Each year when I visit Cambodia on behalf of Ratanak, I always make it a point to visit the Newsong centre. Ratanak has had the privilege of supporting this ministry right from the beginning when it first opened its doors in 2006. Don & Bridget Brewster our partners from AIM have lived on site until this past week when they finally moved into their new 'home'---an apartment and office that was added as the top floor in The Sanctuary.
Some of the Newsong Staff Singing during our games
The Brewsters have done an amazing job in recruiting staff at Newsong who demonstrate Christ love to the girls. Two of the staff who oversee and manage the centre are 'Samol' who is lovingly known by the girls as 'Pa-ol' for 'father' and Sisarat. They along with the house mums , counselors, cooks, drivers and security guards all work long hours and are literally on the front lines investing their time and energy serving the girls and literally being the hands, voice and feet of Christ as they minister to these young ones. They are the unsung heroes that often go unnoticed as they labor behind the scenes, doing all the hard work. It's not easy at times as the girls can be violent, say hurtful things to them and treat them harshly, after all---the girls who live here have only known that kind of treatment themselves and so the staff are daily challenged to live out the words from 1 Corinthians 13 --- love is patient, love is kind, love never keeps a record of wrong, love always protects, love always trusts---through their examples, God has melted the hearts of the girls as they seek to reflect the unconditional love of Christ to those who are so broken and battered. So on behalf of Ratanak, the staff were each presented with a gift certificate to go for a massage and steam bath. This is something they enjoy and I trust that this small gift, will be a reminder to them, that God sees all that they do and their service does not go unnoticed by Him. Pray for the staff --- that Jesus would fill them each day with His Spirit and that they will never grow weary in doing good. May they may know that they are not laboring in vain.
In previous years, I have had the luxury of bringing teams to Newsong so that we could teach them a craft and have a party but this year as I'm flying solo, I recruited a good friend Cathy who works at World Hope International. World Hope is a short term assessment centre where girls first go when they are rescued from the brothels or from raids. Eventually the girls are then transferred to Newsong which is a long term after care facility where the girls will begin their journey of healing as they go through intensive counselling, have their first taste of a 'normal' life, begin their first experiences of going to school, and learning to cope with all the trauma they have endured. Since my voice is not fully recuperated from my recent bout with laryngitis, I am so thankful for Cathy who was able to join me. We first started out with lunch---and yes as promised on my previous blog, below is a picture of the roast pigs that Sisarat ordered for us.
Samol & Sisrat with our Roast Pigs!
The girls were each presented with a red t-shirt with the scripture verse 1 Corinthians 13:8 'Love never fails' written on the back in Khmer courtesy of one of my Toronto Ratanak core group members Larry Dearlove who raises funds for the Newsong centre by running marathons. Everyone enjoyed the roast pork, in addition to the hamburgers, french fries, coke and waffle ice cream cones. They were all quite full but we gave the girls a 15 minute break before we started the games.
Hamburgers & French Fries
Our first game was a 'water' relay where basins were placed on opposite ends and with four rows of girls lined up, their objective was to soak a wash cloth with as much water as possible from one basin, run with it to the opposite end of the path, squeeze our the water in the wash cloth into another basin and run to their team and pass it on to the next person. The team with the most water in the second basin would win a prize. It was hilarious watching them all compete and laughing hard as they encouraged their team members to run. The team that won were given Ratanak green wristbands. The second game was an old favorite called 'the hot potato' but we used two volleyballs and had the girls form two large circles as they passed the ball around with the objective of not holding onto it otherwise they would be out of the game. It was evident that some of them have mastered the volleyball skills from their weekly Friday sports day as they literally began using their finger tips pushing it forward to avoid holding onto the balls. The staff would sing different Christian tunes as the balls were passed around and of course when they stopped singing who ever held the ball was out of the game. Competition was alive and well and it became quickly apparent as to who were the leaders in the group with A-type personalities. They began to order the other ones out if they had lost.
The Winning Team of Game 3
Then the third game was back to working as a team as Cathy had them in groups of 4's. One girl was chosen to draw a house, trees and animals, it all sounds simple except she had to do it blindfolded while her team members described and guided her on what they wanted her to draw and where. I then had to determine which team did the best drawing and they received a prize.
One of the winners of Game 4
Our Final game was a dance game, where the girls were paired together. Next to them was a piece of newspaper and they would dance but whenever the music stopped, their entire feet had to be on the newspaper. Now this seems easy in theory except the newspaper is folded each time the music stops so you are now standing on smaller pieces of paper. It takes creativity to win this game and those who had the younger ones devised a plan to have them on their backs. I think I just about lost my voice at this point laughing so hard as once again, they were all policing one another, pointing out who had cheated while those who were bigger attempted to balance each other on their backs. It was so good to see them having fun---after all---this is what a 'normal' child should enjoy.
There are quite a few young ones under the age of 10 at Newsong and yet it never fails how they so willingly come and want to be hugged or held despite the abuse they have experienced. God has somehow able to preserve their ability to give love despite the fact that they have experienced such little of it. Today I saw little 'Sparky'---I have blogged about her. You may recall she is the one that used to live with Lim & Paulie's family who sadly mistreated her and would sell her whenever they needed money. She was treated like an animal having to scramble for food before the dogs got to it. Last year when I saw her she had short hair and today, she has beautiful long hair but her smile is as charming as ever and very warm and loving. Then there was little 'TV' another little girl from Svay Pak who my Ratanak colleague Beth had blogged about and had helped immensely in March. "TV" was badly brutalized and raped by a 45 year old Cham Muslim man for 2 hours. The man threaten to kill her if she told her family and so for several days she literally suffered and bled in silence until a neighbor noticed her blood soaked pants. It would take 5 different hospitals before Beth & Pastor Chantha could get help for this little girl and even then the hospital needed 3 more days before they could even do anything for her injuries were so severe on top of the fact that she needed blood transfusions. When I saw little 'TV" today, she was one of the girls at Newsong who celebrated her birthday. It was a joy to see her smiling as she along with others were blowing out the candles on their cake. The staff commented that she has been doing remarkably well despite all that she has endured. To look at her, she is all of 30 lbs, skinny as a stick and so fragile looking that if there was a huge gust of wind she would not be able to stand. The man who brutally assaulted her was about 170 to 180 lbs (thankfully he is in jail awaiting his trial). I am amazed that she even survived this ordeal but I am thankful to the Lord that He has rescued her from death's doors and that she not only is in a place where He can rebuild and restore the broken gates of her life, but one day, she will be able to proclaim and tell of all the things the Lord has done for her as she fulfill her God given destiny.
While 'TV" is here in Newsong, her 3 little sisters comes to the Kids club in Svay Pak daily. Each day pastor Chantha's students will pick them up as the parents go to work and leave them home by themselves. The oldest is 7 years old and looks just like her older sister "TV" and the other two are fraternal twins who are 5 years old but in Cambodia, these kids are so small that they are really the size of a 5 and 3 year old North American kid. When I first met them they were very withdrawn and would hardly smile, nor say a word, but now over the past month, as they too have experienced God's love through His people, they are just like the other kids, playful, poking us and smiling. Each day some of Pastor Chantha's students take them to a little room by the kitchen and spend time feeding them. If they were left at home, who knows what would happen to them but here in The Sanctuary, they like many of the other kids are experiencing God's love and care and He is putting a new song in their heart.
As I think of the girls at Newsong and of these little sisters of "TV", I can't help but think of Mephibosheth (2 Samuel 9), the cripple son of Jonathan who when he was discovered, was invited to join King David and sit at the banquet table of the king for the rest of His days. In many ways, the girls at Newsong and those like 'TV's little sisters, are the modern day Mephibosheths----they have come from homes and environments where they were abandoned or treated worst than animals, where they have been crippled and crushed in their spirits, broken both physically and mentally but like Mephibosheth, they have been ushered into a whole new world, a world where they are known as daughters of the most high God, sitting at the Lord's table, enjoying His banquet, a world where they discover that their true value is based not on how much they are sold for or how poor they are, but based on the King of Kings, who has decreed that they are fearfully and wonderfully made in His image, the apple of His eye, chosen as His beloved.
Indeed the Lord has brought them to His home whether it be at the Newsong centre or at The Sanctuary, to delight in them, to overwhelm them with His love, His hope and His joy and most of all to give them a new life, a life where their hands will no longer hang limp, but one in which He rejoices over them with singing. Where He bestows on them beauty for ashes, a garment of praise for the spirit of despair, the oil of gladness for mourning, so that they will become oaks of righteousness, a planting of the Lord for the display of His splendor.