Carl Ralston, left, shown with Nhu Da Than and her grandmother, co-founded 'Remember Nhu,' a ministry that operates six homes in five Asian nations to house orphans at risk of human trafficking.
When Nhu Da Than was a 7-year-old Vietnamese refugee living along the Mekong River in Cambodia, she got her grandmother's permission to attend a nearby school run by a Christian church.
"My teacher helped me to study the Bible every day. Then I believed in Jesus Christ," she said.
At age 12, her family went through financial difficulties. To pay off debts for money she had borrowed to feed the family, Nhu's grandmother sold her to a human trafficker for $300. The girl was raped and sexually abused for three days and then returned to the family.
"At that time, I believed God did not love me anymore because of my sin," Nhu said in a video statement.
Afterward, "I was very sad," she said. "I did not want to eat or talk to anyone. I could no longer smile. At night, I would cry and ask God, 'Why did you make me have this pain? Why did you break my heart? If I did not know you, I could understand. But I know you. I love you. I follow you. I talk with you. I do everything for you. But since this happened to me, please let me be the last girl this happens to.' "
Nhu's tragic story inspired an Ohio couple to start an international nonprofit Christian ministry called ''Remember Nhu,'' whose stated purpose is "to prevent children from entering the sex trade by meeting the physical, emotional, education, and spiritual needs of potential victims."
The couple, Carl and Laura Ralston of Akron, sold their insurance business in 2004 to start Remember Nhu, a ministry that now operates six homes in five Asian nations that provide housing, food, education, and vocational training to more than 250 orphans and other children at risk of becoming victims of human trafficking.
Mr. Ralston said the name of the ministry came to him in a moment of divine inspiration after hearing Nhu's story. He said God whispered those two words to him after he prayed for direction.
Elsie Kizer McCombs, a Toledo native who oversees Remember Nhu's two homes in northern Thailand, was in Toledo this week to speak at area churches and to raise awareness and support for the ministry.
She said the strategy is to reach potential victims before it's too late.
"For every girl that is rescued, we can help 10 to 15 from becoming victims," she said. "The girls that are rescued have been so damaged that there is a 70 percent chance they will end up back in trafficking."
Elsie Kizer McCombs, a 1992 graduate of Toledo Christian High School, oversees two homes in northern Thailand. She visited Toledo this week to raise awareness for Remember Nhu.
The salon was opened for a total cost of less than $20,000, Mr. Ralston said, and the workers made double the normal Cambodian wages.
"It keeps them safe from being sold," he said in a ministry-produced DVD.
"In Thailand, sex is for sale," said Ms. McCombs, 36, a 1992 graduate of Toledo Christian High School. She said the Asian nation long has been a tourist haven because, unlike surrounding countries such as Laos and Myanmar (Burma), Thailand has not been ruled by a repressive regime and has kept an open-door policy to visitors.
About a third of the people who pay for sex with minors are nationals, one third are police and government officials, and one third are tourists, most of them from the United States and Korea, she said.
Ms. McComb felt a calling to the mission field when she was 12, she said, but struggled with the idea of living overseas.
After receiving a degree in early childhood education from Toccoa Falls College in Georgia, Ms. McCombs worked full-time in the children's department at a startup inner-city Toledo church, NorthPoint (since renamed That Neighborhood Church).
She and her husband, Michael, a York, Pa., native, had taken a short-term mission trip to Thailand in the mid-1990s and decided in August, 2005, to serve as overseas missionaries for their denomination, the Christian and Missionary Alliance. The couple and their two sons, now ages 14 and 11, moved to Thailand in 2007, where they studied the language for 1 1/2 years while looking for a ministry to join.
"We wanted to work in a compassion ministry, and we prayed where God could use us," Ms. McCombs said.
They were drawn to Remember Nhu.
"We were aware of the trafficking problem and Remember Nhu was touching people's hearts," she said.
The McCombs, as with all of Remember Nhu's staff, raise their own financial support from churches and individuals, which means that all money donated to the organization goes directly to meet the children's needs.
Remember Nhu also has a sponsorship program where donors can support a child for $60 a month.
The ministry takes in children who don't have an education, are orphaned, whose parents have AIDS or are HIV positive, or who live in a single-parent home with financial pressures.
"You look for those factors. There's a 95 percent rate that they will end up being sold into sex trafficking," Ms. McComb said.
They never turn a child away, she said, although sometimes they find other ministries to help.
The children at Remember Nhu's homes in Chang Mai range from 5 to 18 years old, she said.
One 5-year-old girl was abandoned in a Buddhist monastery. An 18-year-old girl with only a first-grade education was under pressure to either get married or go into prostitution.
"We give them a safe place to live," Ms. McCombs said.
Dave and Molly Thompson of South Toledo have been supporters of Remember Nhu and other Christian ministries in southeast Asia and have made several trips to the region. In 2007, they met Nhu and the grandmother who had sold her to a sex trafficker. Mr. Thompson said the grandmother had been a devout Buddhist but has since converted to Christianity.
More information on Remember Nhu is available at RememberNhu.com.
Contact David Yonke at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6154.
Guidelines: Please keep your comments smart and civil. Don't attack other readers personally, and keep your language decent. Comments that violate these standards, or our privacy statement or visitor's agreement, are subject to being removed and commenters are subject to being banned. To post comments, you must be a registered user on toledoblade.com. To find out more, please visit the FAQ.