Alisa’s life began in dramatic and difficult circumstances. Her journey from hiding in the jungle in a Southeast Asian country to having recently worked for Oklahoma Baptist Homes for Children is one of God’s divine guidance.
Alisa had lost her father and brother to the civil war in her country. Soldiers burned her village, and Alisa and her remaining family lived in the jungle for several years. At age 10, she and her family were smuggled in an ice cream truck across the border to Thailand.
Her Buddhist roots ran deep and only strengthened in school. She grew up hearing negative words spoken against Christians, and she came to hate Christians.
Yet when she was age 12, Alisa remembers, two women came to their house and spoke about God, and told her God is everywhere. Later in one of her darkest hours, she would recall their visit.
Alisa finished elementary school at age 15 but was not permitted to attend secondary school because she was not a Thai citizen. Her mother and stepfather gave her an ultimatum to marry the head construction worker where they worked. But Alisa believed there was something bigger in store for her.
Due to these disagreements with her family, she moved into an apartment in the city. She worked as a gas station attendant and began trying to earn a GED.
“As you can imagine, as a 15-year-old girl, I didn’t really know the world,” she said. “I just tried to survive, but I got into many wrong paths and a lot of bad things happened to me.”
“Hurt people hurt people. I got hurt and wanted to hurt people.”
Police hunted her, and extorted money from her in order for her to be able to stay in the country.
She discovered she was unwittingly in a gang after motorcyclists started chasing her and a friend down alleys. Choices were forced on her, and her life was threatened by rival gangs.
Alisa secured a job as a pharmacy assistant selling medication to tourists. She pretended to be a college graduate with a pharmacy or medical-related degree. In reality, she was not yet 18 and still working on her GED. She remembers the whiplash of going from crying in anger and frustration about the circumstances of her life to putting on a customer-service face when customers came in.
“I lived in a world where I could not find my identity and didn’t know who I was,” she said. “I know that there was a strong feeling in me that I want to wash away my sin.”
She looked to be cleansed of sin in Buddhism, but nothing helped.
“I couldn’t control my anger,” she said. She had even contemplated suicide.
Alisa then remembered the two women who came to her family’s house and told her about God. She knelt in the pharmacy and said, “God, if you are real, come change me.”
Not long after, several Americans came into the pharmacy and gave her a book called “This is My Story.” The author called Jesus a friend, and talked about how He changed her life.
“In gang life, friends are very important for us, probably more than family,” Alisa said. “When I read that Jesus was their friend and Jesus can change their life, I said to myself, ‘I want this Jesus’.”
She learned how Jesus calls His followers to turn the other cheek when struck. She said that stood out because in gangs, if someone hurts you, you pay them back with 10 times the force.
The Americans who gave her the book returned. She later learned they were a Southern Baptist volunteer team from Southeastern Seminary.
“When you follow Jesus, you turn from your old ways,” the woman told her. “Yes, that is what I want,” Alisa said.
The Christians provided her with two lifelines—the first, knowledge of Jesus, and the second, a safe place to crash—she learned while they were visiting that gang members were waiting at her apartment.
Before they returned to the U.S., they connected her with International Mission Board (IMB) missionaries Kim Ratliff and Brooke Ross. When Ratliff and Ross asked if she was ready to accept Jesus, she said she didn’t know yet. She had been a Buddhist for so long.
Not long after, Alisa dreamed of someone coming to save her, and she instinctively knew it was Jesus. She committed her life to Christ and was baptized.
IMB missionaries Rob and Jordan Lindley discipled her, and she got involved in student outreach, discipleship training and a village ministry.
Each week, the Lindleys taught her a Bible lesson that she’d teach in the village.
Undoing years of Buddhist thought and belief was difficult, and she also harbored bitterness about how Thai people treated her. As she grew closer to the Lord, her anger slowly faded away. “It was not me that was doing it, it was that I yielded to God. I was obeying,” Alisa said.
The Lord grew in Alisa a desire to share the Gospel with anyone and everyone who would listen. Alisa’s story of moving to the U.S. was also a dramatic one. Stateless and passport-less, her prospects seemed grim, but God paved the way.
Alisa reunited with the Lindleys in Oklahoma and attended Oklahoma City, Northwest (where Rob is now a pastor). She pursued a degree in social work at the University of Oklahoma. Prior to moving out of Oklahoma in June, she recently worked as an administrative assistant for the Oklahoma Baptist Homes for Children.
Her long-term dreams for her life journey are to start a school for children in her home country and open a non-profit to help train people in trauma healing.
“What I used to know was hurt people hurting other people, but in Christ, though I had been in so many hurting relationships, God heals and forgives me,” she said. “I’m to love people for who they are.”
Alisa has experienced that God had a hope and future for her all along the way.
To hear Alisa’s full testimony, visit baptistmessenger.com/podcast.