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A gathering about Thailand

The reality was too much to comprehend.

Meeting with women in Bangkok, Thailand, Janell Rardon could not reconcile the harsh realities of what she was witnessing.

Rardon was touring a non-profit facility in Thailand, where women who were threatened with being sold into forced prostitution and sexual slavery were given a second chance.

They were learning to make jewelry.

“It was then and there I knew this is real,” Rardon said. “This is not something I am seeing in a movie. This is really happening and it has to stop.”

Rardon is a Christian author and speaker who was in Thailand at the invitation of longtime friend Kimberly Quinley.

Quinley is the director of Families At Risk programs for Step Ahead, which is a Christian-based organization in Thailand working to transform impoverished communities.

In 2009, Quinley asked Rardon to fly across the globe to speak at an international women’s retreat. After speaking in front of representatives from more than 20 countries, Rardon was asked to come back to Thailand just two weeks later for a Christmas outreach luncheon hosted by the Evangelical Church of Bangkok.

“For me, this was a dream come true, to go and speak,” Rardon said.

It was a dream that soon became a calling.

Throughout her time in Thailand, Rardon saw, up close and personal, Quinley’s day-to-day.

Quinley and Rardon walked the slums of Bangkok.

They toured the “Pink District” in Pattaya.

They talked and they prayed for Quinley’s mission field.

When Rardon returned home to Suffolk, she could not stop thinking of all she had seen and all that she had learned.

For example, one in four people in Thailand are involved in the sex trade industry.

Daughters, still in adolescence, are sold to older men in order to provide for the family.

“I was haunted by the faces and the images I saw,” Rardon said. “I knew I had to do something.”

That something is The Gathering: Women Helping Women Across the World.

“I want people to have an expanded worldview,” Rardon said. “People need to know there is a world that extends far beyond Suffolk.”

With Quinley on sabbatical and returning stateside this summer, Rardon saw the opportunity to bring her experience in Thailand to her community.

On July 31, from 10 a.m. to noon at the Hilton Garden Inn at Harbour View, The Gathering will feature presentations from Rardon, Quinley and others aimed at building awareness of the sexual slavery epidemic in Thailand. Additionally, guests will be able to learn more about the women who participate in the Step Ahead program. They will even have the chance to shop in the Agora marketplace, which features jewelry, purses and tote bags made by the women salvaged from sex trade rings.

“This is a little pebble in a very big ocean,” Rardon said.

It is a little pebble that creates massive ripples, according to Quinley.

“This really rallies a lot of support,” Quinley said. “If people are aware of the problem, then they will write their Congressman and their Senator when there are laws being considered. People can support the mission, and help raise finances. Awareness is really key in a lot of ways. For me, as a Christian, getting prayer support is so important. People may not have money to give, but they can pray.”

Tickets for The Gathering are $25, with proceeds supporting Step Ahead. For tickets or more information, visit www.janellrardon.com.

“It’s right in our backyards, and that’s the thing people don’t understand,” Quinley said. “It’s not just a problem for a few people far away. It’s in all our communities.”