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Posted: April 7, 2012 7:53 p.m.

Local pastor travels to Ghana, Thailand

While Ronny Brannen is known mostly in Covington as the pastor of the Prospect Church UMC, he is Uncle Ronny to more than 100 young girls in both Thailand and Ghana. To one Thai girl in particular, he is lovingly known as father.

Pastor Brannen serves on the board of Global Servants, an outreach ministry that serves Ghana and Thailand. The ministry has established numerous churches in both countries. In addition to the churches, the ministry has opened a girls' home in Thailand and Ghana.

"We have a girls' home in Northern Thailand," said Brannen. "Here, we are just opening girls' home in Ghana and there are six little girls."

When the House of Grace girls' home started in Thailand almost 20 years ago, the home took in six girls just like the new Ghana home has currently. Today, the House of Grace is home to 115 girls ages four to 23. Starting with only one building, the House of Grace now has seven buildings on its own compound.

Brannen, his wife and two daughters sponsored a little girl in Thailand when the House of Grace was started.

"Her name was Pensi. I've gotten to meet Pensi and I've gotten to meet Pensi's parents," said Brannen with a toothy smile. "Pensi is now graduated from the university in Thailand and teaches English in the village schools. Had it not been for the House of Grace, she would not have had a chance to go to school."

Educational opportunities in Thailand for girls are rare. Parents must pay for their children to attend school. This option is out of reach for many of the hill tribes - especially since they are not considered Thai citizens. The university in Thailand also accepts a limited number of hill tribe students. To further complicate the problem, the university also selects an even smaller number of female students.

While Brannen's travels have covered four continents, meeting Pensi for the first time was the most memorable experience he has had.

"Pensi had already graduated," said Brannen. "She was actually teaching in a village on the Burmese border which is pretty dangerous."

Brannen had gotten to speak with her on the phone for the first time that morning and she told Brannen she was going to come see him. Brannen says he spent the whole day looking over his shoulder wondering when she was going to get there. Finally, she arrived that evening.

"I walked into that little living room," said Brannen with tears welling in his eyes and voice straining. "I just put my arms out and she came up and - I'll never forget - she buried her little head in my chest and hugged me. [She] looked at me with little tears in her eyes and her first words to me in English at that moment were ‘Father, you make my life possible.'"

The two visited each other for two hours with Brannen sitting on the sofa and Pensi sitting on the floor at his feet. In Thailand, sitting on the floor and looking upward at a parent is a sign of respect. At the end, Pensi wrote a letter to "mother and
sisters" back home for Brannen to take back.

"That one explains to me what the House of Grace is all about, because every girl there has a sponsor. I was just her sponsor," said Brannen beaming with pride. "These girls have a life because there are people here that care."

Brannen said the House of Grace housed girls of all different backgrounds. One child had been found digging through trash cans in Bangkok searching for food after escaping from a brothel. She was eight years old.

"Our goal is to give them a chance," said Brannen.

Global Servants saw an opportunity and a need in Thailand.

"The number two export of Thailand is little girls. And they are usually from the hill tribes because they are not even considered Thai citizens," said Brannen. "If you go into the villages...and there is big antenna [stick out from the thatch roof huts], they probably sold their daughter for a television screen."

Brannen explained that men will come into the villages and tell the parents that the daughter could go to another country and work. In exchange, for the daughter, the men will pay the parents three years worth of wages that the daughter can repay to the men.

In Ghana, Global Servants also responded to the need for a girls' home since AIDS has ravaged the continent and left many orphans.

After successfully establishing around 35 churches in Ghana around the Kumasi area, the ministry set its sights on creating a girls' home like that of Thailand.

Today, Ghana's compound houses a church, school, a bunker for the girls and a home for the director.

"What we are hoping to do for the girls in Ghana is what we've seen happen for the hill tribe girls in Thailand," said Brannen.

The opening of the girls' home in Ghana has brought a new trial to overcome that the organization did not experience in Thailand.


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