts and experience their lifestyle. She sat in the single-room multiplex housing unit in which *Precious Gemstone had refuge. She built relationships with GRACE staff in both Korat and Khao Noi. She got to know the children as she led creative arts activities. She got to know the culture, enjoy the food, explore the region, survive monsoons and extreme heat, experience the direct impact with quickly changing governmental policies, and much more. God penned an incredible chapter in her life story.
Four months passed. Mom has disappeared. The stepfather confessed while in jail awaiting trial. The caring grandparents and aunt were devastated but relieved she is no longer in danger. Our GRACE family mourned with each reminder of precious *Precious Gemstone.
In December 2018, the stepfather was found guilty and sentenced to twenty years in prison. He was required to pay retribution of 1,500 baht to *Precious Gemstone (that’s equivalent to approximately $50 USD).
How’s *Precious Gemstone? She is being cared for by a Christian shelter; I know the director. She is in good care. Psychologically, she is broken. Please pray for her healing. She does get to receive visits with her grandparents, little brother and aunt. She saw Mai and Chan at Pattaya Praise and ran with open arms to Mai (pictured above). She asked about her GRACE family. She will certainly never forget those who rallied around her to ensure her protection and safety.
How’s Carmen? She’s a warrior! Indeed, the burdens are heavy with the risk in building relationships with such at-risk children. Carmen turned her burden to security in Christ. Undoubtedly, He is her focus. Carmen redirected her funding to Friends of GRACE support in order to provide for all aspects of GRACE services. She is an engaged board member actively participating in events and the promotion of GRACE’s anti-trafficking work to all who will listen. Here is a statement from Carmen:
“When I close my eyes to pray, *Precious Gemstone is more times than not, the first image I see. I thank God daily that we had the opportunity to meet and spend time together during my first trip to Thailand. I was nervous it might be hard to connect with her due to our language barrier, but after the first few moments *Precious Gemstone’s shyness faded away and it was as if we had known each other forever. During this trip the children at G.R.A.C.E. were practicing for the Pattaya Praise Christian concert and *Precious Gemstone was so proud to show me the new dance she had learned. Her smile was infectious, but it was her tender heart that captured me.
Helpless. I felt completely helpless. I was thousands of miles away, on the other side of the world, when I got the call that *Precious Gemstone had been sexually abused and trafficked by her mother and step-father. My heart was broken. For every reason I had been called to serve alongside God and G.R.A.C.E. in the fight against human trafficking became more personal than I had ever thought possible. I was angry for so many reasons but mostly for the stolen innocence *Precious Gemstone was robbed of. I would have run to Thailand to hold her in my arms if I could have. For as much as my heart hurts I can only imagine the pain *Precious Gemstone must have endured, and the battles that will come in her life from this evil. I pray everyday that she knows she is loved and valued by God. My life is forever changed, and *Precious Gemstone will always be a reason to keep fighting the Good Fight.”
Due to this situation, Mai represented GRACE on the municipality committee of child protection, working alongside the authorities and other NGOs in establishing policies and procedures for reporting child abuse, exploitation and trafficking cases. Since August of 2018, GRACE is aware of twenty-one cases within our care in which children or their parents experienced exploitation or human trafficking situations. These situations are heavy. We have experienced the forced marriage of a fourteen year old, a twelve year old being trafficked into a brothel (a different brothel than where her twenty-five year old mother works), a set of teen siblings forced to work in agricultural fields, a young mother selling her infant to blackmarket adoption agencies, a seven year old girl dancing at local bars in the evenings, others in debt servitude, boys placed into temples to serve as novice monks and beg for food and offerings, and a mother’s agony over her nineteen year old son disappearing from fishing boat labor. These do not include the numerous children living as orphaned children to a single father, grandparents, a guardian, or a slum community leader because their mother is ‘working overseas’ or ‘working in the city’ [in the sex industry]. These cases are of those we directly serve through GRACE in Thailand.
Yes, it’s hard! God didn’t call us to a life surrendered to obtain our glory; it’s for His glory. The heaviness of their stories can extend our ability to overcome; but God provides peace and joy. We are able to continue the work because of the Hope we have experienced through Christ and the promises of His abiding love for each soul. We know the power of His word taught and exposed through the lives of staff members and volunteers serving the children and families of GRACE. We recall the accounts of people declaring that the personified Jesus came to them and told them to listen to us for we are truthful. It’s powerful to witness God at work. The joy is in knowing that He loves each one of us and cares deeply about every aspect of our lives. His Truth will not be forgotten. His desire is to have a close and intimate relationship with us. Likewise, we should foster strong relationships with others and help those experiencing struggles.
I want to express how grateful we are for your prayers and encouragement. You didn’t know what we were going through but as prompted by the Holy Spirit you prayed or reached out to encourage us. Do you see how God used you? I want to express sincere gratitude for those of you who give to prevent the other ninety percent of children in our program from being abused, exploited or trafficked. Your child and center sponsorship directly impacts the lives of these at-risk children of marginalized families and communities.