I am pleased to introduce my dear friend Melissa Lingard with whom I worked while in Japan. Melissa now serves with Destiny Rescue, a Christian-based non-profit dedicated to rescuing children from human trafficking and sexual exploitation. She is based in Chaing Rai, Thailand.
What is your job at Destiny Rescue and how long have you been doing it?
I am Child Sponsorship Director for Destiny Rescue. I have been working in sponsorship for over six years now.
You and I were co-workers in Japan. I know that you enjoy children. In Japan you taught kids English and worked with children at church. Now you’re rescuing youth from trafficking. Do you feel that you are called to young people in some way?
I definitely believe that I have been called to work with young people. I’ve always loved kids. When I was young, I loved playing with the littler kids and babysitting them when I was older. When I finished high school, I dreamed of working in an orphanage overseas one day or something similar. God put that desire there; I knew way back then that this was the plan he had for me. I have been blessed with an amazing family and have grown up with a loving mum, dad, and two sisters. I always felt loved and protected, supported and encouraged. So one of my burning desires is to show kids who have not had this what true love—the love of God—looks like.
How does a person enter human trafficking and sexual exploitation?
This isn’t a simple question to answer because there are many reasons why a child or teenager may enter trafficking and exploitation. For the sake of brevity, I will use one example, which is the story of many of the girls we have rescued in Thailand.
In quite a few cases we have found that abuse may have started at home by a family member, a friend of the family, or a member of the village or town before the child ever left home. The child feels like she has no worth after being abused and thinks she deserves anything else that happens to her later. In most cases, poverty or large family debts, often incurred through a family member’s gambling, drinking, or drug addiction, means that the family desperately needs money to provide for basic needs or addictions. So a child will be sent to look for a job to help pay off family debts.
Yet with little education and no skills and often no citizenship to make it legal for her to get a job, she is left with little choice but to work illegally in karaoke bars, strip joints, and brothels. Often recruiters go to villages and talk to families, particularly the children, about promising jobs in the city. The kids get excited thinking they can help support their families; but when they arrive at their places of employment, they find out that the recruiters have lied to them.
Once they are there, they often find it hard to get out because the bar owners claim that money is owed to them and that it needs to be worked off, or they take away any ID the child possesses. The girl usually feels trapped and sometimes she is [trapped] physically; but she is always trapped monetarily, if not from the debt the bar owner holds over her, then from the pressure of her family to send money home. Familial loyalty, no matter how misplaced it may be sometimes, is extremely strong in the countries where we work.
What has been your best and worst ministry experience in the field?
The worst experience, by far, is when a girl who has been with us that I have gotten to know chooses to go back into the dark place where she was rescued due to family pressure, low self-worth, or other reasons. My heart aches for her. These girls have been through so many traumas that they are often incapable of making good decisions and have trouble accepting that they have worth.
The best times for me here are our Youth Worship nights on Fridays. All the kids from all of our homes come together for games, music, and loud, all-out, top-of-the lungs singing to God. I cannot express how much I love these nights. To see all these kids, each of them with their own story of brokenness, singing praises to God with huge smiles on their faces. Not all of them have given their hearts to God, but they LOVE to sing his praises. I know this makes God smile so much!
Another “best” is seeing the girls who have graduated from the program starting small businesses and getting jobs and living normal lives again.
Is there anyone in scripture you try to emulate in your work or a biblical scene that spurs you on in your efforts?
I have always been able to relate to Moses. I am not naturally an overly confident person; and, like Moses, I have been known to have conversations with God telling him how I am not equipped to do something. But God has taught me through Moses and my experience that he is the one who gives me the ability to do things.
You speak fluent Japanese and helped me out greatly in Japan. Now you’re learning Thai. Which is tougher: Japanese or Thai?
Thai is definitely more difficult for me. I have been here for six years, longer than I lived in Japan, yet Japanese is still more comfortable for me and more fluent than Thai. But I had studied Japanese before I went to Japan and was immersed in it when I was 18. Also, I used Japanese every day for three years on my job with a Japanese tour company before coming to Thailand
My work here in Thailand consists of much administration done in English. So apart from eating, socializing, and shopping, I don’t use Thai much. One more thing: Thai is a tonal language and Japanese is not, another factor that makes Thai more difficult. You may know the word but if you don’t say it with the right tone, nobody knows what you are saying!
You are from Queensland, Australia. Do you wish to return to Australia and live a more normal life, or is international ministry a lifelong desire for you?
What is normal! While I love my family and my native Australia, I can’t really see myself living there long-term again anytime in the future. I’d never say never, as you can’t know the plans that God has for you and things can change in an instant. But right now I see myself in international ministry for the rest of my life in some capacity. It may not always be in Thailand, but my heart is definitely for the nations.
How do you get away from the stresses of your job?
Massages. Weekends away with the girls. Reading. Watching movies. Hiding out in my house on the weekends. Listening to worship music. Coffee dates. Going home once a year.
Where can readers learn more about trafficking, Destiny Rescue, and donating; and how can people support and pray for leadership and those being rescued?
They can check out our website and blog at DestinyRescue.org and like our Facebook page. Also, our 2020 Vision Campaign is to rescue 100,000 kids from sexual slavery by 2020. To accomplish this leaders need wisdom, guidance in strategy, finances, and the right people in the right places. The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Being a volunteer organization, it is not always easy to fill the needed positions. I ask readers to pray that God would guide the leadership in each of these areas and give us volunteers for all the positions needed to fulfil this vision.
What are two things people would be surprised to know about you?
Well I like watching Japanese TV dramas. And I have ridden bareback on an elephant more than once and hugged a tiger.
What questions do you have for Melissa?
Learn more about Destiny Rescue at DestinyRescue.org.