Westmont Magazine The Lord is Here
“Is there anything we can do?” Shae Caragher ’21 yelled desperately through the metal gate. Her words barely resonated above the other frantic cries of family members and friends straining to communicate through the barriers crisscrossing the crowded detention center. A refugee woman stood on the other side of yet another gate. Shae watched with amazement as the woman’s face lit up with peaceful joy, “Please pray. It is the most powerful thing you can do.”
Shae never expected to stand in the middle of a detention center in Thailand, much less pray with one of the inmates. Though she had grown up as a Christian, Shae dismissed her faith when she arrived at Westmont and barely paid attention to the announcement during chapel about four different Emmaus Road summer mission experiences. Deeply concerned about harm from the white savior complex, Shae viewed missions with apprehension and skepticism.
But when the chapel speaker described the trip to Thailand and Malaysia and the ways Emmaus Road works with women caught in sex trafficking, Shae glanced up from the homework spread across her lap. After personally witnessing the pain of this unthinkable injustice, the issue weighed heavily on her heart. Shae couldn’t ignore this deep passion and applied to the Emmaus Road trip to Southeast Asia in 2019, choosing to ignore the aspect of Jesus and missions.
To prepare for the trip, Shae participated in a class that focused on how to engage in mission work with humility. The thoughtful content surprised her. Rebecca Boa, director of Emmaus Road, introduced the students to Thai and Malaysian culture. She repeatedly emphasized that the trip was not about fixing things or “saving” people. “Sometimes, all we can do is bear witness,” Rebecca said.
A cacophony of colors, scents and sounds greeted Shae and the other students when they arrived in bustling Bangkok. The Emmaus Road team worked with City Light, an organization that helps women working in the red light district pursue other options and find healing and freedom. Case workers rescue individual women and provide work for them in a small beauty salon, where they feel loved and cherished.
Government officials in Thailand send people suspected of entering the country illegally to detention centers, where they separate men and women. Inmates may only leave their crowded cells or speak with family members during visitor hours. The organization Life Raft recruits volunteers to visit the centers so inmates can see family members and spend some time outside of their cells. Shae and the rest of the Emmaus Road team visited inmates regularly, many of whom were Christian refugees from Pakistan, like the woman who asked her to pray.
The woman’s simple request caught Shae by surprise. How could prayer even begin to address the immense need and pain surrounding this woman and so many others? Shae had not prayed in four years. With her hands pressed against the metal gate, slowly and hesitantly she began to speak. Shae felt the power of Christ rush through her in a tangible way. “It wasn’t even me talking,” she says. “I was merely the vessel.”
“I wish there were more we could do,” Shae said tearfully. The woman’s face radiated peace and joy. “You are doing the best thing,” she said. “You are representing the presence of the Holy Spirit.” Shae marveled at the woman’s steady joy in the midst of separation from her husband, uncertainty about seeing her sons again, and deplorable living conditions. The woman and her cellmates rotated sleeping in the overcrowded room. Yet she lived in the staunch conviction that God remembered her and was present with her.
If God was working in the center in the midst of such unimaginable pain, he was working everywhere, Shae thought. She couldn’t ignore his presence. In the midst of uncertainty and suffering, this woman exemplified a deep and abiding faith and a commitment to the power of prayer. In this humbling moment, Shae recognized the lack of faith in her own life and confronted her anger and apathy.
Her renewed commitment to faith transformed Shae’s life and time at Westmont. When she returned from the seven-week trip, she joined a local church. She has consistently experienced deep and abiding peace from rooting herself in prayer during times of anger at God, anxiety and mental health issues. Shae graduated in December 2020 with a degree in social science. Moving forward, she seeks to continue bearing witness to people’s stories of brokenness and injustice and the presence of God in the midst of pain. The Lord is here.