Faa Sumitra was already performing the mission of GROW (Grace Refuge Outreach Worldwide) by taking in at-risk children in Thailand when she ended up in Wooster, Ohio.
“Her love for God and at-risk and abused children in Thailand was infectious,” said Jeana Harley, executive director for GROW.
But the nonprofit organization that had sponsored her trip to the Midwest so that she could receive training in children’s ministries had closed, and she was stranded.
Ivanildo Trindade, then a staff pastor at Grace Church in Wooster, arranged for her to stay with Jeana, who learned Faa’s story and how she already housed two girls and two boys in her own home.
The organization now known as GROW was born in October 2009, with the help of Trindade, Jeana, and other dedicated people from Wooster.
The youngest of 12 children, Faa came from a tribe in the mountains of Thailand, the Akha. Five of her siblings died before she was born. Her mother was sick as a result of inadequate health care and unclean water, so Faa was given to another woman in the village. One day, the woman abandoned Faa near a watering hole. Faa’s father looked for her, and though he was encouraged by the other villagers to give up, he found her. Faa knows she was saved for a purpose.
Faa’s mother died when she was ten. Her father would drink alcohol and deal drugs, even forcing Faa and her sister sell the drugs. He beat the children and, as the youngest, she received the most abuse. At one point he beat her so severely that she spent three days in the hospital. When her oldest brother told her it was not safe to return home, she ended up in a Christian orphanage. There she was able to go to school and eventually to college. While in the orphanage, a volunteer told her about the significance of the Bible, and she came to know Christ as savior.
“It was easy to see that her knowledge of the language, cultural experiences, passion for the children, and unshakable faith in God makes her a natural missionary to her own people,” Harley said.
“GROW is unique in that we are able to rescue children who don’t qualify for orphanages,” stressed Harley. “Children who live at GROW have parents, but because of situations like abuse, severe neglect or abandonment or incarceration, it is not safe to live with them.”
GROW works to rescue these children and, by extension, their parents. At the GROW home, children learn to love and forgive those who mistreated them. These children are high-risk for being taken into the slave trade or sex trafficking and GROW works with lawyers and the police to right the wrongs done to them.
The two GROW homes have 25 children, including two who are studying at the collegiate level. (GROW support continues through college.) Both homes are full, but there are plans to rescue 25 more young people in the next three to five years. It is a family where children learn God’s love and life skills.
The hope is to expand to other countries. Jeana added, “Together, we can rewrite the futures of these precious children and families.”
The GROW display, with items for sale from Thailand, is often a popular stop at ACCESS and Momentum conferences, and other Charis Fellowship events. The table, with brightly colored Thai goods, crafts, and clothing, supports the ministry while providing an opportunity for GROW staff and board members to share the progress they are making.
“When you purchase something from GROW, you are a double blessing as all of the proceeds go back to GROW to help with projects like funding our college scholarships, buying a rice field to grow our own healthy rice or providing budgetary items like school uniforms or health checkups,” Jeana said. “But these sales only scratch the surface of the funds needed to support the ministry. We continue to need churches and individual donors to faithfully be a part of the GROW family with prayer and financial support.”
As part of their 10th anniversary celebration this year, GROW is bringing children to the U.S. in the spring to visit current and new supporting churches. They will share their own stories of rescue and redemption through Thai music and dance. To find out if they will be in your area, contact Jeana Harley at email@example.com. – by Hannah Hubbard
This article first appeared in the Fall 2019 issue of GraceConnect magazine. Click here for more information.
Hannah Hubbard is a journalism student at Grace College, Winona Lake, Ind. She works at GraceConnect as an assistant to the executive director.