Can you tell us more about the work you do with BMS World Mission in Thailand?
I have been living in Thailand for the past 2 years and am currently based in Bangkok. Through BMS World Mission, I work for an organisation that seeks to reach out to women whom have been exploited by the commercial sex industry. I currently work with two different demographics of women. These being, Thai women that have come into the sex industry in Bangkok and international women that have fallen victim to human sex trafficking.
My primary ministry is working in a coffee shop that trains up women who have left the sex industry. We train them in Barista skills as well as outreaching into bars and brothels and showering women with a love that many have never seen before. The sex industry in Thailand brings in a large income and is very much alive and active within in the country. Women are being sold and bought at high prices feeding into a culture of slavery and exploitation.
What inspired your decision to do this work? What were some of the joys or doubts that you grappled with before deciding to do this work?
Being a Christian has not always been plain sailing for me. Despite making a commitment of faith at the age of 15, I did not understand what it meant to be a disciple of Jesus and to walk boldly into the person that God has created me to be. Having lost my dad to cancer at a young age followed by my step mum I experienced a lot of pain. As well as this, alcoholism was a generational curse that ran throughout my family line. As I reached university this curse attempted to demolish me. I had completely lost my identity and let the world define me. I lost myself in a sea of alcohol and rugby players and let my life spiral out of control. I did not know what it meant to respect my body and gave it willingly to others to feel a sense of love and acceptance. Other times that choice was taken away from me. Everything about Ashleigh was lost.
A year into university I felt the call of God to pick up my cross and leave this life behind that I had let define me. The enemy had tried to destroy me, but God wanted to use every ounce of my pain and turn it into something beautiful! My heart was opened to other vulnerable women and God was breaking my heart for what breaks his. After receiving help and healing I decided that I had gone my way for far too long and it was time to trust in God and the plans he has for me. He promises us that he will never leave nor forsake us and he wanted me to take a risk and reach out to a world that was broken. Fast forward a few years and I have the absolute joy and privilege to minister to women who have had their dignity cruelly stripped away from them. He created beauty from my ashes and now I get to see him do this in other women’s lives!
What are some lessons God has taught you through the people you serve in Thailand?
One thing I am certain of, is that I have been so utterly humbled by the people I serve. We go out to these places in order to be a blessing and yet I am more blessed by the people I come into contact with on a daily basis in Bangkok. The women I meet are the most incredibly precious women. Their resilience and strength astound me more than anything in the world and I couldn’t be any more honoured to serve these people. I have met women who have been trafficked for the sole purpose of sexual exploitation, following this they have been picked up by the authorities and held in an immigration prison and yet they are still singing and proclaiming that God is good. We can all learn from this. It always reminds me of Paul and Silus in the bible singing songs of praise in jail. Our circumstances do not dictate God’s goodness. He is forever unchanging, and this is what these women have taught me.
Many people think that doing justice work is ‘nice’. Could you share your experience of how justice work really is like?
I couldn’t think of anything less “nice” than justice work ???? It is incredibly messy and at times dangerous. We are dealing with humanity which is never nice or always appealing. We are a broken world are we are fighting against powers of darkness. When you choose to step out and fight against that you will be spiritually attacked, there are no two ways away about it but to know that you are both obeying the call of God and being a mouth piece for those who have been silenced is the biggest blessing ever to fall on me. Seeing people smile and have joy is priceless and despite the chaos and the mess you will see a beauty amongst the ugliness.
As Christians, we have a hope that a just God will come again and make all things new. How do you think having that hope has made your ministry different?
I do think that many fall into the complacency trap. They think that because this is our temporary home and God will come back, we can sit and let this life pass us by, but this is not remotely biblical. We are asked by God to partner with him to stand up against darkness until he calls us home. I think this should actually encourage us to take risks not evade them! We know that there is a Powerful God that goes before us and stands by our side, so resting in this knowledge I think it is imperative that we step out boldly and show this world what it means to love big. If this life is temporary and there is something greater ahead, what have we got to lose.
What do you think are the most effective ways for us as students to respond to the injustices we see around us?
I think one of the most powerful things we as Christians can do is to seek to understand the gifts and talents that God has put in us. There is a very high possibility that God wants to utilise these in the way we serve others, and this includes fighting for justice. I, myself have a passion for health and fitness and intend to use this to reach the broken around me and bring healing and restoration.
I also believe that we should never doubt the seed that God has planted in us. That issue that breaks your heart, God has put that in you do something about! I remember vividly watching a documentary by Stacey Dooley on cybersex trafficking in the Philippines and it wrecked me. I spent the whole night weeping for the injustices I witnessed. A seed had been planted in my heart and it was down to making that decision to step out in faith. Would I obey his call or simply be a spectator? Never doubt that seed. Pray on it, research it, meet others who are involved and always keep God in the centre. Remember that we absolutely cannot tackle these injustices by ourselves but we serve an incredible God that wants to take our hands and go on an epic journey with us.
Ashleigh Gibb | BMS World Mission in Thailand