Book Sneak Peek: Katherine Welch – Relentless

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KATHERINE WELCH  

RELENTLESS  

 

If there’s one word that describes Katherine Welch, it’s relentless. With a pixie-cut mop of unruly hair, kind blue eyes, and a ready smile, that word might not immediately spring to mind, but get her talking about the work she’s done for over two decades, and those bright eyes turn flinty and intense—relentless.  

Like many of the stories in this book, hers follows an unconventional path.  

She didn’t set out to practice jungle medicine in Thailand. She didn’t intend to teach Chinese doctors pediatric medicine or rescue orphaned Chinese babies from malnutrition. Nor did she imagine she would dedicate her life to ministering to sex trafficking victims. She didn’t intend to start Relentless, an organization whose mission is to “seek liberty through health at the intersection of health and justice so that all abused, exploited, or trafficked people receive quality, trauma-informed care and are empowered to thrive in robust wellness for the rest of their lives.”  

All that would come, but only later.  

Because as a young college student, Katherine didn’t even intend to be a doctor. 

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PASSION AND PURPOSE  

Katherine didn’t have a plan, but she was confident that God did. As a young person, Katherine hadn’t been challenged to actively live out her faith until university and medical school. During those years, as she was receiving career training, she was also experiencing exponential spiritual growth. She admits that her initial motivation to go to Thailand might have been more along the lines of philanthropic adventure rather than spiritual calling, but it didn’t take long for her to become convinced that God had placed her in Asia for His purposes.   

Several years into her work in Thailand, busy stitching up lacerations, treating skin diseases, and delivering babies, Katherine got an interesting request from colleagues in a different part of the country.  

“Hey, Katherine. Would you be interested in going with us to the red-light district in Bangkok? We’re working with some women who need medical care, but they are reluctant to see a doctor. They need treatment, and we could use your expertise. Can you help us?” 

Deep into the hospital work in Thailand, Katherine couldn’t imagine where that simple request would lead. She didn’t know anything about the anti-trafficking medical ministry. She didn’t even understand the context of their question.  

Why would people in the red-light district be reluctant to see a doctor?  

But true to form, her can-do attitude kicked in. Here was a way she could help. Here was another thing she could do. Working with her colleagues in Bangkok, her eyes were opened to a whole new area of medical need. She discovered that people working in the sex trade are often shunned, shamed, and mistreated—even by healthcare workers. As she learned more and more, Katherine’s heart was stirred to help fight this evil.  

Over the next several years, Katherine’s medical work took her to various locations in China, back to Thailand, and even to Europe. No matter the location, her day-to-day workload varied, but always there was a pull toward ministering to those caught in human trafficking.  

As a pediatrician, her day job involved nursing babies back to health, teaching Chinese doctors pediatric medicine, and doing compassionate care in orphanages. But her true passion became the work that she was doing with the anti-trafficking organizations. 

Katherine began traveling throughout China and to Malaysia, Singapore, Cambodia, and Thailand. On these trips she would learn and help, letting God use her as He would.  

“Help me help You help these women,” she said again and again. “I’m a doctor, and I want to learn.”  

As she was learning, she was sharing the love of Christ. Working with the anti-trafficking organizations, she began seeing patients at health clinics in the red-light districts. The clinics would run throughout the night, often starting at five in the evening and going until two or three in the morning. Or she would visit a drop-in center for boys who were trafficked for sex or a shelter for pregnant women and premature babies. They offered free HIV testing and any other healthcare that was needed. She would prescribe medication that they could get over the counter and offer treatment suggestions. 

As heartbreaking as it sounds, Katherine was in her element. She simply did what she could do, relentless in her pursuit of protection and care for the oppressed.  

Along the way, Katherine also found herself teaching as well as treating. People in the anti-trafficking organizations thought she’d merely help with basic healthcare but soon found she could reach much deeper needs. The chronic pain of this traumatic lifestyle affected more than just physical health. From sexually transmitted diseases to bizarre attitudes that developed as a result of severe, ongoing trauma, the physiological and the psychological were intimately connected and Katherine began to change the narrative.  

In regular society, Katherine observed a general apathy toward the treatment of those in this industry. Because of religious beliefs around karma, the attitudes of the locals often went like, Why should I care? These people obviously deserve this. And even among Christians, there was an attitude of disgust, repulsion, and a reluctance to provide medical care, let alone compassion. They’re getting what they deserve.  

 

MORE THAN MEDICINE  

Katherine obviously does not share that sentiment. She has dedicated her professional life to bringing respect, quality care, dignity, and a chance at a better life to survivors of abuse, exploitation, and human trafficking.  

From the jungles of Thailand to the red-light districts and orphanages in China, she’s seen enough pain and human suffering to last a lifetime. And more than prescribing medicines, performing surgeries, and offering bandages, Katherine knows it’s the hearts and souls that matter.  

At one evening clinic for boys in Bangkok, Katherine placed her stethoscope on a boy’s chest, his dull brown eyes gazing at nothing in the middle distance, not meeting hers. 

 “Breathe in. Hold it. Again.” 

 Looking directly into his eyes, she told him his heart was fine. His heart was healthy.  

And then she prayed aloud, “Dear Jesus, please speak to his good heart. Show him your love, no matter the shame and pain he might be feeling now. Heal his body, but more than that, speak to his heart.”  

Katherine knew that the young boy she was treating would only go right back to the streets after he saw her at the clinic. But as she did for all her patients—this boy being only one among thousands—she prayed God would go with him. Because this was not just about medicine. It was also a spiritual battle.  

Jesus promised that in this world, we would have trouble. And there was so much trouble in Asia. Though Katherine is known for her never-quit attitude, there were definitely days when she wanted to quit, turn in her missionary card, and be done with it all. Knowing someone was going back to the life of prostitution after being treated and told of a different way of life. Hearing someone had died or had run off or was experiencing distressing PTSD episodes. Some days it just seemed there were so many unanswered questions and so much futility.  

They say you cannot go near a fire and not expect to get burned. Katherine felt the burn of evil every day in China, usually in physical ways—sickness and depression. 

 Am I doing any good? What’s the use of this? Do I even believe in the goodness of God anymore?  

These questions would plague her in the night. Torturous evil thoughts, feelings of despair, and unbidden temptations all swirling, she would call on the name of Jesus aloud. Other times she would call a friend to talk through the long hours of the night, or she would sing. 

One night Katherine started to cry out but found she could not open her mouth. It was as if her face had melted and she physically could not speak. In her head and heart, she continued to cry out, repeating everything she knew to be true—about God and His good work and about herself and the work He was empowering her to do—until the attack passed.  

After some time in China, she began to see a pattern.  

It’s clinic day? Of course you feel sick. This is from the enemy. Are you discouraged? Of course. It’s because you shared the love of Jesus with someone in bondage. The enemy wants to keep her in bondage!  

As she traveled around, Katherine was always aware of the enemy.   

Part of being relentless is persevering through struggle and spiritual oppression. And when the right person is in the right place at the right time and taps into the power of the living God, amazing things happen. And amazing organizations are birthed. 

 

Read Katherine’s full story in Compassionate Love: How God is Blessing a Hurting World by ordering your copy on Amazon starting JUNE 11. All proceeds will help fund the ministry of MedSend. 

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To support hard-working healthcare professionals like Katherine serving in underserved and difficult circumstances, partner with us in bringing access to healthcare and access to hope with your financial gift. Will you join the movement today? 

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2 Comments

  1. Dan Madia on May 28, 2024 at 8:06 pm

    Stories like Katherine’s are amazing. It’s hard to believe the strength and passion that one person can have when they have a heart for the Lord. Stories like these show the best of humanity, something that can lift your heart.

  2. Dan MacTavish on June 16, 2024 at 2:51 am

    It is such a privilege to read again about Katherine’s story. I met Katherine many years ago in Bucharest when she came to our church building in a week long conference against human trafficking. Katherine was one of the featured speakers and I was involved in the same work there in Bucharest and in Romania. When I approached Katherine, I asked her about her work and calling,”why do you go to the hard places?” As she answered the question I began to cry, I saw Katherine’s passion, I saw her giftedness, I saw God’s grace upon her life and work.

    Over the last years I have followed Katherine as she worked in Berlin and then returned to America. I never missed one of her pod casts in Europe and I saw her connect us with all sorts of people in volved like she was, in passionate service, all across Europe and back home in North America.

    Katherine, I encourage you in all that you do, God’s calling and grace upon your life is inspiring to watch.
    Most sincerely, Dan MacTavish

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