Through her eyes: A millennial girl takes on Central Florida
By Alisha Ashford
During the summer break months, some students take the opportunity as school is out to travel to another country on a mission trip to help others in need. A couple of months ago, a good friend of mine named Toni Williams returned from a mission trip to Kathmandu, Nepal. Her story deeply inspired me to act when I see a need in the world and follow what I’m passionate about even though I’m young.
Toni is a 19-year-old who studies at Seminole State College and devotes most of her free time to serving at Lake Mary Church. Lake Mary Church is affiliated with Every Nation Family of Churches, a global organization that helps provide her and many others with an outlet to reach others through mission trips all around the world. Even as a teenager, she has already discovered her desire to become a missionary, stating, “I care about the justice of those who have been treated unjustly. As a follower of Jesus, I want to serve those in need.”
When her church presented her with a list of countries she could choose to travel to, she initially decided on Mexico and Australia. However, due to a feeling of uneasiness about her choice she decided to readdress her selection. Soon after, she stumbled upon a documentary about human trafficking which revealed the grave suffering that countless women face in nearly every part of the world. Seeing just a glimpse of what so many people must endure, especially in countries like Nepal, placed a desire in her to do whatever she can to reach their need in any way possible. After seeking advice, doing research on Kathmandu, and praying about her decision, Toni was affirmed to go to Nepal.
It was not an easy choice for her to make. Most of the other students at her church going on a mission trip that summer were going to Mexico or Australia. Toni would be the only one representing her home church on the trip to Nepal. In addition to embarking on this journey with people that were virtually strangers, she would be in a place where it is illegal to introduce others to Christianity intentionally.
Because Nepal adopted a new constitution in 2007 called The Interim Constitution, they now have the freedom to practice any religion they choose. For that reason, approximately 1.4% of the population of Nepal’s once “Hindu kingdom” proclaim to be Christian. Along with a growing Christian population, many Nepalis in the lower regions of Nepal are converting to Islam.
While Nepali people are protected under the law to subscribe to any religion, those who wish to evangelize, or convert the religion of another are in danger of facing punishment. In 2017, the government of Nepal put legislation into place which dictates that no one should be involved in the conversion of religion. The price of breaking this law is five years in prison and in some cases, deportation. It would present her with a higher level of danger than some other countries considering one of the purposes of her trip was to evangelize. But these circumstances didn’t stop her from taking the leap of faith.
Upon arrival in Kathmandu, she was presented with culture and struggle completely different from one she had ever seen before. In Nepal, a lot of people in rural areas live in poverty and lack necessities like a safe house to live in, basic transportation, and healthcare. Many girls face high exposure to human trafficking, are abused by their own families, and in some cases are forced to work in the circus with no regulations whatsoever. Because females typically don’t earn money, they can be looked at with little value by their families.
It is not to say that Nepal hasn’t made some great and impactful strides towards the equality of women. For about a century now, Nepal has shown efforts towards creating an equal space for women economically and in the political arena as they elected their first female president back in 2015. Their representation of women in the government is increasing greatly, and they are showing more enthusiasm toward gender equality.
However, the lives of everyday women are still deeply affected by gender discrimination. The issues stem less from constitutional inequities, and more from deep-rooted cultural issues within family and social structures. Many women in rural areas are still considered second-class citizens.
Toni disclosed one case of a young girl that whenever was “injured or sick, the family didn’t care, but if her brother was injured they would rush him to the hospital because boys have value—they are the ones who make income.” She goes on to explain that even after being rescued and put in a safe house, if there was not enough food, her brother was fed, but she wasn’t.
At the hotel in Nepal where Toni stayed, she met a girl who planned to move closer to India after being offered a job as a nanny. Toni and her team began to talk to her, and they quickly realized that the girl might have been in more danger than she first appeared. “When we found out the way she was offered the job, we realized it was a set up for human trafficking. So, we convinced her to keep her job there and stay safe that way she wouldn’t be a victim of trafficking.”
Encounters like that are not common for anyone, especially such a young person to experience. Toni’s trip to Nepal is not the last of her work abroad. In fact, this is only the beginning. She carries a new perspective with her about less-privileged countries. Even though the people of Nepal do not consider themselves to lack much as it is all they know, “they are very poor in the eyes of an American,” with everything in America being “so easily accessible it’s easy to forget that we’re so blessed.”
Toni plans to make an impact in nations all around the world, serving others with every chance she gets going forward. Her impact though, reaches beyond the country of Nepal, even to others around her in central Florida, such as myself. Her courage to do good even amid dark circumstances reminds me that there is no better day than today to extend help and love to others—even when it requires a hard sacrifice.
Alisha Ashford is a graduate of Lake Mary High School and spent a year in Spain through a student exchange program. She is currently a journalism major at Seminole State College.