LCA Alumni Spotlight
Emily (Brown) Braham ’11, was studying nursing at the University of Arkansas when, between her junior and senior years, she decided to embark on a mission trip to Malaysia with the Nehemiah Team, a project commissioned by the International Mission Board (IMB), a large nonprofit organization headquartered in Richmond, Virginia.
She discovered Malaysia to be a melting pot of cultures (and hot! she says).
One of Emily’s mentors had returned to serve in Asia after just one mission, and Emily, on hearing that testimony and with a wish to be the hands and feet of Christ, promised herself that she too would return to Asia.
Emily says that Legacy laid a Christian foundation for her beliefs and “the why behind them.” Service projects hosted by LCA taught her the value of helping those around us.
After college, Emily — then engaged to Austin — worked as an oncology nurse, but still thought about Asia. Then a friend of Austin’s, living in Bangkok, asked him if he would come to Thailand to help develop a fitness program there.
Emily and Austin, who married in 2017, considered the possibility for a while, until one day at church, during a sermon from Acts, they felt a calling to accept the invitation. Her husband had a job waiting for him, but Emily didn’t quite know what she would do there.
Knowing that Bangkok was an international capital for human trafficking, Emily got in contact with the nonprofit NightLight to offer her help as a full-time volunteer. In Asia, Emily says, gender roles vastly differ from those of Western countries. Women in much of Asia, and in impoverished nations such as Uganda and Tanzania, in Africa; Colombia, in South America; and Russia are expected to be the breadwinners. While shouldering this financial burden to care for and feed their children, women in developing countries are often poorly educated, if at all, and can’t find work.
These circumstances lead them to turn to “opportunities” in Bangkok: They’re often told they can find work as a waitress or a maid. These women usually have no idea where Bangkok is geographically or that they’re being tricked into the sex industry. Emily challenges the conventional wisdom surrounding sex trafficking as portrayed in US documentaries, showing women as kidnapped or taken forcefully. Although that does happen, she says, most women willingly leave their home countries, unaware of the gravity of the deceit. “Nobody taught them about ‘stranger danger,’” she says. Once these hopeful women arrive in Bangkok, Emily says, their passports and visas are seized and they’re told by agents that they owe, say, $7,000, and that they must work to pay it off. “One of seven men who visit Thailand goes for the purpose of sex tourism,” Emily says. “It’s really disturbing to think about.”
NightLight, a safehouse and rehabilitation program, was founded in Bangkok some 20 years ago to help women escape the sex industry and return home legally. Emily began volunteering as a program manager, working in what’s called restoration, which helps women after their escape from the industry. There are limited options for women trying to escape. These women either go to jail, she says, take their own lives, or find NightLight. Once a woman escapes, however, she’s considered an illegal alien, with no identification or documentation and no way to return home.
NightLight takes the women into its own apartments and has them go through a structured rehabilitation program before helping them get home. Many rebel against such structure, as they must get up at 8:00 a.m. and choose a job (for which they’re compensated), in NightLight’s coffee shop or daycare center. They also have the option of making jewelry or clothing and are taught life skills such as typing, reading, and writing. The routine helps them regain control of their lives. They’re also invited to attend Bible studies and counseling sessions on their days off. After going through NightLight’s program, the women can return to their home countries.
Emily oversaw the process of helping the women obtain lawyers, navigating them through court involvement, and prosecuting their traffickers. The process could take months since there is no sense of urgency in the Asian legal system. The drawn-out process, however, enabled Emily to get to know the women and also help them with Bible studies.
Now that she and Austin are back, Emily talks about the challenges of her year in Thailand. One was moving to a new country where she and her husband lived on one income, and another, more important, was undergoing mental exhaustion from listening as women spoke about the horrors they had experienced. Secondhand trauma can be a struggle, says Emily, when witnessing the darkness and spiritual suffering incurred far from home. She had to learn how to separate her life from those of the women with whom she worked. Another challenging aspect of Emily’s experience was that, for security reasons, she wouldn’t be allowed to see or speak to the women once they went back to their home countries.
There were also rewards, Emily says, among them the development of strong relationships with women who loved and appreciated her for helping them change their lives.
The faith that deepened during her time at Legacy became even stronger while she served in Bangkok, and she is more grateful for her life at home and the way she was raised. “We did nothing to deserve the educational privileges and blessings given to us,” she says.
Emily says her service in Bangkok has revealed that her complaints are minor in comparison to those of the women she worked with. The greatest lesson from her experience in Thailand is how important it is to “love people well.” Material things don’t matter in comparison to this truth, she says.
“No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.” –
—Luke 9:62 (ESV)
By: Madi Bixler (’14) attended the University of Texas at Dallas, graduating in 2017 with a bachelor degree in Supply Chain Management. She is a product specialist at Interstate Batteries and is pursuing her master degree at UTD.