Let’s be honest, it can be overwhelming to think about how to end an issue as big as trafficking. The horrific statistics and stories we hear often paralyze us into not doing anything. Most of us are left wondering – can anything I do actually help?
Even our team at AIM has had this feeling.
But, the old saying is true – “alone we can do so little, together we can do so much.” AIM has seen this to be true in many facets of our work. From the beginning, the work that has been accomplished is a testament to God’s provision and His heart for those trapped in slavery. Each person He’s brought to this organization has helped it grow. However you are involved, whether an advocate, supporter, or prayer partner, we each have a unique story of how God brought us to this work and this mission. There are many stories we could share, but we hope these 3 inspire you. No matter how big and daunting this fight may seem, together, we can do something about it!
Sonny and Renee Burkhalter
Sonny and Renee have been married for 52 years. Childhood sweethearts, they met at the church where Renee’s dad was the pastor. Their story with AIM and the fight against trafficking started before AIM was ever established! As Don Brewster’s personal assistant, Renee became familiar with his heart for this fight very quickly. In fact, she too felt a call to be a part of it.
When Don and Bridget left for Cambodia, Renee continued to pray about how they could be involved. There was this pull to do something more, so she and Sonny went to Cambodia to help the Brewsters for a few weeks. While they were there, they saw the mission of AIM begin to develop. Don and Bridget were working to meet the immediate needs of communities while establishing a more long term home for survivors of trafficking. After they returned to the U.S., Renee still felt called to do more. Sonny reminded her that their whole family was in the States! Through this back and forth, God opened the door for Renee to be more involved with AIM while staying with her family. She did go back to Cambodia for a few months, where she helped write processes, establish our first Restoration Home, and organize documents and paperwork. Cambodian staff were trained and the Restoration Home was opened in August 2006. What was once thought to be a 5-year process was completed in less than a year!
Back in the States, Renee continued to do all of AIM’s administrative and fundraising on a volunteer basis (with Sonny’s help, of course). In fact, the first United States office was in the Burkhalter’s home! In 2008, Renee was asked to join AIM full-time, where she stayed until 2012. Sonny always stayed involved, helping with events and travel.
When asked how they have seen the fight against trafficking change, Renee responded, “When you look at reports like the TIP [Trafficking in Persons Report] or the UN numbers, it can seem like we can work and work and there’s no change… That’s not true! … You have to have patience and trust God with His timing. It’s those stories of changing one life at a time that make a difference.”
“To see and to know that you have an impact regardless of the numbers… those individual lives change tremendously.”Renee Burkhalter
Sonny and Renee continue to be impactful prayer partners and supporters of AIM!
Hong Leang Eng
Eng knew she needed to get an education from a young age. Her father encouraged her to be a teacher. When he passed away, she did not receive much support to follow this dream. Despite it all, in 2007 she became the first woman from her village to go to Phnom Penh to pursue an education. Alone in a big, new city, she cried almost every night. But Eng knew she needed to grow and get her education. She was scared because she was living in a bad area. But soon, a friend helped her apply to a dormitory run by a Korean Ministry. After days of not hearing back, Eng cried and prayed – if there was a real God, she needed Him to help her. Her own plan was falling apart. When she woke up, she got a call from the dorm and was offered a spot!
As she moved into this new home, she realized how Jesus chose her when she had no hope. At the dorm, she learned about the Bible and saw how God changed her life! As she received her education, she decided she wanted to use it to serve God.
In 2012, Eng was about to move back to her home province and work for a government school. However, she heard about an organization that was working in Svay Pak – AIM. Growing up, she had heard of Svay Pak, a place known for its darkness. When she heard stories of this small village, her heart ached to help the community. It was clear that God had paved the path and prepared Eng’s heart to work for AIM. Now, over 10 years later, she is the director of the AIM School!
Throughout her time at AIM School, Eng has seen how God loves Svay Pak and how education is changing the community. She is in the unique position to empathize with struggling families, while encouraging them to value and support education for their children. The families of Svay Pak are breaking the generational hardships through education and growth. Families that once thought they would ONLY ever be fishermen or workers at brick factories… they now have hope for a different future for their children. Eng has been an instrumental part of this encouragement in Svay Pak. Through her testimony, Eng is challenging the status quo, giving families and parents a vision for their students. They can dream as big as they want!
“I fought for my education. Now, I encourage you to fight for your children.”Hong Leang Eng
Eng and her husband both work for AIM in Svay Pak today!
Clayton and Emily Butler
For Clayton Butler, what began as a 3-month commitment to serve with AIM in Cambodia became a 10-year adventure. As the first “Long-Term Volunteer” (AIM’s term for expatriates serving in Cambodia), Clay began discipling young men in Phnom Penh, Cambodia.
While Clay was doing this discipleship, AIM leadership noticed that many girls at our Restoration Home were coming from a small village called Svay Pak (the home of many of our programs today). Clayton was given a big job – stop trafficking before it starts in Svay Pak. Where does one even start with this task? For Clayton and the pastors at his side, they did what they knew – they loved the people in the community, showing them Jesus. He remembers how God grew ministries out of miracles. It was obvious that He wanted to work and transform lives there. From a kid’s club to a dentistry outreach, and eventually the Lord’s Gym and AIM School, Clayton and the team were meeting different needs in the community. Each step they took, they saw God in the work. The people He put in place were passionate about spreading the Gospel and transforming the community. After 2.5 years in Cambodia, Clayton came back to the US.
Emily Butler was in law school when she met Clayton. She was pursuing a degree in international law and human rights. Micah 6:8 was on her mind, “To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” She was inspired to do something practical with her degree. After meeting Clayton, they began corresponding via email while he was in Cambodia. Emily, working with IJM in Bolivia with child abuse cases, connected with Clay as they were both working in similar spaces. They shared their experiences and how to process through them.
In October of 2012, Clayton and Emily got married and the following February, they moved back to Cambodia to work alongside newly-established programs in Siem Reap. Through everything they did, Clay and Emily were passionate about empowering local staff. Over the next 4 years, Clay and Emily held various positions throughout Siem Reap and Phnom Penh. They saw the development and transformation of AIM through many stages of growth. Through it all, they saw God move.
“The longer you’re here, it’s not a person’s story, it’s God’s. Either He’s moving or we’re all wasting our time.”Clayton Butler
Since moving back to the United States in 2017, Clayton and Emily have started a family and now serve on AIM’s board.
What’s your story?
For almost 20 years, AIM has been surrounded and supported by an incredible community of volunteers, staff, and partners. These are just 3 of many stories about how God has woven all our lives together. And, as you can see, He uses each of us in our own unique way to fight for His people! We all have the ability to make an impact when we come together in the name of Christ to fulfill his call in our lives. What’s your AIM Story? We’d love to hear from you! Send us an email and let us know!
We want to say a huge “THANK YOU” to everyone in our community. Staff, volunteers, advocates, partners… If you’re reading this, YOU are a part of this community and we could not do what we’re doing without you. We thank God for you every day!