Wednesday, August 31, 2011

The Ratanak Office!


Well its official! The Ratanak apartment will also house the Ratanak Office in Phnom Penh. And for those of you who have been praying for my apartment hunt, I am thankful to God and to my Ratanak family in Canada and especially to our staff Beth and Stephen Lauer who found this apartment in January and have set it up to make my transition and adjustment smoother. 

Over the past month I have been apartment hunting and actually have enlisted 5 different real estate agents.  As an organization, God has showed us that having the Ratanak office in one of the main rooms in the apartment is beneficial for a variety of reasons. This apartment will also now be my new abode and so I'm now excited to begin the task of decorating and making the apartment 'my home' and at the same time moving forward on 'setting up our office' fully in the other section of the apartment. 


Thank you to all of you who have been praying. James 1:17 says: Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. I feel like God has given us at Ratanak the best and perfect gift by providing a place that meets not only our corporate needs but also my individual needs and more. All this to say, should any of you decide to pay a visit, I now have an extra room with a king size bed awaiting you! 


Anyway today, my 'A type' personality arose afresh as  I was in full throttle and went to the office furniture store that one of my friends had taken me to a few weeks ago and I began the task of buying a desk, office chairs, a filing cabinet and a computer printer table. Thankfully the store is located very close to an office supplies/stationary store and also close to my bank so I literally hit 3 places all in one shot. It made for a very productive afternoon. The furniture will be delivered to our office on Friday morning. 


Office Furniture Store


In the mean time, tomorrow  my computer guy Visol will be back installing a wireless router so that our office will now be connected through a wireless network. Currently, I walk around with an internet cable if I need to get on to the internet so it will be nice to have the printer and the computers all set up and connected to a server without the cable tagging along!


Next up after this will be the challenge of decorating the apartment. This is definitely not my forte and I am relying on God's creativity to show me what to do and what to buy. Thankfully He is the God of all creativity so for now I think He and I will have some fun as He stretches me in this 'right brain' activity by He leading me out of my comfort zone. Stay tune, this could be an interesting experience in and of itself!

Monday, August 29, 2011

Many Hats, many roles and The Ratanak Apartment

Do you ever wake up and feel like you are a bit of a schizophrenic or a person of multiple personalities :-) Being a one person 'team' in Cambodia for Ratanak means that any given day I am wearing multiple hats some times all at the same time. So the challenge is to continually keep asking the Lord, what it is I should focus on at any specific time of the day. My day usually begins as a 'student' with my Khmer lessons first thing in the morning but after that, the fun begins as I seek to navigate through the unstructured and some times unexpected dimensions of the day.

Today marked the first day that my 'house help' arrived to take over the domestic reins. This is one 'hat' I am happily relinquishing! Now in case you are all wondering about the kinda lifestyle we live here, having people to cook and clean is quite common even among missionary circles and the NGO world. In fact, I was even advised by my Khmer friends that not having a cleaner implies to them that we Westerners are full of pride and we don't need any help and can do things independently. Given that there are many people looking for a job, we provide a source of employment for them. My house help Lily actually turns out to be the sister-in-law of Bunthan (Pastor Chantha's wife). She has worked before for foreigners so that makes things much easier. While she lives in a suburb of Phnom Penh, she attends the church in Svay Pak on Sundays. She will come twice a week (Monday and Thursdays) to clean, do my laundry and yes even cook for me so that I can freeze the food and microwave it at my convenience. While this all sounds good in theory, I have not yet learned in Khmer the words for 'cooking, cleaning etc.' Basically, I have not had any lessons regarding the house work which is not surprising as I am not inclined to be a domestic diva! So Lily (who only speaks Khmer) and I learned to communicate in a whole new language today---its called 'sign' language! Thankfully, my tutor was here so he helped translate a few things but after he left, well, I had good exercise using my arms and hand signals! Here are some pics of the Ratanak apartment that I am staying at in which Lily did a great job cleaning. Here the floors are typically marble so its very easy to get dirty with all the dust etc.


A view of the kitchen and my bedroom to the right


The Dining area and the 2nd bedroom to the left

A view from the office/living room

The office where I have my language lessons

The Kitchen

All this to say, Lily has saved me a lot of time and for those of you who are interested to know how much one would pay for this service, well it varies. My OMF missionary friends pay their cleaners about $0.80 per hour and the other day I met the cleaner of our apartment complex. She makes about $2.50 per day  for cleaning only, which works out to about $0.50 per hour for a 5 hour work period. I will probably pay Lily the OMF rate since she is cooking and cleaning which will translate to about $8.00 per week.

So after lunch, it was back to 'work.' Given that month end is coming up, I had to put on my 'Finance' hat and started working through the financial spreadsheets sent by our staff in Canada and documenting all the receipts and invoices and making sure they all are expensed to the right accounts. Its a good thing I have a finance background. God never wastes any thing He has equipped us in. Shortly after that, it was time to put on my 'Human Resources hat' as  I got a phone call from a Khmer young man who is a security guard in the evening at the OMF complex. I have known him when I used to stay at the OMF team centre years ago and he had heard from one of my friends that I was looking to hire a tuk tuk driver for Ratanak.

Well by the time all this was done, I realized there were a couple other 'hats' that I had not have a chance to wear today one of which is being a 'landlord' for The Sanctuary building in Svay Pak. It seems there is a new tax policy in place for properties over here and the tax is based on the size of the building and the floors. However, all the documentation is in Khmer but I am thankful for our partners at Chab Dai. They are an endless resource for me and are always willing to help at a moment's notice. Tomorrow I will be off to visit them again to discuss this and of course some legalities regarding our operations---oh yeah that's the other hat ---the lawyer! :-)

So being a Country Director at this time is quite a unique role. In many ways, I see the Lord's hand in all of this as He is giving me much insight about all that is required to set up the operations here as He teaches me about all the different roles that will be needed as we hire our Khmer staff in the future. Certainly I feel like a Jack/Jill of all trades and master of none! But while at times, the multi-tasking and schizophrenic mindset can seem overwhelming, the Lord has shown me during this time, He is not only in control, but when everything else around me is changing, He never changes. Where there is much uncertainty, He is the one certainty that I look to, for He is the same yesterday as He is today and He will be tomorrow. He is the One who is absolutely reliable and trustworthy and who always follows through on His promises. For no matter how many promises God has made, they are “Yes” in Christ. (2 Cor 1:12).  He never gets overwhelmed and so too He calls us to walk the same path, with the same attitude. For as Lamentations 3:22-24 reminds me:  Because of the LORD’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.  I say to myself, “The LORD is my portion;  therefore I will wait for him.” I remain so thankful that He is in control of all my circumstances here. With Him as my portion, there is much hope, much joy and most of all much peace in the midst of competing priorities and ongoing demands!

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Dealing with the 'demand'

In the world of sex trafficking, one of many reasons or factors that contribute to sex trafficking of women and children is simply a demand for sex. While it is not the only reason, sadly, the demand for sex  is fueled by the massage parlors, karoke bars, brothels and internet pornography. So in tackling the 'demand' side of the equation, one of the groups that I mentioned last week in the blog is known as the MST (Male Sex Tourist) project. Today at the ICA church it was so encouraging to hear a testimony of one of the guys overseeing the MST project in Cambodia. But even more encouraging was to see 7 other men who are volunteering and are part of the MST outreach being surrounded by a group of their brothers in Christ laying hands on them as prayers were offered up for their ministry outreach.

In reaching out to victims of sex trafficking, the challenge has always been how can men get involved. The MST provides a way for guys to minister to the perpetrators. Today we were challenged to see the sex tourists the way God sees them. We were challenged to consider that they too need healing, they need to be restored, they need to be redeemed, they too were in need of God's grace. We were challenged to view them not as they are, but what they can become in Christ. As I sat listening to the testimony of one of the leaders of the MST project, I couldn't help but think that the work of transformation and healing needed for the sex tourists were as much an impossible task as the work of transformation needed for the victims. But we serve a God who is in the business of doing the impossible for both the perpetrator and the victim. We serve a God who is calling us to move out of comfort zones, we serve a God who does not believe in selective grace. We serve a God who challenges us to be His light in some very difficult, depraved and dark corners of this world because ultimately, He is challenging our belief systems that no one is beyond Christ's ability to transform or save.

Today I was encouraged to see that God is raising up men in the church, who are willing to step out of their comfort zone, to reach out to these 'modern day lepers', to tackle the demand size of this issue. Just as we who minister to the victims desire to seek justice one child at a time, so too my brothers in Christ who are involved in the MST project, are seeking to reach one sex tourist at a time. I am thankful to God for raising up godly men who are taking a stand for righteousness, for justice and for truth in difficult circumstances. This is not an easy ministry by any means as most men (and many females) that I have talked to about the sex tourists or pedophiles usually have a more hostile response to reaching out to such people. But God is challenging all of us to channel His righteous anger in us into a way that is so contrary to the way the world looks at these men. Once again, I am forced to wrestle with the truth of John 3:16 'that God so loved the 'WORLD' that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. Jesus died for the victim of sex trafficking as He did for the sex tourist. What a Savior we have. His love never ceases to amaze me! His grace continually astounds me and His mercy humbles me! God's ways are certainly not our ways, neither His thoughts our thoughts!

Pray that God would raise up many men in our churches that would be willing to do such outreaches. Pray for their protection as they do their outreaches in the red light districts of Cambodia. For those who may feel led to get more involved in the MST ministry, they have put out a prayer guide for Cambodia.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Welcome the Little Children

A few days ago I had mentioned in a previous blog about a desire to practice my Khmer with more Cambodians. God has a funny way of answering prayer. Today I went to Svay Pak and had a wonderful time practicing with two of pastor Chantha's students,Pheara and Malin. They willingly tolerated and  suffered through my endless questions and had a good laugh as I was asking them 'if they were married'.

Pheara and Malin -- Two of Pastor Chantha's students

However, the highlight of my time was sitting at a table with my notes and a little girl called 'C' came up to talk to me. It was a perfect opportunity to use my 'survival Khmer'  to ask her all the questions I had learned such as: what is your name, how old are you, do you have brothers and sisters, where do you live, do you like school, are you studying English and Khmer, what is your favorite colour---and so the questions went on and on and on and she was so cute smiling with each answer she gave me.

Little 'C'

'C' is 9 years old and comes to the Svay Pak school in The Sanctuary where she is learning Khmer and is the oldest of 5 kids. If there is one motivation for me to learn this language it is the privilege and opportunity to talk to kids like 'little C'. Language is so much a part of one's culture and it is such a powerful way of connecting people.  Little 'C'  was so welcoming and warm, curious to see what I was reading as she stood at my side looking at my notes, a few seconds later, she sat down and was even more curious to hear me talk in her language and most of all talk to her. With each response to my questions, she gave me this beautiful smile so I had to ask her  if I could take a photo of her. She willingly agreed. 

It is times like this when I enjoy hanging out in Svay Pak. In Matthew 19:14  Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” Indeed as I think of 'Little C' and many in this community who she represents, I could not help but wonder how many times they have been hindered in experiencing a childhood free from abuse,  free from fear, free from shame and free from guilt. I hope I will have many more opportunities to meet with 'Little C' again when I visit Svay Pak and talk to her about what she is learning in school and the God whom she is encountering each day and week through the kids club and Sunday school. It is a gift to be in the presence of these little ones for in their simple actions, I see the tender love of Jesus, attentive to my verbal babbling and patient in responding to my endless questions.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

My Computer Guy!

Visol - My Computer Guy!

Two years ago I began a 'thank you' journal during a season of wilderness. I was determined not to be like the Israelites who grumbled and complained during their wilderness experience and so during that desert time, I began to ask the Lord to show me one thing each day that I could be thankful for. Some times it could be just seeing the beauty of His creation, other times it was an answer to prayer, other times it was an encouraging word or scripture that I receive from a friend, some times it was a visit from a friend or a random act of kindness I see or hear about. Other times, it is just the joy of experiencing God's presence or seeing His faithfulness. One of the benefits of a 'thank you' journal is that it serves to keep me looking up and focusing on Him despite the visible reality. It serves to cultivate an attitude of gratitude to the Lord on an ongoing basis and to limit any form of discontentment. But more than anything, it serves to remind me that God is always at work in our lives. When our spiritual eyes are constantly open and alert to His promptings, it has the ability to enlarge one's faith and trust in Him at a whole new level.

So tonight I know what I will be thanking the Lord for in my thank you journal---it is thanking Him for Visol who will now officially be our computer consultant and hardware specialist. I was referred to Visol from our friends at the Chab Dai Coalition as I was looking to buy a printer for the Ratanak office. Well it turned out that Visol was trained for 5 years at Yejj. Yejj is run by Helen Sworn's (Chab Dai's Founding Director) husband Trevor. Visol still partners with Yejj but now runs his own computer business and is available 24/7 for any technical problems. So as I am looking to set up our computer network for our Ratanak office, Visol is an answer to prayer. He not only speaks great English, but he certainly knows how to get the best and cheapest prices on HP laser printers. Today he fixed one of my laptops which was having problems connecting to the internet and next week he will be back again to set up a wireless router and server so that we can operate in a wireless and wi-fi type environment. Now this may not seem too difficult or too complicated for any of you computer folks, but here in Cambodia finding qualified people who are skilled and know what they are doing and can get us the computer hardware we need and set it up for a reasonable price, is not always easy. But I am thankful to the Lord.  Slowly but surely, He is leading me step by step and connecting me with people who can be part of our work here to help us get set up. 

Truly the Lord who has called us is faithful and He will do it (1 Thess 5:24). He indeed continues to show me step by step that His hand is upon every detail of what we are doing on this end. Next up is trying to find a financial person who can help me manage the finances on this end and of course I'm still looking for my apartment. But I take heart in knowing that in His perfect timing, He will provide. He simply calls us to rest in His faithfulness as we wait upon Him to provide the right people for Ratanak and of course the 'perfect home' for me! Thank You Jesus for being the One who supplies all our needs according to your glorious riches! (Philippians 4:19)


Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Same, Same But Different

A popular phrase that I often hear over here is 'same, same but different.' This phrase is becoming more true to me today as I had 3 hours of language lessons by two different teachers. Over the past week and a half, I have had a private tutor called Chheut who teaches me for 2 hours each morning. This week I started my daily free lessons at LEC (Language Exchange Cambodia). LEC is located about 15 minutes from my home and was actually set up by an Indonesian family who live in Cambodia and is well known among the NGO and international community as the place to go to learn Khmer. So off I went on Monday to inhale further language study!

LEC's Office

Today my head is spinning as I'm discovering there is so much slang in the Khmer language. (I'm sure new immigrants to Canada probably say the same thing when they are learning English!) My private tutor teaches me a few ways to say the same thing and my other teacher (nyeck crew ---Khmer for female teacher) at LEC is giving me other words to say the same thing. It is 'same, same but different.' I think my brain is going to explode from trying to remember all of these words which mean the same thing. There is a formal way of saying things that you would use when you are writing and then there is an informal (slang) way that the majority of Khmer speak---the latter is what I am learning. The one good thing about this is that you don't need to remember people's names. So for those of us who have poor memory recall, all you need to know is older (bong) or younger (Own) and uncle (Pou) for the tuk-tuk driver and you can are off to a good start. The trick though is figuring out who is older or younger. All Asians (sorry for generalizing) generally look younger than their age and so we all call each other 'own'.

Cheata, my 'Nyeck Crew (teacher) at LEC

Trying to learn a second language when one is still working on mastering their own language is quite a challenge. In North America, or least in Canada, we don't normally open our mouths in a wide or broad way. Not sure if you get what I mean but here, I feel like I have to do mouth exercises and contortions to get certain sounds and open my mouth wide to pronounce certain words. However, progress is being made so thanks for your prayers.
Louise a British national who is good friends with one of my other friends having her language lesson

Come September 1st, I will be switching over to LEC and ending the private tutoring. LEC's teaching methods are a bit more organized and better in reinforcing what I have learned by training us to 'think' in Khmer versus translating the words back into English.  I am forced to practice on the spot asking questions and responding to questions by a variety of people. They even give homework so my challenge is to find someone to practice with as most of the time I am spending time meeting with English speakers. I've started to enlist Mickey my tuk tuk driver as one of my 'practicing targets' and suggested from now on we speak only in Khmer. One of my other missionary friends has also been helping me with the pronounciation and last night we were having a good laugh speaking to each other in Khmer. However we both figured that when we go back to Canada, we now have a second language to talk in if we don't want other people to know what we are saying. That could come in handy in certain situations! :-)

All this to say, please continue to pray for God to give me the gift of the Khmer tongue, for good memory retention and for people that I can practice with on a regular basis. My pastor's wife recently sent me a wonderful quote by author Frances Chan from his book 'The Forgotten God' that serves as a good reminder that apart from Him I can do nothing and this includes grasping this language and all the slang in the variety of ways it is spoken. Referring to the Holy Spirit, France Chan writes:  "I don't want my life to be explainable without the Holy Spirit.  I want people to look at my life and know that I couldn't be doing this by my own power.  I want to live in such a way that I am desperate for Him to come through." This is the prayer of my heart not only for my own personal pilgrimage here in Cambodia but for the work of Ratanak International. Not by might, not by power, but by the Spirit of God! (Zechariah 4:6)

Monday, August 22, 2011

Networking

Navy Chann (L) and her staff associate Amanda

Tonight I met up with a Canadian Cambodian Navy Chann who heads up GCT (Genesis Community of Transformation) Navy survived the Khmer Rouge era and was in the Refugee camps for 6 years where she became a believer. She and her family ended up in Calgary. In 1998, God called her and her husband back to Cambodia. I got connected with Navy through the Chab Dai Coalition. Her organization GCT is focused on creating meaningful job experiences and work opportunities for Cambodians by providing job and career counselling, life skills training, coaching on job readiness, internship opportunities and job placement for young people. In the future, GCT wants to create a Centre to provide innovative and entrepreneurial training for woman and youth.

In Cambodia there are so many organizations doing  a lot of amazing works but so often every one operates in silos for a variety of reasons. Organizations like GCT seek to network and provide collaboration among businesses with the ultimate purpose of connecting young people to companies that allows them to utilize their skills and training.  One of the most fascinating analysis that has come out of a recent research paper done by GCT is the fact that approximately 73% of students are interested in starting their own business.The challenge is access to capital.Many of these young people do not have adequate funds to set up their own businesses.  One of the tools available to provide such assistance is micro finance loans. Microfinance offers poor people access to loans, savings and other basic financial services and is a powerful tool for empowering the poor and restoring dignity to them by giving them the opportunity to work and contribute to the well being of their societies.


Seeking justice for the poor and the oppressed involves seeking economic justice for them.To alleviate poverty people need a ‘hand-up not a hand-out’. The poor need real jobs, not subsidized ones.  This is the cry for dignity and self-reliance that they deserve. Richard Stearns, author of 'The Whole In Our Gospel said, for Christians, this is a justice issue or, stated more bluntly, a moral issue in which those of us who have plenty seem willing to allow others to have nothing. It is not our fault that people are poor, but it is our responsibility to do something about it. But it’s more than money. Poverty is about lack of essentials such as food, clean water, and basic health care. Poverty is about lack of hope for the future, because your children can’t get an education—if they survive their first five years of life. Poverty is about not being able to find meaningful work. Poverty is about lack of dignity. This is not how God intended the world to be. 

Pray that the Lord will direct our steps as we seek to connect with organizations who are involved in vocational training and employment for former victims of trafficking. Our desire is to see former victims of trafficking become not just functional members of their community but ultimately a blessing to it. For this to happen, we long to see them have the opportunity to dream God sized dreams and to see those dreams become a reality as they have access to the right training and the right job that enables them to to live out their God given destiny.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

A Small World

Cambodia Bible Institute

Today I decided to go and visit the ICA church. ICA stands for International Christian Assembly which is a a church that caters to expats, missionaries and NGO workers who come from all over the world to serve and work in Cambodia. ICA used to be located in the World Vision building but recently moved to the Cambodia Bible Institute which is quite a distance. Finding this place was quite a task and thanks to my friend Anne who explained the directions to my tuk tuk driver, we managed to get there a few minutes late but nonetheless, it was great to enter into a time of worship in English. It felt like I was back in Toronto attending a lively worship service with familiar songs that I hear at my own church. One of the neat things about attending these services is the opportunity to worship with so many different cultures. Currently people from 31 nations are represented in this 300+ congregation.



In the middle of the service, any newcomers are asked to stand up and say where they are from. Ironically, many years ago when I attended an ICA service, it was then that I had the privilege of meeting Marie Ens of Place of Rescue and it was through Marie that I learned about the work of Ratanak International. So today, I discovered again how small a world it was as after the service I reconnected with some of Anne's friends whom I had met in the first weekend when I had arrived in Cambodia. But shortly thereafter, a gal sitting behind me said she had met me before. Of course my memory these days is not all that great but it turns out that last year when I was here, we had connected through Samaritan's Purse. She is another Canadian from Calgary who is here for a year looking to get involved in development work and so we are hoping to meet up for dinner. But that was not the only connection, over the past couple weeks I have been emailing back and forth with an Irish couple who have been serving in Cambodia for the past 6 months and had heard about the work of Ratanak International. We have been trying to set a date to meet. Ironically, they too were at this service and came up to introduce themselves to me.

But attending ICA is also a great way to network in the Christian community and to learn what others are doing. Today, one of the presenters was from an organization that is seeking to reach out to Male Sex Tourists who frequent the bars in the waterfront area. The outreach ministry is called MST and was established in Thailand. There is a training session happening this coming Friday and then there will be an opportunity to go to the waterfront and minister to the sex tourists. Part of me would love to go to learn more about this ministry but for now, I am trying to be mindful of not trying to take on too much in these early days. Perhaps as time permits in the future, I will go and check this out. As the presenter said, this is just another kind of 'unreached people' group that needs to be transformed by the Lord. It is so encouraging to see a group of people in the church taking on this very difficult task of reaching the 'Johns.' While not all of us are 'called' to reach the 'Johns' it was a good reminder that no one is outside of God's grace.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Cooking Lesson 101

Today Pastor Chantha's wife Bunthan and one of their disciples Siny came over to my home to give me a cooking lesson. One of the first things they did was to go into my fridge and see what food I had. But it didn't stop there, they examined my cupboards checking out what cooking ingredients and cookware I had accumulated since I arrived. For those of us who live in the west, we might find this quite an intrusion into our personal space, perhaps crossing a boundary, but I have to say, I had a good laugh and welcomed their curiosity and interest. They were on a mission to see what they could cook based on what I had available.
Bunthan (left) and Siny (right) getting ready to show me how to use the rice cooker

One of the first things they wanted to do was to teach me to cook rice. Yes I know it seems funny and perhaps I would say odd and embarrasing that as an Asian, I do not know how to make rice but alas, such is the case! Don't forget, I'm 6th generation Chinese South American so I never claimed to be a 'real Chinese' person! I only learned to use chopsticks when I was 18 years old! Thankfully, I had purchased a brand spanking new mini rice cooker last week Saturday at the local market and it was still sitting in the box. So Bunthan began her lesson showing me how to rinse the rice and measure it. A vague memory came back to my mind as I recall my Mum showing me something quite similar many years ago! Anyway the lesson continued as I watched and observed a variety of ingredients going into making a chicken rice soup---from salt, fried garlic, sugar, some kind of soup power, rice and of course some left over chicken and its bones.

Bunthan cutting up my leftover chicken

My two cooking teachers did not stop there though, they were so gracious wanting to wash up the dishes they had used to prepare the meal. Finally the finished product was done and it was time to sample it. It was indeed quite tasty and so for the upcoming week, I will have two meals of soup to eat!
Chicken Rice soup with carrots

Bunthan has offered to come once a week to give me some more cooking lessons. I'm looking forward to seeing what else she will teach me. It is such a joy to be a 'learner' in this environment. So often we in the West have a tendency to come to places like Cambodia to 'teach' the 'locals' new ideas and new ways of doing things. They often are on the receiving end while we are the ones giving. In  a strange way, my 'cooking weakness' is a great opportunity to build relationships and provides a way for me to learn from my Khmer friends, to receive from them and be blessed by their giftings.  Not only that, I get to practice my Khmer so that is an added bonus.

Perhaps there is a reason why the Lord did not create me for such domesticity. Perhaps it was for such a time as this, that in this environment, through my weakness, His grace would not just be sufficent but be evident through the people He sends my way to encourage and strengthen me. 1 Corinthians 12:4-6 says:  There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit distributes them.  There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord.  There are different kinds of working, but in all of them and in everyone it is the same God at work.  Today, is one of those days when I got a glimpse of God working through the different kinds of gifts and services that my Khmer Christian friends have. Indeed as we use our gifts to bless one another we are administering God's grace to each other (1 Peter 4:10).

Friday, August 19, 2011

Exercising Khmer Style!

These past few days I've been a bit house bound for a variety of reasons. One of which is that we are in rainy season and when it rains, it rains hard and the roads are slightly flooded. By late afternoon the clouds set in and the downpour comes. It actually is a welcome relief from the midday heat. However, today was one of those days when the clouds came but there was no rain and so I took the opportunity to go for a late afternoon walk. One of the things I would like to do here is to go on prayer walks on a daily basis while listening to sermons or worship music on my Ipod. Its a good way to get exercise and at the same time provides a good form of decompression for one's spirit. I used to do this at lunch time during my work day or in the evening when I got home from work and so this afternoon, I decided to go and scout out what the possible routes are. Of course in Cambodia we have no such things as sidewalks you are part of the 'traffic' on the road.
The road outside my apartment


Heading towards the Independence Monument

Not too far from my apartment is a huge roundabout where the Independence Monument is located. It was built in 1958 and is in the centre of the city. It is in the form of a lotus shaped stupa, of the style seen at the great Khmer temple at Angkor Wat and other Khmer historical sites. During national celebrations, The Independence Monument is the center of activity.


The Independence Monument

Near The Independence Monument are large boardwalks where many Cambodians hang out with their families and friends. To get there is itself a challenge as one has to navigate through the traffic. Here you cannot hesitate when you walk as you will confuse the motorcyclists and the cars. You literally have to wait for a small clearing and then go forward. It may seem crazy to do this but its amazing how the cars and motos simply weave they way around you.

Boardwalk

Along the boardwalk there are many interesting sites to see. For those who want to walk, this is the place to come. It's like one huge track and everyone is orderly going in a counterclockwise direction. You will see families walking with their kids or young people just hanging out sitting on the benches nearby. No kids playing video games here. You will see men playing a ball game which I believe we call 'batchi' ball. That in itself is an art to keep a ball in the air with your feet. Further along the route are women playing badminton.

Men playing 'batchi ball'

Badminton anyone?

However one of the most common sites that you will see in Phnom Penh around these boardwalks is large groups of people, mainly women who are doing some low impact aerobic exercises to dance music. It is a very cute sight to see. In recent times, Cambodians are becoming more health conscience. Part of the reason is that Type 1 and type 2 diabetes is on the rise here. Rice is the staple food here and is usually eaten in large quantities for breakfast, lunch and dinner as it is the cheapest food available for the average Cambodian. As such, the lack of exercise and increase carbohydrate intake has resulted in a rise in diabetes. So in these open air boardwalks, many women are seen exercising in the later afternoon when the temperature is much cooler and the sun is going down. Am not sure where the men are. It seems they are more inclined to play ball games with their male buddies or head to a gym. Below is a video clip I took that will give you an idea of the kind of music they work out to!

Exercising Khmer style!



Perhaps one day I will have the courage to join these ladies but I hear a small fee is required to participate in this open air aerobics. For now, I'll stick to my walks and people watching from the sidelines!

All this to say, now that I have figured out my walking route, the trick is to find the right rhythm between work, play and exercise. This is all part of the intentionality of caring for my soul in this environment, it requires finding the time to rest and to rejuvenate and to slow down the frenetic lifestyle that so easily those of us with Type A personalities tend to default to. But in addition to this, the purpose of these walks is more than an aerobic workout, but  rather it is an exercise to work out what's embedded in the soul.  For just as God walked with Enoch, Noah and others (Genesis 5:24, 6:9) so too Jesus walks with us as our souls' companions whether we are walking along the dusty, polluted roads of Phnom Penh or the paved roads and sidewalks of North America. These walks are in essence a 'soul exercise' that allows one to focus on Christ, to be still, to be quiet, to be contemplative, reflect, pray and hear God's voice. It's another way to experience Immanuel - God with us, to become not only aware of His presence but to enjoy the presence of the One who calls us His beloved!

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Figuring Out The Calories and product labels!

While in Canada we have so many food choices and different brands, over here the choices are limited. One of the places that most foreigners go to shop is Psah Lucky or Lucky Market. It is the one of the few supermarkets that we have here and it is about an 8 minute walk from my apartment so its quite convenient as I am missing my walks and use this as a way to get a mild form of exercise until I get a better routine. Lucky is like a western supermarket and so you will see many expats or rich Cambodians going there to buy their groceries. The local brands are much cheaper to buy as many of them are imported from Vietnam or Thailand. There are a few western brands but the prices are almost double what we would pay in North America so one quickly learns to be creative in their eating and shopping habits. Thankfully, I tend to crave more Asian foods over here because it is so hot, so I don't feel like I am missing out. Since the portions here are much smaller, one tends to eat less and drink more, so in a sense there is less chance of being obese.

Ingredients listed at the back of the package in Khmer
One of the challenges of living in Cambodia is trying to figure out what ingredients are in the food you buy. Unlike North America where one can simply look at the back of a package and find out the calorie count and all the other materials that goes into a product, here it is not as easy. For one thing, none of it is written in English and secondly, not everything listed highlights the calories so if you are trying to eat healthy, well, better pray and ask God to show you what you should be eating or better yet cook your own food based on what's available.
This bag of local chips is about $0.80 compared with $4.00 for a bag of Doritos!

Thankfully the Lord has provided some wonderful expat and local friends here who know my culinary limitations and so they seem to know when I am in need of a home cook meal. But there are a variety of restaurants (French, Lebanese, Indian, Asian, Australian, Khmer) near where I live along with a couple coffee shops that do a great soy latte,  so I definitely will not starve. Nonetheless, I am looking forward to experimenting once I have more of a routine in my schedule. For now, I have discovered a wonderful rotisserie chicken at Lucky Market that provides a good back up for dinner along with my usual cucumbers and tomatoes! The perfect meal for a hot night!

The other day I was trying to figure out what toiletry supplies to buy to clean my bathroom. Again, one can find a few overpriced Western brands but I opted for these local brands(see below) based on the descriptive pictures on the labels. This is all part of the fun of shopping locally and better yet, for someone like me who hates spending money on cleaning utensils, cheap is good as long as it does the job, even if I can't read the instructions!

 Instructions in Khmer or Thai--- not sure. But thank goodness for the picture labels that explains the product use!

So part of adjusting to life here is learning to embrace the cultural differences in food, in availability of products and learning to welcome these changes with an attitude of thankfulness and with a sense of humor. In Cambodia, it is so easy to focus on 'what this country doesn't have or what it lacks' but if anything this is the age old trick of our enemy who wants us to focus on what we do not have by tempting us to focus on the one tree in the middle of the garden that we have been advised not to touch. God gave us access to the entire garden except for that one tree but instead of looking at the abundance before us, Satan tempts us to look at what we lack or our inadequacies.It is an attempt to feed discontent in our spirits by shifting our focus on the negative.  The apostle Paul says in Philippians 4:12-13 - I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. 13 I can do all this through him who gives me strength.  So in these early days, I have been reminded by one of my mentors to follow the 'cloud', follow the presence of God as He leads me in a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. Look to Him daily and do not move until He says move. Truly the importance of daily keeping our eyes fixed on Christ despite the visible reality, enables us to live in His strength and to experience His joy in the midst of change and transition.  As a sermon I read recently said, all of our experiences, tests or situations that we are called to embrace are there to develop us into the person we need to be to live out our destiny. Everything we go through has been aligned by God to forge into us the person He has called us to be. 

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Here, There and Everywhere

Today is one of those days of running around and jumping from one thing to the next. My second language lesson went well and now I can tell the time in Khmer. Thanks for those who are praying. My tutor continues to be amazed at how quick I am picking up the words but I said to Him its because of the prayers 'arkun preah ang ---thank you God!' Anyway the morning was spent back and forth at Chab Dai as I had some meetings with Yeng and Helen regarding the paperwork we are doing as we set up our operations here. As part of the process, I realized I had forgotten my passport at home as the Chab Dai staff are basically helping me get my NGO visa which allows me to go in and out of the country without having to worry about paying for a new visa each time. I don't even have to go line up at the government ministry offices as the staff are taking care of all of that for me.
Yeng (left) and a couple of the Chab Dai staff

Following that I was off to the bank to finally pick up my local ATM card. It takes about 20 minutes to get a phone set up but 2 weeks to get an ATM card. So now I have a local bank account, a local ATM card and for those who are planning any trips to Cambodia, our Canadian ATM cards also work here. I hear you will be charged $3.00 per transaction and the challenge is to take out a lump sum so you don't pay alot of service charges. I haven't tested this out as yet as personally I hate paying service charges. Of course having worked for several banks over the past 16 years, I didn't have to pay any service fees so I am trying to avoid that as much as I can! ;-) But even if your Canadian bank allows you to withdraw large sums, the local ATMs limit the amount you can withdraw so this is just another one of those things that one has to navigate when they move to a new place. If anything, it encourages you to spend less which is probably a good thing!

Tonight I went for my second visit at the Agape Home. This is a spinoff of the Newsong centre (the long term rehabilitation centre that Ratanak has funded since 2006)and is a transitional home run by our partners at AIM for 9 girls ranging in age from 16 to 20 years old. The girls all used to live together at Newsong and as part of their transition into independent living, they have moved into Agape Home with their house mum from Newsong. All the girls work at Bloom in different capacities and they are each discovering the challenges of independent living as they have a curfew to be at home by 8:30pm during the week days. There is a schedule for cooking and cleaning as they take turns helping the house mum with these domestic duties. They all have boyfriends and like typical teenagers, they like to challenge the curfew times and just like teenagers in North America, they are constantly texting their friends or talking incessantly on their cell phones.
Sisarat with the house mum's grandchild called Bebe

Tonight Sisarat, the assistant director at Newsong was suppose to teach the girls a lesson about the danger of drugs and alcohol. But the girls managed to persuade her to postpone it for another night as they already had 2 hours of life skills training at  the Bloom centre earlier today and were complaining they were mentally tired. So while no 'official training' occurred tonight,  that did not stop Sisarat from discussing some issues with them. As they sat on the floor lined up against one of the walls, she was talking to them about treating people with respect and about being careful with their words since some of them have a tendency to swear. One minute they are like angels and the next, they are a totally different person. Despite their erratic behavior, it is clear that they know they are loved by Sisarat. She commands a great deal of respect from them and while she jokes with them, she challenges them with questions that they are asked to reflect on regarding their behavior.  After this time of group sharing and venting, we held hands together and spent time in prayer.

In the weeks to come, I will continue to spend more time with Sisarat and the girls at Agape Home to get a better understanding of the issues they are dealing with as they adjust to a whole new living environment. As I think of the new found freedom that these young women have, I am reminded of the words of the Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 10:23 'Everything is permissible, but not everything is beneficial.' Trying to encourage young women how to be responsible adults with new freedoms is not easy. Their teenage hormones are raging, they want to stay out late, they are earning money and are having to learn how to budget and save in the midst of parental pressures and obligations that require them to support their families---some of whom were responsible for selling them in the first place. These are just a small snippet of some of the challenges they face. Pray for the Lord to bless them with wisdom and discernment as they explore their freedom. Pray that He will help them to make wise choices daily and that the mind of Christ will be upon them so that they will know what is beneficial, what is true and what is appropriate for the challenges they encounter.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Language Learning and a money BBQ

One of the first things that I have been eager to get started with is learning the language on a more intentional basis. Through one of the teachers in Svay Pak who runs his own language learning institute, he arranged for one of his staff to come and tutor me privately. So today began my first day of language lessons with a young man called Chheut (pronounced like Chout). He is only 26 years old and I told him he could be my son! It turns out that he is also a believer so before we got started, I asked if it was okay if we prayed as I figured I will desperately need the Lord's help if this language is going to stick in my brain! So we prayed what I like to call 'Korean style prayer' although over here its known as 'Cambodian style prayer'---we prayed out loud together...he in Khmer and me in English....I often find this kind of prayer confusing but oh well, one has to go with the flow. God can hear us all at the same time and He is not confused so that's all that matters.

Chheut my 'loak kreu (male teacher) in the office section of the Ratanak apartment

So my daily lessons will start from 7:30am to 9:30am in the morning, 5 days a week. Chheut traveled an hour to my place as he lives near Pochentong which is close to the airport. Because of the traffic, he wasn't sure how long it would take and so he ended up at my apartment at 7am. Cambodians are so polite and so he waited downstairs with the security guards until it was 7:30am. I mention to him that if he gets here earlier just to call me as its not a problem since I am usually up by 5am anyway. I'm thankful that God has wired me to be a morning person as everyone here is up early but they also go to bed early, something that I may get used to at some point!

The one advantage of having a private tutor come to my house is that it saves time and I don't have to commute. The cost is slightly cheaper too at $5.00 per hour compared to $6.00 per hour if I went to a language school (more on that later). It has been recommended by a few of my international worker friends here to spend the first 3 months just learning the verbal language---they like to call it 'survival Khmer' so you can least begin to feel functional and then after the 3 months, switch over to reading and writing so I'm planning on following the same program. My tutor Chheut was impressed by the array of language material I had...unfortunately since I haven't been practising while I was in Canada, I lost a lot of words but today he was quite encouraging and suggested that I have a good accent! Perhaps God is answering my prayers or maybe they all say that to build us up at these early stages!

After two hours my head was spinning but we managed to cover a lot of topics---from pronouns, to numbers (I can recite my phone number in two different ways in Khmer), to asking a series questions about what is your name, where are you from, what do you do, how old are you, where do you live, are you married----this latter question is one I often get asked especially by the students in Svay Pak. Thankfully they know my 'standard answer' ---'yes I'm married to Jesus!!! :-). One of the interesting things about learning a new language is that there are different ways you address people especially if they are part of the upper echelons of Cambodian society. You just have to figure out if they are of the 'upper class' or if they are just 'average' folk.  Even the type of 'bow' you do is different as it reflects a more respectful tone. My Japanese and Korean friends can probably relate more to this since those cultures often demonstrate respect to a person by giving a much lower bow. Those of us of Chinese descent, don't bow but I guess I'll be learning about that. From a spiritual perspective, perhaps the Lord will use this to teach me more about humility!  All this to say it was quite a productive two hours. Now I just have to try and retain all that I was learning---that is where the real challenge will be!

Later this afternoon, I got a text message from another language school called LEC. This is one that several of my friends go to and its about 15 or 20 minutes by Tuk Tuk from my home. Last week when I went to register their classes were so full that I was put on a waiting list and was told I wouldn't be able to start till August 22nd. Today, they are now offering me 5 free language lessons next week in the afternoon so I think I will double up on the lessons and try them out and compare to see what their teaching style is versus the one that I have at the moment. The neat thing about both the language lessons I am receiving is that I am learning Cambodian 'slang'----its how the average Cambodian who lives and works in the markets would speak so this is extremely helpful as I have noticed when I was speaking my Khmer in Svay Pak this weekend some of the kids did not understand what I was saying because it was the more 'formal' way of speaking. So do pray that the Lord will give me the gift of this language. Thankfully it is not like Mandarin or Cantonese where there are all sorts of tones cause I think I'm tone deaf! However, there is a few nasal sounds that I have to figure out how to make.

Anyway, since I didn't get a chance to blog yesterday, I thought I would share with you another cultural experience called a 'money BBQ'. Over here the word 'BBQ' is not associated with eating meat. In fact, it has a very different meaning. It actually refers to cremating a body. I recall one of my friends here telling me that they got invited to a Cambodian BBQ and being that she was a meat lover, she was looking forward to going. Can you imagine the shock on her face when she discovered she was going to witness the cremation of a body!

A barbecue in Svay Pak?

Well in Svay Pak yesterday, I almost had the shock of my life when I saw in the the main street a bunch of people dressed in white wearing white head pieces. In the middle of the street they were burning something and as I went closer to see with one of Pastor Chantha's students I was told they were burning a body as well as everything else associated with that person.  This community never ceases to amaze me with the 'shock value' it provides. It was only later that I was told by Bunthan that 'no it was not a regular BBQ' it was a 'money BBQ' meaning that the relatives of the deceased were just burning paper money to appease the ancestral spirits.

A 'Money BBQ' 

As I look at these pictures, there is much to ponder about the belief systems on this side of the world and how that translates in terms of the value and dignity of life and what people believe they need to do in order to ensure their deceased relatives live a 'peaceful' life in the 'hereafter.' As followers of Christ, we are well aware that Jesus died one of the most barbaric deaths on a cross where his dignity was stripped for all to see. Yet it is this Christ, who by His death and life, confers dignity on us, who gives us value and more than that, offers us the gift of eternal life where we do not have to appease any spirits to ensure rest,  for He is the Prince of Peace, who enables us to rest in peace both now and in the life to come.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Shopping and Entertaining Khmer Style

One of the joys of moving to a new country is trying to figure out where every thing is. Thankfully God in His infinite wisdom has surrounded me with wonderful shoppers and tour guides who happen to be international workers here. So today, my 'chauffeur and chef' Catherine from OMF took me to buy a few items. While Canada has shopping malls or outlets to find all that you need, here in Cambodia, you have to go to different parts of the city and to different areas to find what you are looking for. There are a few malls that have recently popped up in these past few years but the average Cambodian does not shop there because the prices are just too high. So to shop like a Cambodian means that you go to the local stores and markets.

My friend has given me the OMF orientation manual for new workers which is basically several pages highlighting prices of items one would need when they are setting up a house here. It is a great guideline to give you an idea of what you should be paying for certain items so that you don't get ripped off and where to go to buy them. I am hoping to enhance this list and develop one for Ratanak so its a great to have a base to work from.
Rattan shops

So this morning I was on the hunt for a few household items. One of them was a rattan laundry basket. Rattan furniture is quite cheap over here and with the hot temperatures it is the perfect type of furniture to decorate one's home so we were off to Mao Tse Tung boulevard as there are several rattan shops to choose from. Unfortunately my 'white skin' does not help in the bargaining process....despite looking Asian, I still pay a premium although not as much a premium as a 'real caucasian.' :-) My friend Catherine is of Filipino background and so she blends in well, looking like a local so we have a strategy that she goes into the stores first and talks Khmer to them. Today, I was successful in securing a Rattan laundry basket all for the price of US$7.00.


Next up we headed to Orussey market---this is where the locals shop. This is the 'Walmart' of Cambodian markets as the prices here are much cheaper than the other two big markets where the tourists hang out.
Orussey Market

Here you can find anything you want, but what I fail to realize is that they bargain in the local currency known as Riel (4000 riel to one US dollar). As a result, I almost ended up paying more than 4 times the asking price for a broom I was trying to buy,  but thankfully the shopkeeper did not hear me and only heard my friend's price. Some things get lost in translation and this was one of those moments that you have to laugh at yourself.



As I was having some Khmer friends over for a late afternoon visit, I asked my friend what it is that they would eat. It seems fruits and local delicacies would be the most appropriate items to get for my 'tea' time event and so in Orussey market, we hit the 'food section' and discovered that there was a Chinese religious festival going on and as such there were all these special foods in display. Below is a range of eateries including cakes and pastries.




I have to say I was tempted to buy them all but self control kicked in and I managed to stick to the plan of purchasing some sticky rice packets and local fruits such as Custard apples, Dragon fruit and Mien (not sure what the English name is for that but its a form of lychee).
 
 Cambodian delicacies including sticky rice packets in the green bamboo leaves

 Custard Apples


One of the interesting discoveries of this Chinese religious festival is that the families burn all sorts of items as part of their rituals of paying respect to their dead relatives. Here you will find 'fake' American dollars in addition to an assortment of paper made shirts and items.

 Fake US dollars being sold

By the time I got home, it was time to clean up the apartment in anticipation of my Khmer guests. Over this past year I have had the privilege of speaking to three of the teachers at the Newsong centre via skype. Yesterday they had phoned asking if they could come and visit me at my new 'home' and this afternoon at 5pm they arrived. It has been a real privilege getting to know these sisters in Christ and hearing their journeys of faith.

 Newsong Teachers from left to right: Vichny, Thida and Channa. Vichny's husband Yetho( left works for World Vision)

As the Lord would bring them to mind, do pray for them. They work hard at Newsong encouraging and affirming the girls in their studies. There job is not a typical 9 to 5 teaching job but it also involves working on some Saturdays, going on a variety of outings with the kids. In many ways, they along with the house mums, social workers and counselors represent the hands, feet and voice of Christ to each girl who lives at Newsong. They have such a deep love for the girls and the girls experience God's love through them. This is evident by the fact that the younger girls love hanging around their office even during break time.

Tonight before they left, we formed a circle and spent time praying for the personal needs of each other. They were praying in Khmer while I prayed in English. I look forward one day to having the privilege of praying in Khmer along side them but for now, this prayer time serves to remind me that in Christ we are all one!  4 For there is one body and one Spirit, just as you have been called to one glorious hope for the future. 5 There is one Lord, one faith, one baptism, 6 and one God and Father, who is over all and in all and living through all (Ephesians 4:4-5). It is such a special blessing to experience this oneness in Christ regardless of culture, ethnic background and life experiences. As a favorite Cambodian phrase says: 'we are same same but different'----we share commonality in Christ and yet celebrate our differences appreciating the uniqueness in which God has wired us through the cultural lenses that we have experienced.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Connecting with Ratanak Partners and Friends

Today I am once again thankful for Ratanak partners and friends who are helping us navigate various aspects of setting up our operations. This morning I met up with Helen Sworn who is the International Director and Founder of Chab Dai, an umbrella organization that represents a coalition of 40 Christian organizations seeking to end human trafficking and sexual abuse in Cambodia. Ratanak has funded prevention programs in vulnerable communities through Chab Dai since 2006 and it has been a source of encouragement to see more and more village leaders, police and other community leaders speaking up to advocate for children in their villages.

Helen is quite the networker over here and a person who has a broad arrange of knowledge on issues and  today she was helping me navigate a bunch of operational and administrative tasks that I will be involved with in setting up Ratanak's operations in Cambodia. Besides providing me with the necessary paper work, I have also been given access to her staff who act as a valuable resource in walking me through all the legalities, documentation and agencies that we will be connecting with in Cambodia. I remain thankful to the Lord that He is going ahead of us corporately as an organization and leading us to the people who have experienced in a various matters that we are dealing with. One of the advantages in talking with another business person like Helen is that we both understand the importance of leveraging off of existing networks instead of reinventing the wheel. Having this kind of support is so invaluable and I feel like I'm back in the business world---funny how some things never change even if you are in a different country!

Following that meeting, the next pit stop was at Bloom Training Centre to meet with its founder Ruth Larwill. Bloom seeks to empower former victims of trafficking through vocational training and employment. For all you dessert lovers, this is the place to come and taste some of the most amazing cakes and cupcakes. Many of the girls from the Newsong centre come and work at Bloom and its was so encouraging to hear how the Lord is rebuilding their self confidence and self esteem as they use their creativity to make some of the most beautiful cakes that are being ordered by some of the elite families in Cambodia including the prime minister's family. God has certainly used Bloom to have a positive impact on the lives of the girls but as Ruth noted, its not enough to provide them with a job, but to understand how to care for their souls as they struggle through a variety of issues while at work. Ruth highlighted how the spiritual component has been such a vital part of equipping and strengthening the girls. Having regular devotions and prayer times at work have been powerful tools needed to work through demonic activities, family pressures and ongoing effects of their past trauma. This is a similar comment that was echoed recently when I visited Daughters cafe (another Ratanak partner).  When Christ begins to take hold in their lives and transforms their thinking, they gain a whole new level of confidence and courage that with Jesus, they can accomplish much, despite what their families or society may tell them.

As well, there is a growing realization that even at these training centers, there is a need for onsite counselors who provide emotional support and encouragement as a girl deals with the challenges and stresses of the working world. Listening to Ruth, I am learning that it is not just sufficient to provide the training and life skills to help this vulnerable population but it must be done in conjunction with providing social enterprises---- businesses that create an environment that foster a discipleship model so these young women feel part of a community that walks with them in their journey of integration. While many of the girls appreciate the 'independence' of having a job and earning a decent living, there continues to be a longing to be part of a family. This is not surprising since most have been sold by their mothers and so they have no concept what it is like to be in a loving supportive family.

Like Bloom, we at Ratanak are committed to not just investing and empowering these young women, but we view them as our daughters, committed to walking with them through their journey of healing into their journey of freedom even if it takes a life time. We are there for them, no matter what happens.We covenant with them, just as Christ covenants with us. As I think of this, it is the verse from 1 Corinthians 13:7-8 that comes to mind: Love always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails. It is this unconditional love that Jesus has towards us, that He asks of us to do the same to these who are precious in His sight. Stephen Smith, author of The Lazarus Life says: Transformation does not come from earning love, it does not depend on our efforts to 'make it happen. Transformation comes from being loved! Only the voice of Love will do. Only love transforms, not power, not coercion, not programs, not tips and techniques. Only love and only the love of God.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

You think you have seen it all in Svay Pak but then you discover another layer of sexual deviance and you once again are left to ponder, what next. Such was the case this afternoon when I was visiting Svay Pak and having a coffee with Pastor Chantha just outside Rahab's house. He pointed out a young 14 year old boy who every evening is trafficked and less you think he is just sold to pedophiles, think again. He is trafficked by his mother as a 'lady boy'----before he leaves Svay Pak in the evening, he is transformed into a 'girl' with a full layer of make up. This has been going on for the last 2 years of his life and if you think that is humiliating, he is further ridiculed by the kids in the community

 'N' is like any boy during the day, but at night he becomes a 'ladyboy'

"N's mother - a trafficker

Can you imagine what it is like to live under such conditions daily? Can you imagine the level of shame, guilt and embarrasment he is forced to endure? Can you imagine the living hell and the torture he must face each day both internally and externally? The level of human degradation and depravity in this environment is so hard to understand and comprehend. The reality is that we can't really understand because this type of activity is not 'normal'. Satan has so blinded the eyes of the families in this community that they will find 'creative ways' to make money by selling their children, whether boys or girls. Money is their idol.

It is times like this when I realize that it is only by the grace of God can these children ever have any hope of being healed and being transformed into His image. Unless He shows up, unless He touches the deep wounds in their soul, unless He restores their dignity and their identity in Him what chance do they have of surviving this traumatic ordeal that envelops their lives on a daily basis. Pray for 'N,' for God to some how intervene in his life, to break this cycle of bondage and set this young boy free from the emotional, mental and physical captivity that He is forced to endure daily. Pray for 'N's' mother and the other mothers in Svay Pak who view their children as a sexual commodity to supply all their material needs.