Sunday, September 4, 2011

A Visit to Svay Pak and a haircut Cambodian Style!

Today I decided to visit my Khmer friends in Svay Pak. It had been a few weeks since I had last been to church there and I wanted to practice my Khmer with Pastor Chantha's disciples/students. One of the reasons I love coming to Svay Pak is the sense of God's presence in the midst of this squalor community. As my tuk tuk turned into the narrow main street at 7:35am, the local cafes were bustling with mainly Khmer or Vietnamese men having their breakfast. I couldn't help but pray a blessing as we drove through the main street asking the Lord to bless the people who live here, to shine His light into the dark corners of this neighbor and to restore hope to this community.

As I arrived at the Sanctuary, it was a pleasant surprised to see the kids in the Sunday school all lined up in their neat little rows sitting in the main floor. They usually hang out at Rahab's house which is 3 buildings down the street.  I heard my name being called and saw a couple little friends waving at me with a smile on their face.  I can't help but wonder, aren't we like that with Christ, calling out His name wondering if He notices us, wondering if He sees us.  I love to see these little ones smiling. In the environment in which they have grown up, really there isn't much to smile about, but even in the midst of darkness, their smiles are a glimmer of hope that God is at work, restoring joy despite the surrounding darkness. If I had my way, I probably would have lingered here in this area a bit longer and just hang out with them, but Pastor Chantha stepped out of their ground floor apartment and off we went to the service on the third floor.

Every now and then, the disciples do an evangelistic skit and today was one of those days where they performed a familiar skit of a young woman being lured and drawn a way to a life of sex, money and drugs but eventually Jesus reaches out to pull her out of this pit and cleanses her of all her sin. I've posted a video and a couple photos below to give you a sense of the musical drama.

There was also a team from the U.S visiting from Menlo Park Presybertian church. If you have heard of the author John Ortberg (he wrote 'If you want to walk on water, get out of the boat) among other books, this is his church. Anyway, the team had taught a song at the kids club during the week and decided that they would perform it along side Pastor Chantha's disciples. It was a fairly energetic kid's song and I'm sure the kids must have enjoyed doing all the actions.

After the service, I had the perfect opportunity to practice my language with one of my little friends 'S' and proceeded to ask her why she liked coming to church. Her response in Khmer was 'so I can know Jesus because I love Him.' Our conversation continued and I asked her if she was going home and she said 'yes' and wanted to know if I wanted to come. Well, I never refuse when a little kid invites me to their home in Svay Pak so off I went with one of Chantha's disciples and along the way two other young friends 'SN' and her sister 'C' joined us on our short trek along the alley ways.
'S' sitting in the white dress next to her grandmother

We arrived at 'S's home and her grandmother got up from the wooden bed with a mattress that looked like it hadn't been washed in years. She dusted off the 3 plastic chairs and invited us to have a seat inside. We had met previously last year and she seemed to remember who I was. I wasn't quite sure what I was suppose to do so I asked a few questions in Khmer trying to find out where was 'S's mother, how long her grandmother had lived in Svay Pak and which province was she from. 'S's grandmother declared that 'S' has no mother and she was responsible for taking care of 'S' and the other kids of her other daughter. I felt the nudge of the Holy Spirit to pray for her and with the help of the Chantha's disciple who translated for me, we prayed for God's provision upon this family and for them to discover that He does not forget the poor, nor the broken, nor the grandmothers who are left to take care of their grandchildren.

After the prayer, the conversation took an unexpected turn, when 'S' grandmother proceeded to tell us that she is not well. The truth is that she drinks and gambles alot and Bunthan (Pastor Chantha's wife) has been reaching out to her trying to get her to come to church but with limited success. At any rate, she asked that if  she should die, would I be willing to adopt 'S'. She wanted me to write a letter saying I would. I am always amazed at how easy people over here seem so willing to give up their kids or grand kids. But perhaps, it is this environment that creates such a sense of hopelessness, that they like many other parents or grandparents just want to give their children a better opportunity for life. There is also the cynical side that perhaps they just don't want the burden of taking care of their kids. Either way, one can over analyze the reasons why people respond in such ways but the challenge that I and many face in this environment is how do we respond. How would Christ ask us to respond? Do we walk away or do we get involved? Do we ignore or do we care? What do you say to a grandmother and more importantly to her grand daughter who is looking at you waiting for your response. Interestingly what came to my mind was the prayer I made in 2009 asking God to give me Svay Pak as my inheritance. 'S' I believe is part of that inheritance and we at Ratanak have a special affinity to her as she is on our brochure! So it seems that she has been set apart for Ratanak and certainly I see her as one of my spiritual children.

Well when one is faced with such a question, you have to stall for time to think so I suggested that perhaps it would be good for the grandmother to talk to Pastor Chantha to discuss such matters. That seem to give her much comfort and assurance. Perhaps that is all she needed to know at this time, that someone cared, that someone did love her grand daughter and would not reject her. Given that 'S's grandmother was not well, I felt led to pray again and to lay hands upon her. In that little squalor home, the Spirit of God reigned down as the prayers were translated into Khmer, this old grandmother began to wipe away the tears in her eyes.  It is such a privilege to pray and ask the God who heals, the God who hears and the God of Hope to come into such a difficult, hopeless and helpless situation, and touch the heart of this old grandma. Silver and gold I do not have, but what I do have to give is Jesus. It is my hope that the prayers offered up on behalf of this family, will go up to heaven like a sweet smelling incense and return down to earth like reverse thunder that will lead to 'S's grandmother testifying that Jesus is not only the healer of her body, but He truly is the Only way to a new life!

Lim - a future Svay Pak boxer?

After such a serious moment, we headed back to the local coffee shop across from Rahab's house for a morning ice lemon tea. I love hanging out at that little shack with Chantha's disciples as it is there where I joke with them and catch up on their lives. One who stopped by the local cafe was Lim, who is the sister to the worship leader Paulie. Lim works making pillow cases here in Svay Pak along side some of the girls from the Newsong centre. Their father is currently in jail for trafficking several underaged kids. Today, the disciples were teasing Lim as she is training at the 'Lord's Gym' here in Svay Pak to become a 'female boxer'...that's right, they have those here in Cambodia. Apparently she is quite good and I'm not surprised. She could probably hold her own against the guys in this community as she is tough and strong. If she is successful, she will end up on Cambodian TV in a women's boxing tournament, a year from now. Of course we are all routing for her and it would be quite a sight to see if this indeed materializes. The first ever female boxer from Svay Pak! There is always something new to learn about Svay Pak!

I can't help but think perhaps God has a sense of humor in all of this. Can you imagine if Lim did become a successful female boxer and then came back to Svay Pak to teach all the little girls how to box. Do you think they could land a few punches in the way of those who would seek to exploit them! will be interesting to see how this all enfolds!

Well, it was still early in the afternoon so I decided to go and get my haircut at a place called Singapore Salon. I first started coming here many years ago when my colleague Brian McConaghy first discovered that a former victim of trafficking was working here. Some of us would go there to get our hair cut and washed so that we could talk to 'Nhu' for whom part of the "New" Song' centre was named after. Nhu is no longer there as she runs her own beauty salon. Now for any of you who want to get your haircut in Cambodia, it is quite a cultural experience. One does not just get a haircut, but you are treated to a neck massage, shoulder massage and even a vibrating back massage as your hair is being washed over the sink. Talk about therapeutic and soul care. It is very relaxing and the temptation to fall asleep is quite high. All of this for the price of $12.00...actually if you only want a haircut its $5.00.

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