Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Coming Home

Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their trouble, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world. James 1:27

Strange that until I re-read the Blogs, I felt a little numb coming home. Not what I was expecting. Perhaps it was a coping mechanism, perhaps it was jet-lag, perhaps it was the blast of returning to ordinary life, (which will never quite be the same). But this morning, I too read the former blogs with tears, reliving the few days we shared with a people who are remarkably rising above terror, injustice, hopelessness, fear, torment, and shame.

We had the exceptional privilege of moving amid those who are living miracles. God has shown me once again that He still performs miracles in people's lives every day. And every so often, He gives us a hand in His supernatural workings. When this happens - when we get the honour of working alongside Him and partaking in what He is doing in the here and now - we are blessed, humbled and transformed. That our God, who is bigger than we can comprehend, allows us to help Him move mountains with our mustard seed faith is on its own miraculous! But to look into the faces of those lives who have known hopelessness, terror and tears, and now see joy, peace and hope, is indeed nothing short of a miracle.

Being home, I feel unsettled. Perhaps it is the shift. I have met and interacted with people whose situations I never truly had to think deeply about, let alone come up close and personal with, and it has rendered me changed. But the trouble is, I don't yet fit into the new found space of it. It would be difficult to be the same, nor do I want to be after what we were fortunate enough to look upon. Even as I write, my heart aches for the children and young women who have had to endure something as degrading and filthy as they have. And even though that is painful to learn about (yet nothing compared to how horrific for one to actually endure), I see it as a privilege to, in a small way, join them in their suffering. So maybe it is not only fitting for my soul to be unsettled even now, but right.

Being in Sway Pak made me think of Jesus, who walked on this earth coming face to face with all the heartache of humanity. It made me understand a bit of how He must have felt, and how deeply His heart would break for these people...people just like those we met in Cambodia. And when you consider how He loved so perfectly - and how imperfectly I love - again I see the wonder of how He allows us to take part in bringing His Kingdom to earth.

Before I left for Cambodia, I had this sense that in Sway Pak I would be close to something dear to the heart of God. He has told us, "Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their trouble, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world." I didn't have to go halfway around the world to visit "orphans and widows in distress", but I am so thankful I did.

He has not forgotten Sway Pak or those living there. I marvel at what has occurred in such a short time in this place. You see His redeeming work in the lives but also in the buildings. It is just like God to take a brothel - a place being used to repeatedly destroy lives - and transform it into a place where little children, teens, all the way through to the elderly, now sing praises to Him! In this place, those who love Him are the hands and feet of Jesus, ministering to the sick by giving them care and medicine, teaching their children the love of Jesus, and encouraging them how to live in Christ on Sunday at church. And, it is only God who can take the ashes and ruin of these lives and form beauty, strength and dignity. This we saw in the young people who help at the church, the little ones who we played with in the school yard at Hagar, and the young ladies who served us at Bloom (cupcake/coffee shop), at Daughters and Hagar Restaurant.

It is God's brilliant irony. God having the last say. God showing He hears the cries. God's Son - the Savior - saving. The Redeemer redeeming...one heart and life at a time. And we, having been in this place, see with eyes of faith and wait in expectation, for greater things than we can think to ask for or imagine!


Sheri's Reflections

If anyone asks me if this experience in Cambodia has impacted my life, without hesitation my response would be a resounding "Yes!” When we were preparing for this project, we were asked to be open to however God would choose to use and change us through this experience in order to advance His Kingdom. We have experienced daily miracles from our loving Father, whom, I am confident, used this time, away from the insane trappings of North American life, to show us what He can and will do when Christians choose to be yielded and available to Him. There wasn't a day that went by where our eyes weren't drawn to God and the miracle of His touch in the lives of His children in some way or another. I believe this was done as a gift to each one of us; our Heavenly Father, in absolute joy, showing Himself to us in very tangible, loving and awe-inspiring ways.

First, God put together this incredible team of very talented individuals who worked, prayed and praised and played together with energy and incredible harmony. The amount of work we achieved in the time we were here was nothing short of miraculous and we are thankful we got it all done and then some!

My heart has been deeply touched by the people and children of Svay Pak. The first day we arrived in this village, the streets were completely empty - no children, no adults, no movement, except for the wind blowing the dust and garbage in the street. Behind The Sanctuary are houses, forming a "U" shape around a garbage heap and the smell can be overwhelming. This is a community where the enemy has held court for so long, but now ground is being taken back for the King of Kings! It is a tremendous battle, but in Christ we are victorious. Pastor Chantha and his wife Bunthan have responded to God's call to move into this little community and to share the transforming good news of Jesus Christ and hearts are being changed. We had the privilege of attending a Sunday morning service, with 200 present to hear the Word and worship together.

One very hot day at The Sanctuary, we were painting the stairwells and began to sing hymns: Amazing Grace, The Lord's Prayer, It is Well With My Soul...the stairwell created incredible acoustics and the singers, incredible harmonies. It was hard not to feel you were close to heaven in that experience, raising voices in praise, in a building that will be used to reach out to the broken and hurting in this community. At one point, Beth came running in, saying "Keep singing! You can hear it in the streets and people are stopping to listen!"

A decision was made to create a mural in the entrance way of Rahab's House - this wasn't planned for, but was, again, a miracle of God. This project was started and finished in a day and a half, but more amazing was that as we started to paint, the people of Svay Pak came to watch. Soon the entrance was filled with adults and children who watch a scene of Jesus the Shepherd, with children, begin to unfold. One little girl, about 5 years old, stood by me with a very serious face. She had large brown eyes, curly hair and teeth that were just beginning to rot. I handed her the paintbrush and guided her hand to paint - I am sure she has never held a brush, nor had an opportunity to help create something so vibrant and beautiful. After that she shadowed me and eventually crawled into my lap, waiting for a turn to paint. I know that Jesus is doing that in her heart - painting a beautiful picture of His redeeming love.

This same little girl came back when we returned to Svay Pak on Tuesday to paint the main hall of Rahab's House. I spent more time playing with her than painting and it was a joy to hear her laugh and more so when Pastor Chantha told us a bit about her. This precious little one lives with parents who don't care for her; she apparently wanders the streets at all hours of the day and night and often Bunthan is feeding her. This child was so starved for affection and safe touch, that she clung to us, not wanting to let go. What is so sad is that because of her parents' neglect, she is ripe to be used for trafficking or rape and I pray that God will continue to protect her from that as He has done so far. This is why the work of The Sanctuary and the Christian community in Svay Pak is so critical - reaching out to those who are broken, hurting and in need with Christ's love. When it was time for us to go, this little one wouldn't leave me - I had to ask one of the girls to take her and had to pry her arms and legs from me and how she cried. It broke my heart to think that she would return to a home where no one would hug her or kiss her cheek or tell her she was beautiful and created for a purpose.

One little boy would come to me and poke me, "Yo," he would say. Eventually he remembered my name, so he would poke me and say, "Sheri, sing me 5 songs, sing me 2 songs." It didn't matter what we sang or who sang it, but when he heard the music, he would laugh and smile, "more songs." This is another little one who we pray will be transformed by Christ through the work of The Sanctuary, that he will become a leader in his community, not follow the examples of violence and rape that he has been exposed to.

The group of young men and women that Pastor Chantha is mentoring spoke volumes to my heart - each one with a very difficult and painful testimony, yet boldly walking through the community proclaiming the good news, often in the face of opposition. It is hard work, but they are committed to sharing the Jesus who transformed their own lives. I watched as Bunta ran the medical clinic as she does twice weekly and while the people waited to see Bunthan to talk about their hurts and ailments, these young men and women sat and prayed with/for each one. Some listened, some looked away, but all were prayed for. And I am confident that "He who began this good work...will carry it on to completion..." As we laid hands on Pastor Chantha, Bunthan and the young men and women who they work with and prayed over them before we left, Pastor Chantha said, "This generation of children will be raised up by God to change the people of Svay Pak." He looks forward to a community where violence ends and people know and follow Jesus and that is our prayer for Svay Pak - Lord, take it and make it Yours. Use those in Rahab's House and The Sanctuary to transform these people into a community that knows and follows you.

Amen and amen.


Friday, April 9, 2010

Returning Notes and Thanks.

A note to Forward…
I have just finished reading over the closing comments from Team 2. As is so often the case I sat with my Kleenex as my eyes passed over the words. For the words you read below are those of a team who have ventured into a dirty, hot and unpleasant environment. They are words of a team that were working on a street known around the world for the buying, selling and savage abuse of the young and vulnerable. The words of a team that were working in a dark dark place where the currents of evil run swift and deep. Yet their words are those of affection, relationship, tenderness and even joy. Why is this? My firm belief is that it is the result of prayer. For we have all prayed that they would see this place as Christ sees it. This prayer has been answered and so the team has found themselves broken but confronted by the beauty and value of these wonderful tortured people.
So, men and women of Forward, I urge you to be very tender with your team as they return. They have chosen to stare into the face of grief, poverty and evil (They have not just glanced and looked away.) and that, while difficult, is a wonderful process.
So, to families…
Be patient if your loved one responds strangely to the simplest of things. Perhaps tears will come when a clean drinkable glass of water is poured right out of the tap or anger surfaces when the kids don’t finish their supper – be patient - there is much processing going on.
Be good listeners even when you have heard enough – listen on. This is being a servant to them even as they have been servants to those in Cambodia.
To the church body…
Be helpful to the families of those returned, and be prayerful as the team gets back to “normal” life recognizing that “normal” may never be quite the same again.

Finally I want to express my thanks to you all, on all the teams, who have worked so hard in Cambodia, Canada and Australia to make this possible. May God bless Cambodians through your work and tenderness toward them. May he enrich, embolden, unify and encourage you in your Christian service.

Remember, “ It’s not about paint!” You have been a part of something Far far bigger. I am reminded of one of my favorite songs (which originated in a South East Asian brothel!) called. “God of the city”.

“You're the God of this City
You're the King of these people
You're the Lord of this nation
You are
You're the Light in this darkness
You're the Hope to the hopeless
You're the Peace to the restless
You are
There is no one like our God
For greater things have yet to come
And greater things are still to be done in this City

May it be so!

Thursday, April 8, 2010

What a trip and what a privilege!

Well what a trip. The only bad part was that I waited so long to take part in this kind of privilege. The love and support of our families and friends on the Home Team was so encouraging. I want to be part of the next Forward Jericho prayer walk too! There isn't enough time to share all the memories here. We cried, we laughed and then we cried and laughed some more. In two short weeks we connected with a part of a country ravished with atrocities that are beyond “nightmare”. We learned about a new culture so drastically different than ours. But the best part is we learned many people in Cambodia are being healed by the same ONE and ONLY GOD that we serve. We saw firsthand that HIS touch is the only way these people can not only carry on but faithfully serve our GOD and HIS people.

Thanks again for the privilege!
Brian McLeod

Reflections on two weeks in Cambodia

Time flies when you are having fun . . . is it okay to have fun on a missions trip? I certainly believe you can serve God and have fun where ever He calls you. It has been hot, it has been emotionally draining, it has been hot, it has been tiring, did I mention it has been hot?... but mostly it has been a blessing.

Our team has worked very well together, every one found something to do – we did not often have idle hands. We overcame jet lag, a different climate, some minor stomach issues and many emotions thanks to the prayers, encouragement and support of our awesome Home Team, families and friends. For this we are most grateful.

We have witnessed much and will have much to process on our return home – we read of a Team 1 member who managed to deal well with his emotions while here in Cambodia, but finally unloaded once home. Please continue to pray for us as we make the transition back and deal with all we have seen and experienced.

My heroes are the children of Cambodia who continue to suffer daily at the hands of man; and to those who are overcoming the nightmare they have lived through as they are counseled and rehabilitated. Five months ago I had not heard of the Ratanak Foundation; I had not heard of the social injustices involving the children of Cambodia. Today I know about some of the amazing projects supported by the Ratanak Foundation and I have seen firsthand the atrocities the children of Cambodia (including many from surrounding countries) face each and every day. For more information on the Ratanak Foundation, please visit their website www.ratanak.org. If you would like to hear more of what we have seen in our two weeks here, ask.

Perhaps the most difficult thing I am processing is the psychological effect of the abuse these children have to live with after they have been rescued. In one instance a 22 year old girl is totally withdrawn as the result of being the girl raped repeatedly every night by many men. She has a twelve year old son who is living with her family. You do the math. How could a community allow such a thing to happen to a little girl? Another brave girl gave her testimony one afternoon – she struggles with reliving the event in her mind and cannot escape it – she was raped by a drunken family member– how can a family move forward from such an event? In a conversation at a rehab home I learned that many of the girls have had multiple abortions (some as many as four) prior to being rescued. How will they deal with this as they mature and fully understand what has been done to them?

Thankfully there is a place like New Song! The girls at New Song range in age from five years to twenty three years. All are there because they have been removed from an unsafe situation at home or brought in from off the streets. What will happen when the next girl needs a place to go, as New Song is now at capacity?

The questions do not have easy answers. The issues may even seem impossible to overcome. But we serve a God who is bigger than anything we can imagine; who can multiply bread and fishes. He may be calling you to help. He called twelve of us to leave our homes and enter an unfamiliar place to be His hands and feet – we will never be the same because of it. There is much heartache in Cambodia, but there is much to love in Cambodia. I know I am leaving with a new found appreciation for this country and the people who have already overcome great obstacles.

Please consider how you can help these people – go to your local library, search the internet, talk to someone who has been there, and learn about this country. Find out how you can be used to bless Cambodia and do not be surprised to find you will be blessed more in return.

I am so looking forward to seeing what God will do with Svay Pak, Phnom Penh and Cambodia in the days to come. Thank you for journeying with us and for your encouragement along the way.

God bless,

Jo Ann

Special Memories

I can hardly believe that our two weeks in Cambodia are over. I would like to share with you my journey of how and when God told me I was going. I signed up to go to Cambodia in December, had my interview and two weeks later was told that I was not going but would I be an alternate in case someone couldn’t go? God gave me a gracious and patient attitude and I accepted. (I know I would not have accepted so gracefully and humbly had God not given it to me). I attended the preparation meetings up until two weeks before the leaving date. Sean e-mailed me and thanked me for my willingness to stand by as a substitute. I accepted that I was not going…until…six days before the team was leaving I got a phone call that there was now an opportunity for me to go! A whirl wind of getting last minute vaccinations, painting clothes, a new plane ticket and leaving my poor husband in the dust and I was on my way…to Cambodia!

Some of my fondest memories of Cambodia will be the team spirit. We had absolutely wonderful leadership from both Beth and Sean. They were so patient answering hundreds of questions everyday never becoming impatient or clipped in words. Then there was Lorey who kept all of us painting and organized on the job. I also want to point out her endless energy and her hearty laugh! And then all the other team members; Melanie, for your leadership and willingness to share during devotions, Greg and Janet, for your encouragement to Pastor Chantha and the other leaders at New Song and Hagar, Kaylie, for your wonderful giggle and beautiful spirit, Sheri and Peter for your gentleness and laughter, Jo Ann for being my roommate and being so much like me!, Karen for your led belly and laughter, Brian for your huge heart and watchful eye over all of us. I think another one of our unsung heroes is Heng our van driver. He was so so faithful to us driving us around every day and to and from the beach, for his beautiful honest eyes and smile! Yay Heng!

Some of my most treasured moments are when we were at Hagar’s and the openness and frequency that the children asked us to just pray with them. I was sitting on the steps of the school with three little girls that just needed love and touch when one of them piped up and asked me to pray with them. We had to keep our emotions “under check” and that is so so difficult when one is asked to pray by little girls who have endured such horrible injustices. There they sat with their little hands pressed together pointed heaven ward waiting to shout Amen at the end. I did okay my voice only crack once.

The other most precious memory will be a young woman, a disciple that I met in Svay Pak. There was just a light in her eyes that caught my attention and we connected. We were working on the mural in Rahab’s House in which I drew and painted the birds. She stood there laughing at me when Sean was giving me a hard time about their size. Later, she pulled me aside and pulled a ring off her finger and said “ When you go to bed at night and see this ring think of me and when I see your birds on the wall I will think of you”. Now, I have big hands so when she pulled that ring off her finger I thought there was no way that it was going to fit me but it slid onto my finger like it was made for me! Wow! God floored me on that one! I had a great desire to know her history before she came to Rahab’s House but we were also not allowed to ask any of the children or young people about their pasts. But wait till you hear this! On the last day, after lunch, Pastor Chantha asked her to share her story! She bravely got up and with tears falling down her cheeks she told her story through an interpreter. Beth and I each held one of her dear hands - our hearts hurting with hers but so thankful for who she is today. Afterwards we prayed over all the young disciples who serve under the tutelage of Pastor Chantha.

Those are only a few of the many, many memories of Cambodia. The gentleness and beauty of the people will be forever engraved on my heart and maybe someday I can come back! God was so so good to us and it is only Him that deserves all the glory, honor and praise. For without Him these projects would be empty and nothing like what they are today.