Beth, Bunthan and IWe arrived at 1pm and as we entered into the drive way, the Christmas decorations were up and a Christmas tree was surrounded with many presents. The house mums are responsible for buying the gifts for the girls that are under their care and the Khmer staff along with the girls help with all the decorations. They did an incredible job. Of course when I saw Bunthan, I was teasing her that she had dressed like a ''barang'' (foreigner). She just giggled at me.
A Nativity Scene
Don & Bridget (Diretors of Newsong)The festivities started at around 2pm and all the girls were dressed up. Some of the older ones were wearing Prom dresses that were donated by a young woman from Kansas city who managed to get old prom dresses from her friends and send 100 of them over. The young girls were all dressed up in costumes as they were part of a Christmas play that depicted the birth of Christ. Some of them dressed as angels, others as shepherds, the 3 wisemen and of course Mary and Joseph. One little girl wearing a red and white elf outfit with a matching hat, came up to me and give me the biggest hug and then led me to my seat as if she was the hostess for the event. I found out later she was little 'M' --- the five year old that was recently rescued by the staff in Svay Pak. Medical tests have shown that she too did not escape the abuse that is so prevalent of girls who come from Svay Pak. But here she was, full of smiles, happy and clearly adjusting well to her new home with all her new friends and family. Once again, I am amazed at how these little ones have the ability to give love so graciously in spite of all they have been through.
Some of the staff at Newsong led us in a time of worship in Khmer. It was so good to hear Khmer Christmas songs and see the girls worshipping the Lord in their own language.
Staff at Newsong leading the worship time
There are over 100 people at the Christmas party with Khmer staff from other local partners such as International Justice Mission, Chab Dai, Aple and MOSAVY participating in the Christmas party. After the worship time, several of the young girls came on stage performing a traditional Cambodian dance wearing white tops and red balloon pants. Seeing them dance so gracefully and looking at their beautiful faces, I could feel the tears come to my eyes. Both Bridget and I just sat, wiping our eyes as we looked at these young women before us. These who have been through horrors that we cannot imagine and yet here they were, ever poised as they concentrated on their dance with smiles on their faces. It is an incredible privilege to see the transforming power of the Gospel before my eyes. It is through the lives of the young girls, that inspire many of us to press on and persevere in prayer, persevere in raising funds and awareness and persevere in telling their stories because in and through them, we see the truths of the bible laid out before our eyes. We see what Hope in Christ can do, we see what love compelled by Christ can do, we see what joy in Christ can bring. They are a living testimony that God is in the business of doing the impossible and putting a new song in the hearts of those who for many years were only singing songs of lament.
Following the traditional Khmer dance, several of the young girls performed the Christmas story of Jesus's birth. It was so much fun watching them as they were totally immersed in their roles as they acted out the drama. Many of them laughing and smiling as they played their parts full of joy.
Next up were the teachers and house mums who did another Christmas song in Khmer. These are the unsung heroes who work tirelessly behind the scenes caring and walking with the these young ones through their journey from brokenness to wholeness. It is their efforts along with the social workers and counselors who work the long hours dealing with all sorts of unpredictable behaviors of these young girls, yet, they consistently demonstrate and pour out Christ love in such a tangible way that the girls feel loved no matter how they behave.
Next up were two girls reading the bible story from Matthews gospel in English and Khmer in preparation for the message that Don shared about the type of people that were looking for Christ and the type of people He is asking us to be as we serve and bless others.
Following Don's message a young 16 year old did a solo rendition of a praise song. Her desire is to be a singer and she certainly has potential. She has only been at Newsong for 6 months but here she was singing at the top of her lungs, praising the Lord she has come to know. Indeed she is well on her way to becoming a worshipper of the Lord Jesus.
DinnerIt was dinner time sitting with some of the girls and Khmer staff. A five course meal made of up pork, chicken, seafood soup, rice and fish in addition to some noodles....this is a protein lover's delight---yeah for those of us who love meat! In this setting, the older ones are learning to serve the young ones. Everyone is part of a big family here and as we were eating the house mums would call out the names of the girls so they could come and receive their Christmas presents. There is nothing like being around young kids during Christmas as they share their joy and excitement running up to receive their presents and shrieking loudly when their name is called or when they open their gifts.
We were now 4 hours into the celebrations in a cool evening as the sun was setting and one young girl who I thought was about 14 years old but was really 18 years old came up to chat with me. It was another opportunity practice my Khmer although her English was excellent. She wanted to know if I was enjoying myself and what food I liked to eat and what were my favorite fruits. She disappeared for a few minutes and brought me some fruit as we continued our conversation. The music started and some of the girls were beginning to dance. So my young friend asked if I liked to dance. I told her, it was years since I danced (actually it was 2 years ago when I was on a short term team here that we used to dance with the girls at Daughters Cambodia). But here, with everyone all dressed up, we decided to join into the dancing festivities. My young friend offering to teach me a Khmer dance. Unfortunately, I found the steps too confusing for me but she tried for a good 15 minutes as everyone else was already up and dancing.
It was a night to remember. I don't think any of us wanted to leave. It was a night full of laughter, joy and love. It was a night that filled me with much hope as I reflected on the future of these young women. It was a night witnessing His presence in them, a night in which God gave us glimpses of how He restores dignity, value and worth into such precious lives. It was a night when I came home filled with praise and thank giving for the One who was born over 2000 years ago and who we now have the privilege of celebrating His birthday once again on December 25th. It is His birthday that we celebrated today at Newsong and in doing so, it is His birthday that has brought joy, love and hope anew in the lives of these young girls. They are being born anew in Him as they discover the gift of salvation that He is offering them.
Tomorrow its Christmas in Svay Pak---I can't wait to see the team there. I hear they have been practicing over the past few weeks and are expecting 600 people! Stay tuned!