Sunday, August 7, 2011

My Khmer Family

This morning I left home at 7am via tuk tuk on my way to the morning services in Svay Pak---a place well known around the world as pedophile's paradise. We often call it ground zero for child sex trafficking in Cambodia. And yet it is in Svay Pak, in the brokenness of this community, I see the beauty of Christ through the children who live there and the young people whom I have had the privilege and pleasure of baptizing last year. As we drove along the all familiar route of Sisowath Quay near the waterfront, I put on my Ipod to a song that has in many ways become a theme song for this chapter of my life and for this nation which God has burden my heart for. It is called the 'Hope Anthem' by Bethel church. I found myself  using the lyrics as a prayer for Cambodia and for the people in Svay Pak as we drove along the river front area:

He's awakening the hope in me
By calling forth my destiny
He's breathing life into my soul
I will thirst for Him, and him alone
He has come like the rain (in Cambodia)
That showers on the barren plain
So my heart and tongue confess
Jesus Christ, the hope of man

My hope is in you, God
I am steadfast, I will not be moved
I'm anchored, never shaken
All my hope is in you

He's bringing hope to the hopeless
And giving his heart to the broken
And sharing his home with the orphan
He is the joy, He is my joy
He is the hope of the nations
The Father's heart we're embracing
He is the song we're declaring
He is the joy, He is my joy

As we entered the main street of Svay Pak the place was bustling with people out on the streets selling their foods during the breakfast hour. As we passed by one of the vendors, I heard a little voice calling me by my name, it was KL --- one of the fiesty young girls who loves the bible and memorizes scripture.  The tuk tuk pulled up in front of the Sanctuary and it was great to see some of the familiar faces of the disciples and Bunthan the wife of Pastor Chantha.
Bunthan and her son David

My first pit stop was into the Sunday School which is being held at Rahab's House and there in the crowd were a few more familiar faces---they were still here, safe and sound but slightly taller. I think they will tower over me in a couple years! And then I was introduced to the latest member of Pastor Chantha and Bunthan's family----this is Rebecca. A little 6 year old girl that they adopted but she is so small you would take her for a 3 or 4 year old. Her biological mother lives in the border town of Poipet---a place known as the armpit of Cambodia but as she already had several other children with a few husbands, she had no desire for little Rebecca. She was offered money by traffickers for this little girl but thankfully she refused and was encouraged by a church member from the Svay Pak church to take Rebecca to visit Pastor Chantha as he might help. Well, he did more than that, he and Bunthan welcomed her into their family and adopted her as their own. God truly sets the lonely in families!


Heading up the stairs to the service in the Sanctuary, I could hear the music playing loudly and once again it was such a joy to be greeted by a few of Pastor Chantha's disciples. One of the first songs played at the service is called 'Jum Reap Sua'---which means 'Hello'---instead of just verbally greeting the church members, the disciples go around singing the song to the entire congregation. Here's a snippet of a 'Cambodian style greeting' in a video:
Cambodian style - greeting song

Then the worship began with the disciples singing several upbeat songs with a variety of choreographed danced actions. 
Praise & Worship at the Sanctuary

After the service, a small entourage of kids, Siny one of the disciples and I decided to go for a walk to find some special young boys. These boys who are now teenagers use to be drug dealers and little pimps and over time began to change as they felt and experienced God's loved by the staff in Svay Pak. They would often be the ones to take the photos of pedophiles and used to attend the kids club and a special class was set up for them because they were all illiterate.

The Twins

However, while one still attends school on a somewhat regular basis, the twin brothers have had to find jobs to help support their families. So one of them is now a security guard at a garment factory. We went to visit them and I spent a few minutes praying for them and encouraging them with the words of Jeremiah 29:11 ---that God has a plan for their lives and that He wants to give them good things and if they seek Him, they will find Him. It is interesting that these verses were given to the Israelites during their own time of exile. How much more these young Vietnamese boys must feel as they live as exiles in a country in which they have no citizenship.  Sadly, another young teenager has moved to Phnom Penh, grew his hair long and is now a 'ladyboy' selling his body to men. Those of us who know him, often felt he had the most potential as of all the boys, he was the one that was the most caring and considerate of the young kids. As I reflect now on that, I can't help but wonder if he has a level of understanding of the abuse that the girls in this community have experienced. The thought crossed my mind that perhaps he will one day end up in the 'ladyboy' program that is part of the outreach of one of our partner organizations. God has an interesting way of orchestrating events. He never forgets those who feel marginalized and oppressed! This community of Svay Pak has certainly taken its toll on the lives of all who live here and yet, despite the visible reality of these stories, we believe that the Lord can still restore lives that have been broken and redeem all the negative experiences that are so much a part of this little village!

Well after returning to the Sanctuary from my walkabout, another surprised awaited me. Pastor Chantha's wife Bunthan knows that I am not really a dessert person but I do love my fruits. And so while my birthday was last week, she had arranged for a 'birthday cake' made of my favorite Asian fruit as I was greeted with a 'Happy Birthday' song by the disciples and given hand written birthday cards by the disciples. Each of them now writing their greetings in English unlike last year when I got their comments in Khmer.
My birthday fruit cake!

Singing birthday greetings!

Lok Lak - a traditional Cambodian dish for 'meat lovers'

For lunch, Bunthan had prepared one of my favorite Cambodian dishes called Lok Lak. It is a marinated beef with lemon and black pepper. 

So here in Svay Pak, I am once again humbled by God's goodness and His love poured out to me through my 'Khmer Family' --- young or old, they continue to demonstrate to me that in these dark and difficult places, God's love can reign. Evil doesn't have the last word. Love does! They have not only chosen the path of love, to reflect Christ's love in such tangible ways but they never grow weary of welcoming all who come into their community with open arms. I am blessed to know them and thankful to the Lord for giving me the gift of their friendship!

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