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Grace Baptist missionaries travel the world

Saugus church visits 15 countries over the summer

Posted: October 2, 2009 10:07 p.m.
Updated: October 3, 2009 4:55 a.m.

Santa Clarita resident Kay Thatcher, middle, poses with a group of sex workers in Chiang Mai, Thailand over the summer. Thatcher was one in a team of 11 women and two men that traveled to Thailand this summer with a Grace Baptist Church missions trip. The team reached out to women who are victims of human trafficking.

Kay Thatcher's favorite part about travelling outside the country is conversing with locals of whatever land she finds herself in. Most of all, she enjoys sitting at a café and chatting with a foreign waitress.

But never did the Santa Clarita resident imagine she'd be sitting in Thailand, at a bar, connecting with a group of female prostitutes.

"Never in a thousand years," Thatcher said.

But that's exactly what Thatcher and a group of women did this summer in a red-light district in Chiang Mai, Thailand. Not because they were forced to, but because they wanted to serve and share God by reaching out to women victimized by human trafficking.

When asked by a friend how she had the courage to reach out to prostitutes in Thailand, Thatcher responded: "I was on a team and the Lord sent me, so how could I not do what he sent me to do?"

Reaching sex workers
Thatcher was one in a team of 11 women and two men that traveled to Thailand this summer through a Grace Baptist Church missions trip.

For the second year, Grace Baptist, off Copper Hill Drive, partnered with Mark and Christa Crawford, who work in Chiang Mai among victims of human trafficking. Their aim was reaching out to women who work in prostitution and street kids who are sexually abused and/or at risk of becoming prostitutes.

The team focused on developing relationships with the women in bars and massage parlors. They'd offer to teach the girls and women English and give culinary and hospitality training so they can make a living without selling themselves.

A "Garden of Hope Center" was established as a hub for this training to take place, and a safe place for victims of human trafficking and kids.

The female missionaries would make daily visits to the bars and engage in conversation with the women.

"You could tell they were desperate for someone to just talk to them and pay attention to them," said Robyn McRee, of Valencia. "They weren't looking for clients, they were looking for compassion."

Thatcher was never nervous to converse with the women in a bar - but the reality of their work struck her when an elderly man approached the women in the bar looking for their sexual services.

It was also then when Thatcher realized she and her team members were having an impact on the women.

"It's understood that when you go in, if they (the women) get a paying customer, they will leave you for the paying customer," Thatcher said. "But the girls didn't (go with the man), they stayed with us."

"They were just thrilled to have someone sit and talk to them that didn't want anything back from them," Thatcher said.

Grace to the world
This summer, Grace Baptist sent more than 120 missionaries, divided into 10 teams and six individuals, to 15 different countries.

The interest in short-term missions at Grace Baptist, which sent its first missions team to Spain in 2001, has grown year after year.

This year, Grace Baptist missions teams and individual missionaries traveled to Cambodia, the Dominican Republic, Egypt, Brazil, China, Portugal, Spain, Fiji, North Dakota, Papua New Guinea, Jordan, Mexico, Czech Republic, Israel and Thailand.

In late September, Grace Baptist hosted a missions celebration where church members and visitors could hear about the experiences of the short-term missionaries.

"Our goal has just been to help our people see the world the way God sees it," said Outreach Pastor Mike Gaston. "Our goal is to be more like Christl. When we succeed in that, it's natural we would want to reach out in his name, because he's a God that reaches out."

For the first time, Grace Baptist partnered with an organization in Amman, Jordan. The Jordan team's mission was to reach out with "compassion evangelism" to urban poor, rural villages and Palestinian refugees.

"Compassion evangelism (is) sharing the love of Christ in the actions we were taking," said Sargon, a Jordan team member from Valencia. "We did a lot of food and goat distribution. We also visited orphanages."

Sargon's surname was not provided at the request of the church for security reasons.

"At times, it was just sitting down and listening to people's stories, praying for them and being there to comfort them," Sargon said.
Other times it meant visiting poor villages and distributing goats to Palestinian refugee families.

"They were extremely poor and goats would be a huge source of economic support giving them milk, yogurt, cheese and goats hair for tents," he said. "Some kids hadn't had milk for years."

For Sargon, it was a "liberating experience."

"It liberated me from my self-centeredness as a North American," he said. "I recognized how blessed we (are) here."

"You don't have to worry so much about yourself when you care about other people's needs," he said.

For the sixth year, Grace Baptist partnered with Josiah Venture to reach teens in the Czech Republic. Every summer, the team sets up English-teaching outreach camps. Church youth invite their friends, who are not Christians, to the camps. American teams provide English teaching, conversation and gospel messages.

Landen Llamas, of Valencia, returned to the Czech Republic for his fifth summer as a Grace Baptist missionary.

"I see what God's doing there," he said. "I truly believe He's given this generation an opportunity to impact their country because they're the first generation growing up without communism."

Returning home
For Sargon, the image of a poor, barefoot 3-year-old boy desperately pleading for a goat for his family will leave a long-lasting imprint on his memory.

"Right out from the get-go this little guy was pleading for his family to receive a goat," he said. "With persistence and tears he kept getting pushed back and trying harder."

The boy's family received the last goat available. His persistence led to a family blessing, Sargon said.

"What I learned is no matter how small we may think we are, if we have the heart for something and you persist in it, you can become a source of blessing," Sargon said.

When Thatcher returned to the Santa Clarita Valley, she realized she didn't have to leave her compassion for sex workers back in Thailand.

Thatcher recently completed a training session with "Treasures," a ministry in Southern California that reaches out to women in the sex industry through a bars and clubs ministry. "Treasures" was founded by a former stripper.


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