According to the Rev. Ronny Brannen, the theme of his church is "where vibrant life meets care and love," an expression he not only illustrates in the community but travels with around the world.
The senior pastor of Prospect United Methodist Church and five church members recently returned to Northern Thailand for the ninth time to offer help in the fight against the selling of girls to prostitution.
They stayed at House of Grace, a home for tribal girls ages 4 to 23 at risk of being sold. It opened in 1988 by Global Servants, a nonprofit missions and ministry organization in which Brannen is a board member.
"Some of the girls are brought by family members because of bad situations," Brennan said. "Two girls’ parents died of AIDS... One girl was found in a chicken coup. For some, it (living at House of Grace) is their first time sleeping in a bed because they usually sleep on the ground."
It was a unique experience by the organization’s president and founder, Dr. Mark Rutland, which spurred this action for change.
According to Brennan, Rutland was in Thailand for a speaking engagement when a man knocked on his door, offering Rutland the girl he was carrying on a dog collar.
Rutland threatened to call the police and slammed the door, but his fear and sympathy for the girl made him reopen the door. However, they were gone. The next morning a furious Rutland told a fellow pastor about the previous night’s event.
"He said, ‘Someone has to do something,’" Brannen explained. "The pastor replied, in broken English, ‘You someone.’"
House of Grace came to fruition, creating not only a safe haven for these girls but a place of education. And while it isn’t a requirement for the girls to be Christians, it is also a place for the girls to seek Christ.
Usually during his trips, Brannen will incorporate worship services on Sunday mornings and sometimes in the evening.
His most recent, the 10-day trip in December, was the Christmas trip.
Christmas was celebrated before the actual day with the girls dancing, singing, performing skits, playing games and opening presents from each of their sponsor families.
"They learn skits and go back to their village to share the gospel," Brannen said.
And before it’s time for Brannen to return to Covington, he said he makes the time spent there about building relationships and letting the girls know they will be remembered.
"It’s common to hear the girls crying and saying, ‘please don’t forget us,’" he said about when they say their goodbyes.
Brannen said House of Grace provides for about 115 girls in its upper and lower campuses. The girls are fed and clothed and receive an education with help from sponsors, such as some Prospect members.
"As long as they are in school, they stay there," Brannen said.
With the resident director, Jutiporn Mulae, a former student in the very first class, as an example, several girls have created their own success stories.
According to Brannen, some go to trade school and others to universities, which is an accomplishment because only a certain number are even allowed to go.
He’s seen some graduate from college, and he knows of two House of Grace students who have gone through to law school. Another has returned to teach English.
For the future, Brannen anticipates growth at House of Grace as it continues to build.
"We’re not trying to save girls from brothels, we’re trying to help before they even get to those places."
For more information about Global Servants, House of Grace and how you can contribute or be a sponsor, visit www.globalservants.org.
Prospect United Methodist Church is located at 6752 Highway 212, Covington, Ga. 30016. For more information, call (770) 786-6303.