For 13 years, Rapha House has been about loving, rescuing and healing children who have been the victims of trafficking and sexual exploitation in Cambodia.

In a recent first for the Joplin-based ministry, a Rapha House resident was awarded a medical visa by the American Embassy in Phnom Penh, the capital of Cambodia, to get treatment.

The resident, known only as Phally to preserve her privacy, recently arrived in Joplin after a yearlong nationwide search for doctors and facilities who would donate services such as medical testing and surgeries. All expenses have been underwritten and are being taken care of in Joplin by Mercy Hospital and a variety of physicians.

“I am so proud of our community,” said Stephanie Freed, co-founder and executive director of Rapha House. “In the end it was Joplin, Mercy Hospital and Hometown Pediatrics that got everybody on board.”

One of the Rapha House partners also stepped up to offer a Joplin home for Phally and her caregivers to stay in while she undergoes testing and surgeries. In addition, another partner, saying she knew Phally’s medical journey would be difficult, donated money for her to attend Disney World before coming to Joplin.

Freed said she also wanted to recognize the Joplin Family Y, which has given Phally a free membership so she can do her physical therapy, as well as free memberships to members of her caregiving entourage.

Coming with Phally have been Doug and Donna Burkle, who opened the Cambodian special needs house for severe Rapha House cases such as Phally; Hannah Burkle, the Cambodian Rapha House director; Mi, Phally’s caregiver and house mother in Cambodia; and special needs therapy dog Henry.

Doug and Donna Burkle got involved with the ministry through their daughter, Hannah, who served as a youth minister at the Church of Christ in Cedar Falls, Iowa, before taking the Rapha House position.

“It is a blessing to help these girls who come to us from exploitation, as well as victims of rape and trafficking,” said Hannah Burkle, who heard about Rapha House through a Christ in Youth conference.

Rapha House has established three safe houses in Cambodia with 119 staff members. Each of those houses has between 60 and 70 girls, while the special needs house, with eight residents, is located less than a half mile from the Battanbang, Cambodia, house.

Freed said she believes this is the only special needs unit for traumatized and trafficked children in Cambodia. She said that Phally was rescued and brought to Rapha House lacking ability for hardly any physical movement.

Phally, born with severe disabilities, was trafficked to Thailand to be part of a begging ring where she and another disabled child were used for the gain of their trafficker. When Phally was rescued and brought to Rapha House, she couldn’t even tell the staff her name. She lost the ability to communicate and was experiencing great pain.

Freed’s father, Joe Garman, came up with the idea for Rapha House in 2003 following his mission trips to Cambodia. Garman, an Ozark Christian College graduate, continues to serve as president of American Rehabilitation Ministries in Joplin.

The name Rapha was settled on because it means healing in Hebrew, said Freed, who noted that the ministry has grown from one original safe house.

Under the heading “Our Organization and Values” on the Rapha House Web site can be found the following words that sum up what the ministry is all about: “We are Christians who take seriously the scripture that reads: ‘Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.’ (I John 3:18). And it is with compassion energized and sustained by love that we act on behalf of victimized children wherever we find them.”

Address correspondence to Rich Brown, c/o The Joplin Globe, P.O. Box 7, Joplin, MO 64802, or email richbrown@cableone.net.

Want to help?

Anyone wishing to donate toward expenses for Phally, the Rapha House special-needs girl who is seeking medical treatment in Joplin, may call 417-621-0373, contact Rapha House by mail at P.O. Box 1569, Joplin, MO 64802, visit the office at 523 N. Schifferdecker Ave. or go to the website: www.raphahouse.org.