A former Calcasieu Parish teacher has sold all of her possessions to fund a ministry saving prostitutes in Thailand, a place she now considers home. The young prostitutes working in the red light district are exposed to serious health problems, including HIV, every day.
29-year-old Monica Miller calls the streets of Pattaya, Thailand "home" now. Pattaya is a city of 100,000 people, including an astounding 20,000 prostitutes.
"Most of those prostitutes come from the poor region of Thailand," said Miller.
In June of 2011, Miller went on a mission trip to Pattaya, known as the sex capitol of the world, during a summer break from teaching elementary school.
"I just thought that I was going to be a missionary during the summers," she said.
Those plans changed, though, after Miller met dozens of young girls, pulled into prostitution and the dangerous cycle of STDs, sexual exploitation and emotional scarring.
From Lake Charles, Louisiana to Pattaya, Thailand, Miller made the move with the mission to save these girls. Her tactic? Go into the bars where the girls work, develop relationships with them and invite them to free English classes.
"'Through the English class, that's how we make a deeper relationship and tell them about God and tell them about a different way that they can live and a different job that they can have," said Miller.
It took some creative thinking for Miller to get the girls out of the bar, where they are making money, and into a safe place. That is how she came up with the idea of dinner parties, hanging out and talking in her home, while she pays the girls' bar fees for the night.
"We cook dinner, we play games, we watch movies," she said, "we just do what people would typically do if they're hanging out."
The only difference: Miller is considered a paying customer - up to $60 per girl for a night of freedom from sex customers and exposure to more health risks.
"The girls are working seven days a week and oftentimes they're going with multiple customers every day," said Miller, "and they're only required to be HIV tested every three months."
Miller works to educate the girls about their health and other career paths through the Tamar Center, offering free counseling and job training to those leaving prostitution.
Her hope is that others will see these young women as global neighbors and lend a helping hand.
"There was no way I could walk away and act like I had never seen that," said Miller, "it broke my heart, but feeling sorry for them doesn't help them at all. Nothing helps unless you start doing something about it and that's what I'm trying to do."
Miller will be moving back to Thailand this weekend. She has started a non-profit group called "New Love Outreach" to help fund the work of pulling prostitutes out of bars and paying for their education and health care. Click here to learn more about it.
There will also be an auction for a one-of-a-kind painting with all proceeds benefiting the New Love Outreach. There is information on the New Love Outreach Facebook page.