As a Christian learning institution, Lee University has always encouraged its students to pursue the service of others, whether it be through large-scale, corporate philanthropy, or by simply bringing aid to local low-income neighborhoods.
Some students, however, find that their passion for benevolence will take them far beyond the parameters of the school's 80-hour service requirement � some even beyond the continental United States. For Lee alumna Emily Green, this had always been true.
Since graduating in 2006 with a degree in Intercultural Studies, Green has been leading a life of service in Bangkok, Thailand. Originally moving to the Eastern metropolis to teach English at Bangkok Christian College, it wasn't long before Green felt compelled to do missions work, something she had dreamed of since she was a child.
“In my fourth year in Thailand I really started to feel called to do something to help pregnant teens and single moms, because I started hearing about lots of cases of abortion in the Bangkok area and realized that there was a need for [help] for people in crisis pregnancy,” Green said.
After researching the issue and existing resources in the Bangkok area, Green discovered Home of Grace, a shelter for young women who had been abandoned by their families or partners after refusing to terminate their pregnancies.
The shelter, which was founded 28 years ago by Finnish missionaries, is run by European volunteers and Thai staff who hope to provide holistic care to shelter residents through English education and teaching life skills..
“The women who come here have no other place to go, and they come from all over Thailand,” Green said. “This is an unusual resource � we welcome the women to stay throughout their pregnancy and for up to two months after they've had their child, and teach them handy crafts so they can earn money for the home, as well as important parenting skills, in the meantime.”
Green has been volunteering at the shelter since January of this year, and is working towards a full-time position.
“We try to make their time here very therapeutic; these women have been through a lot, and we want to provide them with fun things to do so they're not just thinking too much about their situation[s],” Green said. “I teach classes on how to bake, because in Thailand not many people know how to bake, and its great because not only is it just a fun activity to make cakes and cookies with your friends, but that can get them interested in a new business skill as well.”
Green said that though Thailand is a Buddhist nation that considers the destruction of any form of life an abomination, instances of abortion have been on the rise in recent years.
“On a [national level], the idea of abortion is completely illegal and unacceptable here,” Green said. “But people have begun to push for it to be legalized, and there are some clinics and even hospitals who will do it if the woman is only 1 or 2 months along or very young.”
Under Thai law, abortion is legal only if the woman in question has been raped, if the fetus is a product of incest, or if the mother's life is in danger. However, despite legal ramifications [anyone who performs an illegal abortion can serve up to five years of prison], illegal clinics continue to carry out abortions in secret, namely in the nation's capital.
Home of Grace hopes to reinforce a value for life in spite of these trends through opportunities to learn about Christian faith and values, and Green believes this evangelism has already begun to make a difference.
Senior Lee student Faith Giguere was able to take part in this difference first hand, when she visited the shelter over the summer as part of her ICSP [Intercultural Studies Program] internship.
“We were originally in Thailand just for a quick visa run after our time in Cambodia, which is where we taught English for our internship,” Giguere said. “But we got to meet up with Emily and spend time with the girls at the shelter, and it was so great to see the joy on their faces despite their circumstances, and you could tell that they felt safe and happy there.”
While there, Giguere was asked to explain the meaning of her name to the girls, because names are very significant in Thai culture. She didn't know at the time what a huge impact her explanation would have.
“A few weeks after the trip, I got a message from Emily telling me that one of the women from the shelter, who wasn't there the day I visited because she was having her baby, had decided to name her baby Faith,” Giguere said. “In Thai culture you often have friends or family members name your child, and one of the girls who was there suggested that she name her baby Faith because God had protected her through her delivery, which was only two hours long. She had prayed for a smooth, painless birth, and she thought it was appropriate to name her baby Faith because of the fulfillment of that.”
Both Giguere and Green were thrilled with the implications of this decision, and what it could mean for the future of Home of Grace.
“I was just floored � she sent me a picture of the baby out of the blue and told me the story, and I wasn't expecting it at all,” Giguere said. “This woman may not know what a huge step this was in her life, but there is a lot in a name, and I think this is an exciting step for her to open her heart up to the Lord.”
Green is hopeful that over time, similar stories will unfold within Home of Grace, and that the women who spend time there will walk away with not only the tools they need to be successful and raise their children , but with a love of he Lord.
“I may not be able to help with some of the big things they are going to face in the future, but if I can make their journey their a little brighter, a little easier, I feel like that's made a difference,” Green said.