A Voice in the Dark: Heather Martin

Heather, left, during and elephant tour in Thailand.

Heather, left, during and elephant tour in Thailand.

During her first night in Thailand, Heather Martin journeyed into a red light district of Bangkok. Passing under neon signs glaring messages like “Super Pussy” and “Super Girls,” she ventured down the strip and into the bars. Touts eagerly thrust pamphlets into her face that offered up women as numbers on a menu.

Unlike most of the patrons who were there in search of entertainment though, Heather was on a mission.

“I wanted to meet these girls and show them that they are loved and worthy of love, most of all that they could escape the bondage of the sex industry that they lived in. That was my main goal, and what I prayed for every night before we went out.”

Heather came to Thailand through Rahab and Night Light ministries, organizations that offer women and girls in the industry a way out.

A sign advertises a sex club next to a sign for Rahab Ministries.

A sign advertises a sex club next to a sign for Rahab Ministries.

According to Rahab’s website, the majority of these women are from Isaan, the Northeast of Thailand. They come to Bangkok looking for work to provide for their families back in their villages, and for most, a lack of education limits their work opportunities.

Rahab takes these girls from the life of prostitution and employs them in either jewelry making, nail art or hairdressing while also teaching them English.

Internationally, prostitution and trafficking of Asian women and children is increasing. It is the third largest and fastest growing criminal industry in the world and one of the most urgent human rights issues today. (RahabMinistries)

Heather kept a travel blog. Below is an entry:

“Little Lynda”

~~ The night that stuck out to me the most, and I think for the rest of my team as well, was the night we witnessed child prostitution right in front of our eyes.

It was the night I was assigned to do a prayer walk. We were roaming up and down the streets in the red light district when I saw this adorable little girl outside one of the bars holding a bouquet of roses. To be honest, I noticed any child running around because it broke my heart that they were even there among it all in the first place. But there she was, just like you would picture Miss America holding a beautiful bouquet of roses, there was this adorable little Thai girl in the middle of the red light district holding onto her flowers.

I remember thinking how odd it looked and wondering why she had the roses. It was just very random. Nobody else had roses, no other children were carrying them around. I came to learn their significance though, they are a sign that the child is for sale. This sweet, innocent little girl has been and can be used for sex. I asked her how old she was and she held up four tiny little fingers. Looking into her dark brown eyes and seeing her holding those roses is an image I will never forget. In that moment all I wanted to do was pick her up and run with her.

For me, I still am filled with so many emotions when I think of little Lynda. ~~

Heather said the tools she used during her outreach to the sex workers of Bangkok were pretty simple: friendship bracelets and Coca-Cola.

Friendship bracelets used during outreach to the sex industry in Bangkok.

Friendship bracelets used during outreach to the sex industry in Bangkok.

“The friendship bracelets opened an opportunity for us to speak with the girls and give them a gift too! We would walk into the bar and say “free” and show them a bracelet. Some of these girls were as young as 13, so they all would get so excited over their new free bracelet and it was a chance to get their mind off of the world they lived in. One thing we would always do when in the bars was buy them Coca-Cola — In Thailand, the drink costs more than alcohol so if we bought them one the bar owners wouldn’t get upset with us for taking up their time when they could be on stage — this would allow us time in the bars without getting kicked out.”

Heather said she would encourage anyone interested to get involved through outreach missions, “I cannot praise these ministries enough and for the work they are doing in Thailand. It’s incredible.”

Heather took her trip through Adventures In Missions. For more information or to find out how you can get involved, visit Rahab Ministries or Night Light International

Heather is a Florida State University graduate and currently works as a lobbyist in Tallahassee, Fla. She says her goal is to start a non-profit that allows her to be a voice for the voiceless. “I’ve always loved Proverbs 31:8, “Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge righteously, defend the rights of the poor and needy.”

Thailand

Heather, right, during an elephant tour.

For more on the trip, check out our interview with Heather:

1. Why did you decide on Thailand? What made you choose the trip based around trafficking?

My sister had recently been to Ecuador with an organization called Adventures in Missions so I started with them first when trying to decide where to go. They take interested people and send teams all over the world to different countries and each trip has a certain mission emphasis. As I was reading through the countries they served, I came across the trip to Thailand and the ministry emphasis for the trip was anti-sex trafficking. As I read what the trip would be about and what it involved it really tugged at my heart. I have always been passionate about advocating and raising awareness against sex trafficking so after much prayer I felt that this was where the Lord wanted me to go serve. And who wouldn’t want to ride an elephant in Thailand!? 

2. What did you hope to achieve with the women you came in contact with?

Each night we broke into teams before we went into the Red Light District to do our ministry. There are three Red Light Districts in Bangkok and they are all the heart of the sex industry. Our group leader has spent many years taking teams there and building relationships with those who work in the district which was extremely helpful in allowing our presence there. Some bars could easily kick us out because they knew we weren’t there to make a “purchase.” In fact, one night a few of my team members and group leader did get kicked out. Our group leader had a very specific way of doing ministry each night because it is such a sensitive type of ministry and safety is obviously a priority. She would take one team into one of the bars while the other teams did other ministries outside the bars, such as prayer walks, talking with local vendors, or playing with children that were among the district.

A market being set up in Thailand.

A market being set up in Thailand.

3. What parts of the trip spoke to you the most?

There were so many things that spoke to me while I was in Thailand but I think one thing that spoke to me the most was how corrupt the government is. I remember asking if all of this was illegal and what kind of laws were in place to prevent human trafficking or if there were any. I have a career in politics and have a passion for being able to influence policy so it was hard for me to wrap my head around the fact that a government could actually allow this to happen. I came to find out that all of it is in fact illegal in Thailand as well. Prostitution is illegal and even topless bars are all illegal in Thailand, but the government and authorities turn their back on it because their economy flourishes off it. Many times the police are actually a part of the problem because they are in on it. Children are told not to go to the police if they get lost because many times the police will sell them into trafficking.  The government doesn’t care because, well, they make so much money from it. Brothel raids at times do more harm than help as women are thrown into jail, sold again, or returned to their traffickers (which you can only imagine what happens to them upon return). Meanwhile, the government just stands aside because it helps their economy flourish. It did however inspire me to use my position in government and fight for those without a voice. To be a part of policy that strengthens human trafficking awareness from every becoming anything like the way it is Thailand and killing the sex industry that is already here in the U.S. I also want to get involved in foreign policy to help nations like Thailand bring an end to this modern day slavery that exists.

4. Any plans for future trips or outreach?

Absolutely! I am actually planning to go to India next summer with AIM where they do a similar anti-sex trafficking outreach. India is also a leading country for human trafficking. I also have a strong desire to serve a country in the Middle-East and have always wanted to visit Israel. When I was traveling back from Thailand I had a layover in Dubai where I met a Muslim woman and her four children. I got to know her and she told me she was a refugee from Yemen and had just arrived in Dubai from Djibouti where they fled Yemem where they were on a refugee boat for nearly 14 hours from the Hoothis rebels that were attacking their village. You hear of all this on the news and know it’s happening but to hear someone who first hand experienced the violence of terrorism made it so much more real. With that being said, I want to visit and volunteer at a refugee camp somewhere in the Middle-East.

Heather in Thailand.

Heather in Thailand.

5. How do you feel about women’s ability to make a difference today? Any life advice to share with other women?

I believe in this day in age we live in that women are just as capable as anyone to make a difference in this world. Here in the U.S. we are blessed to have every opportunity to do so and although it can be tougher for us at times, the opportunity is here and can be reached. My advice to other women would be to be your own person, educate yourself and be independent. Have goals and go after them and make your mark on this world. Lastly, get on your knees and pray and then get on your feet and work. Be fearless in the pursuit that sets your soul on fire.

 7. We created the Renaissance Woman to foster inspiration and eliminate competition among women. Who inspires you?

Being my political self there are many women in politics that inspire me. I admire women like Condoleezza Rice, Michelle Bauchmann, Megyn Kelly, and Kaitie Pavlich. All of these women are strong brilliant women who stand by their faith in God, values, and convictions rather than conforming to the world’s “normal”. They see life as more than themselves and seek to make a difference in the world and the lives around them. That is inspiring. Above all though my mom takes the cake. She has and always will be my inspiration. She has been such an influence in shaping me into the women I am today. Always pushing me to be my best, go after my passions, making education a priority, never letting fear stop me or slow me down, reminding me to above all keep God first, and has always been my biggest fan along the way. She is the strongest women I know. I have watched adversities that she has faced and when it could’ve been easy to give up, she kept pushing on. Her faith is unwavering and her wisdom is something I have always admired. She will forever be my inspiration. Oh, and Taylor Swift is pretty inspiring too, I mean, just look at her! She’s a rock star.