Saturday, September 12, 2009

Final from Beth and Stephen

Years ago when my children were little (they are now 28, 24 and 19), I decided that children should be “unfolded not molded”. I wasn’t confident then, nor am I now, that I had the right or the capability of molding another person. To mold is to conform something to a shape. To mold requires a rigid adherence to a certain form. The form may be wholesome or dreadfully unwholesome. Unfolding on the other hand is layer by layer, exposing the sacred gift within…God’s imprint and His idea.

We have been privileged to meet and be with girls who, from a very young age, had been bought and sold and moved through the country and over borders – much like animals, for market. Today some of these children (but not enough) are safe and secure and “at home” living in clean, wholesome Ratanak locations with our partner Hagar. Thousands more children are still out there waiting on a miracle.

The other day when we visited one of the foster homes I just didn’t expect to meet God there in the way I did. I met Him through a slight, frisky little girl in white cotton PJ’s. “S”, aged 9, looked me square in the eyes and then on her own terms, took my hand. She had in those dark brown eyes wisdom and experience far beyond her years – and upon her head was a halo of peace and promise. It wasn’t just the physical touch - her flexible, little hand in mine that dissolved me - it was the sacred in that little hand. I felt the confidence she had grown to know – her settled, straight up manner – her gentleness and clarity. Her eyes smiled, her feet skipped – she locked eyes with me and then said “Boo”! There was no cloud around her. Her self esteem eclipsed my own. She glowed with a holy fire and it was beautiful. It danced upon her head as she twirled and giggled. Another one of God’s little girls!

Ironically, the hot pink Barbie-colored tuk tuk (a motorcycle taxi custom built for $2,000 to seat about twelve girls) glowed with a halo of light around it too. It could have been the light bouncing off the hot pink but I believe the halo of light was present because of its precious and most valuable cargo – some of the older girls coming home from school. This tuk tuk was a statement that valuable treasure was being transported to school, market, celebrations, health clinics and shopping so “world….be aware – drive carefully and don’t mess with this chariot or there will be serious consequences and this time you will not win”. Contrast that against the fathers, mothers and grandparents who sold these very girls to the highest bidder to be desecrated, used and abused so that the adults could buy smokes, a few lottery tickets, feed their other addictions and satisfy their greed.

Ratanak funds have provided places, tools and personnel for emotional, physical, spiritual and mental health for these girls. In foster homes, Khmer Mom’s and Dad’s who are vetted for spiritual maturity, police checked, monitored, evaluated and held accountable - love and care for these children within the Khmer context. No longer product to be bought and sold, punched, poked, tied down, photographed in degrading poses and tortured, these children are now given a chance at a lifetime of healing and wholeness. As the lotus flower relaxes its petals – so these young lives are given a place to unfold. In the protection and safety of these homes they don’t need to fear the terror of night or the stalker by day. They no longer have to take the bullet for the rest of the family by being the money-making commodity at the expense of their personhood. At last…these children, created in the image of God, can be unfolded in tender, loving hands; not pressed into a mold by powerful, cruel, manipulative adults. Expert therapeutic staged care and the gift of new beginnings and secure moorings - protection, and unconditional love - this is the work of Ratanak. I saw God in the transformation yesterday - reflected in Sopha, beautifully.

One evening this past week, we visited a flesh market - (not like dirty Svay Pak) - but a “luxury” hotel with cool marble floors, a neon sign, and the veneer of class and opulence. Once inside the marbled foyer, we took the stairs at the back to the second floor. There we walked right into the market place of beautiful, well groomed young women. Just like an aquarium – the girls sat behind glass in groups, like pods of fish. There were girls in purple shirts (Chinese); probably 60 girls in gold (Khmer) – and then others in blue (Vietnamese). Each girl was numbered. This was no game show – it was a market. $6.00 for this activity - $8.00 for that and $10.00…the sky’s the limit. Sitting on chairs looking back at us, some girls were disinterested, dead to this charade – some looked back with calculating eyes…what would they want with me? What would the outcome be? Would I be black and blue afterwards? Would I be on a pornographic website with those two? Will they ruin me or will they be kind? Other girls looked back with eyes that said “Don’t pick me – I am not someone you want – overlook me – it’s ok if you don’t pick me”. And some girls held hands – like protective best friends would do on the playground facing a bully. That was the thing that hurt me the most. They reminded me of my daughters. It disturbed me terribly. In fact, the entire experience in that place made me feel, for the first time in my life, like a freaky predator. I felt fear and loathing from the girls. And, I felt a total guttural disgust towards the arrogant men lounging on soft, leather sofas, drinking their drinks, shopping for a warm body to master. To study the trade in human flesh I had to know this side of things.

Today we were back concentrating on the little children at Sway Pak. We heard that the intelligence on Svay Pak (a community in the countryside outside of Phnom Penh) indicates that 40 little girls are removed from Sway Pak after 6:00 pm and taken to brothels in Phnom Penh – returning at 3:00 am each day. It is estimated that 80% of the girls from this town are trafficked. These are the same little girls that attend the kid’s club at Rahab’s House. Sitting on the floor today with probably 60 kids, drawing and coloring pictures, I dreaded the end of our time together. As, a Mom it made me wretch to think that following this fun time together they had to rush home to get dolled up, and be sent out to service the devil. Organized crime, corruption, collaborating families and customers keep the child-flesh trade alive and its killing children. God’s masterpiece – his little children - being forced into a mold He never, ever intended for them.

So, the hot pink Barbie tuk tuk is a pleasant thought right now filled with lovely, clean girls dressed in school uniforms - white collared shirts and navy blue skirts; girls who want to be teachers, nurses, counselors, stewardesses; girls with aspirations, hopes and dreams and the belief that with God all things are possible! And little “S” in her white cotton PJ’s, her shiny hair, bright eyes and halos? She and many little ones like her are being unfolded in the safety and security of the sacred…in the palm of His hand.

Today Stephen and I go home to Canada. This may be the end of the physical journey in Cambodia at this time, but without a doubt God will be unfolding His perfect will in our lives as we surrender ourselves to Him in the work of Ratanak.

Thank you Brian for sharing your dream with us. It will not be in vain.
Beth.

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What I Don’t Know for Sure

In Oprah’s monthly magazine she writes a column in the very back entitled, “What I Know for Sure”. In one page she shares without reservation what she has experienced and then what she is totally clear about regarding ideas and feelings.

This is my last night in Cambodia. I have been away for three weeks- two weeks here and one week in Thailand. It sees hard to believe that I will be returning to my home. I feel that I am just starting to adjust to being here. And now it is time to go.

So I can not share about what I know about Cambodia because I really don’t know much at all.

So tonight all I can write is what I don’t know for sure but what I must and will ponder about in the future days and months to come…


The Countryside

From above, whether flying in a plane way above or driving along a muddy and bumpy road, the countryside is absolutely beautiful- lush, diversified, and fragrant? Will God’s creation here be sustained in the next few decades? Will it be plundered for profit by the huge superpowers on the rise- China and India?


The Cities

I love the feel, the architecture, and the scale. The buildings are wonderful and the streetscapes are vibrant.

In their recent past, these cities were empted of all their human residents - left for the rats and cockroaches. Will this dark act have a lasting negative legacy on these urban areas? Can the cities be regenerated?

The Culture

The customs, the buildings, the special buildings, the food, and the artisans are all unique. To date Cambodia has not been destroyed by rich tourists experiencing cultural tourism. As Cambodia gets better known on the tourist radar, will cultural tourism be a benefit or a bane to the people of Cambodia?


The Economy

Will the new super highway going right through northern Cambodia -connecting China and India- be an economic stimulus, increasing the prosperity of many people or will this link to the emerging super powers lead to more national pain through increased sex trafficking, HIV and AIDS and drugs?


The Children

Within families, will the children of Cambodia be elevated as a precious resource to be protected and respected as children of God? Or will children simply be viewed as meal ticket to provide more goods for their parents?

The West

Will western countries wake up and realize their obligations to the people of Cambodia? Will Western countries help to put a stop to sex tourism where so called men- who are nothing but vultures- come over here to victimize and destroy little girls and boys for their perverse pleasure? Will the Canadian government re-open its embassy here in Cambodia and become a global leader in stopping trafficking of children? I guess our government is not interested in helping a nation which does not import much of our goods.

The Chruch

I have seen the church here- both Cambodian and foreign Christians- getting down and dirty and responding people who are the desperate- the malnourished poor, the trapped ten year old sold into slavery for men’s perverted sexual desires , and the abused prisoner rotting in an overcrowded jail cell. I have seen Christians and other people of good will get out of their safe places and situations to make a difference.

So what do I know for sure? I know the God is building His Kingdom here in Cambodia and that He will transform families, communities and the nation in a mighty way.

Stephen Lauer

Letting it sink in.

What a strange thing this ministry is. Taking a team of nice Christian people to brothels etc! Yet this has been no normal team. They are very resilient and have held it together (better than me on occasion) and have stayed unified and focused. It has been a joy to have them here even if some of our circumstances have been far from joyful. I love this ministry despite many of the situations we see it, well... expands the horizons!
Yesterday afternoon we once again went out to play with all our little friends. In Svay Pak. Oh how you quickly fall in love with these little faces. They come to Rahab’s House most every day. We played games, swung them around, laughed did drawings and fell in love with them again - then waved goodbye to them once again at about 4pm as they went off to get their nice cloths and lipstick on (literally!) so they are ready to be sexually assaulted in the evening! Words cannot express this stuff. Yet even in this hell Christ is real to these little ones!
Today they will be back sore and banged up, some perhaps not able to sit down, but they will return to hear about their Jesus. We are into really deep waters working with these kids.
Yesterday a dad showed up. He sat across the street looking at the kids club and oozing arrogance. He came with his little son – the one sells to be sodomized. He boasts about how much money his little guy makes - a shotgun is way too quick for this guy! I'm still processing - can you tell?
Today Beth and Stephen leave and tomorrow the rest of us return home. There is much to do and I am not sure where to start. Newsletter needs written, FaceBook video needs to go up, Ratanak AGM this month, conference coming up in Toronto, and so much more. Please pray for guidance, efficiency and calmness as I continue to try to keep all the balls in the air.
Blessings .
Brian.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Pure Joy

Ok so I have put off dealing with yesterday for a full day and now feel I must “put pen to paper”. I have been reluctant on two counts. First the fairly intense personal component to yesterdays activities and second I figured this would be a longer than usual blog and there never seems time or energy to do it justice. Given that there never will be an ideal time - here goes.

Yesterday was the culmination of a long series of events that started on 23rd Jan 2004. As a member of the Royal Canadian mounted Police I had been asked to examine several videotapes of the sexual assaults of young Asian girls by a Canadian pedophile. I was tasked with determining the country in which the girls were assaulted. It was with these tapes that my life took another turn. We can all imagine what goes on in child brothels but seeing it is absolutely indescribable. I, having developed Ratanak and having spent years serving the people of Cambodia had a great love for Cambodian kids. I had adopted two wonderful Cambodia boys and was, well, emotionally involved. I was not ready to see Cambodian kids assaulted. Strangely it was not the assaults that were most upsetting it was the faces of the kids. The bewildered look on these faces, small faces, really small faces, will be with me for life. Aside from the investigational issues, how could I possibly help such kids swallowed up in this terrible world? These faces would haunt me as I longed for the girls to be safe. But there was little I could do for them except pray – which I did – often.

As God would plan it I had not only the country where the assaults occurred but the GPS locations of the rooms in which they occurred in a few days. Here started years of struggling to assist such children leading to the prevention programs, rehabilitation centers and safe houses that operate today.

Through this whole process it became clear that most of these little girls that I had seen so violated had in fact bee rescued. I took comfort in knowing that they were safe. I had no contact as these traumatized kids had seen way too many white males. I continued to seek after the last identified girl from the tapes, Sung, who was never rescued.

I was absolutely thrilled, about a year ago to find that the recovering girls from these original tapes where placed in a foster care program funded by Ratanak.
With all that as background you can just imagine what a thrill it was for me to be invited to visit with them this week. I confess to being terrified. I did not want to fall apart. (Such kids would not understand me being upset and would assume they had done something wrong). But I had prayed for them for years. I knew their faces and names and they were very important to me. How could I face these girls and not be overwhelmed?
Yesterday…
The truck pulls up to the rehabilitation center and we run inside to escape the rain. We have a meeting with the staff – wonderful talented and dedicated people. But even as I ask them questions I am totally distracted. Every movement out of the corer of my eye warrants a quick glance. Where the girls here? Would be as I expected? Would they be approachable? I was both excited and worried about all of this – almost five years of emotional investment has a way of making its presence felt… No sign of the girls.
After the meeting we went up stairs and I was watching the rain from the veranda when suddenly there was a whole bunch of girls there. Not sure where they all appeared from but there they were. Instantly, and I mean instantly, I could pick out those faces so very familiar to me. Older now. No longer pained but beautiful, bright and animated. I was stunned, not emotional, just sort of frozen and studying every detail of their smiles and drinking in the laughter and joy they expressed. I chatted with them and melted.
Then it was off to their home. I was to visit their foster home – the one we fund. I was given, for me, the profound privilege of going in the pink Tuk Tuk that belongs to the center, with the girls. Beth came with me as me being alone with them would not be appropriate. As we drove I asked them questions and showed them photos of my family. They were interested in by two wonderful Cambodian boys. I just kept trying to grasp that I was there actually chatting with the children that had so broken my heart years before - it was indescribable.
At their home we were invited in and given the opportunity to see their rooms. I went up the stairs following the slapping noise of the bare feet on tile as the girls charged up ahead of me. I was careful to glance back to make sure Beth was right behind me. I had no intention of accidently being any where near these girls alone. (guarding their sense of security is huge.)
We toured the rooms. They showed us all their stuff and then headed back down stairs where I was to find out they had a little presentation for me. I had held things together very well to this point. The girls had made each member of the team a big folded paper lotus flower which they presented. A speech of thanks was then made. Ok so now there is lump in my throat the size of an apple. I’m really having to work at holding it together. After four years of prayer not only was I privileged to see these, now young women, but they are thanking me! Following this “M” stepped forward and presented me with a gift. It is a decorated pen and came with a story. ( I wont get into that as there is a funny sense that I need to keep a little bit of this story just for me.) On the pen in carefully woven string were the letters “BRIAN”. I sat momentarily silent, unable to speak fearing I would totally loose it. Gulping I gave my thanks and asked if I could pray with and for them. This I did sensing heaven creeping into the room. But then to my surprise they asked to pray for us. Words cannot utter how overwhelming that was. Strong prayers of thanks and protection were being showered on US by these – the little lost girls from years ago. God had answered our prayers for them way more than I could have asked or imagined!
We left the house waving to our newly found little sisters and I continued to look at my pen and gulp!
Tonight I took a motto out to the area where Sung, the missing one, is known to be. I long for her to know safety. I didn’t see her. I will continue to look. This story is not complete until the last sheep is recovered - however long that takes.
Brian.
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Why Bother with Strategic Planning?

Today our team met with several of the go-getters of Hagar Cambodia. After we greeted one another around the board table, Hagar’s executive director started off by sharing the agency’s vision, mission and strategic direction statements. Usually this is not the best way to grab an audience’s attention particularly at 8:30 AM. But I noticed that everyone was listening. We were being introduced to an “excellent practice” of strategic planning. The words contained in the document spoke of real meaning beyond words. The message was clear, focused and very targeted. After just a couple of minutes I really knew what Hagar was all about and what it was not. It was obvious that these statements really were part of its organizational culture.

Hagar’s mission speaks about, “quality restoration of abused, exploited, and rejected women and children to a life of resilient dignity”. Its “brand” was sharp, to the point, and clear- resilience and holistic change for women and children so that they can return and positively impact their own communities. I know lots of organizations that post their mission statements on a wall; but that in reality it is never used or followed by 99% of people in the organization… remaining as static words in a document or plaque. But this did not seem true for Hagar. These words seemed to mean something.

Ratanak has been a critical partner of Hagar, providing significant investment and encouragement for several years. So it was wonderful to see Ratanak’s role in creating an environment that led to transformation of children and women- spiritually, emotionally, mentally, and physically.

In the afternoon we visited the shelter and then to one of the group homes, sponsored by Ratanak. I am sure that in Hagar’s strategic plan, it includes the monitoring of expected and actual results in nice and clean boxes. But this afternoon we experienced first hand the REAL results in meeting and interacting with several wonderful girls and youth. Before being brought into this shelter, and then into linked foster homes and group homes, these girls lived hell on earth being used and abused by men. Many were betrayed by their own families into the sex trade. Today I could only smile deep in my heart in seeing what God has done in His restoration work. These girls welcomed us with such a gracious spirit- demonstrating kindness and joy.

Before we left, the girls shared that they had a gift for each of us. Then each one of us received a prized possession- a paper locus flower. We were stunned! Then we all sat down in a circle, as Brian prayed for the girls. After his prayer, one of the girls asked if she could pray for us. It was a beautiful time as she led us to the throne of grace.

Yes today we leant that an organization should bother with strategic planning as long as it is bathed in love, compassion, and care; and to always have the end in mind- in this case that rejected and exploited women and children are to be helped to live a life of resilient dignity.

Stephen Lauer
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Wednesday 9th September 2009
Today was a day of absolute extremes. We had the absolute pleasure to meet with two New Zealanders - Sue and Sue from Hagar. Hagar is an organisation which specialises in rehabilitation of young children of both sexes who have been subjected to the massive traumas of sexual abuse. The youngest in their care is just 5 years old…
Hagar majors on the “too hard basket”. This phrase caught me from the off. It was only a year ago that another organisation warned me away from work with these kids telling me it was too dangerous and too hard. Well – this organisation is testament to the fact that nothing is too hard for those who follow Christ. It may get a little messy along the way but it is never too hard.
The Buddhist acceptance of karma pretty much dictates that this is your lot in life and better luck next time. I don’t quite grasp how that can work in ever breaking the cycle of decline which has robbed these children of their innocence. With Jesus we simply come as we are – wretches with all our baggage – and He alone can restore.
Hagar runs a project for abused boys – the only one in the country. It is a pilot and has reached its capacity with 8 kids residential and a further 8 in community foster care. These little guys are as young as 8 and have been violated largely by western paedophiles. This area is a new aspect to their programme but one which is so essential. There are clear needs to develop further care facilities for young boys who are still enduring this torment. A new venture will cost in the region of £22,000 to open. Shame and ignorance has hidden the extent of the problem of sexually abused boys. I guess the depth of evil here goes very deep – yet I delight in the fact that the depth of Jesus love goes deeper.
We learned of a 13 year old boy who has been repeatedly raped by a western man but the mother was given $2000 to drop the charge by the perpetrator. In the night robbers visited the mother house and stole the cash cutting her throat in the process.
Another 12 year old girl with learning difficulties wandered the village being continually raped. Because she had a low IQ she was dismissed as crazy and was abandoned – she didn’t even have a name. After falling pregnant she was refused care by 4 organisations. She gave birth to a baby whilst still a child herself she had no concept of caring for this infant. Eventually a widow who lived in a house next to the church took her in and cared for both of them – Hagar assists this lady as she is so poor and struggles to look afford to live. Both are Christians and now attend the church together.
Stories like this are common here and yet whilst there is so much to be sad over there is also much to rejoice about.
In the afternoon we headed out to the Hagar foster care programme. A place where young girls live in safety – for most this is a new experience. Here they can start to rebuild their lives with expert counselling and education before moving to community homes under the watchful eye of a loving house mom. We left this place and headed to one such community home accompanied by the 5 beautiful young girls who live there. They eagerly show us round their home before presenting the entire team with a gift. Straining hard to hold back the tears we share some time sat around chatting before praying for the girls continued wellbeing. In turn they prayed for the team. As we leave the girls all stand at the door and wave farewell. Dry eyes on the way back to the hotel – not a chance!
It is so amazing to see the complete transformations in girls when Jesus moves in. I just wish there could be more. Do pray for the two Sues and Hagar as they spearhead this work. We are exposed to it for a fleeting moment – they see and hear it every day.
Cambodia is a nation of extremes. We see the beauty of transformed lives through the grace of Christ. We see groups of committed individuals working to facilitate this – groups from overseas and local groups. And yet there is the down right ugly which parallels this. In addition to the horrendous stories we witnessed tonight some of the worst of Cambodia. We headed to a hotel where we were told there are girls for sale. No preparation can ready you for what we faced. Leaving the plush hotel lobby to the first floor we are faced with a wall of girls sat behind glass looking back at us. Each girl is segregated into her nationality group and wears a badge on their shirt. This is one of the tragedies – they are simply a number. Their identity is stripped and they have become just another commodity. Some smile back – other seek to avoid eye contact. For $6 you get a massage and for $8 you get a ‘VIP massage’.
We ride away in a tuk tuk in a stunned silence. Here we see the evidence that Satan has come to “steal, kill and destroy”. He does it every minute of every day and yet we have also seen the Christ who came to give us the fullness of life so evidently at work in these communities. The enemy of our souls has certainly moved in like a flood and yet the Spirit of the Lord is raising up a standard.
Steve Norman.
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Pain in the butt.

Every day there is another ministry to learn about. There is the hassle of getting there. This is made much easier by the kindness of Sotheary driving us all over the city, but there is still the congestion and the unpredictability of the drivers. To add to this it has rained almost every day. I am hot and sweaty at times, and am subjected at times to having to sit through long meetings that are at times a pain in the butt. Finally the meeting is over and as happened today I got to go downstairs.

Downstairs today was a school with 12-14 kids in it who all come from one of the largest and poorest slums in Phnom Penh. But these were not just poor kids who happened to be born on the wrong side of the tracks; these were kids who entered life with disabilities, downs syndrome, cerebral palsy and other challenges. More often than not there are smiles on their faces and they want to show you what they are doing. Quickly the frustration of having had to sit through yet another meeting melts into the background and I am reminded that this is why I am here. These kids are the lowest of the low, not only do they have no economic status, they have a dim future and are a burden to their families. At the school these kids have a safe, encouraging and stimulating environment to go to in their own community. This is why we are here. It does not take long for the pain in the butt to disappear, but it is replaced with a pain in the heart that is not so easily alleviated.

Steve Friebel.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Today has been a wild day. Spent time at the foster home of the girls who were in my very first file. What an astonishing thing it was to meet the girls - young women now - who are an absolute joy. it was overwhelming but I held it together - just! it is too late to re count now so that story will have to wait.
This evening we had a great team meeting, time of prayer and then headed out to a brothel! Not often you see that sort of stuff in the same sentence! Anyway, very disturbing end to the day. I will have to fill you in later as it is late and I am exhausted.

This afternoon Steve F. typed up this account of the weekend trip up to Siem Reap. I will post this now and try to get back to the blog tomorrow.

Blessings.
Brian.


Kopreach – Hell on Earth or Holy Ground?

It was doubtful that our van could get through the muddy roads. If it rained anymore the trip would be off and we would have to turn back. Many of the potholes were deep and full of mud. For one long section the road surface from shoulder to shoulder was covered by 1-2 inches of grease like slimy mud threatening to put us into the water filled ditches on either side. As we got closer to Kopreach the road narrowed down to a lane that was barely wide enough for the van to get through. After three hours of driving, two of them being on dirt roads we finally reached the village of Kopreach.
Kopreach is the village that Rexa’s family was evacuated to on April 15, 1975, the day Cambodia fell. It was in this village that they became slaves of the Khmer Rouge. It was near here in the jungle that Rexa’s family was brutally slaughtered. It was here that Rexa was clubbed from behind and left for dead in the grave. This village was hell on earth. While there no bones oozing out of the earth as there are at the Killing Fields, the grim reminders are all around. The lady that used to scream “kill, kill, kill” is now the smiling toothless granny sitting on her bed. The middle-aged lady who is a wife and mother used to be a young girl from a middle class family in Phnom Phen who is separated from her family. The city girl has become a poor countrywoman. The reminders of hell are never far away.
The school that Rexa had built in Kopreach is the first thing that you come to as you approach the village. It is two beautiful, clean and spacious buildings. In fact they are the nicest buildings in the village. When we arrived one schoolroom was filled with adults and children, it was Sunday. They sang and prayed, they recited scripture and Steve Norman preached on David and Goliath. As we toured through the village afterwards Rexa told us that there are 60 Christians in this village of 500 that is 12% of the population. The school is a beachhead, a catalyst that is turning hell on earth into Holy Ground.
Pray for the rural churches around Siem Reap that they will have effective pastors that will equip their congregations.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Still so much more to take in!

Nixon’s Unplanned Legacy

In the seventies, as a global community we watched our TV’s daily in horror and in fascination as the Watergate scandal unfolded. Afterwards, the President and his inner circle of men lost their place in the good side of the history books. Where is Richard Nixon today? Who knows? However one of his inner circle has greatly impacted many nations and “the least of the least”- prisoners who are locked up in dark cells. While in prison for his crimes, Charles Colson surrendered his life to Jesus. He then went on to write many books, spoke around the world and founded an organization called Prison Fellowship. So in a way Prison Fellowship Cambodia is part of “Nixon’s unplanned legacy”.

In Cambodia many of these prisoners’ live in deplorable conditions with no opportunity for rehabilitation, or to be integrated back into society. On Monday (Labour Day in Canada) we had the wonderful opportunity to meet with some of the leadership of Prison Fellowship Cambodia (PFC). Its organizational tag line is “beyond crime and punishment”. PRC is about individual and national transformation. Its vision is to see all those within and affected by the justice system of Cambodia receiving and knowing the love of Jesus Christ; enabled to change their communities”.

Started just eight years ago with a very small band of four volunteers and a part time staff person, PFC has grown to 42 paid employees, 15 contract teachers, and 75 volunteers. PFC operates in 22 prisons across Cambodia; eleven of which receive comprehensive services. Cambodian prisons differ from those in North America. Prisons are harsh places where up to 130 prisoners can be jammed into one large cell with just one hole to serve as the toilet. Both blankets and food are in scare supply. If a mother ends up in jail, her children go with her. More than three hundred women are serving time today. Eighteen children belonging to the Moms are also living in these cells.

If you are a prisoner and have money, your lot in life will be better as you will get better food and better treatment. If you are poor and can not pay, you will not receive any extras, just enough food to survive.

Despite this hostile environment PFC is demonstrating the love of Christ in practical and tangible ways. As a result many prisoners are receiving better treatment and hundreds are now Christians. Since the conception of PFC, Ratanak has been an active partner through education services such as schooling and literacy; by basic needs such as additional food, clothing and medical treatment; and by individual packages to prisoners. As well Ratanak is helping to support the management capacity of this organization that works with “the least of the least”.

As we left the meeting one of the leaders shared these words which resonate with me this evening, “we make God known by what we do and not by just words”.

Stephen Lauer


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Bruce Cockburn wrote a song that says “If I had a rocket launcher some xxxx would die”. This song has always been one of my favorites. I am not proud of having feelings like that from time to time - but I do. Like when I see a big fat white guy picking up two young girls. Like when I sit and hear of old homeless wizened grannies being beaten and raped by the police in the round-up of street people before Buddhist holidays. Like when I hear Reaksa give an account of how his family was murdered by the Khmer Rouge as we walk through the village where it happened. Like when I hold the sweet little hand of a ten year old girl as she escorts me through her village and my heart rages at those people who see her simply as a money making machine. “If I had a rocket launcher!”. But, I don’t and I wouldn’t trust myself if I had one.
On the other hand I do trust my God and in His hands I am safe to take action. Matthew 23: 23 & 24 “Woe to you scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier provisions of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness; but these are the things you should have done without neglecting the others.”
“You blind guides, who strain out a gnat and swallow a camel!”
I am convicted by my own inaction – and the inaction of God’s people to rise up and say “NO MORE”. I am convicted that soul genocide is happening to the weakest and most vulnerable sectors of our global society. We are not doing enough.
The rocket launcher I’m going to use today is prayer. Lock and load.
Beth

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Hi everybody there has been much happening of late re visiting our projects etc but I would rather take the time to hearken back several days to our experiences in Svay Pak. Sometimes you just can’t write about stuff immediately. It takes a few days to digest and let thoughts sort themselves out. As you know our visit to Svay Pak (SP) was challenging. Visiting with little kids who are still routinely sexually abused was… well, I have no way to describe it. But since then there appears to be a clear and unmistakable sound of thunder in the distance. Not from the weather but from the stirring of the mighty God of the universe who, once again appears to be turning his gaze of Svay Pak... the excitement is palpable among this team.
God is opening up an opportunity that is HUGE. Four doors up from Rahab’s House is the largest building in SP. It’s a four story red building with large and long windows two stories high on the upper floors. It was built as a sex hotel (the biggest in SP) where expats could come live and rape and assault children to their hearts content. The building was stopped at about 80% completed when as a result of raids and surveillance etc. it was felt it was too high a risk for the owners. We have now been given the opportunity to buy the place to complete it and make it into a school, medical center, and church (the upper floors with the huge windows are crying out to be a sanctuary) I have taken to calling this building "the sanctuary" - fitting!!
If the plan goes ahead the program would include all the above so we would have our own Christian school for the munchkins.
It really doesn't get much better than this... largest brothel becoming a sanctuary in every way. This is, in my opinion, the best extreme home makeover I have ever heard of (A TV show - I'd like that.) We are already dreaming about who would be involved from Can, Auz and the UK. Christians from all over coming to continue to change this community at the most foundational level.
So if this was to happen we would end up with a Christian Gym, Rehab’s House (both currently in operation) and the sanctuary" all on Svay Pak's main street! Impact… Oh I think so!
So what of Rehab’s House would that be surplus? Absolutely not. The plan would be to convert that into a day care for all the really little ones who run around vulnerable to whatever abuse befalls them. So while parents go to work they would be safe, cared for and blessed from the very start of their education.
Re the building/remodeling project we would like to see local guys from the Gym (pimps etc.) become involved in the project and put their muscles to work as well as providing gainful employment rather than selling humans for kickbacks.
Basically we have not found a down side yet!

So, ironically, Ratanak's first ownership of property may just be in SP - who would have thought!!! We would end up owning a chunk of Hell and claiming it for heaven - serious goose bumps!
Now, to answer the obvious question… No I don't have funds for this but it is way too good an opportunity to let go. So we are praying and, to be honest, expecting that God will clearly open a way. Pray with us.
On a personal note I am so in love with the kids there. “SM”, tough, feisty and in your face as she is, has stolen my heart. I have been waiting ages (only a few days in reality) to get back out there. Now, given the circumstances, I having been assured it is OK I am absolutely eager to accept my hug from her. It will be Gold!
Thanks for joining us on the roller coaster of grief and bliss that is Christian ministry to abused children in Cambodia.
My hope is that you will be as excited as we are as we sense the moving of God for these little ones. Pray for clarity, for favor and for funds if we are to move forward on this.
Brian.
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Tuesday 8th September 2009
Today we headed to hear from Ruth Elliott who is the founder of Daughters here in Phnom Penh. It was great to meet up with a fellow Brit! Ruth started Daughters only 2 ½ years ago to help girls find an alternative to working in the brothels. Rather than offer a shelter where it was discovered that the girls felt uncomfortable, Daughters offers alternative employment. The majority of girls find themselves in this position because they have an obligation to pay for family debts and if there is no alternative then this is how they make their money. Failure to comply often means that younger siblings are forced into the roll.
Daughters offers girls training in jewellery making, sewing various objects and at present cake decorations. More than this - it offers the girls a job and with it an opportunity to escape from the dark world they have been forced into. In addition medical care and a nursery school are provided to care for girls immediate needs. A range of products are produced to order which offsets the costs. The dream is to open a shop in a busy district of the city selling goods directly.
At present 58 girls attend for around 35 hours a week. Of these around 45 have accepted Christ and others are genuinely interested. The difference? For the first time in their lives they are treated as a person who has value and is treasured rather than an object of abuse. They encounter the risen Christ in a tangible form through the love and care of Christian staff. Every one of the girls who are in the programme has stopped her former work. I guess it doesn’t get better than that. Ruth and her staff are a delight and their care a compassion for these girls is clearly visible.
This evening we met with Dave Strong and learned a great deal about the work of CAMA. Dave works as a field representative in Battambang province in the north of Cambodia. The work of CAMA is wide and varied. On one hand is the provision of hospitals and ambulances and on the other the development of a rice co-operative and vitamin supplement programme. The common denominator in this is that everything is carried out through the local church which raises their profile in the communities. Again the holistic approach to the person in caring, not only about their spiritual wellbeing but also their physical and mental, plays a significant part in their acceptance of Christ.
So there you have it, the end of another day here in Cambodia. Another day learning about the diversities of this great place - another day learning and bearing witness to the fact that the Gospel we follow is a Gospel which changes lives. We serve a God who is about making people whole – no matter what their status in society or social standing may be. A God who is interested in the complete person. Here the Gospel is being lived and applied in a very practical manner and the fruit of that work is evident for all to see.
Steve Norman


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Monday, September 7, 2009

Back in Phnom Penh

Monday 7th September 2009
Today we had the morning free to catch up on shopping at the Russian Market! I never had so many friends…! On leaving we headed to Jars of Clay cafĂ© for lunch – this is a previous Ratanak project to employ vulnerable young girls which is now self sufficient. I had the scrumiest (That is good if you are from Yorkshire - Brian!) shepherds pie ever and a banana shake – if you are ever here this is one that is recommended!
This afternoon we met with the guys from Prison Fellowship International – Linda and Adam. At 72 Linda is still hard at work in a very challenging ministry. Adam is an incredible young man. Having moved from New Zealand with his wife and 3 young kids he works tirelessly with absolute devotion. His vision is “to reach the least of the least” and in heading into Cambodia’s prisons he does that. With up to 130 men in a cell with an equivalent of 2 meters by 30 cm each, this is a hostile environment. And yet here also Christ is present and at work. In one detention centre over 900 men (out of 1300) are born again believers. Last year they held a baptism service for 650 at one time! In other prisons it is not so easy but in no way does that put these guys off. Active programmes including educational and vocational, all serve to convey a Christian message of the love of Christ for these men and women – the least of the least.
On leaving we headed to the night haven for elderly ladies. Here between 2 and 8 old ladies, who beg on the streets of Phnom Penh, find a warm meal, safe shelter and a warm welcome for the night. The only other option is the streets where they are faced by violence, robbery and rape – and that is just from the police! In here we find 8 ladies who were due to vacate the city on Saturday owing to a religious festival where the police will clear the streets and send these dear old people to ‘rehabilitation centres’. Instead they have chosen to remain for 2 days to meet the white people who are visiting. They have come in early from begging to get washed and changed into their best outfits. The meal has also been postponed. Each of these old people has a different story to tell. One lost her husband and four sons at the hands of the Khmer Rouge, another was beaten and abused so badly by her only surviving son, each has suffered badly. Tomorrow morning they will leave very early to avoid being detained and return to any friends and relatives they may find. Others will simply hide away for the next few weeks until this festival is over and they can once again return to the streets.
In a day when the youth moves so rapidly forward these dear old people are so often forgotten. It is a joy to see the somewhat gummy smiles of some of Cambodia’s oldest people. One lady is 86 and her friend has just turned 84! Rosalee from Australia has been running this shelter with her staff for 6 months now. She is absolutely committed to these ladies.
Today has moved away from child exploitation though nevertheless we have engaged another group who are subjected to some of the worst the world has to offer them. Pray for Prison Fellowship and Haven Night Shelter as they continue to express God’s love in a most practical manner to two completely diverse groups.
Steve Norman

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Packing a weekend full of new experiences.

Saturday 5th September 2009
Today started off as a day with a lot of movement and concluded as another moving day. Today we left Phnom Penh and headed north to Siem Reap over the flooded Tonle Sap – the huge life giving lake which the Cambodian infrastructure greatly relies on.
On arrival we were greeted by Reaksa and headed straight out to a project he is overseeing in the countryside outside of Siem Reap. A library to host over 8000 books and computers for use by over 10,000 village children who would otherwise receive little education. The dream? To provide a site where children can learn and hear the Gospel message, ultimately leading to High School graduation and perhaps university scholarships. One thing which is absent in the Cambodian church is leaders. Because of the recent genocide where all Christians were executed few feel able to take this step of faith as the memories of the past remain. Allowing children to move into further education and leadership training will pave the way for change. Who can want anything more than that?
After lunch we all headed across to Angkor Wat. Narrowly missing out on becoming one of the seven ‘modern’ wonders of the world this is a complex of ancient civilisations dating back to the 10th century. The architecture of this site is astounding.
Tonight we have been treated to an evening of Khmer dancing. I watched these young men and women move so gracefully, telling stories as they danced and thought back to the NewSong girls and the kids in Svey Pak who are in a very different place. These young women performing tonight are what the other girls long to be – accepted, admired, valued and respected.
Siem Reap is a beautiful city boasting modern developments and is worlds away from Svey Pak – or is it. Hotels boast of girls for sale – girls all purporting to be over 18 though many of them are not. At the height of the tourist season it is not uncommon to have up to 200 young women paraded in a room behind glass with a number on their top waiting for the men to walk along the row and pick them out. Coach loads of sex tourists arrive from Asia, Europe, North America and Australasia to buy a girl of their choice and exploit her for an evening. Add to this the underground movement of child brothels and this place is no different, it only carries a nicer veneer.
Cambodia has a treasured heritage and underneath all the heartache is a desire to embrace all that life offers them. There are plentiful talents and abilities which need nurturing and encouraging. The enemy of our souls has robbed this nation of its population, dulled its dreams and continues to darken its doors. I am so thankful tonight for men like Reaksa Himm who have come though this pain and long to effect change and leave a legacy to those who follow. Who can seek anything more than that?
I fear that I am losing my heart to this nation.
Steve Norman.
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Time Travelling
Today our team got up early and then flew to Siem Reap. The flight was easy to take- juice, coffee and muffins. Very shortly, we spotted land below but mainly we saw water. Below was a huge lake- The Great Lake. It reminded me of one of the bigger Great Lakes back home. As we were admiring the view from 30,000 feet, Brian shared that recently this lake below held more fish than any other fresh water lake in the world. I was impressed.
We soon landed and we were met by a smiling Reaksa. Reaksa grabbed our bags and threw them into the back of a van so that we could all travel together. The first stop was the library facility for youth that was in process of being built. As Reaksa talked it came clear to me that he was into community development and transformation big time. The paved road we were driving on was built by teams from Singapore and Canada that Reaksa had organized and brought into Siem Reap.
These paved roads brought us to the newly constructed library building. Reaksa’s vision was to open up the world and to introduce Christian values to the 10,000 children attending school in the immediate area. Instantly I was impressed by the quality of the building. It definitely had the appearance and feel where people would be drawn to; and my eye was attracted to the fun and creative mural on the wall created by the YMCA team from Singapore. We asked Reaksa as to the next priority needs of this important community based facility being built, that in the future would share Christian values. Reaksa quickly shared the need for completing the building’s ceiling, for levelling the land, for bringing in badminton nets, and for providing lap tops. So any takers for these needed priorities that will ensure that this growing community has a Christian -based resource centre?
Reaksa then took us to a Khmer restaurant where I had one of the best meals of my life. Then we jumped on the bus and drove past fancy hotels and higher end shopping stores to the Angkor Wat Temple. I had heard about the Angkor Wat for many years. This temple is a prized UNESCO World Heritage Site. I am into culture heritage in a big way; in fact I worked for the Heritage Canada Foundation for 13 years. This site was the centre of Khmer civilization from the 8th to the 13 century. During this period the Khmer civilization ruled South East Asia. A succession of Hindu and Buddhist kings created unbelievable temples in stone, all trying to outdo each other.
I was blown away. My eyes could barely drink in this incredible cultural heritage site that embraced the best of God’s natural creation and of man’s creative but misdirected attempts in creative activity in order and try and reach God.
I do realize that at one time this must have been a huge centre for spirituality that unfortunately missed the mark. But today I just enjoyed the beauty- the vegetation, the water, the light, the buildings, and the carvings. A day to enjoy and to be amazed.
Stephen Lauer
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Sunday 6th September 2009
After a 6am start we headed off on the 2 ½ hour drive with Reaksa to Koh Preach where village churches are gathering as one to greet the Barangs. I have it on a high authority that I was the first person from the UK to set foot in this place! This is real Cambodia – the Cambodia where the majority of the population eke out a meagre living often earning much less than $2 per day. The road up was - shall we say - interesting! Turning off the new highway onto the more familiar dirt tracks which got narrower and narrower and muddier and bumpier as we progressed. Travelling on roads intended for a 4x4 in a minibus was something else. At 9.30 we pull into the complex hosting a school and church filled with over 60 adults and kids from a village of 500. The pastor is an ex Buddhist monk who now teaches the people about Christ.
After time with the members we leave for a walk around the village – except this is no ordinary village. This is the village where a 10 year old Reaksa was evacuated to with his family from Siem Reap by the Khmer Rouge. It is also the village where his family were butchered (for the whole story you have to read Tears of My Soul by Soreaksa S Himm). Following a long period away and his conversion to Christianity, Reaksa returned to this place to confront the killers and extend a hand of forgiveness. The man responsible still lives here. This is a most moving life story.
Now Reaksa has planted a church and school in this place where he endured so much pain. To walk through the village and meet people who were there at the time, whilst recalling that I too was 10 years old at this time, leaves your senses somewhat numbed.
We bump into four girls who have all passed their High School exams and can go to university subject to financial support – this is totally radical for a village so remote and where the Gospel has only recently reached. In neighbouring villages it still has not… Children mill all over the place fascinated by the white men who come to visit their homes. Silk worms weave their cocoons on twigs before they are harvested and the thread woven into cloth or sold for $25 per kilo. Sounds good until you then hear that 4 kilos is a good amount for the year. Pigs and chickens scratch through the soil looking for a grub to eat and piglets scamper around playing in the hot sunshine.
This area is so poor and yet in the midst can be found such richness.
The future – a vision to plant churches in every village, to send the children to school and university where possible and to see Christ lifted high in this place.
Steve Norman.
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Today marked my first return to the village where Reaksa’s family met their end since my last visit in November. It was heart warming to sense the darkness slowly lifting from this community as the church takes hold and people experience a long awaited freedom. There were many smiles and we felt welcome and very safe – a far cry from how we would have been received not too many years ago. Despite the warmth there are still long shadows here. All is not as it seems. One example of this was the old lady sitting on the floor of her house smiling and greeting us as we walked by. She had a hug smile and appeared to be near blind. She appeared very warm - the sort of old lady you would simply love to go up and hold her hand, chat and give her a little hug as you both sipped tea. As we walked past her Reaksa casually mentioned, “She was one of the really evil ones. She used to go to the meetings and lead people in the chants of Kill Them, Kill Them Kill them.” Once again my warm fussy western impression of this village is brought to a screeching halt by the unseen realities that so haunt this and most other villages in Cambodia. I continue to have no clue how Reaksa copes with this environment. His clearly God given ability to forgive was blatantly obvious as I watched him not only visit with but goof around with the kids of the man who hacked his entire family to death. Once again I have much to process. As before I was chatty on the way out to visit – as before I was silent on the way home!
Brian

Friday, September 4, 2009

Two incredible days back to back. Yesterday we were out at Svay Pak. If you did not know what was going on behind closed doors you might have thought that this was just another of Cambodia’s poor neighborhoods. When we got there the kids club was in full swing. About fifty kids were singing at the top of their voices, I could not understand the words, but I knew some of the songs like “fishers of men”. Again if you had not know who was there you might have thought that this was group of kids practicing for a kids choir. But some of those kids that were singing the songs and listening to the bible story were going to be experiencing a very different life a few hours later.
Today we went to New Song. Many of the girls there have been rescued from Svay Pak. It was great to be able to be there on a Friday because the girls have a sports day in the afternoon. They were having fun, laughing, competing, and hanging out. If was rally stretching to think that these girls had been abused by men some of them only weeks ago, yet there they were just wanting to be young girls.
Reading the newsletters, the books, watching the DVDs has all been good, but there no substitute for being here and seeing the smiles on the faces, hearing the giggles, seeing the art work, and understanding the changed lives. You cannot come here and experience this without it changing your heart.
There is an almost finished building in Svay Pak that was intended to be the biggest brothel. But because the good have stood up and not let evil have the victory it is up for sale. Pray that this tower intended for evil will become a lighthouse for this community.
Steve Friebel.
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Friday 4th September 2009
Today has been spent in the presence of Don & Bridget Brewster and the girls from NewSong. Don and Bridget are a remarkable couple. On seeing a documentary on the sex trade in Cambodia they packed up and left the US to set up NewSong. Another great example of two people who are just doing their Christian faith – a common denominator amongst the people we have met this week.
NewSong is a home for 54 girls who have been subjected to some of the most horrendous abuses imaginable – and some you couldn’t and would not want to. These guys are aged between 5 and 22 though the average age runs in about 12. Some have come from Svay Pak and some from elsewhere in the country. Every one of them has been trafficked for sex. Now I guess you could say that they are some of the ‘lucky’ ones who have been rescued and have a future ahead of them. Yet each one has a story.
One was trafficked into Malaysia and dumped back over the border after she was found to be seriously ill. Another was sold by her parents and escaped only to be picked up on the street by a foreign paedophile and abused again – not just once but on two separate occasions. I could go on…
Today was a million miles from those days – it was sports afternoon. Divided into 2 teams – the suns and the moons – the girls faced the first challenge. Eat a piece of fruit suspended from the volleyball net on a piece of string with no hands. Sounds easy – not when you are not yet 3 feet tall and only 5…! Each team cheered their competitors loudly and enthusiastically until the last one had finished.
In addition to medical and psychological care, the girls are schooled and given vocational training. This can be sewing, beauty, photography, cookery and much more. Daily devotions are at 7am. You know - no statistical analysis can explain how a child from the brothels can once again become childlike having had all their innocence removed at the hands of a cruel paedophile. Yet here we see God at work in young lives bringing about an absolute change in 54 scarred young lives.
It was so great to see kids allowed to be kids and to see the love and support offered to each other. Together these girls are coming through the circumstances which have held them captive. Together they are finding acceptance and value. And together they are encountering the love of a Saviour who died for them. When you look into the eyes of a child who has been abused by a man and they smile back in acceptance it does something to you which no words can explain. I count it an honour to have spent some time with them.
Tomorrow we fly to Siem Reap and at the time of writing are unsure if we have internet access – if not updates will resume on Monday!
Steve Norman
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Everyone is getting on with each other very very well. Such a sweet bunch - all guys - but I just feel like one of them. To be with these guys would cancel anybody’s dismal opinion of men. These guys are fed up with injustice - particularly regarding exploited/trafficked children and they are putting feet to it and doing something about it. They have accepted the responsibility for their gender and it is highly unusal and very exciting. No wonder God is all over this work…blessing in powerful ways. When big men cry - God listens.

Yesterday we went to Svay Pak where the children from the brothels go for a kid's program – totally Christan based, Khmer run and Ratanak funded. I don’t know the exact number of kids – probably 60 or so were there. Your heart would break in two if you saw them and realized what kind of life they are living after 5:00 pm. And – they are soo small – tiny little people that should be playing dolls or kitchen or in a sandbox with My Little Pony. This is OUTRAGEOUS! I noticed that after the kid’s program at Rahab’s house (in the brothel area) where they sang songs, heard stories, watched little skits, and then did a craft – making beaded necklaces – they prayed and left in very orderly rows. Some ran home and changed to work the night shift. Yes this is true. They came back out onto the street with their hair all pretty, in shiny pretty dresses, earrings on and lipstick applied. The atmosphere in the area was changing - the war was about to ignite in the streets again. Good versus evil. Can you imagine that men would stop off for the sevices of a seven year old girl before making his way home to his family? Like going through the Tim Horton’s drive through for a coffee? What an abomination.

Today we went to the high security rehab centre called NewSong that Ratanak funds. This rehab centre is for those girls freed from brothels. Fifty four girls live here and there is a rotating staff of 60 nationals. These nationals teach, act as room Moms’, cook, counsel, taxi, liase and so on. The girls look so clean and well kept and it is a joy to see smiles and happiness (or in some cases the appearance of apprehensive, growing trust). Some have been there for a couple of years and others as recent as two weeks. Where did these children come from and what are their stories? All the accounts would sound the same but different. They came from a dark, disgusting place – waiting for their next customer to arrive – waiting to be severly abused and treated as disposable machines – sold by parents to pimps – trafficked across borders to literally be held captive as sex slaves. Almost incomprehnsible – except that when you have a little one squeeze up beside you on the bench – you can feel her pain and her need for kind, safe, female flesh.

What did the pedophile take from her? Everything. Family – worth – health – self resepct – trust – hope – home – safety – good nutrition – education….the list goes on and on. She’s paid a price that far exceeds anything I can compare it to. SHE – HAS – LOST – EVERYTHING.

Only through rescue, rehabilitation, restoration and hope is there any chance of her becoming whole again. And, once at a place of refuge such as New Song – where everything is there for her benefit, she has the time, the place, the support to unravel the twisted mengerie of her few short years on earth. She has been rescued.

Oh yes, the pain in Cambodia is very dense and on so many levels. Emotionally, physically, spiritually, mentally we are doing well - just pray that it stays like that. Pray too that God would unveil His perfect will for our lives as we seek justice for these children.

Thank you Thank you Thank you

Beth
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Just in case you are wondering We have been trying to up load photos without success. the internet is just too slow. We will post photos on the Ratanak website after we return home. Sorry about that.
Also, we fly to Siem Reap tomorrow so we may or may not be able to post tomorrow. We will see if we can get to an internet cafe.
Today was a good day for me. much Joy at NewSong, wonderful girls. So often we thought (and talked about) what a privilege it was to witness the transformation of lives. To watch kids laugh play and goof off with each other knowing what they have suffered is amazing. ... and yes, i held it together!
Brian.

Next Morning - it sinks in.

Next morning - Ok I have to be blunt.
After almost 20 years God continues to answer my prayer to keep my heart soft no mater what I see in Cambodia. I am a bit of a mess. This stuff is overwhelming. Yesterdays post indicated the confusion re affection of the kid out at Svay Pak. I received an email from Lisa which contained this...
"I remember Pastor Chantha saying to us the kids know who are the safe people...anyone who comes to Rahab's house they will hug and play with either male or female...but if the adult males don't come to Rahab' house and are just in Svay Pak, the kids scatter."

This line somehow gave me permission to retroactively accept the affection of the kids from yesterday. I am an emotional mess this morning. The way I feel about this right now causes me to worry about just how much of this I can take. I fear going out to Svay Pak again. I fear going to meet girls in another program who I have prayed for for for 5 years but never met.

I bring a team of new people out here for training and me the "experienced one" feels, once again, totally broken by this stuff. I know loving these kids is a gift but sometimes it is a gift that just seems too heavy. Pray that I would simply be able to see as Christ sees but hold it together.
Brian.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Overwhelmed in Svay Pak

My Office is the Community


This afternoon we drove out to the infamous village of Svay Pak, known for providing very young children for sex including for westerners vultures. During the past few months I have read many book and articles about that community- its sadness, and pain inflicted by men, many from my own country.

As we entered into Rehab House which used to be a brothel, we received a bright and warm welcome by the pastor. He was one of those people that you feel immediately comfortable with. He walked us around the facility and showed us the great ministry that was going on- a whole raft of young kids singing to Jesus and learning a Bible story, and adults lined up for medical care. This place was happening.

After a while a small group of us had the opportunity to hear from this young pastor. We learnt that he had never wanted to minister here because he had heard many bad stories about the community. But he said never say no to God as where to you are to minister because of course that is where God will place you. I learnt that the pastor was marred with a young son named David.

Then a young man from the US who works with the pastor said that he was his hero. The young westerner, who has lived here for more than two years, stated that the pastor had made a huge impact in the community despite being there for only four months. The church was growing… Sunday school numbers were increasing… the church had many portals of entry into the community and as a result people would call on him day and night.

The young pastor had started a gym time for the criminals in the community. The pastor would lead a short Bible study and then would work out with these gangsters. Talk about a work out! We then went with the pastor walking through the community to meet the ex-witch doctor who was now a Jesus follower. Along the muddy streets many people greeted him warmly. We learnt that he had visited their homes in time of need and provided food for those who were hungry.

When we got back to the church one person asked if he had an office. The pastor proclaimed with a great smile that, “the community is my office”.

No wonder miracles are happening in Svay Pak

Stephen Lauer
September 3, 2009

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I have few words to express today, lets start much earlier…
Years ago I sat in a tension filled van as we drove in a police convoy towards Svay Pak. In minutes we would be speeding into the community to exercise warrants on several buildings. As we entered the entire community convulsed as prostitutes, pimps child sex slaves and brothel owners scattered into the alleys, out windows, over verandas and across the roofs. - for this was a dangerous and hostile criminal business community. The product - children.
Today I drove into the same community. We pulled up outside one of my old crime scenes to be greeted by the sound of children singing about “Brea Yesu” (Jesus) The loud singing was coming from a group of tiny and beautiful children clearly enjoying themselves. I got out of the vehickle and went to the doorway and stood and watched them sing and do the actions. Many of their faces are known to me. I even know their names but I had never met them. I lasted only about a minute before having to retreat to the street and clear my head. The emotions were, and to a large extent still are, overwhelming and words cannot possibly describe the experience. You see I also know some of their stories and I know this community well. I regained my composure and went back in to visit with the kids. The first child to march up to me was “SN” – some of you know her. We have been praying for her a lot lately her sale having been prevented some weeks ago. She is tiny, beautiful and very engaging. “My name is “SN”. How are you? What is your name? “ She took my hand as I crouched down to speak to her _ was already smitten! I could instantly understand how Lisa, the Ratanak rep from Toronto, had fallen for her some time ago. She was here surrounded by Christians because her grandmother refused to allow her to be sold - a miracle and an answer to much prayer. What an indescribable joy to see her there.
Further inside I came across an instantly recognizable face of a little girl. She is skinny, feisty, pouty, cute, energetic and absolutely in your face seeking attention. We had used her photo on some Ratanak literature time ago. She was every bit as huggable as she had seemed in the photos but hugging was not an option. This child has seen the dark side of adult male “affection”. She jumped up on me for a big hug. I was both instantly thrilled and appalled having no clue if this was normal childlike affection or something far more twisted. The sense of normal social boundaries does not exist for many of these kids. Rather than hug we simply held hands and when this became too boring for her I started to swing her in the air. She was delighted. It was personal, yet safe. Well as you can imagine that started something… my arms are still sore.
At the end of the day we watched a volley ball game outside in the street. There was a carnival atmosphere – much laughter, and playfulness. Not the Svay Pak I knew in the past.
The atmosphere was tempered by some of the other small kids who had returned to get their swings from us. Just like the others they too loved to be swung around. But it was now late afternoon they had gone home and changed and returned all dressed up. Several had lipstick on. We played our childish little games with them to their delight trying not to think of the horrendous adult world into which they would once again be delivered this evening. As I write they are “on shift” and I am speechless.
Brian.
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Thursday 3rd September 2009
And I thought that yesterday was a difficult day to translate thoughts into words…
This morning it was a delight to meet with Helen Sworn and members of her team. These guys run Chab Dai – a coalition of 44 organisations who are involved at every level of this living evil that is human trafficking. Helen is passionate and utterly dedicated to eradicating this horrendous crime from this nation – and for that matter the nations of the world. Working at all levels from the highly strategic to the grass roots - Chab Dai is and its staff are truly inspirational.
Then… after lunch we headed out to Rahab’s House in the heart of Svay Pak. This is for the most part an ethnic minority area of around 3000 inhabitants living in largely squalid conditions. This is also the place where paedophiles come to pray on children who are offered for sale – children often young enough to be still in kindergarten. As we pulled up and clambered out of our somewhat full vehicle the sound of singing permeated through the air – the voices of children singing praises to God. In the midst of this absolute darkness the light is shining.
Touring round Rahabs’ House I stumble upon a small room about 6 feet square painted in a garish pink. This room is a reminder to the dark past of this place – it is what can perhaps best be described as a rape cell. You see Rahab’s House was once a notorious brothel offering children for sale. This cubicle was one of many which are now destroyed. In their place is a centre where the community can seek medical care and where the children can find safety for a small part of their life. On a Sunday over 170 people meet in this place for church. Jesus is alive and very well indeed in the midst of Svay Pak.
At the closing of the singing I accompanied Pastor Chanta (who has lived here only four months) on a tour of the village. First we meet a woman who was one of the largest suppliers of kids to western paedophiles – indeed selling her own children at one stage. Now she is deeply converted and works alongside the church community to remove this blight. If that was not enough, we now go and meet the village fortune teller. Four months ago he suffered a stroke which paralysed him – adding to his already poor health. Pastor Chanta started to visit him and after three months this man – the equivalent of the village witch doctor – accepted Christ as his Lord and Saviour. To add to that he was totally healed. Like I said – Jesus is very much alive and well here.
Now we go to The Lords Gym next door to Rahab’s House where Pastor Chanta leads bible school classes - before a workout – with heroin dealers and pimps alike. Many of these also now attend the church.
We are led to a building 2 doors down which was being constructed to provide the largest and best equipped brothel in Svay Pak. A place where paedophiles could come and stay and fulfil their most lewd and filthy cravings with boys and girls alike. After some changes the owner has not completed the building. The church have first refusal to purchase this building for school where the children of Svay Pak can come to learn. The cost of purchase and completion will be between $70 and $100,000 (approx. £50 - £75,000).
So can this whole experience go any further? Oh yes…! I now find myself in a muddy street outside playing games with some of the children from the service. Children who are now, as I type, for sale… In all honesty I cannot put my thoughts and feelings into words. I am deeply distressed, grieved, saddened and even angry that humanity can stoop this low – to sell your own child to a stranger for sex. And yet I am also honoured and privileged to have spent such a short time in their company and in the presence of a staff so absolutely committed to being the light of Christ in this community. I am heartened and encouraged by testimony after testimony of Gods grace at work.
You know – in our western ‘civilised’ society – we have to ask ourselves some deep searching questions when we know these atrocities happen every day of every week of every year. Helen asked the question – “What is the heart of the church for the vulnerable?” I know what the heart of Christ is for these little ones – I know he weeps tonight over the boys and girls in Svay Pak who are being ritually abused – do we? I ask you this same question…
Steve Norman

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Wed 2nd Sept 2009.

Wednesday 2nd September 2009
Quite how to start something about today is a mystery. First stop was Toul Sleng otherwise known as Former Office S.21. Originally built and used as a school this was taken over during the revolution and became the most notorious high security and torture centre. An estimated 22,000 people were taken here to answer to fictitious charges before being either tortured to death or taken to the killing fields. Wall after wall of images of men, women and children stare back at you with empty eyes – all dignity and self worth removed. Before departing I read as much about this place as I could fit in – in preparation for what awaited. It is with all honesty that I can say that nothing can ever prepare you for this. Story after story of injustice. The most shocking thought is that most of us were the same ages as these people. Most of us were engaged in activities of everyday life. Most of us remained – and to a great extent remain – totally oblivious to the nature of suffering these people endured. Our guide, herself seven at the time of these atrocities, fled to Vietnam to avoid the same futile end. It is difficult to write the emotions I sensed in this place.
Comrade Duch, the prison commandant, is presently on trial for these atrocities. He personally sanctioned the torture and execution of each of these 22,000 individuals. Individuals who are no longer a faceless, nameless mass. Duch converted to Christianity before his arrest and was actively engaged in ministry at the time of his detention. So how does that line up with my theology…? At this point in the evening it is so very difficult to say.
Following this we departed for Cheong Ek – the location of one of an estimated 300 Killing Field locations. The place where the majority of S.21’s occupants were ritually executed and thrown into pits – pits which have since been excavated. Even today – yes this very day – the ground releases its dead. Clothing, bones and teeth are commonly seen as they rise to the surface. Little of the population of this nation is unaffected by these happenings. Either as perpetrators reintegrated into a society or as those who were persecuted of family thereof.
The final stop of the day was the Royal Palace. A place which brought me as almost as much sadness as the first call of the day – yet in a different way. Cambodia is a nation so submerged in Buddhism combined with Hinduism. A nation so blinded in most part to the glorious truth of the Gospel of Christ. There are a great deal of powers at work in this land – powers which every Christian should oppose with all that is within them. Yet in the midst of this darkness there is a light - a light that burns with ever increasing intensity.
Cambodia has suffered much within the last thirty or so years and to some extent still endures a great deal. As we ended the day by the Mekong we sat and chatted to local people – people who eke out a meagre living every day selling a few roasted peanuts or a coconut or two. Children selling water or offering a shoe shine… A wonderful, warm and beautiful people.
The Bible tells us that satan came to “steal, kill and destroy” and it can be seen here as a very real truth and yet the latter half of that is also very true – “BUT I have come to give you life – life to the full.”
Pray for the people of Cambodia and all involved here that they will come to know this truth and find freedom in the One who loves them - sending his Son to die for them.
Steve Norman

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Water flows backwards

At 4 pm the deluge broke, the drops of rain pounded on the pavement, hammered the canvas awnings and richoched off the tin roofs. The wind stirred the leaves. Soon the splash of raindrops into the quickly forming puddles was added to the cacophony of sounds. The wind blew harder. I headed for the roof. Now the wind was driving the rain sideways, and it was falling in horizontal sheets. I looked across the rooftops; the rain was pounding into the tin roof across the street. The gutters were disconnected, but there was no rain coming out of them on that side. The wind caught the torrents of rain coming down on that side of the roof, drove it up the roof, and it broke over the rooftop like the crest of a wave at the beach. The water was flowing backwards.

Phnom Penh is not what I have come to expect from an Asian city. Mind you I have not seen the poorer side of town yet, but here are no piles of garbage, no animals wandering through traffic, there is no black deposit at the back of my throat from breathing the air. This is one of the nicest, cleanest Asian cities I have ever been in. I had the picture on 1979 deeply etched on my mind. Things have been rebuilt, and there is obviously a good work ethic that has contributed to the renewing of this city.
Yesterday we went to IJM (International Justice Mission) and it was great to hear that most of the staff working in the country seeking justice for the abused girls are Cambodian. With the city surpassing my expectations and the news that progress is being made on the justice issues I felt as if the river has changed direction, and has started running the other way. The years of work have paid off, hope is stronger than ever.
Today we went to Tuol Sleng and the killing Fields. It was a humbling experince to be were so many were tortured and lost their lives. At the killing Fields articles of clothing and bones and teeth are still oozing up out of the ground after 30 years.
There are so many unanswered questions as to how and why this could happen. While we are here Duch, the man who ran Toule Sleng is on trial. This is the man that ordered and supervised the deaths of about 20,000 men, women and children that came through his prison. Today Duch is a Christian, He admits to what he did and acknowledges that Jesus is now his Lord. So many unanswerable questions.

Pray for IJM as they are looking to expand to Siem Reap, pray for the resources needed. Good People, time and money. Pray also for Dutch, as he is on trail that his faith will be firm and that he will be a bold witness.

Steven Friebel
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I’m sitting here in the hotel room - damp from the rain – tossing off my shoes – realizing that my feet stink. It’s been as you would expect – very hot – then very wet – then very steamy. What an incredible day today. So much of it makes me uncomfortable and yet it’s been very good. I needed to learn about Cambodia – to contextualize the human fabric here. We visited the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum in Phnom Penh. The site is a former high school which was used as the notorious Security Prison 21 (S-21) by the Khmer Rouge regime from its rise to power in 1975 to its fall in 1979. It made me very sad. The extent to which violence and killing occurred for no gain was heart breaking. Disturbing also was the fact that I was so tied up in my own little world in those years that I “knew” about this genocide but I didn’t really “know”. How could have I missed the gravity of this situation? It was just TV news I guess and I was in the midst of my own dramas. Astonishing that I never really clued in to this issue at a viseral level until the Lord focussed me on Ratanak and I started to do research. Makes me feel ashamed really that for so many years this atrosity was just a small little blip on my radar screen.

We went from learning about the Khmer Rouge Killing Machine and the brutality of incarceration and torture at the prison to driving out about fifteen miles to the Killing Fields. This was the part that I had feared most before coming. I didn’t want to stumble across anything that would be a tangible reminder of the deaths right there of men, women and children. My fears were well appointed as that is just what happened. Clothing had risen to the surface here and there as had small bones, buttons and other debris. In some areas there was a smell of decay.

The introduction to the place was a stack of skulls probably three stories high – classified by age and gender. Blunt traumas obvious on the skulls. At least 200,000 people were killed by the Khmer Rouge. This killing field I was standing on was holy ground. Holy ground because every human being is created in the image of God and this very place heard their parting screams - received their warm, bloody bodies – and was their portal to eternity. Enough said.

My mind screams with outrage – shudders with horror and cries out to understand. My heart aches. My blood rages. Clearly this is a country that has endured unspeakable pain and all for what? There were no winners. Not a thing was gained. It was a scheme from the pit of hell.

I’ve got a lot to pray over – think on and analyse. There surely is a link in this post traumatic period in Cambodia - to the abuse and use of girls today by Asian men. There also is surely a link too to the pit of hell that results in western podophiles coming to abuse children. Like opportunist vultures they pick apart the lives of little girls and throw them away as rubbish when there’s no strength left to assualt anymore. Nothing could be more comprehnisvely abusive than atrocities like that in a land that moans with memories.

I am so thankful that the Cambodian people I have met are gracious to me and smile. I am so utterly humbled.

Beth
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Grace and Karma
Today we started to develop our understanding about the history of the Khmer Rouge genocide. Brian’s mantra from the start of this trip was that you could not understand Cambodia today until you understand the Khmer Rouge. So reality set in today. First we went to the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum. It was the former security office 21 or S-21 designed by the Pol Pot regime for det ention , Interrogation, torture, and killing. Later we visited the infamous Killing Fields just outside of the city.
As part of the museum, there are hundreds of photos of detainees of the more than 20,000 prisoners. These prisoners would stay for 2 to 4 months before being killed. Only seven prisoners survived. You first see these photos as you enter the building. The photos still haunt me tonight. It is the eyes in the photos - eyes of fear, anger, pride, hurt, and pain; but most of all it is eyes of surrender. Many were children and youth - all innocent of the bizarre charges attributed to them. Then we saw the photos of people being tortured, and then the actual instruments of this evil torture.
How could this be? How could millions of people be killed by people of their own nation? What was the purpose, even if the purpose was twisted? I realized that I was standing face to face with pure evil. I could not speak. My mind went numb. How could such evil take over a whole nation? How could the world stand by and let it happen? I thought about those years in the mid to late seventies. I thought about what I was doing then. I remember seeing such horrific pictures from Cambodia then. Why I was not outraged into action then? I should have known better. After all I had travelled through Asia in the early seventies. So what do I need to be outraged into action today?
At the end of the tour we watched a film of a based on the letters of a couple held in captivity but separated from each other. I learned from these letters of their love for each other, for life itself and for others. I heard of their pain and then of their death. In one letter the woman questions this terrible evil inflected on her and others. But she then states that it must be a result of her karma… from this life and from past lives. There seemed to be from her lips a rationale for allowing this violence to be inflicted upon her. Maybe if I believed in karma it would make sense. Thirty five years ago I did believe in karma. Today it seems so foreign to me… it seems so soft…so uncourageous.
When love came down and changed my life, my whole thinking and feeling changed to grace and not karma. So in reflecting tonight I do love and respect other cultures and faiths. But karma leaves me cold.
Stephen

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

First Full Day

A Blog from a Brit!!
Well this trip is a trip of firsts! I achieved a boyhood dream in flying on a 747 which is as big as I thought it was when I was 10! Boy – Cambodia is a long way. Why when God places things on your heart are they so far away?! All in all the three flights were good – I had curry for lunch, dinner and breakfast on the way over! Good job I like curry…! Clearing customs was fine and hotel is good. Never has a bed – even a firm bed – felt so good as it did last night!
Today is the first real day here. Met with IJM this morning for a briefing on the position as it is now. Fair to say it is no better than anticipated. All around are hotels with ‘massage’ facilities – girls for sale like a cattle market. This is the legal stuff! The younger girls are much more strictly controlled due to the ‘commodity’ value and the fact that it is ‘illegal’… Martin Smith of Delirious? once said in a concert – “If it’s not acceptable in heaven then it should not be acceptable down here”. There is so much in that statement – things that go on round here fit that. As ambassadors of Christ we ought to be challenged, stirred and perhaps even angered over these matters. In any case we must never sanction them as being acceptable to God who I am sure weeps over every girl – and boy – who find themselves in this position. It is an honour to be able to be something of a voice to those who so clearly go unheard.
This afternoon was another fist – a tuk tuk ride for 5 people! A whole afternoon for $9! We experienced the Russian Market where almost anything can be found! Yes I bought and yes I haggled - but I have to admit to being pants at the latter. When a guy wants to sell you a huge tablecloth for $8 how do you argue…!
Anyway – a shower and dinner await. Perhaps I will have a curry!
Thank you to all for your prayers and support – do keep them coming for the challenges which lay ahead.
Steve

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I’m sitting in downtown Phnom Penh on a very comfortable wicker chair in an open air restaurant – with a bowl of peanuts and a cold drink in hand. I’m looking onto the street before me at a scene that has become very familiar to me in Asia over the years – motorbikes, tuk tuks, traffic mayhem, a massive entrance into a wat, cars, dogs, food vendors. It’s pouring rain and the heat of the day has been consumed. The air smells like a musty soup of exhaust fumes. Slushy side roads teem with people. What is unusual about this scene for me though is to see so many white men in colored shirts – obviously working for NGO’s – young white men and women in T-shirts – obviously working for NGO’s. I didn’t expect to see this dense concentration of NGO’s in the streets. I know this is the area where most stay because of the reasonable and clean hotels and eating places. It’s the NGO ghetto in Cambodia and I find it that interesting. On the right I hear a young man with an English accent talking to a waitress about his day working with people who are affected by HIV and AIDS. Further back there are small groups of others reviewing their day and making plans and tapping on their computers just like me. It is comfortable here. It feels safe.
The rain has stopped. It’s five o’clock and something else has changed… pedestrians have returned to the streets. Looking to the left three beautifully groomed Cambodian girls are strolling along – two are probably about 16 and one is about 12 – they appear to be available for pick up. The shoe shine boy shows up – his eyes are tired and his hair still looks dusty. Young girls appear with flowers in a basket – they too look exhausted, dusty and vacant. Why do their tired eyes and emotionless faces speak so loudly?
I am on my first journey to Cambodia many things to discover.
Beth.



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Yesterday Beth and I flew to Cambodia from Thailand where we had spent a week of meetings. The flight was short but about 20 minutes from Phnom Penh we hit a major storm. The plane started to rock and roll and the passengers got a bit tense.

Just a few minutes before we landed the skies cleared just a bit so that we could peek down on the landscape. Cambodia from the air was beautiful, lush and orderly. I was struck by its beauty. So the plane ride seemed to give us a good introduction to both Cambodia’s stormy history and its God created beauty.

That night after dinner we walked along the streets for a few minutes. We passed lots of bars, restaurants and the large temple that seemed to dominate and to overlook on all the street activities. Men were definitely on the prowl and I noticed a very tired looking girl standing around who looked so much older and worn out as compared to her young years. No doubt she had a long and unpleasant evening ahead.

The next morning we had a very informative meeting with representatives of International Justice Mission, one of Ratanak’s partners. I was encouraged as I heard about the newly created training program for police officers by IJM. This program trains police officers from the Anti-Human Trafficking Unit by sharing 12 well developed and locally contextualized training modules. It helps Cambodia police have the tools and understanding they need to deal with the complexity of human trafficking and on how the police can make a critical difference. This is just one of the recent positives changes that are happening in Cambodia.

I look forward to learning more tomorrow.

Stephen Lauer
September 1, 2009