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Monday, 7 April 2014

prostitutes and prayer

Behind a mega-church, in a dingy, dark laneway there’s a door that most people would walk by and not notice.
“Thai massage,” it reads.
And today there’s a small red sign that attaches to that door that says, “open”
Last time we came it was locked up and looked abandoned.

 The only thing we can do is knock.

It’s Thursday afternoon and I’m doing what I normally do on this day-brothel outreach. Since coming back from Zambia and India, I have rejoined the ministry in Perth that works with Human Trafficking and Prostitution.  Our ministry has 5 objectives - Prevention, Advocacy, Research, Networking, and Direct Care.
Being in the brothels with the workingwomen is a way we can do both research and direct care.

So we knock on the door. It slightly opens and we are semi-greeted with a confused look from a small Asian woman. About that time some construction men walk by, giving each other equally confused glances but never making eye contact with us. That’s one thing I’ve noticed about the men who frequent these brothels. Often they keep their head down, as if that somehow makes them invisible to everyone who knows exactly what they are doing. They don’t say much but they exchange some type of familiar grumbling to the little Asian woman. This small interaction shows me that these men and this little woman have met before.

“We’ve brought you cookies,” I say as the men disappear into the alleyway. This is just one strategy we feel like the Lord has given us in order to get into these places. Because let’s face it- it’s a little peculiar when some Christian girls come knocking at a house where women are selling their bodies for sex.  

How do you actually get in to the brothels? That’s a question that gets asked a lot and one we definitely had to take to God in prayer.

Food, especially baked goods is a way into most people’s hearts. So while it may be a feeble attempt, it’s one we have seen work pretty regularly.

Anyways. I think I caught her off guard with my baked goods.

“No. No. I don’t have no money,” she says in broken English. 
Three times she refuses. Three times I insist. And just before she closes the door in our face, I remember the other strategy God has given us.
“English lessons, free English lessons, “ I say desperately as the door almost shuts.

Suddenly her whole demeanor changes.
“You have English lessons?” 
The door flings opens.
“Come in, come in.” She motions to my coworker and me.
She offers for us to sit down and by the looks of the place, I hesitate but know I can’t refuse her hospitality.
There are nude paintings on the wall, but nothing too vulgar. I have certainly seen worse.

Lin is originally from Vietnam but spent most of her time in Thailand and came to Australia as a refugee. I don’t know much of her story, but I know her life hasn’t been easy. She barely speaks English and has lived in the country for 25 years.

She is lonely.  She isn’t shy to open up and talk about that. She has no money and doesn’t see that there can be opportunity for her to work in a different industry.  She is sitting alone in this place that says it’s supposed to be a massage parlor.

She doesn’t come straight out and say she’s a prostitute but with the rooms seductively decorated and adorned with a large bed and shower and some other insinuating paraphernalia- it doesn’t take much to see what’s going on here.

She’s doing what she can. So she thinks. She’s just trying to get by.

She tells us that she recently had breast cancer and is now in remission. We tell her about our faith and who we believe God to be and although she has never heard the Gospel before, she agrees that perhaps God is after her. Since she is “healed from cancer and some nice girls come to help me with English"

She pulls out some children’s English workbooks to show us she really has been trying to learn English.

My heart breaks for this woman. The only thing she has become familiar with since seeking refuge in Australia 25 years ago is poverty. I’m sad to know she spends her life locked up in a dingy, dark place where men come and go and she does what she thinks she needs to in order to get by.

Sometimes people just need to be told they are special. Worthwhile. Valued. Loved. 
After working with so many prostitutes, I realize most of these women have no idea of these simple, yet revolutionary ideas.
They have a purpose.

While we may not immediately see them set free from the life they have chosen or been placed into- we can visit them. Love them. Converse with them. Show interest in them that isn’t self-gaining or self-seeking. We may be the only people they interact with that don’t take something from them.

Lin’s face has lightened and she repeatedly thanks us for coming to see her.  It was a simple act from us, but it speaks volumes to her. We ask her if we can pray for her. We ask if we can pray to the God we have told her about. She is happy to receive prayer.

So there in that dingy, dark laneway, behind this suspicious looking door in what some people like to refer to as the “den of iniquity” we have the privilege of inviting the presence of God into the place. Into a brothel! After we finish praying Lin hugs us repeatedly. She connected with us and I think that just for a moment she has felt loved.

Friday, 24 January 2014

very truly I tell you


It was late at night and I had already seen a truckload of insane things happening.  The midwives were on strike again and the busy referral hospital we were working at was in dire need of help.
Women were lined up on the floor in the hallway, often screaming in agony as they somewhat patiently waited for a bed to labor on. All the beds, of course, were already full and babies were coming at a rapid rate. I was called into the admissions room, where the poor doctors were in over their heads with all the women waiting to be seen.
“Please check her,” they said to me as they motioned over to a fragile looking “older” woman. I say “older,” because while she may have only been around 35, compared to the many 15 and 16 year olds I’d seen lately she was well past her prime.
She apathetically lay on the admitting table while chaos ensued around her.  She took off her undergarments so she could be examined and exposed the small pool of blood she was laying in. She was 21 weeks pregnant and having a miscarriage. I was instructed to admit her into the labor ward and let her “pass the baby.” Obviously my heart felt compassion for this mother of 7 who was losing her baby. I searched around the rooms until I found a couple cushions I could lay out on the floor to make her comfortable. I laid the cloth material she brought with her out over the worn down cushions. It was the most I could do to create an atmosphere of dignity. She was alone on the floor waiting for her baby that had died to come out. I stroked the top of her forehead as I often do for my laboring mothers. She was strong and seemingly unaffected by her misfortune but I knew in her culture she didn’t have any other choice but to be strong. The busyness continued around us and I had a moment of fearing that perhaps this mother would continue to bleed more than necessary and her life could be at risk. I leaned down on the floor with her and prayed for life.

I went to respond to a women screeching out in pain in a room close by.  Id be back to check on this mother soon enough, I hoped.  And fortunately I was back in time to help her little baby, which was coming feet first, be delivered into the world.  The tiny body was so delicate and just barely larger than my small hands. I knew I had to be careful with him. This was a miscarriage after all, and I didn’t know how long the baby had been dead or if the integrity of his little frame would allow him to stay together. I laid him gently between his mother’s legs on the space left on cushion and turned to her to help ensure she wasn’t hemorrhaging. 

Suddenly one of my students yelled out from behind me, “he’s breathing!”

I looked down at this little body that had already been “dead” for quite some time. And there, right before my disbelieving eyes I watched his little chest inflate with air and then deflate back down. I watched for several suspenseful seconds thinking I must have seen something wrong. 

But it happened again.

 HE’S ALIVE. 

We cut his cord and rushed him to the resuscitation table to receive oxygen. I stayed with the mother while some of the students and the only nurse on duty that night went with the baby to fight for his life.

This woman had so many complications. She was having a miscarriage! Definitely. And yet God softly reminded me of a simple prayer of life I had prayed over his mother.  In the moment I thought of my lack of faith and how I didn’t even think to pray for the baby. Yet God, in His mercy heard my prayer for life and He responded.  It was a miracle.

Together with the mother we thanked God for her safe delivery and for the LIFE of her son.
Within a couple days the baby died. He was indeed too young to be out in the world. And even though he isn’t alive today, I thank God for his short lived life. And for the way it grew my faith and reminded me to pray and believe that the Creator of the universe wasn't joking when He said,

"12 Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. 13 And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. 14 You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it."

Thursday, 21 November 2013

love anyway


 *i have changed the name of the woman I wrote about just to give some privacy where its due. I have blurred out her eyes for the same reason. 

Once the large masses of pregnant women get their bellies measured and babies’ heartbeats heard, it tends to slow down a bit in the antenatal ward. That’s where I was posted with 4 students on the day I met Fiona. When there’s not too much work to be done (and even sometimes where there is) I like to take time to just visit the patients, sit with them, pray for them, and be their friend. The aim is to be a blessing, but the majority of the time I think I walk away more blessed by them. African women are so sweet and kind. And they make me laugh.

Most of the women who are admitted to the antenatal ward are there because they have some type of serious problem affecting their pregnancy. The beds are lined up and the women admitted into them are piled on top of one another.

There’s never a shortage of prayers to be prayed or conversations to be had.

On this day, my attention was somehow drawn to a little side room with only two beds. When I walked in I saw a young women lying down tied to her bed. 
 
This wasn’t what had my attention though.

It was the putrid smell that was thick in the air that had the strange effect of both repulsing me drawing and me in all at the same time.
It didn’t take long for me to locate the culprit.  
Across from the woman who tied down to her bed I saw Fiona. Fiona’s breaths were  heavy and labored, as if she would take her last one at any moment. Her extremely frail body was contorted into such a way that you would think she was in the midst of an exorcism.  The tumors around her face and neck were painful to even look at.

I was sure in my mind she must have been both mentally and physically disabled and probably would have no idea I was even there.
But I knew I needed acknowledge her presence. I drew near to her face to say hello and I stroked the top of her head. She smiled the most beautiful smile.  It was then I realized it wasn’t a mental disability that subjected her to her bed.

It was however, a series of other life- threatening conditions;

Fiona was diagnosed with AIDS
Cancer
Tuberculosis
Anemia
And several other opportunistic infections.

As if this list from the pit of hell couldn’t get any worse, I quickly found out that not only is Fiona dying, but,  she is only 20 years old and just so happens to be 24 weeks pregnant. While she couldn’t have weighed more than 90 pounds, there below her protruding chest bones was a little tiny baby bump.  
These are those gut-wrenching scenarios that always presents with a lot of  “whys” and rarely have a lot of explanation.

Fiona cannot speak English, but even if she had been able to communicate with me-the grapefruit sized tumors around her face and neck robbed her of that opportunity.

It was in that moment my heart adopted Fiona. I was locked in. Connected. And committed to her case.

I, along with several other members from my team, committed to visiting this sweet girl as often as possible. The prognosis wasn’t good, but the prayers we prayed were fervent. And I had hope for her case. Often I would bring in the Doppler, which is a small machine that allows both of us to listen to the baby’s heart. We would hear it and both smile. Inside, I would let out a huge sigh of relief. I often feared for the life of her unborn child, and rightfully so -she was barely keeping herself alive, let alone the little on inside of her.

Some days Fiona was so sick and fragile I feared her last breath to be eminent. And then some days I would find her walking (slowly of course) in the hallway coming from a shower. She seemed to being doing okay.

I tried to get some background information on her, but it always proved to be impossible. Doctors weren’t around. Nurses weren’t aware. Fiona was a great mystery to me. If it weren’t for the ghostwriter in her medical file, I would have never known anything about this girl who had become my friend.  Somewhere in the thick pages of her case, I read that she was scheduled for a c-section in a couple weeks. I made a mental note of the date and ensured myself I’d be there for the surgery.

Then that fretful day came where I went into her room and she wasn’t there. I frantically asked around to find out where she had be taken.
She was in labor.
I rushed to the Special Observation Unit where I found her in one of the worst conditions I’d ever seen.

Her body can’t handle the agony of contractions. This woman has nothing left to give. How will she even push?
Doctors were in and out of the room.  They were incredibly concerned about her case. I was informed that the condition of her blood was so poor that while it was better for her to have a c-section because of her conditions, it would not be possible. Fiona’s blood was too weak and she lacked the ability for her blood to properly clot after the birth if they cut her open.  With a c-section she would surely bleed to death. If she delivered, she could also bleed to death, but with only a leap of faith, the doctors chose the lesser of the two evils.

“She needs prayer.”

I think I told every healthcare worker that came in to see her. And everyone just nodded in agreement. Countless times we were told, “she won’t survive the delivery.”  Without a doubt her prognosis was death. There was a greater possibility for the baby to survive (now at around 30 weeks gestation) but the mother had little hope.

Or at least that is what I was told. 

I knew I couldn’t leave her side until the baby was born. Someone had to be there to intercede. So I began to monitor her labor. I, along with a couple of the students took on the role of being her midwife. But she needed much more than midwifery care. She needed a miracle. So we stayed with her. We prayed, interceded, counted contractions, read scripture, changed her diaper, played worship music, took her vitals, listened to her baby’s heart rate, laughed a little, prayed some more and this cycle went on and on. The hours came and went and the labor barely progressed. With each passing moment Fiona loss more and more energy. All we could do was pray.

Several doctors and midwives came and went, often both touched and perplexed by our commitment to this one patient. In our time glued to Fiona’s bedside, we had several opportunities to speak with these doctors about God’s heart and His value for life and how necessary it is to depend on Him in our practice, because after all, He is the greatest Physician.

After about 11 hours with her, a couple other people from the team took over from us to watch her throughout the night and did the same thing.
Our team never left Fiona’s side. 
When the morning came, we made our way back to the hospital. Felt like I never left. She had dilated a couple more centimeters in the night, but wasn’t near ready to deliver.

The pain began to be unbearable for her and there wasn’t much we could do. The crew that stayed overnight had been there for over 12 hours (after already working a shift in the day) but they were prepared to stay even longer should it be necessary.

But before we knew it (and much sooner than we expected) Fiona was ready to deliver.
To say she was “weak,” would be a grand understatement. While her baby was estimated to weigh only around 3 pounds, she didn’t have the strength to push the little one out.

A couple hours after her birth
The doctor was called and a vacuum extraction was ordered.  We helped in every way that we could, but what was most needed was the presence of God. She could bleed to death in this very moment. It wasn’t a joke. It was the reality. Tension was thick in the air, but the Peace that passes all understanding drowned it out. Fiona’s little baby girl was born well, cried and was taken immediately into the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit.
All hands were on board to prepare for a massive hemorrhage for Fiona.  But an amazing thing happened. She barely bled. Within minutes she was stable, cleaned up, wrapped up and recovering from her delivery.

Fiona's grandmother, thanks Grace with a big hug
Fiona was alive. Her baby was alive and God had answered our prayers. She was a miracle. Her grandmother came into the room and together we rejoiced over the life that was not lost.










There is no medical explanation as to why both her and her baby did so well for this delivery.  All fingers point to the God who heals and gives life, and answers prayers.
I feel blessed to be apart of seeing life when all that can be anticipated is death.  Fiona has a beautiful baby girl that we named Evelyn, which means life.

 






A week after Fiona’s delivery I was able to wheel her up to the NICU so that she could both meet and hold her baby girl for the first time. What a special moment. Because she had tuberculosis, she wasn’t able to stay in the ward long. But Fiona starred at her daughter and knew she was okay.







Fiona made the decision to sign the baby over to social welfare. Her mother had died of AIDS when she was just a child and she didn’t want her baby to watch her suffer. The baby was left for several weeks in the NICU. Just a tiny thing. She needed to be fed and held and loved and our team was more than willing to do all those things for her. What she needed most though, was a mommy.



 Fiona was growing stronger. She seemed to even be putting on weight. Her condition was the best I had ever seen.  And then one day, when I showed up to visit her she was gone. She had been discharged and would only be coming in to start receiving her chemotherapy. I felt so much hope for this hopeless case. God had done a miracle in her life already and now she seemed to be doing so much better. I knew chemotherapy would take a toll on her body, but somewhere in my mind I imaged her being totally healed and taking baby Evelyn back into her home to care for her.

However, on Tuesday I got news the Fiona had died.

I am still shocked to hear the news and I have no understanding of what happened. I’m just reminded that she did after all have AIDS and cancer. And while she seemed to be getting better, I know that with such conditions things can take a turn for the worst quickly.



I grieve the loss of this sweet young woman. I thank God that I was able to meet her and intercede for her. She was and still is a miracle. I am grateful to God that I can be certain that she labored in dignity.  She was cared for and loved by the love of the Father and my hope is that even though we weren’t there for her death, she would have still breathed her last breath in dignity as well. 


Evelyn has been placed in a home for babies. I just so happened to be at this home when she arrived from the hospital. I was able to give her  her first bath and first little outfit she ever had. She’s just still weighing about 3 pounds but she is a beautiful baby girl. Her blood tests have revealed her to be negative for HIV, which is just another one of the many miracles she is associated with. I have prayed countless prayers over this little child. She may never know the fight that was over her life. She wont know the many times she was fed and held and nurtured by foreign strangers who prayed prayers of hope for her but may her life always be anointed. I truly have faith that it will be.






Saturday, 12 October 2013

zambia


I have safely arrived to Zambia. Its good to be back in the African culture, and exciting to come to a new nation (this is my first time here.) It was an adventure getting here, as expected when traveling across the world with 25 people.  The journey included an unexpected sleepover in Thailand and somewhat patiently sitting in the “airport” in Kenya for 7 hours.  But lo and behold we’ve arrived.

Sitting here, I can’t help but feel incredibly grateful to those who have given to me in order for me to be here. This year I needed to see $5,100 come in.
And I did.
That’s a miracle.

God is so generous.  People have been so generous. And I want to say another big THANK YOU to everyone who has contributed in anyway to make this trip possible.

Yesterday we jumped straight into work and began to serve in the Maternity Ward at one of the local hospitals here in Zambia. Just so happens that yesterday the Zambian midwives also went on strike at the hospital. So essentially we orientated ourselves. I had 6 students working with me in the labor ward. For most of the students, this was their first time even seeing a birth. And they got thrown right into the mix of things, possibly more than I would have preferred on their first day. But when the workers are few, other options become limited. It was a bit hectic, but overall the students did great.

I had the privilege of welcoming the schools first official little one into the world.  Preceding her 4 other siblings, Annabel was born crying and chubby, just as she should be. She did really well and came with little effort or difficulty to her part-time professional birthing mother.  African women are so strong.

I will keep you updated with stories to come.

With love,
Laura


Tuesday, 3 September 2013

from one mother to another campaign


 I'm in the process of fund raising right now.  I still need to see 3,500 dollars come in by this time next week. Its a daunting figure, but I have already been so blessed by the generosity of others and I am trusting that I will see the release of this money. If you would please pray about patterning with me as I trust to see these finances come in. Whether that just be committing to pray or financially contributing both are much needed and MUCH appreciated.

I never forget that everything I have been able to do in missions is because God has been faithful to me and part of His faithfulness is represented in sharing His generosity with me and through other people who give to me.

I am doing a campaign that you can see by clicking on the link below.
If you're interested in giving to me you can do that through this link or you can also give by the donate button on top of this blog.

God Bless you!!!


 http://fnd.us/c/8aYpf

Monday, 26 August 2013

cast your vote here


Let me introduce you to a few students of the school I work with....





This is Patricia. For the first time ever our school has had the privilege to welcome a woman from Madagascar. Although she comes from a developing nation herself, it hasn’t stopped her from coming all the way to Australia to learn how to take these skills back to the people in her own village.  This is her first time in a Western nation. And while her language, culture, background, way of communicating and relating to people is incredibly different than most of the other students in our classroom ,she continues to show up everyday. It has not been easy for her but she continues to persevere. With several denied visas into Australia, a lack of finances, lack of resources, the loss of a family member just weeks before her school started and a daily challenge with her communication, Patricia still continues to show up, everyday. And learn. She has  a heart for her own people and the strength to truly bring transformation into her community. 

This is Tania. Tania comes from the incredible nation of Russia. She felt called to do the birth attendant school so that she can take her skills into a nation with one of the highest rates for maternal mortality in the world. For safety reasons I cannot name the actual nation that the Lord is leading Tania to go to. But in this country she feels called to work with a specific unreached people group that does not yet have the bible in their language. Not only are the women in this nation incredibly oppressed and under genocide, but they are dying by completely preventable causes related to pregnancy and childbirth. I asked her how she feels about being a single, foreign woman being called to a place where women are oppressed. There is real danger for her in this nation. But her response was simple, “this is where God has called me.”  Her hope is to bring the gospel to this nation and eventually be apart of establishing a clinic. Even amongst missionaries, her calling is one to be admired. She is brave and willing to go where few people will go in order to see the people who need the hope of salvation so greatly reached.





This is Marilyn. She hails from the great land of the United States. She's a retired nurse who has always had a heart for labor and delivery, but has been serving on the mission field for the last 18 years. Marilyn is 72 years old. I could just stop right there with that information and that could be enough to inspire us all!!! While she may be older than everyone else in the classroom it doesn’t stop her from keeping up. This incredible woman has a heart so passionate that nothing, not even her age, will stop her from reaching out to the women of the nations. She, just like everyone else will trek the world for 11 months, learn how to be a midwife and serve in busy government hospitals and small clinics in far away villages. She will keep up with the 20 year olds and do it all with the joy and strength of the Lord.  When asked why she continues to serve after all these years she says, "God never said we can retire from being Christians." 
As a mother, grandmother, and great gandmother she has a deep understanding of how to value life and motherhood. With her years she brings a wisdom that not only enriches our school, but most certainly will make a lasting impact in Africa and India. Marilyn is an incredible example of being obedient to God. She certainly is an encouragement to me, reminding me that its never too late to serve God! After this school she plans on returning to Zambia to serve the remainder of her years in missions. She has a deep desire to see how she can use her past training in community development and implement it with her training as a midwife.


I wanted to take the time to introduce you to these individuals because they are incredible people and the world should know that.  These are just a few of the students I am privileged to work with everyday. The church should be behind these type of people, uplifting them and supporting them as they are obedient to God no matter the cost. They are truly inspirational people. If I had money I would gladly give it to them. Honestly. I’m confident that these women are going to be apart of making the world look more like God intended it to be.

 I’d cast my vote for them.

If its on your heart to give to any of these women you can do that through the YWAM website and specify their name and that they are students on the Birth Attendant School. Otherwise, you can email me at laurae.brager@gmail.com and I can give you more options on how to support them. Additionally, I am still trusting for 5,000 dollars in order to take these women into Africa and help train them in the skills they will use to make an impact around the world, so if you would continue to pray for the release of my finances or if you would like to give towards my fees, I would greatly appreciate that. 

this is a screen shot of what it would look like if you went to the website, and how you should fill it in.




This is a screen shot for how you would fill it in for me :)

Monday, 19 August 2013

the birth attendants


Hey! Notice some exciting changes to my blog.
On the right side there’s a white box that allows you to enter in your email and have my newest posts sent directly to your inbox!
Also, there’s a new donation option through paypal. You can now monthly "subscribe" (this means make monthly financial support to me) by clicking on the link and entering in your debit/credit information. You can also still use the “donate” button to just make a one time donation. Paypal wont charge you anything additional for using its services.

And while we’re on the topic, other ways of donating is through the organization I work with Youth With A Mission Perth. Here’s the link;
On “step 1” it asks you to identify who the donation is for. Here you would just click on staff and enter my name

Sumithra learning how to use a stethoscope
And if you aren’t internet savy, but you know my parents you can always write a check, make it out to my name and hand it to my mom. She would be happy to put it in my bank account for me. (thanks mom!)


 














We are still in the lecture phase over here in Australia. This means that the students are in class 5 days a week learning how to be midwives in developing nations. More specifically they are learning how to be midwives who serve God first and how to use this skill in missions as a form of evangelism. Its really incredible to see people learning simple skill that will literally save lives. And even more than that, its so exciting to see these women getting Gods heart for the nations, His heart for motherhood and how He intended pregnant women to be treated, His heart for women and children, for the restoration of families, His heart for justice. They are learning how to pray, how to intercede, how to cultivate hope and faith in places where there seems to be none. With each lecture we have, every quiz that’s given, every workshop we practice in- God is preparing them and releasing them more and more into their calling. It’s a privilege to be apart of that. These are some incredible students. I am honored to work alongside and help lead these women as they prepare to go. They have left their homes, their countries, their families, their jobs and any security they have had to say yes to God and yes to responding to the desperate need of missionaries and healthcare workers for women, children, and families around the world.

An Aussie midwife teaching the students how to palpate a pregnant belly

Each of the students are trusting God for around $8,500 dollars in order to spend 8 months on the mission field. I am trusting for $5,500 in order to take them. (I’m going for a shorter time than them)  

If you would be interested in helping us get there you can use any of the payment options listed above. I have 5 weeks to see this money come in. If you know any businesses, organizations, or fundraisers that could help us get to Zambia, Ethiopia, and India please let me know. I need your help!

Bless you!


I am posting a link to a video that a previous Birth Attendant student made. It gives a bit more of a picture of some of the work that we will be doing. Feel free to share it!


http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KK1pmSWZ2RU