Lives Turned Upside Down to Help Girls Trafficked in Thailand
After attending The Global Leadership Summit in 2017, Ryan and Ashley Lee’s lives were turned upside down as their passion to help girls caught in sex trafficking stirred in their hearts. “The Summit was a launching point for our service here in Chiang Mai, Thailand,” said Ryan. As a result, they decided to get involved in a big way, and spent 18 months in training and fundraising before they eventually moved their family from McKinney, Texas, to Thailand, where the sex trafficking industry is rampant.
“Our hearts have always been with girls who are oppressed,” said Ashley. “We know that’s where God was calling us. We just knew that we wanted to come here and work with these women, specifically women in the bars who felt stuck.”
Statistics show that Bangkok, Thailand, is the number one destination in the world (prior to COVID-19) for travelers seeking sex tourism, surpassing London, Paris, and Rome. In fact, there were 33 million visitors in 2016, making up about 20% of GDP for sex tourism.
We really got to know the women and started falling in love with them.
“About a year ago we started bringing food packages to one of the red-light districts here in Chiang Mai, just meeting that basic need because of COVID shutdowns,” Ashley explained. “But as we did that, we really got to know the women and started falling in love with them and developing relationships, just learning about their lives and about them, many of whom are single mothers. They’re just trying to make ends meet or trying to make money to send back to their families.”
“When you know them, you find out they do not like what they do,” said Ryan. “They do not like being a number. They do not like lowering their self-esteem to let men touch them so they can sell more alcohol. We know the girls work out of a need to support themselves and their family but are very open to opportunities outside the bars if they can find them.”
They do not like being a number.
Out of the need they saw as they got to know these girls, Ryan and Ashley started a ministry called Illumin8, where they provide about 90 food packets every month to women and provide classes and training opportunities. “It’s a great open door to start a relationship and keep a relationship,” said Ashley. “Ryan also teaches personal finance and budgeting, and many women are interested in that. Then I teach English and baking. That’s one of my passions, and it’s been really fun to see the girls learning and blossoming.”
Both Ryan and Ashley are especially passionate about making disciples who make disciples as they build relationships and meet real needs. “Everything we do is built on discipleship through which the foundation is friendship,” said Ryan. “It’s not easy. We combat things like low self-esteem, drug and alcohol addiction, and we hear the girls say, ‘Why do you even come for me? Why do you do this? I’m not a good person.’
“They want to know what drives us. And we want the girls to know they’re loved without condition and without judgment. We’re willing to walk with them towards a better life outside the bars. We see these girls as leaders of tomorrow. The general society overlooks them, but just as the great leaders of the Bible, God takes those who are sometimes pretty messed up to create the leaders of the Church tomorrow.”
We want the girls to know they’re loved without condition and without judgment.
Ryan and Ashley’s story is just one of hundreds of thousands of stories like it from people who have experienced the inspiration of The Global Leadership Summit over the years. Thanks to partners like Preston Trail Community Church for hosting the GLS where Ryan and Ashley attended for the first time, incredible stories like these are happening all over the world.