A nurse who is a fourth-generation Lodian is traveling to Cambodia to help child prostitutes and those who work for low wages in garment and other industries.
Nannette Grinnell, 58, will spend most of the next two years helping impoverished Cambodians with their basic needs. In the process, she will introduce them to Christianity in a land she describes as 99-percent Buddhist.
"She's just an unusual person and outstanding," said Arilee Pollard, a family friend from Lodi.
Working through Operation Mobilization, Grinnell will join missionaries from throughout the world in helping the poor on her mission.
"It was a lifelong dream to do it, but I never had the opportunity," said Grinnell, who spent the past week visiting her mother, Betty Grinnell, in Lodi.
Grinnell has been a registered nurse for 35 years, including two years at Stockton's Dameron Hospital before taking a similar position at Kaiser Permanente in South Sacramento in 2007. She moved to Texas six months ago to stay with her grown daughter before going overseas.
After training, Grinnell will focus primarily on children, some of whom haven't reached puberty, who are victims of the sex industry and labor practices in other fields that would violate American child labor laws.
What is Operation Mobilization?
- An international Christian mission organization since 1957. The
group spreads the gospel, begins new churches and responds to
natural disasters and refugee situations.
- Headquarters in Tyrone, Ga.
- Operates in more than 110 countries and on three
- It has more than 4,600 missionaries from 95 nations.
Source: Operation Mobilization
Cambodia at a glance
- Population: 14.2 million.
- Location: Southeast Asia, bordered by Vietnam, Laos, Thailand
and the Gulf of Thailand.
- Slightly smaller in size than Oklahoma.
- Mostly low, flat plains with mountains in the north and
- Government: Multiparty democracy under a constitutional
- 170,000 live with HIV/AIDS (2003 estimate).
- Natural resources include oil and gas, timber, gemstones, iron
ore, manganese, phosphates.
- Became part of French Indochina in 1887.
- Was in 13-year civil war beginning in 1978.
Source: The World Factbook, Central Intelligence Agency
"It's culturally accepted there," she said.
Grinnell said she will enter an environment where many mothers have died of AIDS, leaving their children to be raised by grandparents or other legal guardians with no income. That's how children become exploited in sex, garment or other industries, she said.
The plan calls for missionaries to develop relationships with grandparents and guardians, provide parenting classes and place children in a day-care center so their guardians can go to work.
"We can't change the (Cambodian) government, and we can't change their economic status, but we can give them the hope of Jesus, because that's the only hope," Grinnell said.
Additionally, she plans to use her nursing training to get families plugged into whatever medical help is available.
Going overseas for two years may be quite an undertaking, but Grinnell is excited to go.
"It's not really an interest; it's a call of my life," she said. "I'm an evangelist at heart, and I have a passion to share the gospel. I have a real passion for children to develop a foundation for the Word of God."
She took month-long missionary trips to Mexico in 1998 and India in 2000. But Grinnell said she wanted to commit herself for a longer period of time.
"I told God I would go wherever He needed me, and the doors kept opening to Cambodia," she said.
Although many missionaries are right out of college, Operation Mobilization is attracting older people - even retirees, Grinnell said.
Grinnell was born in Lodi and grew up in Placerville. She returned to Lodi in 2004 to take the Dameron Hospital position.
She came to Lodi a week ago from Texas to visit her mother, Betty Grinnell, and tie up some loose ends, like selling her car and her other possessions.
Grinnell will spend two weeks at a conference in Germany, where missionaries from around the world will take cultural training, pray for each other and give encouragement. Then she'll head to Operation Mobilization's Singapore headquarters for more training.
On Feb. 4, she will arrive to Cambodia, where she will spend three months learning the national language - Khmer. Its alphabet has 96 letters, and they're different from letters in the English language. Then she'll begin her missionary work.
When she returns in two years, Grinnell said she hopes to minister to the large Cambodian populations in Stockton and Sacramento.