Thursday, April 8, 2010

Amazing Grace

I know most people say this, "I can't believe it’s over". It just seems like we have got our bio-clocks reoriented, our bio-systems adjusted (settled might be a better way to say it) and some comfort moving about in the culture and now we say "good-bye". The old closing theme song to Carol Burnet might say it best. My time in Cambodia has been a wonderful experience. We have lived two different focuses during our time here. The main focus has been on vulnerable and exploited children and the lesser focus has been on experiencing the culture. It has been interesting to note that after our pre-trip research and our experience and exposures here in Cambodia, the two focuses have often intersected with each other. There are fascinating things and places to see, touch, taste AND smell (especially the market!). The people I have encountered have mostly been gentle, smiling, polite, and eager to interact and have displayed a wonderful sense of humour. At the same time you are faced with the many exploited and extremely disadvantaged women and children. Yes even older adults and the physically disabled are exploited for the gain of others. Added to this are the obvious signs of foreign tourists who are on the search for easy, cheap thrills with little regard for the impact on the ones they use. It is quite common to see older men with young Cambodian women on the streets, in restaurants or climbing the stairs of some "hotel". It is clear to see, that these individuals are lonely people grasping for momentary pleasure to fill the void of their lives. On any day, my emotions are pulled in many directions - yes it is quite passionate living.

Although there is so much human suffering, we have been afforded the opportunity to see the whole process from victimization, to outreach, to after care, to rehabilitation, to restoration and to, with time, freedom - physically, emotionally and spiritually. Without seeing the big picture of God's love and redemptive work in their lives, it would be otherwise a most desolate prospect.

Highlights for me include the long, hot/sticky days of cleaning and painting in the Sanctuary. In our work we discovered the joy of singing choruses and hymns in an ideal acoustic setting. We had the privilege of being the first choir to sing in the church sanctuary lifting our hearts with joy. Each day we were most graciously hosted for lunch by Pastor Chantha and his wife Buntahn. I am thankful that we could daily share a meal together and listening to Pastor Chantha talk of his passion for bringing the gospel to the church at Rahab's House and the people of Svay Pak. His depth of love and obedience to Jesus Christ is humbling when I reflect on my own walk. I was also challenged and blessed by Ratanak and the other young men and women disciples by the depth of their commitment to follow Jesus in all aspects of their daily lives. When I asked them about their future, they always said "I will have to see what Jesus wants me to do". I am reminded that many times I run forward more on my own perspectives first rather than seeking the direction of the Lord first. When we worshipped together on Sunday at Rahab's House, I was overcome by what I say. This building was packed with young and old, there was a youth led worship team, children songs, communion, preaching of the Word and prayer. It was another reminder of God's power to defeat the enemy on his home I pondered that only a few years previous, this room was lined with active rape cubicles. Jesus is mighty to save!

The painting of the mural at Rahab's house was a gift from the Lord. With little preparation, the mural came together in just a day and a half. Watching the children's reactions and their participation in completing the work was amazing. It was hard to grasp that these joyous, happy little boys and girls were also the ones that have been and are being abused physically and sexually. These same children were still able to celebrate the moment and joyfully clap, laugh and sing from their overflowing hearts. I thank the Lord too for time to play volleyball with some of the teen’s right on the main street of Svay Pak. When it was time to leave, It was clear to see that through sharing the work, food, laughter, high-fives and hugs (yes even as a male, I was honoured with some special touch by the children and teens) that we had blessed each other’s lives.

I give praise to the Lord for my experience at Hagar's school (school for extremely disadvantaged youth including some from the after care programs for abuse) in Phnom Penh. The challenge was to transform about 130 ft of dirty wall and a large community room into a work of beauty. As with all our work/projects, the Lord enabled our team to work harmoniously and supportively to complete this in just two days. The children were eager to participate and to engage us. When we had to wait for paint to be delivered, it allowed us to play with the children. We sang all manner of songs from Christmas carols, camp songs to choruses. I soon become surrounded by a number of teen boys (ages 12-18) in addition to girls. I was clear that these boys wanted to engage and relate. We played a number of hand games such as thumb wars, rock/paper/scissors and I taught them a knuckle slapping game which they loved. Following that Sheri suggested a game of duck, duck, goose. Although 18 yr olds in the West might see this as not cool, these teen loved it. As most boys love wrestling and physical contact, I added this to the game and it was a big hit. I could see that they too longed for safe touch and contact as I had arms around my neck; waist and many leaned in against me. In the world of exploited children, we have been reminded that boys who have been sexually and gender confused are still forgotten and unrecognized victims. These boys present a challenge to the organizations who try to serve them and the church in general, in their need to be loved, accepted and nurtured in their own healing.

After playing the game for most of the morning it was time for them to leave. One of the teen boys yelled for the group to remain and wanted to end the game time with prayer. It was a blessing to hear how many loved Jesus and recognized the importance of this in their lives. It was another gift from the Lord to me to play and then pray for these wonderful young men and women.

Our visit to New Song was another unexpected gift from the Lord. We started with Pastor Brewster sharing some edited testimonies of what some girls have experienced. Although the physical devastation was hard to hear, the emotional and cognitive impacts on these dear girls were even more difficult to hear as the testimony recounted. I was again reminded of God's redemptive and restorative power as we walked through the facility, shared lunch with the girls, cheered the weekly volleyball competition (following I joined in an informal game with some of our team, the girls and staff). From this after-care program, the girls undergo therapy, counseling and healing. They provide a school program designed to catch up their education and are introduced to Jesus Christ who can truly heal their hurts and provide freedom. The economic skills development program combined with micro-business loans has moved girls ready for re-integration into the community. The end of the process of transformation could be seen when we visited the craft and food outlets operated in partnership by the various mission organizations. We were attended to by beautiful, confident women - many who love and follow the Lord. We have sung it a number of times this week, but the words of "Amazing Grace" has been so appropriate. It is equally as appropriate to my life and a reminder that as wretched as all our lives are in many different ways, we once were lost but now are found, once blind but now we see. Jesus is mighty to save! I want to thank the church family, life group, friends, family and support group who have so faithfully upheld us in prayer. We have seen many answers to prayer for safety, health and coping with heat. You have blessed us by your love and support.

In His grace,

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