By ALLI MELLON
I never wanted to live overseas. As founding director of The Hard Places Community, my plan was to live in America and send long-term missionaries into the hard places. My passion was raising up and empowering young people to fulfill every dream God placed in their hearts, to use the global platform He’d given me to launch people into their futures.
In January 2009, I took a team to Cambodia, the number 1 country for sexual exploitation of very young children. Our goal was to join the fight against the horror these little ones lived every day. Research proved girls as young as 5 were sold on a daily basis for sex with grown men. When we arrived in Phnom Penh, we discovered the situation was worse than we imagined. We began serving alongside those who’d come to Cambodia years before us, immersing ourselves in the issue and longing to see kids set free.
My plan was to be in Cambodia for only three months, paving the way for future long-term Hard Places Community teams. Though I loved every minute of the new anti-trafficking ministry being born right before my eyes, I was anxious to return to the States. I’d come to Cambodia still grieving the loss of a long-term relationship with the man I’d thought I would marry. I found myself wondering if my deepest desire to be a mother would ever come to pass. I was constantly crying out, “Lord, where is my family? Where is my baby?”
My three months in Cambodia ended and teammates began to leave as planned. Then the completely unexpected happened. God told me to stay. The setup for our future team was going so well, and we’d been asked to start a program for trafficked children in a former child brothel. The relationships my team had made were growing stronger by the day, and if I stayed just a few more months in Cambodia, all the logistics for the long-term team to succeed would be in place. Stay. Staying went against my plan and seemed contrary to my every dream. Stay.
I kicked and screamed and cried and raged at God. I did not want to stay. Finally, in tears of surrender, I agreed to remain in Cambodia for another three months.
A few days later, I received a phone call: “Alli, don’t get your hopes up, but there’s a baby girl. Do you want her?” My new friend proceeded to tell me there just might be a way, there just may be the slightest chance this baby could be my daughter. Three days later, I rode the back of a motorcycle taxi through a monsoon to meet this baby. My baby.
I came back to my house that night with her in my arms, this time in a tuk-tuk to protect her from the weather. She was 5 weeks old and I did not have a diaper, a bottle, or baby formula. We stopped at a quick stop, and I bought every baby item the store had. Before I arrived back at my house, I named her Isabella Ruth, meaning beautiful, consecrated to God.
I never wanted to live overseas. I have lived in Cambodia for the past 13 years. But today, I am Mama not only to Bella, but to four more precious hearts God’s entrusted me with. Four months after taking Bella home, Anna Claire came into our lives, born at 27 weeks and gasping for air with undeveloped lungs. Holding two newborns in my arms, I went through the steps and hoops to legally adopt them, meaning my stay in Cambodia turned into three years before they became American citizens. The minute the girls’ adoptions were complete, my son Nash came home, followed one year later by his biological sister Nadia. I thought our family was complete then, but we had another surprise four years later when Scotty became our forever baby. This time, we are really done!
People often say my kids are “so lucky.” I know luck has nothing to do with our family, and that only God could have given us to each other, could have walked us down the long, hard roads we’ve traveled to wind up here. I’m the blessed one, that I get to be their Mama.
I never wanted to live overseas. God turned my plans upside-down and into something wild, loud, imperfect and wonderful: family.
Alli Mellon is the founder and executive director of The Hard Places Community, an international nonprofit whose mission is to be “a glimpse of light in the darkest corners of this world.” Her team in Phnom Penh, Cambodia fights against the child sex trade and works with young men coming out of male brothels. In recent years, the ministry has expanded into work with refugees in Greece and plans to open a third base in Madagascar later this year. The Hard Places Community is also working on an initiative to combat the sale of young girls across Mississippi.
Alli is mom to five children ranging from ages 3 to 13, all of whom were adopted in Cambodia. The Mellon family is temporarily based near Alli’s parents in Mississippi while they work toward her youngest three children’s American citizenship.