I have a good friend. Her name is Stephanie Freed and she co-founded Rapha International in 2003 after she was challenged by her father to research the issue of human trafficking. Beginning with one aftercare program for underage female survivors of trafficking and sexual exploitation in Battambang, Cambodia, 15 years later, Rapha now serves child survivors in Cambodia, Thailand, and Haiti. Stephanie is a firm believer in quality programming and collaboration, which allows Rapha to enjoy the cooperation and respect of the governments where they are working.
Rapha International is a public benefit 501c3 nonprofit committed to ending the trafficking and sexual exploitation of children. Founded in 2003, Rapha continues to rescue and rehabilitate children, while bringing them to lasting freedom. Rapha’s vision is to see all children living in sustainable freedom within safe communities.
Rapha is a faith-based organization that takes seriously the scripture that reads: “Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with action and in truth” (1John 3:18). It is with compassion energized and sustained by love that we act on behalf of victimized and vulnerable children. Though we are faith-based, we offer aid without requiring those that we help to embrace our faith. When Jesus fed the 5,000 he did not withhold from those who refused to believe. He gave freely, and so do we.
Linked in: https://www.linkedin.com/in/stephanie-freed-6318091b6/
Christ’s Church of the Valley: https://ccv.church/
CCV Missions: www.ccv.church/missions
Pastor Larrie Fraley: linkedin.com/in/larrie-fraley-53445032
Larrie: [00:00:02] Welcome to another episode of Let's Go 360. Let's Go 360 is a podcast for listeners who want to know more about what God is doing around the world here, near and far. This podcast is sponsored by Christ’s Church of the Valley, also known as CCV. One Church with many locations across the Greater Phoenix area with plans to expand wherever God wants to go. And as always, our show notes will have links to helpful information discussed in each podcast episode, along with a complete transcript of every episode. Check out all episodes on Let's Go 360.org and be sure to check out CCV at CCV’s website. CCV.church. My name is Larrie Fraley . I'm your host and lead pastor of the local and global missions here at CCV. Well, I am so excited about today's episode. I just found out last week that our friends from Rapha International is coming to Phoenix. And so I said, what a great time for a podcast. And so at the last minute, here we are. I met Stephanie many years ago around the time that CCV was getting Streetlight started. You can check out episode 11 with Hannah Burkle. We did an episode with her last week, but today we want to welcome Stephanie Freed and Theara Sath from Rapha International. Years ago, her father urged her to investigate human trafficking. And Stephanie Freed co-founded Rapha International in 2003. And as a result, a single aftercare program for juvenile female survivors of sexual trafficking was started, and it was started in Cambodia. Rapha International today exists for child survivors in Cambodia, Thailand and Haiti. 15 years after it was established as an advocate for the girls who have been traumatized, Stephanie works tirelessly to help them realize their worth and value. Stephanie is dedicated to engaging and educating people on the themes through the use of her voice in a number of public speaking venues, including churches, civic events, conferences. She's worked on a documentary about human trafficking in Cambodia called Finding Home, which was on Netflix two years and received numerous accolades at film festivals. Today we have Stephanie and Theara with us. Gals, welcome to the show.
Stephanie: [00:02:41] Hi, Larrie. Thanks for having us.
Larrie: [00:02:43] Theara, thank you for coming. I know you are. You have just got into the US not too long ago, right?
Theara: [00:02:48] Yes. I just got here like last ten days ago.
Larrie: [00:02:52] Okay. Well, you've gotten your sleep acclimation all up to speed. And and we had a great lunch today with some Asian cuisine and so we're all we're all doing well. So, Stephanie, before we get started here, tell us a little bit about about you and Theara. You tell us about yourself as well.
Stephanie: [00:03:10] Yeah, I'll start. I guess, actually, it's a it's kind of a cool story. Our fathers were part of this founding team for Rapha International. Theara's father was actually a he is a still a church pastor in Cambodia. And he did a lot of translating for my father back in at the turn of the new century. And that's how they became acquainted and that's how Theara and I became acquainted. And she is she's the sister of my heart now.
Larrie: [00:03:46] You're headquartered in Joplin.
Stephanie: [00:03:47] Correct?
Larrie: [00:03:48] But Theara. lives in Cambodia.
Theara: [00:03:50] Yes.
Larrie: [00:03:51] Okay. Well, here's the big question. So how big of a problem is this?
Stephanie: [00:03:57] Yeah. So, you know, when we started researching the global issue of human trafficking almost 19 years ago now, we learned that UNICEF at that time was already reporting more than a million children were being trafficked every single year. That is a statistic that even today I cannot wrap my mind around. And that every single year is really the punch line there. Right. Because it would be overwhelming just to think of a million children ever having been trafficked. But the truth is that every single year, another million children globally are disappearing into sex trafficking, sexual violence. Yeah, it's devastating. And unfortunately, Larrie, that that number has only escalated since, you know, since we first heard about it almost 19 years ago. And you've got online sexual exploitation taking place now. And that just we could have never wrapped our minds around back then. And so we've just got a lot of work to do. For Rapha, that number can get really overwhelming, almost to the point where you want to throw up your hands and just say, Well, what can ever be done about that? And for us, that is exactly the reason that we talk about one child at a time so much. In fact, that one child at a time is a mantra for us. It's in our mission statement because we can end this for one child at a time. We may not be able to end it for a million children, this side of heaven or all of the millions. But we can end it for one at a time. And so that's what we look at, Larrie.
Larrie: [00:05:55] So how does it how does a girl, a young girl actually come into Rapha?
Stephanie: [00:05:59] Yeah, we work with we work really hard, Theara and her team in Cambodia, work so hard as well as our team in Thailand and our team in Haiti. They work really, really hard to build partnerships with local law enforcement, social, social work services in the countries where we have partnerships going on, government social workers who are very underfunded and under-resourced in these developing world countries. We work really hard on partnerships with all of those entities, and they do the legal work of rescuing children. Sometimes it's it's it boils down to they need gas in their tank. And so we can we can come alongside them, even in that very simple way, and help resource them to go do what they legally have to do in order to rescue children. And then they bring them and refer them to us. They bring them to us. And we have we have legal guardianship of those children during their court cases and very oftentimes following the close of their court cases, because they don't have a safe place to go to.
Larrie: [00:07:14] Now, do you work with other legal entities? I know International Justice Mission does a lot of that work. Do you work with an organization like that?
Stephanie: [00:07:22] Yeah, we we are in coalition with really good organizations. IJM is obviously one of those. Since the very beginning, they have empowered and equipped our our team. They'll come in and do education with social work. Our teams in Thailand work really closely with IJM, even currently. So we just have a lot of respect for our partners.
Larrie: [00:07:49] How many girls actually have come through Rapha?
Stephanie: [00:07:51] Oh, goodness. We are we are in the process of doing the hard work of figuring that out for so many years. Our our all of our documents have been on paper. And so we're working to move everything into an electronic database and have really good data. We know that we've helped thousands of girls over the 18 years that we've been combating trafficking.
Larrie: [00:08:14] Theara, could you maybe help our listeners understand what a typical day would look like for one of these girls at Rapha?
Theara: [00:08:22] Every day the girl will go into school and we have like skill for sending to them. And also we have social work, try to working with the family and also try to work with community to understand like what is human trafficking and slavery and also try to follow some of the case that reintegration one are some of that I would grow we're working with the counseling with the girl every day, just like my schedule, what we will meet and what we will do. And also we also have social work with. We'd work with Social Department government to try to assess how the new girl could come to our program and stay with us. So this is what we've been doing every day and more every day that the housemother tried to work with the girls, only teaching them about how to do a life skill and how to protect themselves. And also every evening, we also learn to get the read, the Bible or pray together. And to understand that in Cambodia is Buddhism country. So the girls sometimes to learn how to be scared. Nighttime because it's so dark. So our housemother and some of our leaders will pray with them before they go into sleep.
Larrie: [00:09:43] So I know a lot of these kids are just traumatized and so and they've been traumatized for perhaps a number of years. So the only true healing that can take place, it can only take place through Christ. Is that right? I mean, there's a lot of different clinical types of different sessions and counseling that they can go through, but the only true healing that can take place is through Christ.
Theara: [00:10:09] Right.
Stephanie: [00:10:10] That's what we believe, Larrie. Jesus is our secret weapon at Rapha International, and especially when we're talking about Cambodia and Thailand as Theara just articulated, that those are countries that are primarily hold a Buddhist worldview. You know, that, at the very epicenter of Buddhism is a thing called karma. And karma says what comes around goes around. And so we have we have girls who are coming through our gates at Rapha who believe that they deserved what they got, that it is their fault that they were trafficked, that they were raped, that the violence that has happened in their lives has taken place. And so it is our great honor that we get to tell them that not only did they not deserve the bad things that happened to them, but that they have a Savior that loves them so much that he died for them and that they're actually their true identity is as daughters of God.
Larrie: [00:11:18] How are you measuring your success with these kids?
Stephanie: [00:11:21] One day at a time. Anybody that works with anybody that works with trauma knows that there are a lot of mountains and valleys that go into that. And so we we've learned not to write anybody off as as failing in their lives. You know, we Theara, I worked really closely with a young woman who for seven years after she left our program, it looked like it looked like she probably wouldn't survive very long, just the drugs and the prostitution and the chains of that very devastating lifestyle, lifestyle that she was trapped in, just didn't even look like she was going to survive. And I think there would have been days throughout those seven years that we would have said that. That was a failure. And today, Larrie, she's this just beautiful, She's got light and love flowing out of her eyes. And she works with us now at Rapha, has gone through extensive training to come back and work with us. And she serves, you know, the most vulnerable children she serves in our our special needs unit. And so we have learned to be very careful about how we measure success. Of course, our heart, our desires, that all of our girls would know their Savior, Jesus Christ, as their own Lord and savior.
Larrie: [00:13:04] Do you have you mentioned one example or are there other examples of of a girl or even her family that have been changed through Rapha?
Stephanie: [00:13:14] Oh, so many stories. Theara, I don't want to I don't want to steal all of our time here. You want to tell the story? You want me to tell a story?
Theara: [00:13:22] You can tell the story maybe easier.
Stephanie: [00:13:23] Okay, Theara, you can tell it in my later in Khmer. Okay. You know, so many stories flood my mind, Larrie, but I would say another one would be, you know, a few years ago, we got we got a report that we had a girl that was really struggling, you know, just we had our team had to watch her very closely. She was self harming and definitely did not want to go on living. In fact, at one point she told her, counselor, I am trash, I am trash. And she said, I'm not even the kind of trash where there's anything worthy to recycle out of. I'm the kind of trash that needs to go straight to the dump. Yeah, that's devastating. And, you know, to to watch her her now be one of the top performing students in her class, to understand her worth and value as a daughter of the King of kings. To know that her desire is to go forward and help other girls who may also feel like they're trash. Those kind of stories keep us going on the darkest days and cause us never to never to lose hope.
Larrie: [00:14:55] I know that it must be hard for you to day after day to be in Rapha and then look out the window and see some young girl who, you know, is caught up in sex trafficking and there's nothing you can do about it. And then yet you have something like this happen to help you go to the next day, go to the next child. So that's just amazing.
Stephanie: [00:15:15] That’s right.
Larrie: [00:15:16] That's right. What are some of the biggest challenges that you're facing?
Stephanie: [00:15:21] Hmm. Well, for the girls that we serve, I would say our biggest challenge is the identity crisis. You know, that I just mentioned. Anyone who works with survivors of trauma knows that what the enemy tries to do through trauma is he tries to steal your true identity and label you with a new identity, which sometimes can be trash. It can be trash. And so it is it's a it's a huge challenge to overcome that with the children that we serve. And it often takes a long, long time, I think. I think people really underestimate the amount of time that it takes walking with a child who has survived this kind of trauma. You know, we have we have staffing challenges. When you're talking about working in a country that is primarily Buddhist, it is a miracle like when when when CCV teams walk onto our campus, when you all come to see us, which we love when that happens and we can't wait for that to start happening again, post COVID, you meet this incredible staff and you know that they are a miracle of God, that in a in a demographic of less than 1% of this entire country, that these Christians would rise up and have the strength and the courage to do to do this kind of work. And so that is a that's a huge challenge that we face, finding professionals who also shine the light and love of Jesus Christ to the children that we're serving.
Larrie: [00:17:12] Now, obviously, COVID has caused all of us to kind of reset. And but it's also been a blessing in many ways because it's it's forced us to kind of rethink what the future is and what God wants to do. What are there any opportunities, plans, goals that you see in the future?
Stephanie: [00:17:32] Yeah, we know that. And Theara, I want to make sure I'm not talking over you. We want to, we want in the future, to have even more of a community focus than we've had in the past. You know, we've been so we've been busy in the Lord's work of of doing the hard work of the aftercare, the residential aftercare portion. And we know that more community work means that children don't go over the cliff in the first place. And so post-COVID, we are feelins this energy and this strategic drive to go and hit this in at the community level and stop more children from being trafficked in the first place. And so big, big plans in the future on that and more community counseling work. More community social work. Yeah, we're excited.
Larrie: [00:18:33] And you're also expanding outside of Cambodia, right?
Stephanie: [00:18:37] Yeah. Yeah. We've got big expansion plans in Thailand where we are one of only two residential licensed residential aftercare units for children who are who have been rescued from trafficking. So lots of expansion work going on there. And I'm yeah, Larrie, just getting ready to move into our new campus here very soon in in Haiti, which will expand our footprint and being able to serve so many more children there.
Larrie: [00:19:08] Stefanie, CCV has supported you for a number of years now. And I'm just wondering if you could recall a time where maybe CCV was able to help you get to the next level to help you grow?
Stephanie: [00:19:20] Yeah, it's funny that you said that because in the car on the way over here, Theara and I were talking about how special CCV is to Rapha and how actually at every stage where we were poised to take the next big step, you guys were there, your CCV, those who are listening, who are part of this church family, who give to this church, you're part of the work of Rapha International. You have made it everything that we've talked about today possible. We cannot do this without you. And so, Larrie, I would just say, which time which time do you want me to recall? I can tell you, there was there was a moment about five years ago that a terrible storm came through Cambodia and wiped out our security system, like just absolutely zapped our electronic our electronics. And who are you going to call? I called you Larrie and was like, S.O.S., we need help immediately. You know, we were lacking every camera, every camera on our aftercare campus. And these children are you know, they need very a very high security campus. And you said make it happen. That's just one example. There have been so many.
Larrie: [00:20:52] Mm hmm. Well, we're certainly honored to to stand by your side. You guys are doing amazing work, and God is just doing amazing work through you. Theara, I'm going to ask you, how can we pray for you?
Theara: [00:21:05] Pray for energy and safety for our staff and the girls? That is what we need. And God protect us.
Larrie: [00:21:15] And I'm also going to ask you, Theara, would you would you close out this podcast in prayer in your native tongue?
Theara: [00:21:23] Sure. Yeah. (Prays in native language)
Larrie: [00:22:11] Well, I may not fully understood what all you said, but I know someone who did. And so we thank, both of you, for coming today. You mean so much to us. We'll look forward to having you back. And I look forward to coming and visiting. I can't wait to see what's what's going on there.
Stephanie: [00:22:27] Awesome.
Larrie: [00:22:28] Thanks for coming, guys.
Stephanie: [00:22:29] Thank you, Larrie.
Larrie: [00:22:33] Well, as we wrap up today's show, we want to thank you for listening. You can follow us on your favorite podcast app and leave us a five star review if you like what you've heard today and want to hear more. That way more people can hear about what God is doing around the world. Also, you can follow us on our website at www.letsgo360.org. You can also check out CCV at CCV’s website CCV.church. Thanks for joining us. And as we talk with those living out the great commission inspired by the Great Commandments so that we might stand before the great multitudes, before the throne, when the mission of God is complete. May God bless you as we go and send those here, near and far.