I have been traveling through Thailand and the Philippines with Rob Morris, founder and President of Love 146. Human trafficking is prevalent and surrounds us at each turn. After talking with Christian workers who are ministering in this region, I began to understand how it can become easy to be overwhelmed at its vastness and feel hopeless. Yet, I am reminded of how Mother Teresa also saw need as a vast ocean, but believed that each small drop within it truly matters and would be missed. I believe that with every drop of hope, this ocean grows a little less bitter and a little sweeter.
Alezandra Russell, founder of Urban Light, is one such drop of hope. She experienced this ocean of sorrow while on a short term trip to Thailand three years ago. Her group was focused on ministering to girls and women within the sex industry in Thailand, but taking a turn onto a back street that was filled with young boys changed her life forever. She saw young boys who sole purpose was to sexually entertain men, and it haunted her. She knew that she could not turn away and courageously entered one of the establishments and sat down at a table. A young boy, Oi, approached her and urged her to leave, but Alex was determined to stay. Instead, she bought him a coke, and soon all the boys gathered around. She returned to see them day after day, and she would sit and play games and laugh with the boys. But, then her trip ended and she returned home.
Back in the States, memories wracked her mind, and she could not move on from what she had experienced. She knew that she needed to do something. So, with determination and money from selling her wedding ring (at her husband’s suggestion), she flew back to Thailand, unsure of her next step. She returned to the establishment where she had first met Oi, unsure of whether or not he would actually be there. When she arrived, he was the first person she saw. He told her that he wanted to learn English, and so she began teaching them in a cafe until the owner told her she had to leave. Being persistent, she rented a small room where she began the ministry that is today, Urban Light.
Oi works at Urban Light now, but only after paying a high cost from his previous life. He was just released from jail after stealing the equivalent of $60 dollars from a customer. He spent four years in jail for petty theft, while his abuser, a paying customer, walks free. While Oi was in jail, Alezandra drove the two hours necessary to visit him every Wednesday. Her faithfulness to visit Oi week after week demonstrated how deep her love and passion for him ran. He now has a tattoo on his hand that says how much he loves her.
Urban Light exists to help boys like Oi, and I am thankful for Love146 who came alongside Alezandra to help her get started. Alezandra saw that there was help for the girls and women that were trapped in this industry, but the boys were looked down on and even blamed for their situations. Her organization provides education, meals, transitional housing, and a safe place to belong. The space they are in now is several stories high and is bright and colorful. The boys participate in screen printing, and Alezandra is opening up a shop next year to help fund the ministry. Alezandra energetically demonstrates the gospel message of love, faithfulness, and mercy to these children. She sees the ocean of need, but for her this is all about being a drop of hope for boys like Oi.
*Rob Morris will be speaking at Parkway Fellowship at all three services on December 11th. If you would like to learn more, come and hear him speak.