Sunday, October 30, 2011

Looking for a Community

For the past few weeks I have been visiting a Khmer church about 15 minutes from my home. Our desire is to connect the girls in our ministry with a community that can come along side them and nurture them on a variety of levels. For young women who have experienced betrayal by their own family members, one of the dimensions of their restoration is to find a community where they can experience a sense of belonging and where they can feel part of a family. A community who will welcome them and not judge their past but love them and nurture their spiritual journey. A community who has young people their age who they can relate to and who they can have meaningful fellowship with.

This church I have been visiting has been recommended by many. It is one of the largest Khmer churches in Cambodia that was established by American missionaries many years ago.  It is a place I visited in 2006 and so it has been neat to attend again and see so many young Cambodians who lead the worship service and prayer time. It is always so encouraging to see how the Lord is raising up many in the next generation in this land not only to be followers of Him but take on leadership roles. They sing all the popular Hillsong music in Khmer but there is English subtitles for those who are foreigners. They also provide simultaneous translation of the sermon for those of us who have limited or no Khmer. It is definitely a place where the Spirit of God is flowing freely. It is a place where emotions are expressed openly, some thing that Marie Ens noted was so needed given the fact that Cambodians are so used to suppressing their emotions due to the Khmer Rouge era. It is a place where one can encounter passionate prayers being lifted up to the Lord on behalf of those in the congregation who openly express a need for prayer.  But it is also a place where young and old are welcomed to come to the altar to receive prayer ministry at the end of the service.

As you think of us, pray for the Lord to direct our paths to work along side a church community who will be a spiritual umbrella for the young lives that God is entrusting into our care. We long to see them be grounded in the word of God, to know the One in whose image that have been made, the One who is not only the healer of their hearts, but the One who loves them with an everlasting love and who wants to given them an abundant life in Him!

Friday, October 28, 2011

Cultural Complexities

One of the common stories that we reading and hearing about is the increasing level of rapes in Cambodia. Some of these occur because young men are watching pornographic videos and want to act out what they see. In other instances, we are hearing about difficult rape cases, where young girls are being raped by their fathers or relatives or people who live near their village communes.

One of the most difficult situations a young teenage girl has to deal with beyond the repeated rapes by her father is the fact that she is pregnant with a child from the rape. This has got to be one of the most difficult situations to comprehend and reconcile in one's mind. What are the thoughts that are flowing through this teenager's mind as she carries this baby to full term? How does she deal with the daily reminder that this pregnancy was borne not out of love but borne out of a violation against her soul? How does she deal with the shame, the guilt and the embarrassment? In this kind of environment, the girl is given the option of either giving up the baby for adoption or keeping it. The question that again came to my mind is how do you identify such a child who in effect has a half sister and mother in the same person-----I don't really understand how or what to call this baby. It is very confusing! But this is what evil does. This is what the darkness seeks to do---create confusion of God ordained family structures by totally messing them up. As the bible says, Satan seeks to kill, steal and destroy and in the visible reality it certainly seems that he is winning, but as always, he does not have the last word in these lives, God does. This is something we have to constantly remind ourselves---to keep claiming and standing on God's truth especially as we come across complex issues here.

But there are other complexities that such teenagers has to work through beyond the emotional, physical and mental trauma. In Cambodian culture as is the case in many Asian cultures,  family allegiance is so strong and the bond is so tight, that she also has to deal with external pressures. A young woman in this situation faces pressures from her father's relatives who want her to drop the charges and/or change her story and say that it is someone else who raped her. These are not easy decisions for an adult, how much more so for a 14 year old girl who is still a child herself and who is struggling to deal with her own emotional anguish. How does one advise such a young girl?

Seeking justice in the midst of such complexities is not as black and white as we in the West would like to believe. For a young woman in this situation has to work through the implications of her choices and the impact it will have not just on her life in the future, but the life of her family. She is caught between two worlds---facing a family that will ostracize her and further abandon and reject her,  if she chooses to stand for truth and maintain her story, or she can deny the truth to 'protect her father', preserve her family relationships and live with the internal turmoil that comes from such a choice.In Asian culture, where family honor and obligation is of utmost importance, one has to have much wisdom in navigating such complexities.

How can Christ enter into this picture to bring truth, healing and wholeness back to a life that is suffering much pain and living with such tension? It is not easy and Satan uses these cultural strongholds, to keep people in bondage. While each culture has good elements to it, there are many aspects to each of our cultures that need to be redeemed. This is one such example of how cultural norms associated with families can create further enslavement of the soul. But Jesus came to invade cultures and to bring about a new culture---a culture of honor, a culture of freedom and a culture of love that enables a person to live out of their true selves. When a cultural norm seeks to control its people responses through fear instead of love, through pressure instead of through freedom of choice, it cultivates an environment where individuals do not live out of their true selves but out of their 'false selves.' They are forced to conform to cultural obligations and expectations that suppresses the truth.

No wonder Jesus said that 'when we know the truth, the truth will set us free.' Until or unless a girl in this situation  becomes rooted in Christ and not in her family, she faces an uphill battle. For when we know that we are loved by God unconditionally, when we know that it is He who defines us and not our families, nor the cultures we live in, nor the painful experiences in our lives, when we know that He will never leave us nor forsake us, when we know that He is always for us, we have the courage and the hope to move forward despite the opposition.  These are easy words to share with a person who has never experienced such abuse and trauma like these girls have. But, it takes times for these truths to sink into a young girl whose life has been filled with a relentless attack of accusations and experiences that feed her belief that she has no value, she is of no worth and she is garbage.

This is why it is nothing short of a miracle from the Lord to transform such wounded souls. We know it is possible. We are seeing it in the story of Phally and other girls who are at Newsong as the Lord overrides their story with His story. We know that through the power of prayer as we intentionally devote ourselves to interceding on behalf of these young girls, as we ask the Lord to break off and tear down ungodly soul ties in families or cultural strongholds that limits a person's freedom,  the Holy Spirit can and is able to do the work of opening their eyes to see and experience the truth that in Christ---- they have value, they have dignity and they have worth so that a journey of healing and hope can begin.  Transformation is not some kind of wishful thinking, for in Christ, the impossible become the possible. But it involves ongoing commitment and investment in the lives of these young women. It is a journey of faith that God has called us to enter into as we seek to minister to these precious ones. He is asking each of us to walk not by sight but by faith as we believe and hold fast in the promises of God and are fully persuaded that He has power to do what he had promised. (Roman 4:21)

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Avoiding Cynicism

One of the interesting aspects of living in Cambodia as a foreigner is the concern that you are often paying more for every thing outside the Western supermarkets. If you go to the local markets you pretty much bargain for everything unless the seller says it is a fixed price. It is easy to get cynical and if we are not careful, it has the potential to lead to mistrust of everyone as the enemy uses that as a foothold to make you believe that you are getting ripped off as you can easily believe that everyone is out to get you. You may feel your rights are violated. If you are paranoid or fearful, this just adds to the fear of mistrust.

One of the advantages of living here instead of vacationing, is that you learn what the real prices are. A case in point, outside the hotel where we arrange for our Ratanak guests and volunteers to stay, there are several tuk tuk drivers. As I am living here, they all know me as I used to use one of those tuk tuk drivers on a regular basis so whenever I go to the hotel to meet guests or drop off stuff, I have a little 'fan club' that greets me. They all want to know if I need a tuk tuk. Now that I can speak a certain level of Khmer, I often joke with them that I am not a foreigner and therefore should not pay foreign prices. Typically a 'borathai''---a foreigner, could pay about US$20 a day on the high end if they use one of those tuk tuk drivers. So recently, when I was talking to my 'tuk tuk fan club' and trying to arrange for potential tuk tuk drivers to take Ratanak volunteers who will be coming here shortly, my friendly tuk tuk drivers were asking for a minimum of US$15.00 a day. I simply laughed at them all and told them in Khmer that they were crazy and that I was not a foreigner, therefore I should get a cheaper price. Bargaining here is an art...the secret is to keep smiling as you negotiate the price and to not take things personally.  So they asked what I wanted to pay and I told them US$10.00. They in turned laughed at me. But I know that is a good price as I have a new tuk tuk driver who is a young Christian student that goes to a local Khmer church that I have been attending recently and he gladly accepts that price. All this made me realize that last year I was paying too much when I was here for 2 months. But more than that, my strategy now is to find student tuk tuk drivers and train them up. They tend to speak some English which is helpful if you have guests and more than that, they tend to be more punctual and reliable.

Anyway, the verdict is still out as to whether I will use these other tuk tuk drivers who hang out at the hotel. In one sense I can appreciate their thinking. After all, they are just being capitalists, trying to get the best price for their services. Yet, in a conversation I had with one of them,  I was trying to explain to them that if they gave me a good deal, our firm would use them on a regular basis since we have people passing through constantly, so that they could receive regular and steady income. This was my attempt at persuading them to reconsider and give me a discount. But to no avail. Here in Cambodia, it is all about the short term, it is about surviving and making sure you have enough for today. Much of this again can be attributed to the history of this country during the Khmer Rouge era where people lost all their possessions and belongings and so its understandable that such a short term mindset exist today. Saving or putting funds a way for a rainy day is not something that is too common here. For one thing, people just don't have that kind of disposal income here and secondly, their focus is on surviving in the present.

My other bargaining experience was at the hands of my 'Mango man'' who I call 'Pou Swai'---that means Úncle Mango.' Every week there is a man that rides his bicycle in my neighborhood selling mangoes. So each week I would buy six mangoes for US$2.00 but in talking with my missionary friends they told me that I was paying way too much as I could get a dozen for the same price. Armed with that knowledge, the next time I saw my Pou Swai, I shared with him my new found revelation and he suggested those were little mangoes that  the market was selling and his were much larger. Like a good capitalist, he had to find an angle for why his mangoes were worth the extra price. Actually I think he was right. Nonetheless, I decided to haggle with him until He would give me a reasonable deal. I finally got him to give me 9 large mangoes for US$2.00. Since that sale, I think he's avoiding me now as he is not making much money off of me.

All this to say, one of the ways to avoid cynicism in all of these situations is to really just laugh it off. If you take yourself too seriously, if you are always suspicious of people, if you tend to focus on the negative it can easily lead to paranoia such that you trust no one. Ironically, this is the kind of mindset that was prevalent during the Khmer Rouge era as people did not trust anyone and were suspicious of their neighbors. So it is not surprising that this kind of spirit still is perpetuated here. However, the bigger picture and really the most important truth in all of this is knowing that the Lord is sovereign and even if we are over paying or do get ripped off, even if we feel we might be taken advantage off, He knows, He sees and He will redeem the situation. It is this knowledge that the Lord is in control of every dimension of my life here that allows me to not live in fear,to not worry or be anxious, but to try to see the best in each person and each situation knowing that even if their intentions may appear to be disingenuous or there is a hidden agenda, it doesn't matter, His purposes and His plans will not be thwarted. God still sits on the throne and He will provide for all my needs despite man's attempts to over charge me. As Romans 8:31 says ''if God is with us, who can be against us.''

Tuesday, October 25, 2011


Last night in Cambodia, CNN ran two video reports about our partners AIM and the work in Svay Pak. It provided great exposure to the ministry. As I sat doing work, CNN aired the program 3 times in 3 hours. I think its awesome that more people are learning about the issues of child sex trafficking.

For us at Ratanak, we have had the privilege of working with AIM since 2005. In 2007, Don & Bridget Brewster felt led by God to start up a kids club in the heart of Svay Pak---that notorious brothel district that is renown around the world as pedophiles paradise. One of the places they rented was a former brothel---a place that was once the crime scene of one of Brian McConaghy's (Executive director of Ratanak) investigations. They began to host a kids club outreach in the front area of the former brothel for kids in that community because the actual building was filled with many cells that we often called rape cubicles. It was not easy for the Brewsters to start such a ministry because the community was not very welcoming,  but they stood firm believing that God had called them to reach the people of Svay Pak for Christ.

 In May 2008, a Ratanak team from Vancouver had the arduous and challenging task of breaking down all the cells in that former brothel (now known as Rahab's House) except for one cell which was kept as a reminder of the horrendous environment  in which many girls lived in. As each wall came down, more light could be seen  almost symbolic of the light that Jesus was beginning to shine in that place. When the team finished all the renovations, what stood before them was a whole new building full of light and life as kids started attending a kids club, a medical clinic got started and so did a church. The Lord was not just visiting Svay Pak. He had moved in to take residence!

Within a year all the activities in Rahab's house outgrew the small space and once again we at Ratanak had the wonderful privilege of buying a former brothel that was being built in Svay Pak. It was 80% completed but the owners felt it was too high risk to finish the building because of the Christian presence and the surveillance that was going on at that time. And so God provided the funds in a short space of time and in May 2010, The Sanctuary (also called Rahab's House II by our partners at AIM) was opened.

Once again, God had redeemed another building. But buildings are just walls and beams. They do not tell of the stories and the lives of many who have lived or visited them. What they do represent however, is either a place of hell or a place of hope. The former brothel that is now called Rahab's house was hell on earth for many little girls who were tortured and who died of AIDS there. When I first visited that building in 2007 there was a door/window with iron bars at the back of the building that was crudely cemented together. There was no escape from that hell hole. There was no way out.  So last night when I sat and watch my little sister Phally give her testimony of how she had been raped in that former brothel as a five year old, my heart went out to her. (see link to CNN report below) It does not matter how many stories I have heard like these, they break your heart because they break God's heart.

I have known Phally for over a year and I had heard many parts of her story but last night was the first time I discovered that she too was trapped in that horrible brothel. Phally's father was actually a security guard in that former brothel. It was a family affair, except in his case, he was responsible for keeping the girls locked up while she had the opposite experience of being held in captivity. There is a level of betrayal in her own story that is hard to understand. Can you imagine being raped as a five or six year old and your father is also working in the very place where you are being devalued and dehumanized! Your father who is suppose to be the one to protect you is in fact contributing to your abuse. How does a child begin to deal with such a betrayal?

CNN focused on Phally's past, on the hopelessness, on the pain, on the suffering that she endured. But today, I want to focus on the new life and new hope Phally has found. The pain is still very much there as was evident in that interview, but Phally's pain is not for naught. Phally has met a person who can understand and identify with her pain and who can help her begin to heal from that pain. That person is Jesus. Jesus knew suffering, Jesus knew torture, Jesus knew betrayal by those closes to him. Jesus was mocked, shamed and cursed on, just like Phally.

In Jesus, Phally has found One who can not only comfort her but who understands her pain and who gives her a reason to have hope. He has been collecting her tears because every teardrop of hers matters to Him. God has and is redeeming her life each day. Unlike many girls who are rescued and go to the Newsong centre, Phally began to learn English at Rahab's house in 2009 while she lived in Svay Pak. Last summer, I had the privilege of baptizing Phally. She became a believer through the ministry of AIM and through the wonderful Khmer staff of Pastor Chantha and Bunthan who ''adopted' her as one of their children. If you have been following this blog, you'll know that Pastor Chantha and Bunthan tend to ádopt' alot of children. While Phally still lives with her mother, she has often experienced verbal abuse and is constantly pressured to give up studying at school and volunteering at The Sanctuary because her mother wants her to go and work at a coffee shop---another front for a brothel. She faces persecution on a regular basis because her mother does not work. She gambles and expects her daughter to support her addictive habit. But Phally knows that she has ''parents' in Pastor Chantha and Bunthan who are always there for her. They model for her the kind of parental love that her own parents could not and did not give to her. They love her and demonstrate the Father heart of God to her by their very acts of kindness and tenderness to her. They have walked with her through difficult situations and encouraged her in her faith journey. The Lord in His infinite wisdom always provides a way out for those who are crushed in spirit. He will redeem our pain and our brokenness by connecting us with others who are 'Jesus in the flesh' , who tenderly care for our wounded souls. This is what Pastor Chantha and Bunthan have done for Phally and for many of the other young disciples who they are training up to be the future leaders of Svay Pak.

But that is not the end of Phally's story because Phally is a leader. She teaches English to the younger kids who attend the school in the Sanctuary and also teaches the bible lessons at the kids club. But she is also the worship leader at the weekly Sunday services in the Svay Pak church. She has discovered a passion for worship. She loves to worship the Lord through song and through playing the drums. God has turned her mourning into dancing and as she dwells in the House of the Lord she has begun to sing a new song, a song of praise, a song of thanksgiving to the One who is healing her brokenness and making something beautiful out of it. You will see her dancing and leading the praise time full of laughter. The joy of the Lord is indeed her strength. It is He that she holds onto when the pain seems too much to bear. I have witnessed that in her for there are times after the worship service or after the kids club, Phally will be by herself on the 3rd floor where these events happen. She will sit there listening to worship music with tears in her eyes as the Lord touches her and ministers to her through a song. At her young age, she is cultivating an intimacy with her Heavenly Father and in so doing, He is showing her how He is caring for her soul and how He wants to lavish His love over her.

As for her earthly father,  last year while I was serving in Svay Pak the police came to arrest him for trafficking another young girl. Phally was not happy and felt he was wrongly accused but those who know her family, know otherwise. He had a history of trafficking young girls. Here it is, a young woman so willingly wanting to protect her earthly father from going to prison. How ironic is that, when he himself was entrusted with the role of being her protector but instead did quite the opposite. Phally exhibits a level of grace, mercy and love towards her father than can only be attributed to Christ. She has visited him in prison, concerned for his health and his safety and has prayed for him. How ironic is that, that he now is in a prison and she has been set free from her prison of sexual slavery!

As you think about Phally and as you pray for her, it is the photo above that reflects the truths that God has shown me through Phally's life. He is raising her up to be planting of the Lord for the display of His splendor for what He has started in her, He will complete! She is no longer a child sex slave, she is a princess, a daughter of the most High God! I praise God for Phally's courage and boldness to share her story in all its ugliness. Despite her pain, she has chosen to speak up and give a voice for the many girls who do not yet have the courage nor the voice to do so. The Lord is redeeming Phally's pain and tears day by day. Psalm 126:5-6 says: Those who sow with tears will reap with songs of joy. Those who go out weeping, carrying seed to sow, will return with songs of joy, carrying sheaves with them. Indeed, Phally has been sowing her tears over these many years, but with sowing there is the promise of reaping.  In the years to come, we look forward to seeing the songs of joy that God will unveil in Phally's life. 

If you would like to read  more about Phally's life and her sister. see the attached blog comment below that I wrote about in July 2010 called 'Two Sisters"

Monday, October 24, 2011

How young can they be?

A photo of our parnter Don Brewster with the newest resident to the Newsong centre

Some times you hear of stories of young girls being rescued and it is hard to imagine how anyone would want to hurt a little girl. It makes no sense. What pleasure can a man get in raping a 5 year old girl? What possesses a person to do such a heinous crime against an innocent vulnerable child? What causes someone to act in such a perverse way? There are many questions that often go through our minds as we try to reconcile and make sense of all the evil and the moral degradation that we see in this ministry of child sex trafficking.

The reality is that we  cannot fully understand why an adult would seek to degrade and devalue a little girl of 5 years old. Our minds cannot compute such perversity because it is not 'normal' human behavior. No human being who has any moral compass could justify such acts. A few years ago one of our partners said to me, 'Lisa, don't try to figure out why people would do such acts because the reality is we cannot understand such evil. In many ways, our partner is right. How can we ever fully understand the mind of a child abuser, a predator, a pedophile? In some ways we can't? That is not to say that we don't have an understanding of why sin happens and the forces of darkness that distorts truth and deceives people into committing such crimes.

What we do see before us however is the frail little bodies of their victims. They come broken mentally,  emotionally and physically.  It is these little ones that the Lord has called us to focus on. It is these little ones that we desire to see be restored to wholeness. It is these little ones that we have the privilege of pouring our energies and resources into because we believe that they have been made in the image of God. They deserve to have a life free from terror, a life free from fear, a life free from shame. They deserve to have the freedom to experience love, joy, hope, laughter. Most of all, they deserve to simply be like any child, play like a child and act like a child. They come to the Newsong centre and we have the privilege of seeing God do a miracle in their lives as He begins to transform their crushed spirits, restoring hope and joy and putting a new song in their hearts.

And so the newest and youngest resident at the Newsong centre is this little 5 year old girl who I shall call Malin (not her real name). Malin began her journey of hope last Friday when she was rescued from Svay Pak. She is now safely at the Newsong centre, being cared for by many Khmer staff who are so willing to pour Christ love over her so that she can begin to have hope again. Today I heard that she was so happy and excited to be at Newsong. She has gone from a 'prison' to the 'palace of the King of Kings', but how did she get there?

Her mother is a former prostitute, known to the staff in the brothel district. Over the years, she not only trafficked her children but also trafficked drugs. Many times the police have tried to arrest her but she evaded them by paying her way out of being caught. She already had a known reputation selling her two older children---a  boy and another little girl.  They are both staying at Hagar, another one of our partners. Her young son (approximately 10 years old now) who I shall called Samnang (not his real name) was so badly sodomized about 3 years ago that the doctors needed 6 hours to stitch him back up.

As for his sister Srey Mom (not her real name) who is approximately 8 years old, she too was used as a commodity whenever her mother needed money to feed her drug habit. She was sold and abused multiple times. Recently, Pastor Chantha learned that the mother was planning to sell her youngest daughter (5 year old Malin) and had given her to a neighbor. He arranged for the rescue of this little one just before she was sold. Praise God for this timely intervention.

Last Friday the kids mother was arrested and today the police sentenced her to 15 years in jail on two counts---one count for sex trafficking and the other count for drug trafficking.  She has no money, so she can't pay her way out of jail. So in a sense, justice has occurred. But as someone once said, justice must be about much more than balancing out the wrongs of the world.  It must be about making things right, about the kind of restoration that does not reverse the pain, but moves beyond it toward something new.

For kids like Samnang, his sister Srey Mom and their youngest sister Malin, they have experienced betrayal on so many levels. In the visible reality, they face an uncertain future without a parent. How do they move beyond the pain and loss towards something new? They can with Christ.   It is these little ones, so battered and bruised, for whom Christ said that 'by His stripes they are healed.'  It is these little ones who while abandoned and betrayed by their earthly family are being welcomed and received into a new community in Christ where they discover His love for them through the staff. It is in this new community that the Lord begins to restore their lives as they begin to trust those who care for them. It is in this new community, that Christ restores their dignity as they finally live a life free from abuse. It is in this new community, they will discover that they are no longer defined as a sexual commodity but rather, they will discover that they are a child of Christ. It is their identity in Christ that will enable them to move beyond the pain of their past, to a a future that promises hope, meaning and purpose. A future that will enable them to not just become members in their community but one day we pray, they will begin to bless their communities as they use the gifts, talents and passions that God has created in each of them.

It is this hope that we have in Him that inspires us to endure and to persevere in serving these little ones. For we know that we do not labor in vain because every child rescued is one child less that is caught in the web of child sex trafficking.We hold onto that promise that they and us in all these things are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord! (Romans 8:37-39).

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Crazy Week

I haven't been able to blog these past few days as its been a bit crazy hosting visitors, working, language learning and visiting government agencies. I used to think that life in Toronto was busy but in these early days of this new role, there is so much going on all at the same time but I am learning much about going with the flow.

I am grateful to the Lord for how He is teaching me to slow down and to cultivate a heart of patience by not getting stressed or anxious about things I have no control over. The structures and processes here are very different than Canada which is too be expected. This country has been through so much over the years and so for someone who is coming into set up an organization, one of the keys to working with the system is to have an attitude of thankfulness in the midst of a long and lengthy process. If not, one can get easily frustrated and irritated but those emotions typically come from expectations based on how we operate in our home country. A case in point, this week I am thankful to Yeng who is the country director at one of our partners Chab Dai. He has been an angel helping me to navigate certain requirements and helping me get the right documents and in many ways, acting as an agent, doing all the ground work for us. He has such an amazing heart for God. He has spent endless hours giving me insights and understanding of what we need to do. I was continually thanking him but he kept saying 'Ratanak has been a donor to us at Chab Dai for 6 years---that's a long time, I am happy to help Ratanak during this short time.' This is the kind of favor God has given us as an organization that He would bring such understanding people into our midst.

Yeng is the only believer in his family and when he was a young boy he was a 'chhlop'---if you know anything about the Khmer Rouge history, the Khmer Rouge used to train young boys to spy on their families and relatives. They were the informants that would let the Khmer Rouge know what was going on in the communes. So Yeng lived in the forest but when the Khmer Rouge fell, he came to know the Lord in one of the refuge camps and since then he has been serving the Lord first as a pastor and then now with Chab Dai. To see him, in many ways is to see the future of Cambodia. God has redeemed him and He is living out his destiny. He is so full of joy in the Lord and so eager to serve and help in anyway he can.

Of course you all know about Pastor Chantha, another angel of the Lord who is the consummate evangelist. He was also helping me yesterday as I quickly dropped off my guests to Svay Pak and left them there to be given a tour by youth Pastor Ratanak and Siny while Chantha drove me to the local tax office as we had to pay property taxes on our building in the brothel district. I thought it would only take 15 minutes to pay such a bill, but like everything else here, things takes much longer to get done----almost 1 1/2 hours to be exact. Despite having all the paper work, we had to have our documents be reviewed again by one person and he made some adjustments before we went to another desk. A young woman was sitting there with a carbon copy receipt type form. It reminded me of when I was young in South America and duplicates of documents were made using those carbon paper. We were surrounded by several other eager people waiting to pay their property taxes. Everyone standing or sitting crowding around this one desk watching this young woman as she processed each document. I had to smile to myself thinking, this poor girl she is going to be so swamped to hand write every single one of these receipts as this is the first year that property taxes are being paid by anyone who owns a building.  Well, once we paid our invoice, we had to then go down the street to another convenience store to make a photocopy of the receipt and then return the original to the tax office while we kept a copy. Yes there is no photocopy machine in the office.

Each year we will have to do this. Pastor Chantha had already spent 2 hours previously in meetings with the local tax office so I had the 'easy' job of just paying the bill. Thankfully next year, we will have staff who can do all this leg work but for me, it is actually a blessing in disguise learning about how these processes work. When you understand the system, you can work with the system in such a way that it does not steal your joy. Instead, it is learning to embrace it with the right attitude. As Pastor Chantha said to me, 'Cambodia will teach you patience.' I laughed when he said that because I have been discovering that and learning to see the 'good' in the midst of the 'waiting'. Author Ben Patterson in his book called 'Waiting' once said: second only to suffering, waiting may be the greatest teacher in godliness, maturity and genuine spirituality most of us ever encounter. Waiting is not a passive exercise, biding time while we engage in some sort of diversion. Waiting is not just what we have to do until we get what we hope for. It is part of the process of becoming what we hope for. It is a faith journey. Humility and hope are the essentials of waiting. But it is humility that makes hope possible. Until we are clear that it is God, not us, who is the Master and we, not God, who are the servant, we will feel our rights have been violated whenever we are forced to wait. We will resent our waiting and find every rationalization to take matters into our own hands. In other words, we can't hope in God until we have ceased to hope in ourselves."

So in all of the waiting that we are doing corporately as an organization and I am doing individually---I have to wait for my new apartment as there has been a delay in moving into it for possibly one or two months, in all of these things, indeed it is so true, that as we wait, we are becoming what we hope for---or more succinctly, we are cultivating the attitudes and heart that are in Christ. We are looking to the God of hope in humbleness knowing that He is working in the invisible reality to make all things work for the good of those He loves and He has called according to His purposes.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Old Friends

In 2002 I had the privilege of co-leading a 13 person team to Cambodia to run an English camp for high school students. Ten of us lived in a 5 bedroom home for 3 weeks and joining us in that home was 16 Khmer high school students. Can you imagine 26 people living together in close quarters, with no air conditioning and working together in teams to cook, clean and eat. It was a cultural experience on both ends. While the Westerners had the bedroom upstairs, the Khmer students who love sleeping together huddled together in two bedrooms---one for the girls and the other for the boys. This is a classic picture of Asian communal living. One of those students who attended that English camp was a young man named Davin.
Davin and I at the Ratanak office
Over the years as I visited Cambodia annually, I would meet up with Davin. He was not yet a believer at that time but as time went by and through the work of OMF missionaries, Davin came to know the Lord and started attending a well known spirit filled church on this end. Fast forward now 10 years later and Davin is 28 years old, married and with 2 young kids. Today, he was in Phnom Penh for some meetings as he is currently living in the port city of Sihanoukville and so we met briefly at the Ratanak office. It was an opportunity for us to catch up in person as he is looking to move back to Phnom Penh in the next two months.

One of the things I appreciate about Davin is his honesty. One of the first things he told me was that he was not living an abundant Christian life. He goes to chapel daily at the Christian university that he works at but he has not gone to church for several years as he was taking classes on Saturday and Sunday. This is one of the challenges of the younger generation. How do they balance their time when they are faced with economic hardships, educational opportunities and family demands.  Davin shared about the challenge of finding the right balance of financially supporting his parents and siblings and also supporting his wife and kids. Many young Cambodians long to get a good education in order to secure a well paying job. Many of them work during the day and attend night classes in order to get their university degrees so that they can get a good job and provide for their families. My tutor Chheut is in a similar boat and so is my tuk tuk driver James.

Family obligations runs deep in Cambodian society. In Davin's case, being the oldest son of 5 kids, he is financially supporting his younger brother as he attends university.  One of his other friends Chakrey---another young man I hope to connect with soon as he also was part of our English camp has chosen at this point to stay single---why? Because he has to financially help his family but his financial obligations will soon end and then he will have more freedom to pursue his own interest.

The level of sacrifice that is embedded in this culture certainly challenges our Western mindset of individualism. Here in the East, the family is the priority and decisions take into account the impact on the family. I discovered that recently when I invited one of my little sisters in Svay Pak, Siny to stay with me. Her family home was completely filled with water because of the widespread flooding that Cambodia has been experiencing. Her pillows were floating around and her bed was also under water. But while she thanked me for the invitation, she said 'I can't leave my family, I need to stay and help them. What would they think if I left and they are there dealing with the flood. I need to think about their needs as well.' A light bulb went on in me---she was right? I was thinking of 'one person' in my Western mindset, but she was thinking of 'the family.' It is admirable on one level to see such level of commitment and sacrifice to one's family but it also has a downside. For while honor and obligation are steep in cultural tradition here, the enemy has taken this and distorted the truth such that children feel obligated to sell themselves in order to provide for their families. In other situations, it is the parents who willingly sacrifice their children selling them as sexual commodities to feed their gambling, alcohol or drug addictions. We know of two families in the brothel district who are doing this and believe that it is acceptable to sell their 6, 9 and 12 year old daughters. Individual rights are sacrifice for the 'benefits' of the family.

This is no easy task to change such a mindset. It is Christ who has to transform hearts and minds and to breakthrough in such a cultural milieu. It is Christ who has to teach us all the right balance between individual freedoms and family responsibility. As I was praying for Davin this afternoon, it was the verses from Jeremiah 29:11-14 that I shared with him: For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you,” declares the LORD, “and will bring you back from captivity. These were the words that Jeremiah spoke to many who were in exile. In Cambodia today, they are many people who are living in exile. They do not know that God has a hope and a future for them. They do not know that God has a plan to prosper them and not to harm them. They do not know that He wants to free them from captivity---from ancient practices that appear to be well meaning on the surface but which ultimately keep them imprisoned.    

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

More Than a Language Lesson

Well its been about 2 months now since I started my language lessons and each day my brain is being forced to absorbed so many new words that I suffer from information overload. But overall it has all been good. One of the things I pray for each morning as my tutor Chheut and I meet is that our two hour session would be more than a language lesson. God is definitely answering this prayer and instead of feeling exhausted after 2 hours of language, I am beginning to feel more energized. Why is that? I have noticed a pattern. When my loak crew (teacher) and I start talking about spiritual issues, the lesson flies by. In some ways we are going off topic but in another ways, I think we are in tune with God's plan for in the process I am learning Christian language.

My Loak Crew is a baby Christian as he has only been a believer for 1 1/2 years but like many of the young believers that I have gotten to meet here, he has such a hunger for God. After teaching me, he then goes to New Life Fellowship and studies the bible for 2 hours in English! One of the ways he gets me talking in Khmer is to ask what I did yesterday and what time I got in the morning and then what I do after that. By asking the same questions over and over, it reinforces what I learn and how I remember. So when I tell him in Khmer that I read my bible and pray for 1 1/2 hours each morning, he then proceeds to ask what I read and what is God speaking to me about. That ends up leading to a whole spiritual conversation as I intersperse my limited Khmer with English words which he then gives to me. So my Christian vocabulary is increasing....if only I can remember it all but at least I have my notes. In many ways, God is using both of us to sharpen one another as we each share about our Christian journey and what is going on in our lives.

Today's discussion led into knowing our 5 love languages and how we give and receive love. This is the first time he has ever heard of this and so it was an opportunity to share with him what my love languages are and ask him what his is.  Its amazing how the Lord brings to mind previous discussions that we have had as  I was able to use examples from our previous conversation in which he had shared how his friends were having problems with their girlfriends. We talked about how the love languages can help identify if his friends are feeling loved by their girlfriends and visa versa. Of course being my little brother, I couldn't help tease him that when he dates this is a good question to ask his girlfriend. In fact, I've been trying to set him up with one of my younger sisters in Svay Pak but the timing at the moment is a bit off...but that's another story for another day. By the time we had finished this discussion 1 hr and 15 minutes had already passed by. Nonetheless, it made the lesson all the more fun and gives me more opportunity to now have these kind of discussions with my other young brothers and sisters in Svay Pak.

This was not exactly the lesson that was planned. After all, I was suppose to be learning about different types of transportation and driving in the city and giving directions in Khmer. Not exactly an exciting topic but an important one. We did eventually get to that and I suddenly began to feel tired. I wonder why!

All in all, the Lord is so gracious in how He orchestrates lessons and discussions. I am thankful that I have a tutor who is a Christian. It allows the conversation to go at a much deeper level and leads to many interesting conversations as we share about what Christ is teaching us through our daily life experiences. More than that, it motivates me at a whole new level to learn this language --- God truly knows how to get my juices going and what energizes me. It is times like this when I can honestly say that I am experiencing His promises in Jeremiah 32:38-41, They will be my people, and I will be their God. I will give them singleness of heart and action, so that they will always fear me and that all will then go well for them. I will make an everlasting covenant with them: I will never stop doing good to them, and I will inspire them to fear me, so that they will never turn away from me.  I will rejoice in doing them good and will assuredly plant them in this land with all my heart and soul. Indeed it is times like this when I experience His goodness as He continues to plant me in this land by giving me a desire to learn this language through His ways. 

Monday, October 17, 2011

Beer Gardens

One evening when I was coming home from a visit to Marie Ens's home, her driver turned down a particular street and what I saw was a series of beer gardens. For those of you who don't know what beer gardens are, in its simplest form its a place where men go and drink beer. But sitting at the entrance of these beer gardens are a several young women who act as 'hostesses'. They are invited to sit with the patrons and we often hear stories of girls being touched in appropriately. Some of them are forced to have sex with the clients.

So the other day I was talking to my tutor----he used to be quite familiar with beer gardens because in his prior life before he became a believer, he like many Khmer young men would go to the beer gardens every night, hang out with the 'hostesses' and get drunk with his friends. He was telling me that one could 'rent' a girl for the night and she would basically sit at the table and participate in the drinking activities or just socialize with the men. I asked my language instructor why young women would choose such a job. His answer, well many of them are not educated. They either come from the rural areas or are so desperate for a job that they believe they can make more money at a beer garden than working at a factory. Moreover, they actually think that it is a much easier type of work than working at a factory because one starts at 5pm until and works till 10pm and you just have to sit and talk to the patrons. What they don't realize is how easily they are setting themselves up to being sexually harassed or sexually assaulted by men who frequent the beer gardens as their role is to help make the men feel comfortable and so they may often find themselves in uncomfortable and awkward situations.

Here in Cambodia, there are many beer gardens all over the city and in the rural areas. They come in all shapes and forms. In the evening, if I am on my way back home from visiting friends in my tuk tuk, it is a common sight to see many young women dressed up in very tight, scantily fit clothing, sitting on chairs at the entrance of these beer gardens. Thankfully, there are people here who are doing outreaches. One of them is a young Khmer Christian woman that I met this past weekend at church. I am hoping to join her one evening on one of her outreaches with her team as she seeks to minister to the girls in the karoke bars and beer gardens. The work is tiring and wearying but in just one year God is giving her glimpses of fruit as some of the women are part of a bible study group that she hosts.

To say that a 'spirit of lust' exist here is an understatement. It really pervades in so many different forms. But thankfully we serve a God who reminds us that where sin increases, grace increases more, where there is darkness, the light will shine and where there is love, freedom is on its way.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Cooking Canadian Style in Cambodia

About a month ago, I had some young Khmer friends come over to my place to cook one of my favorite Khmer dishes called Lok Lak. (Those of you who have been following my blog may recall me talking about two girls - Neth & Liya who have been trafficked and are now reintegrated--see blog comment dated September 22, 2011). Tonight it was my turn to return the favor and cook for them  but as many of you know, I'm not exactly a cook. It is not a title I can truly identify with!

At the last meeting my young friends were quite insistent that I cook for them so my creative idea today of what Canadian food to make was to simply order pizza and have ice cream. I did make a garden salad which was quite a hit but typically here in Cambodia, I am learning that Cambodians don't eat raw vegetables, so eating a salad with fresh lettuce is not typically in their books. However, 3 of the 4 guests tonight are used to being around westerners and having western food so for them tonight was a total treat.

One of the advantages of having such a meal is the pragmatic aspect as it involves little in the way of preparation and little in the way of clean up. As my young friends said to me 'I like the way you cook, you are very smart, you don't have much to clean.' Yep, that was my plan and I explained to them it allowed me more time to sit and talk to them. There is a method to my madness.
Channa and I waiting for the pizza takeout

Now tonight was not just about cooking Canadian but rather, I invited one of the teachers from the Newsong centre named Channa to join me. She is in her early twenties but a solid young Christian. She has gone to bible school and the daughter of a pastor but is always willing to help me. So today I took her up on her offer and invited her to join us because my other young friends --- Neth, Kunthea and Liya are not believers and I felt it was important to have a Khmer Christian with me who is close to the girls ages. Channa and I spent time praying for them before they arrived and she made them feel so at ease and most of all it was a blessing to have her pray in Khmer for our meal and then later as the girls were leaving she suggested we pray and bless them.
Neth, Kunthea, Channa and Liya (L to R)
We want to reach out to these young women and to point them to Christ so these dinners are an opportunity to get to know them better and just spend time encouraging them. Tonight as I was talking to Liya she mentioned how she is scared some times of living alone because she gets bad dreams associated with her time when she was trafficked. It was an opportunity to share with her that when I get bad dreams, i call on the name of Jesus because He is God and He can subdue any evil spirit that wants to harass us. So I encouraged her that she could do the same and her response was 'yes I shall try that. I never thought of that before.' These are small seeds that are being planted but nonetheless, the Lord is the one who waters the seeds. He simply calls us to be faithful to the process and leave the outcome to Him.

As we prepare to set up our own transitional center one of the suggestions is to have strong young believers who can mentor and disciple the teenagers that we are helping to reintegrate into society. Tonight, I saw clearly the wisdom of having someone like Channa who is close to these girls ages and can be a bridge to minister to them and encourage them. Channa has other female friends who have graduated from bible school and has offered to connect me with them as we look for young Khmer Christians to serve along side us. So even in hosting these simple meals, God is using them as a way to teach us and prepare us for the ministry that He is leading us to establish.

Friday, October 14, 2011

The Abused and The Abuser

Today is the day I typically go to the brothel area where our partners work. Its an opportunity to catch up with the staff and learn what is going on. But every day is not a typical day nor is it ever dull in this village, there is always something new to report about. Today was again one such day as after lunch a man came wondering in with his head all bandaged up. Bunthan attended to him by taking off the bandage on his head to clean a large wound which was crudely sown together with stitches on the left side of the head. It was not a pleasant sight but then again this man was not exactly an innocent victim.
He is a brick factory worker who was living with his wife and 4 kids but apparently he drinks a lot and unfortunately in his drunken state he becomes very violent against his wife and kids. This is a man who would swing his 10 month old son upside down --- almost reminiscent of what the Khmer Rouge did with children although they usually took it one step further and would smash the babies heads against the trees. This particular father would terrorize his older kids by hanging them upside down and then dipping them into water. Again, another form of torture that reminds me of the Khmer Rouge era. It is interesting how history repeats itself.

Yesterday the man lost his temper in another drunken stupor and apparently tied up his wife and kids for about 6 hours. One can only imagine the emotional trauma of the children who have not only witnessed such acts of violence against their mother but they too have endured much at the hands of their father. This morning the wife (a church member) came into The Sanctuary. She was covered in so much blood that the staff had never witnessed such a sight before. They cleaned her up and arranged for her to go to a local hospital.

This afternoon it was the husband who came in to the Sanctuary and who was attended to by the Svay Pak staff. It seemed that after his night of violence against his family, his wife's brother along with a few men came after him and decided to seek revenge for all the violence he inflicted on his family. One would argue it was poetic justice that he would experience the same kind of brutality that he so readily committed against his family. I was talking with Dr. Carla ---she is a Brazilian doctor who helps out in Svay Pak daily and she mentioned that with these kind of head injuries Khmers usually don't wash their head near the wound for days but that only adds to further infection if it is not cleaned properly. So today, Dr. Carla and Bunthan took the husband at the back of the Sanctuary and proceeded to clean him up.

The type of domestic violence we see here is so much tied to the historical roots of this country and the suffering that people experienced at the hands of the Khmer Rouge. This story sadly is not unusual but the norm in Cambodia as its people continue to manifest the effects of post traumatic stress disorder. Gambling and alcohol are the two ways in which people here medicate their pains. On the surface, every thing seems well, people smile but not too far down from the surface, there is an anger that is waiting to explode and given the right circumstances, it is released and sadly the most vulnerable are the ones who are victimized.

Yet these acts of violence do not deter the staff in Svay Pak. They remain committed to serving the people in this community.  They truly continue to be the hands and voice and feet of Jesus. They care for both the abused and the abuser showing them both Christ's compassion, picking up the broken fragmented pieces of each life and helping to clean them up.  Like Christ who welcomes all people regardless of what they have done, so too the staff here live out this principal, not discriminating against anyone despite who they are or what crimes they have committed. They do not judge the individual or his actions but lavish each person with God's love, grace and mercy as they serve them. It is not surprising that God has given them such favor in this community.

How fitting it is that the name of our building in this community is called The Sanctuary. It truly is a place of refuge, a  place of safety, a place of  restoration, a place where one's dignity is restored, one's life is rebuilt and one's hope is renewed as Christ love is the healing balm that is applied to each wounded soul.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Watching and Being Watched!

These past few days it has been raining quite heavily in the city and when I say rain its not some little drops but torrential raindrops that come pelting down so as a result I have been at home doing some admin stuff and going a little stir crazy since I haven't been getting my daily walk in. So late this afternoon it was still nice and sunny with a few clouds in the sky, I finally decided I would take the opportunity to go for a long walk down by the riverfront. Its a great place to go as its a bit cooler walking along the 'sea wall' and its fun to just people watch. Many Cambodian families are hanging out there enjoying the breeze and watching their kids play around them. One of the funniest things I saw was a Khmer lady who I guess was feeling a bit hot from her own walk and so she went down the steps to the water level washed her hands and then proceeded to wash her face and wet her hair with the beautiful brown water of the Tonle Sap. Of course I couldn't help but think of germs and bacteria. I'm pretty sure that was far from her mind. She just wanted to cool down.  Nonetheless, its a beautiful atmosphere  if it weren't for those sex tourists and pedophiles lurking around.

There is a part of me that can't help profiling single white old men who sit by themselves along the seawall or the benches that are lined across the river front. Its funny how you don't see single white females by themselves, they are usually with their husbands, families or friends. So a few of the old single Caucasian men I noticed had tatoos, none had wedding rings and they were just hanging out watching the activity. I decided that as I walked pass them to just utter a prayer to the Lord that if they had any intention to abuse a child or Khmer person that their efforts would be blocked and frustrated.

Well upon my walk back towards home, I happen to see an older looking overweight Caucasian man who was sitting next to a young Khmer girl about 15 years old and her little sister along the river bank. He reminded me of an American pedophile that was arrested here last year and featured in an ABC documentary. One of the advantages of being Asian in this environment is that I can be a bit more conspicuous so I thought to myself, let me just sit a few feet from this man and see what he is up to. Having my earplugs on and pretending to listen to my ipod what I saw was a man grooming a young teenage girl. First, he bought her and her little sister each a drink from the local vendor---of course he had them choose what they wanted and she awkwardly accepted. Then, he asked if he could take a picture of her and her sister which she willingly complied. There was a tuk tuk driver who was also chatting him up and who offered to take a photo of both him and the two young girls and he readily accepted that offer. As I sat nearby, the tuk tuk driver was offering to take him anywhere he wanted and proceeded to exchange his phone number and name but then I noticed something, this was not a normal tuk tuk driver. No, he was wearing a blue shirt and on the back was the inscription of Childsafe International---this is a network that consists of different groups who are seeking to protect street children from abuse and prevent them from being placed in abusive situations. He appeared to be a 'trained tuk tuk driver' gathering info from this man. I couldn't help but smile thinking perhaps that the tuk tuk driver was collecting data on this man. The tuk tuk driver had gotten someone to take photos of this man and the children and gave him a copy and the girls had their own copy. A few minutes later the two girls got up and next to them was their mother, off they went with this tuk tuk driver and left the foreigner to himself. He had struck out!

Now at that point, I couldn't resist the opportunity to talk to this alleged sex tourist. I figured it was worth it to put a little fear in these men after all, they create fear and terrify young children.  The words that were playing in my mind was to tell him that ''he was being watched and so he should be careful." So that is what I did. I went up to him and said ''excuse me sir, you really need to be careful, you are being watched.'' His response ''I don't understand much English, but what do you mean to be careful?'' My response: ''be careful what you are doing as you talk to these kids.'' He then proceeded to pull out an album of photos and pointed to a photo of a Khmer young woman who by the way looked about 15 years old. This man is at least 60 years old and is grossly overweight. He claimed that she was his girlfriend and the little baby boy in the photo was his son.'' Now the question one has to ask themselves is 'why would he show me such a photo? Guilty conscience? And if that is his girlfriend in the photo, why is he sitting talking to another young girl and her little sister?

Anyway, I left him and continued my walk home praying that the Lord would hem this man in on all sides, frustrate his plans and if he intended to harm a child that he would get so sick that he would be incapacitated. And as I write this, it is the verses from Psalm 10 that ring in my ears:

7 Their mouths are full of cursing, lies, and threats. Trouble and evil are on the tips of their tongues. They lurk in ambush in the villages, waiting to murder innocent people. They are always searching for helpless victims. 9 Like lions crouched in hiding, they wait to pounce on the helpless.Like hunters they capture the helpless and drag them away in nets. 10 Their helpless victims are crushed; they fall beneath the strength of the wicked.  11 The wicked think, “God isn’t watching us!  He has closed his eyes and won’t even see what we do!”  12 Arise, O Lord!  Punish the wicked, O God! Do not ignore the helpless!  13 Why do the wicked get away with despising God? They think, “God will never call us to account.”  14 But you see the trouble and grief they cause.  You take note of it and punish them. The helpless put their trust in you. You defend the orphans. 15 Break the arms of these wicked, evil people! Go after them until the last one is destroyed.  16 The Lord is king forever and ever! 17 Lord, you know the hopes of the helpless. Surely you will hear their cries and comfort them. 18 You will bring justice to the orphans and the oppressed,  so mere people can no longer terrify them.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Thanksgiving - Khmer Style

Happy Thanksgiving to my Canadian friends and family! Yesterday I celebrated my first Thanksgiving holiday in Cambodia. My dear friend Marie Ens invited me to join her and the other Canadians volunteering at Rescue, as well a the 5 young women from Rescue who are part of the dance troupe that are going to Canada shorthly. Marie's driver Nyok came to pick me up at 4:30pm in a torrential rain storm. When it rains in Cambodia, these are not little drops, but it comes suddenly and powerfully. In a short space of time the roads flood as not all of them have drainage systems and if they do, they are very small. As we are in rainy season, it rains everyday around 4 or 5pm---yes the rain here is very predictable. Needless to say, our travel journey to Biek Chan which normally takes about 45 minutes, took over an hour because of the rain and rush hour traffic. It was however fun driving through the streets. I felt like I was in a boat as the water levels had risen and you could seek the wakes in the water as we drove by. This is one time it pays to be in a car or better yet an SUV as the motocycles who were driving beside us got stuck because  the water was at least 1 foot deep.

When we finally arrived at Biek Chan, the meal was still being prepared. Some of the teenage girls were çarving the turkey Khmer style by peeling up the remaining bits of meat with their hands and there was a few people helping out in the kitchen.
Turkey carving Khmer style!

I actually didn't think Cambodia had turkeys but at Place of Rescue they grow their own free range turkeys and I have to say, it was not dry at all but very delicious and tasty. I discovered another side of Marie---the homemaker, as she had made several dishes along with her helper----carmalized sweet potatoes, stuffing, home made dinner rolls, squash, ham (from a pig at their 'farm')homemade pumpkin pie and all the assorted vegetables. It was all so good and I think I've gained a few pounds from these recent visits to Rescue! Thanksgiving Khmer style is pretty good! We definitely do not starve!

The five Khmer girls who are part of the dance troupe were invited so that they could practice their English in preparation for their Canadian visit. So I had the opportunity to ask them questions in Khmer and they had to respond in English. It so encouraging to hear what their dreams and hopes are for the future. Three of them want to be doctors and two of them want to be bankers. Of course, when I heard the word 'banker', I had to ask 'Why'? Their reasoning was that bankers have a good job so here at Rescue we have young people who want to help the poor and then you have others who want to be captialists! :-) I think its great that young women want to go into business and so I shared with them that I too used to be a banker and if they ever wanted to learn about banking, I would be happy to talk to them more about it.

As the girls sat with their Canadian English teachers, they were being taught western table etiquette ---what to do with a serviette, how to hold their knives and forks----in Cambodia, the Khmer use a spoon and fork to eat-----how not to talk with their mouths full. They are all quite cute, typical teenagers who are full of laughter and gigles and at one point in the meal, Marie asked if each of us could share one thing we were thankful for. It was so touching to hear them share that they were so thankful for Mak Yeah (Grandma) Marie, for Rescue, for each of us, for their English teachers helping them to learn English and of course they were thankful to the Lord for His goodness to them. Marie shared that at times it can be lonely here and during Thanksgiving everyone back home in Canada is with their families. She was thankful that this evening we could be a family to one another. It was certainly a fun time just hanging out. As I thought of her comment it was the words from Psalm 68:5-6 that came to my mind5 A father to the fatherless, a defender of widows, is God in his holy dwelling. 6 God sets the lonely in families. In deed this evening we were all away from our biological families and for these special 5 young women, they had lost their parents a long time ago and yet here together as we share a meal, as we spend time with each other, Jesus had ordained that He would set us all together as a family in Him for this evening.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Washing Feet!

Today my Irish friends Dave and Esther Allen along with their former pastor Bill who was visiting form the UK came with me to Svay Pak. I met David and Esther a couple months ago via our Ratanak UK director Steve Norman. Dave and Esther have been living in Phnom Penh for the past 8 months and also attend the ICA church. Dave is a baker and Esther works in administration. They are both volunteering with one of our partners Prison Fellowship and Dave will also be using his baking skills at Daughters once a week. As we are all newbies to living long term in Cambodia, we often swap stories and check up to see how each other is doing.
Dave and Esther with their pastor Bill (right)

Today it was once again a privilege to attend the Svay Pak church service. When we arrived Pastor Chantha asked if we would be open to washing the feet, praying and laying hands on 3 of his disciples (Dary, Siny, Ravy) and Youth Pastor Ratanak.
Dary, Siny, Ravy and Ratanak

These 4 are being setting apart as leaders for the church in Svay Pak. In the months to come Pastor Chantha and his wife Bunthan will be going to Siem Reap to help set up a second Rahab's house in a brothel district in Siem Reap. They will help train up new staff in Siem Reap before returning to their work in Svay Pak. In the mean time, it was once again such a blessing for us to pray for each of the disciples and to be a part of this foot washing service.

For me personally, pastor Chantha's disciples are like my little brothers and sisters. They have a special place in my heart. Last year it was such a privilege to baptize these three young people and today, it was such an honor to now wash their feet, lay hands over them and pray for them. It was an emotional moment for us all and it was so encouraging to see the whole church stand up and reach out to pray for these 4 young people.

One of my other special friends close by holding a towel to wipe the feet of the disciples was 'Theary." There she was the newest believer, the one who only a few weeks ago was being 'disposed of' by her employer, but here she was, taking the lowliest position of wiping the feet of her fellow brothers and sisters in Christ.  In this simple and humble act, she was giving back the very love of Christ that she had received since she arrived.  For those of you who have been praying for her, her blood tests so far came back with no problems. She is currently learning the keyboard as she wants to worship the Lord through this musical instrument. Whenever I see 'Theary' or think of her, I just smile. She epitomizes the definition of what 'hope' looks like in the flesh. Just before I left to go into the tuk tuk, she asked if I would give her a hug. This is a young woman starving for love, one who for years never experienced a gentle touch, a kind word nor a loving glance and so yet again, it is here in Svay Pak, Jesus is showing me how to care for His lambs by simply extending His hands to them and letting them know that by our presence, they are loved.

Well after Svay Pak, we headed to the riverfront for lunch at the Blue Pumpkin, a restaurant that should be the marquee for Apple products as on the second floor the entire restaurant is painted white. There are long couches that look like beds where people sit with their drinks or food. This photo below is a group of young people with their IPADs lying around on these couches. I gather the selling point of this restaurant is to create an atmosphere just like home!

And just in case you are wondering about the food, it was great along with the overall atmosphere.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Contextualizing a Birthday Celebration

Catherine celebrating her 51st birthday

This seems to be a week of birthday celebrations. First it was Marie Ens's birthday and today one of my good friends Catherine celebrated her 51st birthday. She is a missionary with OMF and also happens to be a great cook so she invited all different groups of friends---OMF colleagues, church friends and work friends from World Hope for an afternoon tea with desserts and salty foods that she made. For me it was a wonderful time of reconnecting with some OMF missionaries that I knew from 2002 who helped our short term team run an English camp in the suburb of Tuol Kork.

It was a 'women' only party and so the husbands were not around but it was a mix of single and married missionaries in addition to Khmer friends. What I loved about this celebration is having this multicultural gathering of people from all over the world (Swiss, German, English, Malaysian, Singaporean, Filipino, American, Canadian and of course Cambodian) and the best part is that they are all fluent in Khmer as they have been here any where from 1 to 10 years. So we began by each introducing ourselves in Khmer and as the party games began, every thing was explained and spoken in Khmer. It is a great example of cultural sensitivity and how westerners and international workers adopt the cultural norms of the local culture despite the fact that the majority of those attending were all from the West. Instead of staying in our 'Western huddles' everyone was mixing and talking with different groups.

One of our first ice breaker games was one that I had played years ago when we did our English camp. A bed sheet was placed in the middle of two individuals and when the sheet was dropped, they had to guess each other's names. The first one to guess right, wins the round. It's a great way to get to break the ice and get to meet new people. Catherine had invited Bunthan and Siny (my friends from Svay Pak) as well and so for them it was an introduction to a new kind of environment with western food. One would think they might feel out of place being with all these westerners, but quite the contrary, they were in the midst of conversations talking Khmer with all the missionaries, feeling at home and finding it quite interesting and amusing that these 'white folk' speak their language so well. For me, being in such an environment is something that is quite energizing because of the opportunity to practice my Khmer but more than that, it is an opportunity where we really all feel part of God's family regardless of whether you are from the west or whether from Cambodia.  It is times like this that I am reminded of the scripture from John 17:21-23  Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 22 I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one— 23 I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.

Some of the OMF workers are social workers and counselors, one of whom works at our partner agency Daughters. Many of the girls from Daughters go to an OMF church plant located in the heart of their brothel district of Stung Meanchey so the circles here are very small. I hope to meet up with these OMFers later on as they have worked for years as trained counselors and social workers in Cambodia and so they can provide valuable guidance and help as we set up our training for our future staff. As one of them shared with me today, training is an ongoing process with staff as head knowledge is not enough despite the fact that Khmers love learning theory but there needs to be ongoing practical examples that have to be incorporated into the training. It is little tidbits of information like this that I find so beneficial as the Lord gives shape and form to the programs that we are seeking to develop. Once again, I see God's hand  providing and directing our steps through the networks He has given us both individually and corporately.