Sunday, November 27, 2011
Today I was up in one of the familiar suburbs where I used to stay when I first came to Cambodia in the early 2000s. This sleepy community was a place where one would find a lot of NGOs or development organizations. While some of them are still located there, the surrounding area has changed immensely. There are new service apartments and condominiums as well as large mansions that dot the suburban surroundings but one of the newest sights has been the arrival of several KTV (Karoke TV) clubs which can be spotted all along the main street. What exactly is KTV anyway?
KTV stands for Karoke Television where many people come and hang out in private booths to sing karoke songs. But it is not like the Karoke places that I and many of my friends used to visit back home when we were in university. Here it is really a front for another style of brothel. Someone has described KTV as 'Knocking Trading Virgins'. At around 5pm all the young women can be seen sitting outside these KTV places waiting for customers. When the customers come, they are escorted into these Karoke booths and the girls attend to their needs whatever that maybe. It is interesting to see how the sex trade has morphed into a whole new style of entertainment.
This picture above is off a new KTV operations. There are no windows on this building---a dead giveaway of the type of activity that will take place in here. The photo below displays what customers can expect if they go inside one of the rooms. This advertisement is freely displayed in the outside of the building.
I went around this area today with a friend of mind. God seems to be birthing a vision in her heart for these young women who work in this area so today we felt like Joshua and Caleb checking out the 'promised land'. Our first stop was to visit a local beauty salon where we got a pedicure for the incredible price of 75 cents. My friend has begun to prayer walk this area and this particular salon is a place that the girls will come in the early afternoon to get their hair and makeup done as they prepare for their evening at KTV. So we thought it would be a good idea to just visit the beauty salon and get to know some of the girls who work there. With both of us being Asian and being small in stature, we blend in somewhat into the atmosphere although the owner of the salon found it somewhat humorous that we would chose her salon. I suspect they probably thought we were 'wealthier' and would go to a more high end salon. One of the blessings of knowing the language is that it has its own ways of opening doors and so my friend did most of the talking while I sat listening and taking in the environment. My friend is hoping to make regular weekly visits to this place and to just prayer walk around the area as a first step to seeing where the Lord will lead. This reminds me of how Joshua walked around the walls of Jericho. As we left the salon, the building next to it was a local KTV establishment, we passed by 4 young girls----they didn't look much older than 14 to 16 years old----they smiled at us as we smiled at them. We didn't want to be too obvious so we decided to not stop but kept walking although a part of me would have liked to have just stopped and chatted with them briefly. But all in God's timing. My friend alluded to the fact that many of the girls in these places seem so young. They certainly look young and I wouldn't be surprise if they were in their early teens.
So here in Cambodia, KTV establishments are popping all over the place because of their increased popularity. Sadly, they are just another front for the exploitation of young women who are desperately looking to earn a living but are caught in a web that continues to treat them as a commodity. Pray for God to protect these young women, many of them we believe are teenagers. Pray that the Lord will raise up people like my friend who will be given a vision on how best to reach out to this new vulnerable population.
Friday, November 25, 2011
So last night I participated in another Thanksgiving dinner. One of the advantage of living here in a multicultural expat community is that people come from all over the place. Last night I joined my fellow Canadian Lois and her American team from Crossworld Missions for a U.S Thanksgiving dinner with all the wonderful American trimmings---everything was homemade---the turkey, the stuffing, the mashed potatoes, the breadrolls, the pasta and beans dish, the walnut cheese cake and pumpkin pie. I could go on but I would probably make you drool! It's amazing the food one can find here---that is if you know how to cook and want to cook! Given that I don't like to cook, I think God has been very gracious. He has surrounded me with people who have a passion for cooking and so even here, I get to indulge and gain a few pounds thanks to many other international workers whose culinary talents far surpass any such talents that I will or do have in that area! I'm thankful for that and as I think if this am reminded of the scripture that God has given to His body different gifts---- am so glad He has given others the gift of ''cooking'' and given me the 'gift of eating''---okay I know those are not spiritual gifts but talents! All of this simply means that when we use our gifts or talents for His kingdom---even with such a Thanksgiving meal----we are administering and blessing each other with His grace (1 Peter 4:10).
It was great to hang out with the team from Crossworld who are all serving here some for a short time but others have moved here permanently. Some are from the U.S, others from Holland, South Africa and then Lois is Canadian and is the team leader. One of their colleagues even came over from a neighboring country so he could celebrate American thanksgiving. We had a wonderful time sharing reasons of what we are thankful to God for.
I met Alta who has been an international worker here for 15 years. She is from South Africa and has many stories to tell of all that she has experienced during those years and the changes that she has seen in Cambodia. I often find it very fascinating to chat with people who have dedicated their lives here and have lived through the days when life in Phnom Penh was often known as the 'Wild West'because it was often common to go to the local market and buy an AK47 or walk down the street and see people with handguns and AK47s. Back then the çurfew time was 6pm....one had to be back home by 6pm and because there wasn't much to do, you went to sleep at 9pm. Now here we are several years later and our curfew time is 9pm and I might add some of us do go to bed at 9pm :-). However, many of the young Khmer (especially the non-believers) usually don't adhere to returning home at such a time. They are more apt to be out drinking and dancing till the wee hours of the morning when it is definitely more dangerous.
This morning Pastor Chantha called to wish me Happy Thanksgiving and I thanked him but told him it was an American Thanksgiving and I as a Canadian had already celebrated my thanksgiving. He laughed and then I proceeded to ask him ''does Cambodia have a thanksgiving holiday.' I love his response----here in Cambodia, we don't have one day for thanksgiving, we have thanksgiving every day because in Christ we are thankful for all He gives us and all that He had done for us! Nothing like a spiritual response to remind us of where our focus should be! He is right. We ought to be thankful everyday to the One who gives us life, who has chosen us as His own and who loves us unconditionally! Thank you Jesus for the incredible privilege we have of being your children!
Thursday, November 24, 2011
A week ago, I was having a conversation with my language instructor and since then I have been talking to some other Khmer friends about it. The comments seem to be consistent about this drug and its effect. It seems there is a particular drug that makes people compliant. It doesn't sound all that unusual but how is this drug ingested. It is done with a simple touch on your shoulder, on your back or wherever. What it does is make the person compliant that they turn into a zombie like state and will follow the person who touches them. They will feel sleep and fatigued---I might add many of us often feel quite tired and exhausted but that has more to do with the heat. At any rate, whatever that person tells you to do, you do it. So if it is giving them the money in your purse or pocket, taking off your earings and shoes, and even taking off your clothes, the person will do it. They will have no idea what they are doing and what is interesting is that when the drug wears off, the person who was affected by the drug will have no recollection of what they did, where they were and who encouraged them to do these things. Moreoever, if you were to have your blood tested, there would be no trace of any drugs in your blood system. If you think of the implications of this drug, you will realize that it has the potential to create havoc and more importantly, in the sordid exploitation of children and women, it can lead to devastating effects. In many ways, it is similar to a date rape type drug.
Today, Yeng the country director from Chab Dai was over for a meeting and I was asking him more details about this drug. He told me that one of his neighbors experienced these exact symptoms when she was shopping in a local market. She gave up all her jewelery and money to some stranger but had no recollection of why, who or what. A similar story happen to my language instructor's Mum about 4 years ago and most recently, one of his teenage neighbors described similar effects. She had disappeared for two days and when the police found her, she had no money and had no recollection of where she was or how she got there.
Yeng mentioned that the drug comes from a neighboring country and it is often used in the trafficking of girls. I'm not surprised. With such a drug that makes one so compliant, its the perfect tool to trick an innocent and vulnerable person. So who are the targets of this drug. I am told that if you are shopping in a local market, dress simple, no jewelry, carry little cash. Most of the targets have been Cambodian people from the countryside who come to the city. In many cases, they come wearing all their gold and diamonds and usually have a lot of cash in their purses or pockets versus a Westerner who may use debit cards or ATM cards. As such, it is people who stand out in the crowd with all of their fancy jewelry that draw attention from these unscrupulous characters who prey on them.
It is easy to become paranoid when one hears such news but as Psalm 112:6-8 says: Those who are righteous will be long remembered. They do not fear bad news; they confidently trust the Lord to care for them. They are confident and fearless and can face their foes triumphantly.
Wednesday, November 23, 2011
Chheut seems to have a lot of influence in his English course as the other students are always asking him for help. I asked him why that was and he mentioned that many of the Khmer students who are taking this course hardly can speak English but they want to learn the language. So they sit in class, nod their heads when the teacher is talking about the lesson and when he is finished, they quietly go to Chheut to ask him to translate. One of the challenges in the education system that I have heard about and seems to be a recurring theme as I talk to Chheut is that the students in the past would bribe their teachers to pass the tests or they will copy homework from another student and claim it as their own. One dimension of this is exactly what is happening in Chheut's class. Because he has a good command of the English language---amazing considering he has only been studying English for 3 years-----Chheut's peers have asked him if they could copy his homework.
In this context, what does one do with such a request? I asked Chheut how he has responded and he acknowledged that it is very difficult because he wants to help his fellow peers and yet feels guilty for letting them copy his homework. As a Christian, he wants to encourage them in their studies but knows that this is not the right way to do it. So we ended up talking about what Christ would have him do? It was encouraging to hear that he offered to tutor his fellow peers in English for free so that they could have a better understanding of English. He set aside a time during the day for them to meet but sadly, none of them showed up even though they are not working like him.
We talked about how we could walk blameless and with integrity in the midst of an environment in which cheating on exams, tests and assignments is all too common a phenomenon. Chheut is learning that to follow Christ means saying 'no' to the ways of the world, to endure ridicule and insults. He is learning to pray and ask Jesus to help him before he goes to class so that he can stand firm and politely speak truth to his fellow students, challenging them to develop new study habits instead of the acceptable 'norms and practices.' For a culture that is so community oriented, this is a challenge and yet it is encouraging to see young Khmer Christians like Chheut desiring to walk with integrity and not seeking to please man but to please God!
This past Monday, he wrote his first English test and before he went, I spent some time praying with him that God would give him clarity and understanding as he answered the questions and that he would do well. On the day of the test, he shared how all this fellow students had finished the exam so quickly and he only was able to answer about 90% of the questions but he felt he had passed. Of course we were both baffled at how they could finish so quickly given their limited understanding of English. I couldn't help but wonder if they had been able to get hold of the exam prior to writing it. After all, that is quite a possibility. So today, Chheut got the results and was quite excited to share the news that he had passed. He did extremely well and as for his fellow students. Many of them failed. It seemed that his teacher had been very strict with the class. No one was allowed to talk to each other during the test----you would think this is a standard practice here, but as I'm learning, don't ever assume that what happens in North America happens here ---it just is not so!
As I think of many young Khmer Christians who work during the day and study at night, they too will face similar challenges like Chheut. Pray for them as they are growing up in a very competitive environment where jobs are limited. Pray that God would bless them with wisdom and discernment to navigate the cultural minefields and that they will have a willingness to stand for truth. Pray that it would be their desire to honor God and not to cave into peer pressure. Psalm 84:11-12 says: For the LORD God is a sun and shield; the LORD bestows favor and honor; no good thing does he withhold from those whose walk is blameless. LORD Almighty, blessed is the one who trusts in you. May they indeed learn to trust the Lord in the midst of these challenges.
Sunday, November 20, 2011
So my friend Catherine told me that her mission organization has all their workers deworm every six months. There is a whole new vocabulary that you learn about when you live here so I had to ask her what she meant by deworming and what was involved. Worm infestation can occur if you eat raw vegetables, dairy products, untreated drinking water, or under cooked meat. Being a carnivore, this only adds to my case to avoid veggies:-)---just kidding Mum! One website I read said: Parasites and worms once established in your body, will eat the same foods you eat or they will eat you! Great.
Thankfully one of my other friends Anne who works at Place of Rescue as the resident nurse was able to give me some details about the specific deworming medication I need to get. So today, Catherine and I went to the local pharmacy to buy Mebendazole---the cost of 3 tablets is $1.50---for whatever reason my friend only paid $1.00 for the same tablets---I think its because she looks more local than me! And in case you are wondering, you don't need a prescription to get drugs in Cambodia---but that is another story for another day. At any rate, I have to take 1 tablet for 3 days. It is more of a preventative medication. I couldn't resist asking my friend Anne to describe the symptoms if one has worms---digestive problems, gas & bloating, explosive diarrhea (I can only imagine what that would be like--probably TMI for this blog), mucusy stools---these are just a few effects. Thankfully as far as I can tell, I have none of the symptoms so praise God I am still healthy and so far so good---no worm infestation!
So as you think of us who live and work here, do pray for the Lord to keep us healthy. He who created and formed our bodies, knows where the worms are located (if any) and so in this aspect of life as in many other dimensions, it is trusting that as He has called us here, He will protect our bodies and keep them clean from any such parasites!
Saturday, November 19, 2011
The Final Chapter
The last night of the 2011 Ratanak vision trip has arrived and with it the final blog. Today we met with Adam from Prison Fellowship Cambodia (PFC) at the rehabilitation centre, the only one of its kind in Cambodia. Here Prison Fellowship carry significant influence which has developed over many years of hard work and determination. Success stories like the one from Correctional Centre 3, funded by Ratanak Canada, do not happen by accident. Here, with a prison population of 1500, over 900 have received Christ. The consequences are quite staggering which have not gone unnoticed by the authorities both in the prison itself and the wider circle. A full programme of vocational training, language classes, healthcare and rehabilitation programmes have changed the face of this prison. The governor insists that any prisoner who is to be promoted is a Christian; he himself has remained in post for a much longer time than usual due primarily to the changes seen.
This programme is now duplicated at Kampong Thom prison supported by Ratanak UK. Having only begun last year the impact of the work by the PFC team are already being noticed. This is a part of a programme to adopt a prison incorporating church partnerships both in Cambodia and outside. For just over $2 per month per inmate we have been able to provide the outlined services. For more information of what this entails and how to get involved in this please drop me an email.
This afternoon a funny thing happened. We dropped into the local market for some last minute shopping before heading for the mandatory chocolate brownie at Café Yejj! As I crossed the road I was followed by a small girl aged around 10 – she was in fact begging. I had no small change so, knowing it was my last time here, gave her $1 (this is actually a huge donation here). Time passed and a lady arrived with her young some also begging. Feeling a little obliged I again placed a dollar into an empty bowl whilst the same girl smiled at me from across the road. It was then I discovered this was a tag team of mother and daughter! I finished my coffee and saw across the road the little girl appear. She wandered across to the middle of the highway to show me a bag of fruit and snacks which she pointed out were bought with the dollar. As she walked back away she turned again, smiled and mouthed ‘thank you’ before waving and disappearing from view.
Statistics show that 70% of this country exists on less than $2 a day and 33% on less than 50 cents. Today I witnessed the reality of that where a mere dollar (65 pence) gave a child a meal she may never have had. I guess I tell you this to try to explain how far finances can stretch here and what a significant difference even the smallest donation can make whether it is educating a prisoner, feeding a child or providing refuge for a victim of sex trafficking.
I thought that the first trip 2 years ago was life changing and that this time it would be about building on relationships. Whilst that has definitely been the case – it has also been life changing. From being told you will never be forgotten by an 8 year old victim through the celebration that is Daughters shop to the child on the street being thankful for a meal, this trip has served to set my determination greater than ever to work for and alongside the people of Cambodia to effect changes that will last. I have seen Gods hand at work in very young children to a group of old ladies in a Ratanak funded night shelter. And – by no means least – I have spent time with some people who are beyond description. People who have sacrificed and continue to sacrifice in so many ways to show the love of Jesus to the Khmer in deeds and words. I am greatly humbled by each of them and count it an absolute honour to be called their friend.
Thank you to everyone for following this journey and being patient with me through the tough times. I have had the support of a great team from Northern Ireland, Canada and Australia.
In closing I read a quote from Sydney J Harris – ‘Regrets for the things we did can be tempered by time: regrets for the things we did not do – that is inconsolable.’
To God be the glory.
Friday, November 18, 2011
So, the penultimate day of visits arrived with a day spent at Daughters of Cambodia. Daughters seeks to help victims of sexual exploitation to find ways out of this situation and into one of safety, freedom and dignity, to find wholeness, and to become all that God created them to be. The vision is to empower clients with the internal capacity and the external resources to change their own lives. Internal resources involve empowering clients to make changes to their own lives, within their own cultural and social contexts, promoting healthy decision making so that changes are internal, voluntary and sustainable rather than imposed.
At the main centre we were introduced to many of the staff who receive a variety of training in making clothes, jewellery, wood crafts, etc. all of which are then sold through outlets including the shop in Phnom Penh. All the girls given employment here were working in street prostitution and have chosen to walk away from that to work here.
Since I was last here a new programme called Sons has started reaching out to the highly marginalised lady boys. This group are hugely persecuted and are given no value or respect in this society. Here they find training & teaching – but more importantly hope.
The next part of the visit was very special – we went to the shop, exhibition centre and café which was the first project Ratanak UK was able to support. What a wonderful privilege it was and what an amazing place it is. Offering employment to 15 people across a broad range of areas including beauty, retail, catering and hospitality, the store oozes charm. It was a touching experience to see the reality. Every detail is beautifully taken care of
Please pray for Ruth, the founder of this programme, who has sacrificed so much to do this. Her drive, compassion and tenacity are an inspiration. Pray also for the staff and clients of Daughters who work so very hard.
Throughout this trip the common theme has been that of hope. It is so easy to see the darkness around us as we negotiate the different areas and yet the one thing we have to hold on to is the hope that is found nowhere else than in Christ. At Daughters today on the wall was written out the hymn – ‘On Christ alone my hope is found’. Whether we are on the streets with children who are being sold, in the foster home where they are safe, at the café eating beautiful cakes or in the shop admiring the amazing creations – the one thing that runs through all is hope. The hope of a better future and a restored life.
Wednesday, November 16, 2011
After a hectic week it has been great today to have a slightly more relaxing day allowing the team time to reflect and catch up a little. This morning we headed off to Bloom Vocational Training Centre and Café to meet with Ruth, Murray & Tanya from Australia. Carrying the strap line ‘Too beautiful to eat too delicious to resist’ Bloom rightly describes itself as an oasis in the middle of Phnom Penh. Here 32 girls take lessons and have qualified in a variety of hospitality and catering subjects – including cake making and decorating. The cakes meet the description and are totally breath taking –tasting pretty good too! The final pieces made for the exams are on display and are extravagant in their design together with a cabinet of simply amazing cupcakes. These cakes are sold to a largely local clientele and through the café for a variety of occasions and have attracted media coverage around the globe.
The centre has only been operating since January 2010 and has clients from the Prime Minister down. Capable of making and decorating cakes of up to 7 tiers this centre is a hive of industry. As you know Tim & Debs are here as part of their honeymoon and to celebrate their marriage we had a cake made!
As I have thought more on the day and the opulence of these cakes I reflected on the character of God. The exceeding abundance with which he loves us, cares for us and desires to live our lives to the fullest measure are reflected in the magnificent creations which exceed anything you could imagine. We should be eternally thankful that we serve a God who wants to bless us to excess and lavish himself on us for no other reason than he can do it.
Tomorrow we head to Daughters and the visitor centre which was the first project we funded from the UK. It’s likely to be more cake I’m afraid…!
Today was the day I was so very much looking forward to since this trip became a reality. It is the day we spent with our partners from Hagar – an organisation who, to quote the words of staff, deal with the things in the too difficult basket. That resonates with everything I am and everything we strive to be as an organisation. When this journey began just over 3 years ago I was warned to stay away from working with sexually exploited in Cambodia as ‘it is too difficult and too dangerous’. How far away from the truth can that be. Is it difficult? Yes. Is it dangerous? Sometimes yes. Is it impossible – with God absolutely not. In him can be found all hope and through him full restoration can be found and through him all things are possible.
After a day out we freshened up before a tuk tuk drive through a totally gridlocked Phnom Penh to the mall and Lucky Burger. I would like to describe this as rush hour though we were rushing nowhere!! I was so excited for this moment. Here we met up with some Hagar staff and 10 girls from 2 foster care homes funded by Ratanak International – 1 from the UK and 1 from Canada. We sat amongst the girls and chatted about family and what brought us to Cambodia like old friends as we shared a meal together. These kids have suffered abuse on a scale that a normal human being cannot and should not be able to conceive. That humanity would stoop so low to exploit a child to such an extent is beyond my levels of comprehension.
After eating it is time for gifts with Liz and Susan handing out bracelets, toiletries and hair bands. Girls chatter comparing their new gifts with beaming faces. I reached into a bag I brought over and took out a bunch of Ratanak teddy bears. The gasp is audible and as each bear is received it is hugged and held onto tightly before being decorated with the bands and bracelets then hugged a little more. A little 8 year old girl then leans over and asks my name before naming her teddy after me. After ice cream and more conversation it is time to say farewell and head off. At the bottom of a set of steps the same 8 year old wanders over and asks her mentor how to say some words to me in English. I kneel on the pavement as she look into my eyes and says, ‘Thank you, I will never forget you’.
Tonight, once again, my heart aches but this time it is with the joy of seeing young lives rescued and restored. I am now beginning to understand with a little more clarity what it means to be in awe of God as I witness his hand at work in the lives of these children. Moreover, I appreciate more fully that we serve a mighty, mighty God who is able to do everything we can ask or imagine – and often more than we dare imagine.
Please pray for the Hagar staff who work with these and many more children and who listen to the terrible stories many times. Pray for strength and wisdom for them and that they will experience more of God at work through them. Pray also for the team of Liz, Susan, Tim & Debs from the UK, Brian & Melissa from Canada, Brian & Jason from Australia and Lisa who now lives here together with all those around the world that volunteer their help with us. Thank you.
Tuesday, November 15, 2011
We headed up to the third floor to see the kids club. The place was jammed pack with over 200 kids. There are many new faces that I haven't seen before but there are also familiar faces. One of them caught my eye---it was Theary---one of the newest disciples of Pastor Chantha. For those of you not familiar with Theary's story check out the blog comment called 'Not Forgotten'' on September 23, 2011. There was Theary up front on the platform as part of the team leading the kids in worship with a variety of worship actions. I couldn't help but smile and praised God for the new work He is doing in Theary's life. Later on, she was part of the crew that was serving the kids during the craft time. A few nights ago, Theary had come to visit me with some of the other disciples. That evening as we were walking along the busy streets near my home, I noticed she was singing a Khmer worship song and had this big smile on her face. So I said to her, ''you like to sing about Jesus?" She smiled and then proceeded to asked me if I loved Jesus and I said ''yes". I then asked her the same question and when she said ''yes, I love Jesus,' I asked her 'why?'' Her response was simple: ''because He has blessed me so much.'' This is a young woman who has only known Jesus just over a month ago and yet she is so filled with His love. She has tasted of the Lord and has discovered that He is good indeed. He truly continues to put a new song in her heart and each day she is just being saturated with His love as she serves Him. It is such a joy to watch God's beauty in Theary enfold as she walks with Him and discovers for herself that she has been fearfully and wonderfully made by Him.
But today I had another surprise from another little friend called Sparky. Sparky grew up in this brothel district but now lives at Newsong. You can read more about her story in the blog titled: A Little Friend Called Sparky. While she tells the teachers at Newsong that I am her mother, whenever I visit Newsong she always runs away and hides from me because she is so shy (such is the effect I have on her). So today while I was in the brothel district, who should I see but little Sparky sitting in the back of the Newsong van as they were about to leave to head home after the kids club. I quickly ran after the van and called out her name. There she was with her beautiful big smile and long hair looking towards me. I quickly said ''I'm so glad to see you finally.'' She smiled almost sheepishly. But it was her beautiful smile that was a gift to me this day as I thought of my other little friend ''Srey Neth" who is no longer here. This is the paradox of this ministry---one child safe, another child sold! But I'm thankful for the Lord for these brief opportunities to see my young friends. I am thankful for the privilege of seeing Him transform their sadness into joy. I am thankful that they not only can smile again but they are discovering the One who rejoices over them with singing, the One who has created them to worship Him. Indeed He raises the poor from the dust and lifts the needy from the ash heap; he seats them with princes, with the princes of his people. (Psalm 113:7-8)
Today we headed over to NewSong to meet with Bridget. Living here are 54 girls between 5 and 20, all who have been subjected to some of the most unimaginable abuse. It is so hard to create a picture of this place for you. The surroundings are beautiful and the staff are beyond words. Their love for these children is so clear and that is reciprocated by the kids. Here children recover something of their lost lives. It is an incredible experience and blessing to come here and meet children who arrived with the belief that they were worthless, dirty and unlovable. This could be no further from the truth and through the patient work and testimony of the staff lives are being changed. These kids have come to know the love of Christ who died for them and loves unreservedly and without condition. One little girl aged somewhere around 14 was never far away - she now suffers from minor brain damage following the amount of drugs forced into her in the brothels.
Then we were treated to lunch with the girls – green Thai curry! To sit amongst these kids, many of whom have been the victims of white western men, is an honour again I can barely describe.
After lunch we take another long tuk tuk drive to visit The Sanctuary, Rahab’s House and The Lords Gym. As we arrived a bus full of very young children pulled up who were brought in from the brick kilns where their families are held in bonded labour. The last time I was here The Sanctuary was an aspiration and a wreck. Today it resonates to the sound of children at the kids club singing songs to Jesus and being allowed the luxury of being children for 2 hours of the day. Many of these kids will leave here and be sold tonight to satisfy the cravings of the men who prey on them. Bridget commented, “We live at the gates of hell – but there is a lot of hope here.” It cannot be put more succinctly than that. In the midst of a tangible darkness the light of Christ burns with a fierce intensity. This community is being turned around one life at a time.
As we wander through the buildings I meet with girls making bracelets. I ask for one with my wife’s name on and am told it will take around 30 minutes. True to form the bracelet is delivered by a lovely girl who says a few words and leaves. I then find out that she has hardly spoken a word since her rescue several years ago – so deep is the trauma locked inside.
Don & Bridget are an incredible couple who acted in response to a need. Described so aptly today as Nike Christianity – they just did it. No qualifications or experience in this area – just a heart for children in a land far from home who needed help. Pray for them and the staff who they work so closely with. Pray for safety in a hostile environment, for provision to do more and for wisdom to act in the right way at the right time. Pray for these children and for their protection and for this community that it will turn to Jesus and away from the trade it is world renowned for.
Monday, November 14, 2011
So with some time to spare, I was on the hunt to find a place that would make me a set of new keys for the Ratanak office apartment. Who better to ask that my tuk tuk driver. After all, tuk tuk drivers are the human version of the yellow pages or the google website in Cambodia. They usually know where to find everything or any thing you need as long as you can explain it properly, they will find it. My tuk tuk driver is a sweet young man and so off we went on the hunt. Its not like you can go to a mall and find a store that copies keys. Rather, you go on a treasure hunt search, driving a long the streets of Phnom Penh looking for a small kiosk just like a street vendor that says ''Copy Key''---thankfully I just learned the word for ''key" the other day so the best way to practice the language is to use what you have learned right away so that you have a better chance to remember it all. If any of you have ever seen the T.V show called Ámazing Race---that show best describes what it likes to enter into a new culture and new environment. You are constantly on the hunt to find stuff and search for the right people to help you.
Anyway, I digress, so after one unsuccessful attempt we found our copy key man. He pulled out his 'key machine' from his small cabinet/cupboard and went to work making my two extra keys. He charged $1.00 per key which is about the same that I had paid previously and really, in the whole scheme of things there are times that bargaining for a 20 cent discount or less is just not worth the time nor the energy. While he got to work in making the extra keys, I was most amused at how he was getting his electric power to use his machine. The wires were attached to a tree next to his vendor stand and they were crudely connected to the electric cables wires that were above the tree.
Sunday, November 13, 2011
Comments from Steve Norman - Ratanak UK Director
The two days spent in Siem Reap have produced so many memories and encounters. From the official dedication on the library through the majesty of Angkor Wat to a final farewell to children and university students working tirelessly to effect change not only on their own lives but also on their communities.
Saturday, November 12, 2011
Friday, November 11, 2011
Nonetheless, the three day holiday is still on and as I live near the downtown core, close to the Independence Monument and a 15 to 20 minute walk down to the waterfront, the streets are buzzing with traffic and many people. Some of the main streets have been closed off as many people head down to the water to just hang out with their friends and families. It really is a beautiful site to see all the different little street vendors that appear from nowhere suddenly selling their food items. Others were selling fake designer handbags in the middle of the sidewalks not far from the police station. Its like an outdoor market as you walk along the parks. There are the street photographers who will take your photo at the park. There is an outdoor concert where there are a variety of cultural dances. Many families bring their mats and camp out in the park or alongside the boardwalks having what appears to be a picnic. All of this creates a carnival atmosphere.
Tonight some of my 'Khmer Family' from Svay Pak came to visit me so that we could hang out together and walk down to the waterfront. I was trying to figure out what I could feed them and thankfully my friend Catherine came over to help me go shopping at the New Market (Psah Thamie) so that I could buy some local treats. One of the vendors we went to made some stir fried noodles with beef so we ordered 21 packets each costing just over $1.00.
I wanted to buy some BBQ squid but the price was a bit high so we ended up buying some other deep fried rice and onion cakes and for dessert a coconut rice cake wrapped in banana leaves. Anyway, my entire meal for 20 people came up to $1.60 per person. It pays to shop locally and to eat locally!
Tuesday, November 8, 2011
Since that day in July 2009, Srey Neth had never been sold again. Her father never showed up to take her to the brothel. She is a cheeky eleven year old student, enrolled in not one but two schools, learning both English and Khmer! Srey Neth's grandmother who attends the church in this brothel community stood up to the pedophiles and said, “No!” It was Srey Neth's story that inspired me to pray big and bold prayers to the Lord as I and many others witnessed His intervention in her life. So when I arrived in Cambodia 3 months ago, whenever I would visit Svay Pak, I always made it a point to see her and say hi and whenever she saw me, she would run up and just give me the biggest hug and would just hang onto me as we walked about the village. She was and is one of the spiritual children that I believe the Lord has blessed me with in this brothel community.
This past Sunday as I was sitting with Pastor Chantha asking him how each of my little friends were doing, he told me that Srey Neth's grandmother was no longer living here and had moved to Vietnam last week. She had wanted to take Srey Neth and her sister Channa (not her real name) with her but their father was against that. Srey Neth and Channa have now been taken by their parents to live in Siem Reap. Pastor Chantha echoed my sentiments that he was worried and felt she was now at risk again of being sold given that her parents own a brothel in Siem Reap.
So here we go again. This little girl who God used in my life to deepen my faith and prayer life has disappeared. For two years, she was on a journey of freedom---free from abuse, free to be a child again and most importantly free to worship the Lord she has come to know and love and who she so wanted to serve. So what do we do with this? How does one cope with this news? After all, this is the ongoing issue for all of us who serve in this ministry. We constantly face bitter/sweet experiences --- one child rescued and then one child sold. How do we deal with the emotional rollercoaster of such a visible reality? How do we keep on going in the face of such news? How do we avoid being discouraged?
Earlier tonight, I shared with Melissa my Ratanak colleague that there are some burdens that we are called to bear and there are other burdens that we are called to give to the Lord. So in the face of this news, God once again is calling me to get on my knees and pray for Srey Neth. This is how He is challenging me to 'invest' in her life. To stand in the gap for her life, to not give up despite the unknown and the uncertainty surrounding her whereabouts. This is the 'burden' that I am called to bear---to be faithful to the process of praying for her but to leave the outcome to the Lord. The burden that I am called to give to the Lord is to entrust her safety into His care. It is times like this, we are called to stand in the truth in the midst of the darkness. God still sits on the throne. God is sovereign, God is in control of this situation, God knows exactly where Srey Neth is. God is faithful, He never changes, He is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow. Do we believe that in the face of this present reality? Do we believe that God can once again intervene in Srey Neth's life? Do we believe the Lord is mighty to save and deliver her from the hands of those who are seeking to destroy her life?
This ministry will challenge our faith in Christ at the very core as we 'walk' with these young girls because we are called to Hope against all hope just like Abraham did. We are called to take God at His word that He can and is able to do the impossible in their circumstances. How fitting it is that tonight of all nights, I would receive an email from a pastor who writes the following: I think about the Already/Not-Yet reality that defines the New Testament and the Church (then and now). The “Already” is that through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, His ministry of renewal has already begun. We as the church are meant to experience, daily, forgiveness of sins, his resurrection power over sin and the strength to join him in his work of renewing the world. This means living and preaching a message of hope in Jesus Christ, and demonstrating that hope by the way we love others. The other dimension of the Kingdom is the “Not Yet”. While the renewal process has begun, with the resurrection of Jesus, all has not been made new and right on the earth. Injustice, sin and death still pervade our broken world. And the scriptures are clear that this present earth and heaven are passing away. Eventually, when Christ returns, he will usher in the new heaven and new earth, where finally Christ shall reign and have dominion “From sea to sea” and where all sickness, sorrow and pain will be gone. We recognize then that until this happens, we will continually experience and interact with pain and hardship and the devastating effects of sin. These encounters are meant to remind us that a better day is coming. As Paul says in 1 Cor 15, if the only hope we have is for this life, then we are to be pitied most.
Srey Neth's situation serves to remind me that we are once again faced with interacting with loss, suffering and pain. This is the 'not yet' dimension of God’s Kingdom; it’s why we engage now, today. But we do this because we believe that Christ is their and our ultimate hope and as such, we are called to be the 'repairers and restorers' of the broken gates and walls as we actively pray, intercede and persevere in our commitment to see God's kingdom come in the lives of the young girls. And so, we rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us. (Romans 5:4-5) May we demonstrate His hope and His love for the Srey Neth's of this world, by committing to battle in prayer for their lives believing that as we do, the 'already dimension' of God's kingdom has begun. The renewal process has begun because we are the carriers of His hope to those who live in hopeless situations.
Monday, November 7, 2011
I continue to be amazed at how open some of these chickens are. One of them clearly was taking some notes as if he was doing research. They seem so unaware (or perhaps they didn''t care) that there were people subtly looking in their directions. Some of Pastor Chantha's disciples were sitting in my tuk tuk 'hanging out' about 10 feet from them, while Melissa and I were with Pastor Chantha and Bunthan standing at the Sanctuary entry. It was a perfect photo opportunity.
These days it is very unusual to see the chickens sitting so casually and visibly for all to see. This was more reminiscent of the past as nowadays, most of the wheeling and dealing is done in the alley ways away from the main street to avoid detection. At any rate, for any who think that child sex trafficking is not alive and well in this area, we can tell them otherwise. We are aware that there are 17 girls under the age of 12 who come to the Sanctuary that are being sold on a daily basis. Out of those 17, there are two girls who are 5 years old. These are the ones that are known to the staff but we all believe that the numbers are much higher.
It is for these young ones that we ask that you would continually intercede for. God has brought them to His Sanctuary. It is not by accident or coincidence that they are there. It is these young ones that He is calling us His church to speak up for, to seek justice on their behalf. We continue to be thankful to our partners in this community whose very presence provides solace to many of these young lives. They act as God's watchmen and His shepherds, seeking to gather the little sheep and lambs from the wild animals that are preying upon them. They indeed act like The Shepherd in Ezekiel 34:11-16. 11 “‘For this is what the Sovereign LORD says: I myself will search for my sheep and look after them.12 As a shepherd looks after his scattered flock when he is with them, so will I look after my sheep. I will rescue them from all the places where they were scattered on a day of clouds and darkness. 13 I will bring them out from the nations and gather them from the countries, and I will bring them into their own land. I will pasture them on the mountains of Israel, in the ravines and in all the settlements in the land. 14 I will tend them in a good pasture, and the mountain heights of Israel will be their grazing land. There they will lie down in good grazing land, and there they will feed in a rich pasture on the mountains of Israel. 15 I myself will tend my sheep and have them lie down, declares the Sovereign LORD. 16 I will search for the lost and bring back the strays. I will bind up the injured and strengthen the weak, but the sleek and the strong I will destroy. I will shepherd the flock with justice.
Sunday, November 6, 2011
Youth Pastor Ratanak pointed out several little shacks that were destroyed by a rain storm that we had over night. He was taking us to visit one family who the church has started to help.
Enroute we saw this 'shack' above which had no roof. But it didn't seem to bother the resident who was having a nap in the morning. Many of these homes have been made with bamboo or crude pieces of wood that have been nailed together.
As we talking with the family, I am once again amazed at how gracious Cambodians are and how the poor in general are so thoughtful with what little they have. As we were about to sit on the wooden planks, the grandmother brought out their one and only mat so that we could sit on it. This may not seem like a big deal to us but for a family like this who literally has nothing, they offer what little they have in order to be hospitable to us. It is through the poor, I once again learn about generosity, it is through the poor, that I discover a new level of giving and it is through the poor, that I see the heart of God.