Saturday, January 29, 2011

One of The Least of These

Team Member: Jessika

I was sitting at the back of the Kids' Club clapping my hands as they sang.  Then I saw a little boy who was dozing off the entire time.  He was one of the brick factory slaves.  He and his big sister just sat there, starred at the dancing crowd without a screen of emotion.  The sister held tight of her baby brother with her arms. She was probably 4 years old, the little brother 2 years old.  

2 minutes later, Beth went over and sat among the children and held a sleeping child in her arms.  Beth waved me over and automatically I chose to sit next to the big sister and the baby brother.  They didn't look at me or even showed any response as I sat down.  I said hello, no response, no eye contacts, they were still starring at the dancing crowd who were exuberantly praising Jesus in songs.  The Holy Spirit prompted me to simply open my palms as I sat, I made my right hand available to the sister.  She looked at me with hesitation and looked away.  I surveyed all around.  There were another big sister and little brother.  Their clothes were covered with dust, red dust, yet they were full of smiles.  Especially the little brother who kept poking the other little brother and trying to make him smile, of course to no avail.  

All of a sudden, a little hand slipped under my palm.  I looked, that was from the big sister who placed her left hand on my right hand.  Our fingers were intertwining with each other.  Her hand was rough, fingernails all crowned with dirt, her hand was warm and sweaty, so was mine.  Yet we didn't want to let go of each other.  I held her hand up to my heart and looked at her with a smile.  She looked at me with the same facial expression.  We held hands for the longest time and all of a sudden she shifted her sitting position and she started to lean over and crossed her arm around mine.  I sat there trying to compose myself as my tears streaming down.  I said to myself, "she is holding my hand, she wants someone to hold her hand, Jesus sent me here to simply hold her hand."  After a while, the other big sister poked my leg with her little finger.  I gave her a big smile and opened my another arm to her. She immediately jumped in and made herself very comfortable sitting in between my legs.  She rested her head on my leg the way Heather likes to do when we hold each other.   Her feet was touching mine and she felt so comfortable just lying down closing her eyes.  So here I was having these two little girls finding respite in my arms, and I simply offered myself to them both.  It was hot that afternoon, the smell of their head-lice hair was rising up.  I was re-arranging the hair of the girl and thought to myself, that was what Jesus wants me to do, to have my arms opened to them even only for that particular moment. 
As a mother, I knew that this trip to Cambodia (especially to Svay Pak) is an invitation from Jesus that I need to let go of my own 2 children, allow my arms and presence to be available for the children He wants me to be with, for however short a period. As I held these 2 girls in my arms and legs, I could hear my King said to me, "Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things, I will put you in charge of many things.  Come and share your master's happiness."  - Matthew 25:21
I was there on a Tuesday afternoon, in the middle of Svay Pak, on one of the floors of the Sancturary, holding on to these 2 precious one.  I didn't give them anything to eat, I didn't offer them a cup of water, I didn't give them clothes, I was not a doctor to them when they were sick.  All I did was offer my presence to them, offer my hands and feet and I know that is the invitation from Jesus.
"Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me."  Matthew 25:40

Friday, January 28, 2011

What A Wonderful Day!

Today the team visited the Newsong Centre---a long term rehabilitation centre for victims of sexual slavery. Ratanak has had the privilege of partnering with AIM (Agape International Missions) from the inception of this ministry. 

Team Member: Sarah A.

Today was my absolute favorite day so far. We went to NewSong and played with the girls, watched them play volleyball (and some of us joined them!) and got to dance and talk and see them draw pictures for us.  It was just the funnest time ever! It was so wonderful, after 2 years of praying for these girls, to finaly meet some of them face to face.  One girl was really interested by my skin. She said that she liked that it was so white and she wanted to trade skin.  I told her that hers was beautiful (sa-at in Khmer) √§nd that mine was only white or red, so hers was better for the sun :)  At only about 10 years old (though its hard to tell because Cambodians often look really young) her English was fantastic, and she was even translating for the other girls! She sat to my right as we watched the volleyball game.  I think she was the one to approach me and ask me my name, followed by her three friends who were sitting near by and moved in to join the conversation.  It's amazing how free and loving these girls are once they warm up to you. The excitement of the volleyball game really helped. 

Another little girl, who had only been there a few months, sat on my left for most of the time and snuggled up to me.  She was so adorable.  She went and got some paper and a pen and drew over two dozen little pictures for me, each time explaining in English what she was going to draw: cat, dog, umbrella, queen, cake... the list went on and on! I was so impressed by her lovely drawing and her English.  As we walked through the centre, we were all impressed by the fantastic artwork lining the walls of the classrooms, and adorning the girls' beautiful rooms.  Such attention to detail, each one of them was just a work of art.  And a crowning treasure (though they are all little treasures!) was at the end of the day, one of the girls who looked so traumatized and upset actually responded when I bowed goodbye to her, and hugged me and smiled! It was so lovely to see little ones come out of their shells and warm up to love. 

Speaking of love, the staff at NewSong were SO full of the love of Jesus. It radiated from their very pores.  There was such a freedom, and a willingness to serve the Lord in their faces - they were such a striking contrast from so many faces that I've seen in Cambodia.  Someone remarked in the car ride home that if all the Christians in Canada were so full of love as those Cambodians, the whole country would be saved! It was such a joy and a delight, and an HONOUR, to be able to set foot in NewSong today.  And it was more than I could ask or even imagine to be able to play with the girls! 

Thank you Jesus for such a wonderful, wonderful day!!!


This is the day that the Lord has made.  Let us rejoice and be glad in it!
Psalm 118:24

Thursday, January 27, 2011

A Reflection on Hagar

 Ratanak has the privilege of funding  Foster care homes for both boys and girls who have been trafficked in addition to a women's program through our partner Hagar Cambodia

TEAM MEMBER: Linda Ruth 

Hagar. A woman used. A woman controlled, with no say over her own body."Go, sleep with my maidservant," said imperious Sarah to Abraham; "perhaps I can build a family through her." Even her children were not to belong to her.
Hagar. A woman mistreated. A woman scorned. "Get rid of that slave-woman and her son," said Sarah to Abraham; "that slave-woman's son will never share in the inheritance with my son."
Hagar. A woman not even addressed by name ... except by God. The angel of the Lord calls Hagar by name. Two different times, in her distress, the angel of God finds Hagar and calls her by name. And both times God not only sees her, comforts her and assists her, He also promises her that her descendants will be too numerous to count and will be a great nation.
Hagar. The name of an organization dedicated to caring for outcast women and children. It was our very great privilege to spend an entire day at Hagar Cambodia.
The Hagar motto is: "Whatever it takes for as long as it takes to restore a broken life." The Hagar committment is to take, nay, to WELCOME, the hard cases that other NGOs won't touch. The Hagar vision is lives restored from brokenness to wholeness: strength and resilience, independence, health, justice done, sustainable income, connection with God. The Hagar cheer is "We believe in the unbelievable."
The day we spent at Hagar was a day of inspiration and joy. We met a number of the local staff who shared with us the details of their responsibilities, their challenges, and theri stories of lives transformed.
Hagar operates four recovery shelters to house women, girls, boys and children who have suffered sexual abuse and exploitation, trafficking and domestic violence (a huge problem in Cambodia). It provides safety (the security was impressive), health care, confidentiality (there is much stigma in Cambodian society for those who have been abused), counselling, legal support to rectify the wrongs done to them and seek justice, love and acceptance, career path support for adults, and schooling for children. The children's schooling is intense, as it is "catch-up schooling." Many of the girls and boys at Hagar come from poor families and have had little to no schooling. Hagar's program allows them to cover two years of school in one.
Hagar's aim is to reintegrate its clients into the community. If returning to their family of origin is an option, Hagar facilitates this with investigating the family, helping the client and family re-establish contact, and helping with the transition. Where this is not an option (because, for instance, the child was sold by the family of origin), the client can be placed with a caring, loving foster family or, for Hagar clients who have attained the age of majority, in a group home.
The Hagar staff we met radiate the peace of Christ. Their love and compassion for their clients is plainly evident. Their competence and professionalism and dedication to excellence are unrivalled. We were privileged to hear story after story of Hagar clients whose lives had been restored - stolen land returned, predators prosecuted and in prison, medical care restoring function and healing, clients going on to study medicine, social work, theology ...
At the end of the day we were invited to play games or dance with the students. I went to the dance area and we learned some Cambodian steps. I was hopeless at it until one young girl took pity on me and patiently walked me through it, staying close to me to make sure I got it. One of our team members is a dance professional and the children were delighted with the moves she taught them. It was a time of fun, joy and laughter.
Truly the actions and promises of God toward Hagar and her child, the woman used, abused, mistreated, scorned, rejected ... the child denied an inheritance and expelled to die ... truly God, through the Hagar organization, calls them by name, sees them, saves them, heals them, accepts them and provides for them. "We believe in the unbelievable," say the Hagar staff, for nothing is impossible with God.

The Joy of Knowing Him!

Team Member: Jessika writing:

Okay, so here I was standing in the street of Svay Pak, I cannot believe my eyes. The brownish dusty street looks a lot narrower and smaller than I thought.  I cannot believe this was the moment, I was about to walk into this biggest building in Svay Pak, called The Sanctuary.  It houses free medical clinic, community school, church and the kids' club.  Kids' Club is what makes my heart jump in a speed of running deer!!  My team mate, Sarah C, and I walked into the Sanctuary, the first sound we heard was the roaring sound from above.  The roaring sound of laughter and loud music were pounding on this concrete and ceramic tiles above our heads.  Sarah C and I looked at each other and said, "they are upstairs. oh my goodness, they are upstairs."  All I wanted to do was to run up and glued my eyes to the kids, and only God knows what is in my heart for them.

The rest of my team were busying unloading the 4 luggages of medication generously donated by our churches and friends from the van, hauling them from the van to the medical clinic area.  While they were busy emptying suitcases, all I could do was counting in my heart, "when can I go upstairs?" when all I could hear was the thundering sound of music blasting.  Again, the roaring sound of laughters again, their laughter and cheers were ear-piercing.  I was "warned" before how ear-piercing it could be, and now I have my first hand experience.  It was loud, I mean really loud, I mean really really loud!!!!  They would close their eyes, yanked opened their vocal chords, and out burst whatever that was in their hearts!!  I remember I said to myself, even if I come out deaf, well, yeah, so what??

We walked up and saw them, they were there standing in an orderly 8 rows.  When they heard someone walking up behind them, they immediately turned and looked at us with a feisty look on their faces.  I saw a lot of things.  I was looking for signs which I have been told could be evidence of abuse.  As my eyes gazed around this little crowd, I couldn't help but wonder if one girl who was shifting her blue dress almost the entire time and who appeared to be literally falling asleep hugging her knees, was one who had been 'working'  the previous night.  There was another girl who stood at the very back, feet together, and she seemed to have trouble standing and there was yet another one whose dress had blots of blood stain.  Could these be the signs of ones who had had endured a night of unimaginable pain.  I don't know, but  I could feel the tears welling up within me, tears thick and dense in sorrow, yet I remembered, I need to focus onto the hope of Jesus.  I was swallowing my tears. Jesus is among them.  They were worshiping the LORD.  They were closing their eyes praying.  One of them was in a complete face down posture that her entire body was facing down to the ground.  I was still swallowing my tears but the Holy Spirit prompted me to smile.  Smile?  I couldn't imagine myself smiling after seeing all these signs.  Am I crazy?  How can I smile?  Yet the Holy Spirit awashed in me the redemptive joy only the LORD Jesus Christ be able to give.  He prompted me to smile.  So I smiled.  When the kids were dancing and singing "Every Move I Make" in Khmer, I could not even stop laughing.  Their joy was contagious and it penetrated every nook of my inner being.  The joy of knowing Him.  The joy of knowing their lives are in His hands.

"Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence?  If I go up to the heavens, you are there, if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.  If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast.  If I say, "Surely the darkness will hide me and the light becomes night around me," even the darkness will not be dark to you, the night will shine like the day, for darkness is as light to you."  Psalm 139:7-12

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Driving Through Brothel Areas

Team member: Jessika

I look forward to this day coming for the past two years, imagining myself sitting among the children in Svay Pak, and yesterday was the day.  Svay Pak is only 11km outside of Phnom Penh and also a notorious child sex tourism district where pedophiles would often travel to and prey on vulnerable children.

I was sitting in the middle of the van with a heart full of mixed emotions.  I stayed quiet and prayed under my breath, yet opened my eyes to absorb as much as I can as the van waived through the traffic on such dusty road.  My team leader, Beth, whispered in my ears to remind me that we shall focus onto the hope of Jesus despite facing the evil doers is difficult, we shall not back down and allow not Satan to taunt us, “I am not going to let satan take that part of me.  I have had enough of it. I have had enough!!” she said.

The children there have an air of resilience that none of us could possibly compare.  What they face head on in the evening is absolute torture – 10-20 clients a night, working from 6pm to 3am????  Imagine that, please just imagine that!!  Yet they don’t have the luxury of simply imagining about it, but that is their reality, day in and day out.   They will be drugged up before being carted to the hotels in Phnom Penh so they can be compliant sexually and enhance their performance upon all these pedophiles’ request.  My blood is boiling up to 100 degrees by thinking about it.

Before we went to Svay Pak that afternoon, we had our first taste of driving through the brothel areas in Phnom Penh the night before.  The drive on a tuk tuk around that area already too hard for my eyes and senses to imagine what is it like being enslaved in one of the brothels.  The smell, I will always remember the smell.  The colourful Christmas string-lights indicate there are girls for sale.  The pedophiles and sex tourists stroll down the streets with a Vietnamese or Cambodia girl following him.  How old is she?  Under her thick make up, probably 15 or 16 years old.  The sex tourist (I am quoting one of team mates here) acts like he is taking a stroll on the beach, having the moment of his life, claiming his toy and heading “home”.  I saw invisible shackles between the sex tourist as well as the girl.  The girl is obviously shackled and exploited as sex slave.  The pedophile is also shackled in his own sexual fantasy and power play leading to his predatory behavior towards vulnerable young girls.

Psalm 23 strangely settled in my heart as my emotion took me to a rocking ride on my way to the hotel.

“Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.  You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies.   You anoint my head with oil; my cup OVERFLOWS. Surely your goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever.”

Many fronts of brothels and its streets intricately are woven together in a narrow dark alley when there are people all clustered out on the street.  The tuk tuk can hardly drive through it in a speed.  Yet my LORD invites the 13 of us to walk through those places, and bring our gospel of peace with our feet fitted with the readiness, so that even in the presence of the enemy, a table will be prepared before me. This is exactly what happened this past Sunday when we celebrated communion in the Sanctuary (church in Svay Pak) . We enjoyed the table that the Lord has set before us even in the midst of traffickers, mama-san, and pimps sitting amongst us --- after all  His table is open to everyone--- to everyone who turns to Him!

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

A Woman's Obedience

Blog comments by Jessika - Ratanak Vision Trip Team Member

Our van made a various turns to alleys after alleys, I have lost a total sense of direction as the driver was taking us to Daughters of Cambodia training sites.  Prior to that, we visited the Daughters store front at the heart of Phnom Penh and met all these young women who choose to escape the sex trade by learning a life skill so that they could sustain their livelihood instead of returning to the brothels.  It was humbling being in the same room with them witnessing their precision of sewing each thread into a pattern.  How poised they all are when I hold up my palm greeting them “‘chum reap sua”, how they return with the same greeting with their bright smiles.  The LORD is at work in and among them.  How I was mesmerized by their precision in serving us even pouring iced water into our glasses.  His redemptive love is POWERFUL and shinning from each one of them – including boys and girls.
It was all coming from a woman’s obedience, Ruth Elliott, who followed God’s call against the world’s view of success and achievement, but chose to walk into the darkest of the darkest places to invite young women to change their lives around.  Prostitution is not a profession, it is absolutely cruel and dehumanizing----just another form of slavery.  It robs dignity from a human being, most of all, it robs  the beauty and preciousness as God intended.  Ruth Elliott introduced us to different businesses and programs she is running all by the grace of God, the confidence in her reflects Christ Jesus’ power and strength simply rising up like eagle’s wings soaring to the limits of the sky.
I have heard about her and her ministry for years.  Now I was standing right in front of her listening to her sharing about her journey to follow His call and to catch His vision and to live out His vision despite the danger and sacrifices she already has had made – I SIMPLY STAND AMAZED IN THE LORD’S PRESENCE!
While she talked, I glanced around the room which is a Daycare Center which is opened to take in young children whose mothers are working as sex workers.  These kids were taking their afternoon naps.  Their legs and arms were sprawling all over the floor.  Some were nursing in the nooks of their mom’s arms.  I could literally see His peace enveloping all around that ground floor area with the back drop of children’s laughing and playing and their mothers’ soft voices.The sweetest combination of sound and smell for His peace dashes across the room to the floor back up to the ceiling.  His peace punches light in darkness and that says something.  That is absolutely a place of refuge and solace to which these young women and their children could go, so that they could find refuge from the violence they received domestically as well as in the brothels.
I could go on and on about these few hours’ visits, I was able to hold up my tears until the very last 20 minutes as we prepared to leave, I heard a familiar instrument, guitar, was being played somewhere.  A boy picked up the guitar and started to strum out the song “Here I am to Worship”.  Then he started to sing this song in Khmer, and after the verse he sang, someone jumped in with the perfect harmony ever.  I stood there in floods of tears worshipping the Lord with them.  A team mate and I stood there frozen, did not want to leave.  It becomes the beautiful song ever for the LORD beckons me to understand not only when I called upon His name, I will be saved, but as all the boys and girls at Daughters  encountered the loving and living God, called upon His name, they not only will be rescued from the physical violence, but also the spiritual bondage they were trapped in.
“And everyone who calls on the name of the LORD will be saved.” Joel 2:32

Monday, January 24, 2011

Ratanak Vision Trip Team in Cambodia from January 21 to February 2nd.

A Ratanak Vision Trip Team is in Cambodia from January 21 to February 2nd. The team is made of up of several folks from Cambridge and Toronto, Ontario and Vancouver who volunteer and are involved in supporting Ratanak in a variety of ways on the homeside. The team is led by Beth & Stephen Lauer, Stragegic Operational Mangers for Ratanak.  The team is visiting several Ratanak funded projects over the next few days so that they can gain a greater understanding of how to assist in public awareness, fundraising events and prayer ministry for Ratanak International. We are thankful for their support. Below are blogs from some of the team members.

TEAM MEMBER: Linda Ruth Ciglen (January 24, 2011)

Cambodia feels so familiar - because I have been praying for it for three years? It actually looks a lot like the Dominican Republic, where I was on a mission trip last February! Tropical foliage, stucco'd buildings behind fancy gates, shops right on the street, chickens and barefoot children wandering around, lots of motorbikes piled with people and loads, same crazy driving and no collisions ... except that the people are Asian rather than Dominican or Haitian, it could be the DR. I feel very much at home here.

So far we have spent some time getting oriented to Cambodia's history, especially the trauma of the Pol Pot genocide. We went to the notorious Tuol Sleng prison in Phnom Penh and to the Killing Fields. At both places we had English-speaking guides to take us around. Both guides had lived through the genocide. Our guide at the prison was 8 years old at the time. She, her mother and one sister were able to escape over the border to Vietnam. Her dada and the rest of her family were killed. Our guide at the Killing Fields was 17 years old at the time. Both his parents were killed, as well as some siblings. He was able to escape. Please pray for these two people and the rest of the Cambodian people who are survivors, that God would restore the years that the locust has eaten and would gently uproot any bitterness that has taken root in them, and give them His peace - that they would come to know Him and be restored and redeemed by Him.

We also saw the Royal Palace. I had a hard time here. It's full of frozen wealth - gold, silver, diamonds, emeralds, a lot of it in the form of idols (buddhas). I have a hard time seeing this ostentatious display and thinking about how it could be turned to living resources to help the people.

However, the true treasures of Cambodia were at the church service in Svay Pak we attended. Church runs from 7:30 AM to 10 AM - I think because it's the cooler part of the day. The service was led by the young adult leaders - the associate pastor (a young man) and the young woman leader. I have been praying for these two young people and others of Pastor Chantha's disciples for over a year, so it was an incredible blessing to meet them in person. The joy of the Lord radiates out from them. Listening to the Khmer language during the service - I can understand Jesus' name, not much else, but it didn't matter. It's like listening to prayer in tongues or singing in tongues, my spirit responds even if my mind doesn't understand. Pastor Chantha preached from John 6, so I could follow along in my Bible, and he had several people sit near us to translate, so we got the gist. We had communion together - such sweetness in sharing the Lord's table together!

Meeting my hero Pastor Chantha in person, wow! The light of Christ shines out from him. The church was packed at 7:30 in the morning. The cell group leaders were introduced - a new set of seven or eight people, both men and women, to pray for, who are leading the during the week Bible studies. A young man, very fashionable, who I could so easily see in a different lifestyle had he not been touched by Jesus, got up to sing a song very well. I could only understand the hallelujahs, but it was wonderful! One of the house mothers from the New Song centre (where the youngest rescued girls are sheltered, protected and treated) came with her husband and three of the New Song girls - two of them (very young still) had been trafficked in Svay Pak - such courage to return!

After church, I also got to meet a young girl for whom I've been praying for a long time, to keep her safe from being trafficked. God has answered those prayers, as she is still safe! She is so beautiful! She gave me a hug. I cannot tell you the mix of emotions that came over me to actually have my arms around her, whom I have carried in my heart and prayed for for so long.
Today we are going to the Daughters of Cambodia project and will be spending the entire day there. This ministry works with older girls who have been in the sex industry in order to support their families (parents and siblings) but who want to get out. Daughters gives them schooling, training in business skills and a trade (sewing, jewellry-making, cooking and catering, that sort of thing) and support to exit and set up their own business. Please pray for this ministry and for the girls. 

TEAM MEMBER: Jessika Mak (January 20, 2011)- Blog Title: This One Man

My first stretch of flight from Toronto to Taipei, there was one man on the aisle seat, sitting next to myself and my team mate, as I sat in the middle. This man has this smoking bad breath carried with him, breathing out an awful stench and starting to get across to my nose. He moved and shuffled himself a lot. I needed to readjust my sitting position so that he won’t have his blanket pushed across to my side.  I was on guard and couldn’t fell asleep.

At last my team mate, LR, had a chance talking to him, finding out that he was heading to Cambodia, like we were, and said he was going to Cambodia working for a NGO.  Right off the bet I was very alarmed and got very antsy as the conversation went. As soon as our conversation landed on the reason why we and the rest of the team came to Cambodia was to be with vulnerable children who are at risk of being sold as child sex slaves. He immediately dismissed that child sex slavery is not as serious as malaria and dengue fever. He then also dismissed that Cambodian parents would not sell their children for sex. My alarming system totally got out of whack as he spoke and muttered quiet words under his breath about how long he is going to stay and the uncertainties of how long. The profile and his intention of going to Cambodia started to surface in my mind.

I started to pray and commanded that anything that is from the darkness be immediately bound and fled in the powerful name of Jesus. Any form of darkness that is creeping to my skin and spirit, I asked in the powerful name of Jesus, to be immediately stripped of its scheme and action and that we all be covered in the blood of the Lamb.  Any demonic force, Flee away!!

I will never forget about his stench coming out from his breath and his shirt, the body odor rising up every time he moved and shuffled. I held my breathe and prayed. After a while, as I excused myself to go to washroom. I came back, he was not in his seat, and I didn’t see him coming back to his seat for the entire flight journey.This is my first encounter of a potential sex tourist.

Father God, I pray for your protection as all these sex tourists flew from all over the world to do such evil thing with such intention in such a time. Father God, I pray you will stumble their way, mess up their plan, make them sick and ill so that their evil plan would not be perfected. I pray that as they come to satisfy themselves with such a distorted view of sexuality, they will know that the only way that can truly satisfy the void is to come to our Lord Christ Jesus. For He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life.