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To help and to heal: Perham pastor moving to Thailand to help people being trafficked

There's no doubt in the mind of the Rev. Dirk Currier that God facilitated connections that brought him and his family to Perham, and spoke to him about an important mission focus.

Bonnie, left, and the Rev. Dirk Currier will be leaving Northwoods Assembly Church in Perham at the end of the month to begin a mission in Thailand. They hope to help people being trafficked, “giving names to numbers.” Debbie Irmen/Focus
Bobbie, left, and the Rev. Dirk Currier will be leaving Northwoods Assembly Church in Perham at the end of the month to begin a mission in Thailand. They hope to help people being trafficked, “giving names to numbers.” Debbie Irmen/Focus

There's no doubt in the mind of the Rev. Dirk Currier that God facilitated connections that brought him and his family to Perham, and spoke to him about an important mission focus.

He grew up vacationing in Otter Tail County and knew even then he wanted to live here, he said.

"But I thought it would be when I retired," the Northwoods Assembly of God pastor said. "I guess God had a different plan."

He was pastoring in Chicago and when his oldest daughter was school age, he and his wife, Bobbie, knew they didn't want to raise their children in the inner city of Chicago.

While on vacation to the area, the couple learned of a pastor who was planning to start a new church in Perham. They prayed that if Perham was where God wanted them, they would find jobs and an home. The day before they left to go back home, they found both.

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Dirk has pastored at Northwoods Assembly in Perham for about 23 years; the couple raising their two daughters here and where he found his life's passion: helping people, especially children, caught up in the world of human trafficking.

"It was a divine connection all the way through," he said. "God had brought us back to the same place and town as we had visited years before."

Dirk learned about human trafficking about five years ago while at a conference in California, one he attended nearly every year.

While at the conference, a man introduced himself during lunch and as they talked, the pastor explained that he was resigning from his church to open a rescue home in Thailand for children being trafficked.

The two "really connected" said Dirk and he eventually asked the pastor to share his story with the Northwoods congregation.

"It was God making another connection," he said.

After spending a week in the Perham area, the pastor asked Dirk about visiting Thailand to see for himself what was happening.

About the same time, a family man in the area had lost his job due to involvement in pornography and he reached out to the Curriers.

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"I thought maybe this is a bigger problem than we thought," Dirk said.

So he and Bobbie planned a trip to learn more and found themselves staying at a hotel in a red light district. As they lay in bed listening to the sounds of the city, it became apparent they were not in a good neighborhood.

"I thought 'Bobbie is going to kill me for booking a hotel in the red light district,'" he said, but he soon realized that a large section of the city is a red light district.

Dirk that first trip, he has since become somewhat of a local expert on the issue: he has been on "deployments," or fact and evidence excursions, which has resulted in the rescue of about 770 girls and boys, and the arrests of about 200 predators, he said.

When he told his wife that he wanted to go on the deployments, she was skeptical he would be successful.

"I told him I don't think you'd be good at that,'" Bobbie said. "I didn't think he could pull off buying girls for sex."

Dirk didn't disagree.

"It was nothing I ever thought I'd do or be qualified to do," he said.

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But he was good at sitting back and blending in, which is a required skill, he said.

After several deployments, he was told by a veteran, "You are the best guy I've seen out here doing this."

He has since been on about eight deployments.

Dirk has walked into many brothels over the past several years and has seen what happens to the children. Often girls especially, leave home to find a job to help their families who are extremely poor, and find themselves prostituted when they thought they would be cleaning rooms or serving food, Dirk said.

The culture and religion of Asia is such that victims of human trafficking feel honor-bound to help their families, so once they are in the system, Dirk said, they are unable to get out.

Traffickers also use drugs as well as brain-wash them into believing it's an honor to be bought and if they aren't, something is wrong with them, Dirk said.

Often, their passports are immediately taken away as well, making it difficult to get away. Those who do escape will run to the police, some of whom are paid by the traffickers to bring the girls back. They are beaten to prevent them from running away again.

Dirk and Bobbie know all too well that these deployments are dangerous. Every time Dirk goes on a deployment he has to sign a waiver that says he is aware of the risks.

Dirk said whether he survives or not, he feels he was called to this mission. If it was his child or a friend's child, he would want someone to look for them, find them and help them. He feels compelled to do the same for other parents.

"I pray a lot when he is out," Bobbie said. "When we've been there, I stay back and pray. I believe prayer is important."

People often ask him why he's going elsewhere to help when there is so much going on in America. He ticks off the statistics: about 30,000 women are selling their bodies and children are sold for sex there, he said. About 10 to 12 million people vacation annually in Thailand, many to vacation in the sex market. The majority of people buying children are Americans, he said, and it must be stopped.

"People are going over there to hurt and to harm," he said. "There is nothing wrong with going there to help and to heal."

Protecting his emotional health is also important, he said. When the men are on deployments, they gather and share stories of their experiences and within 30 days of a deployment, one hour of professional counseling is required.

But perhaps the best balm for a sad heart is seeing the rescued children thriving, Dirk said.

"That is key according to the counselors," he said. "Go out and hear and see the good stories of children who have been helped."

As he looked back over his time at Northwoods, he is proud of Perham and the church he calls home.

"We have so loved ministering in Perham, not just Northwoods, but Perham," he said. "It's been an honor to serve here and we will continue to do so when we come back."

Dirk's last Sunday of preaching is Sunday, March 26, though the couple will be in the area speaking on this topic at area churches as they wrap up their affairs and plan a move to Pattaya, Thailand. But he plans to come back to share stories of his work, he said.

"We'll be back, this will always be home," he said. "This is more than a church, we are a family."

People being sold are assigned a number, much like cows being sold at a livestock yard, according to the Rev. Dirk Currier. These are numbers taken from people rescued from that life. Debbie Irmen/Focus
People being sold are assigned a number, much like cows being sold at a livestock yard, according to the Rev. Dirk Currier. These are numbers taken from people rescued from that life. Debbie Irmen/Focus

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