Saturday, March 31, 2012

A Wedding in Svay Pak

Today I was planning to go to Svay Pak at 7am for the first part of a wedding between one of Pastor Chantha's disciples ''S'' and her fiance. But last night I was told to only go to the reception. It seemed ''S'' was under a bit of pressure and had to acquiesce to her family wishes of having a Buddhist type ceremony in the morning despite her being a Christian. Once again we see the pressures of living in a culture where the family places a significant part and influence over the lives of individuals. So her fellow disciples and staff in Svay Pak could not attend the morning event and instead tomorrow in the Svay Pak church they will have an official wedding service with an exchange of rings for the couple.
Two of Pastor Chantha's disciples 
I love attending Khmer weddings for the simple fact of seeing all the beautiful colors and dresses. It feels like a Royal wedding all the time. The female guests all wearing beautiful colours with lots of bling bling. Years ago, it used to be that everyone wore traditional Khmer dresses like the one I am wearing in the picture below but now, the young girls wear very short dresses while us ''oldies'' where the more traditional style of dress. Some of the young people also wear long flowing Western style gowns.
Thida -- a teacher from Newsong and myself

Youth Pastor Ratanak and his girlfriend Nary --wedding in December 2012?
Another beautiful couple and disciples of Pastor Chantha

Its been such a long time since I have had a chance to spend time with my friends in Svay Pak so today was a wonderful time to just hang out at the reception which was held under a canopy next to the bride's home. One of the interesting aspects of Khmer weddings is the young women wear so much make up it is hard to recognize them. These scrawny teenagers and young women who I am used to seeing wearing t-shirt and jeans were decked off in their best clothes which actually were all rented for the wedding. They looked absolutely stunning.
Disciples of Pastor Chantha

Disciples of Pastor Chantha
The wedding party!
Similarly, the bridge and groom and the bridesmaids and groomsmen all wear rented clothes. Unlike Western weddings where only the bride may changes clothes once or twice, here in Cambodia, the entire wedding party changes their attire at least two to three times. No wonder they have to rent the clothes as it is quite an elaborate affair but wonderful nonetheless to see all the beautiful colors.

Pastor Chantha & Bunthan with the Bride and Groom
Dinner was a meat lovers delight. Sorry for those of you who are vegetarians, I think you would starve! For me a carnivore, I'm in heaven! The food today consisted of some unrecognizable appetizers and peanuts (yes even protein for appetizers), followed by a large steam fish, a dried noodle with seafood dish,  a BBQ type flavored beef, a roast chicken, fried rice combined with steam rice and a seafood soup dish. All of it was very tasty!
 One of the largest fish I have ever seen!
 BBQ Flavored Beef
 Roast Chicken
Fried Rice and Seafood soup
As mentioned before in previous postings on weddings, people come here at all times. There are no seating arrangements so you sit where ever and with whomever however, today it was nice to sit with some of the disciples and some of the volunteers (Carla and Suaena who are from Brazil). Initially, they wanted all of us ''barang'' (foreigners) to sit together in a special seating area but Carla, Suaena and I decided that we wanted to just sit with the rest of the Khmer people. In the midst of all of the activities, little kids in the community came by. One little girl was busy collecting all the empty pop cans so she could recycle them and make some money.  Even at such celebrations, the reality of poverty is right at your door step.

The Fruit display
Following dinner, I was told there would be a fruit cutting ceremony. This is a first for me as typically it would be the cutting of a wedding cake not a cutting of fruit. So I asked around as to why this was happening but no one really knew. They just said it was tradition. So the wedding party changed into new clothing and walked around the fruit table several times as we threw the equivalent of confetti---flower buds--- at them.
 The Bride and Groom encircling the fruit table
Two of the disciples who were part of the groomsmen 
 Then 'S' and her husband had to feed both parents fruit and then each other fruit. But that was not the end, they then had to kiss each was European/Dutch style with each person giving a kiss on either cheek before they planted a kiss on the lips!
Thank you speeches
It was back up on stage to for some short speeches by the bride and groom and their parents, thanking everyone for coming. Finally, it was time to toss the bouquet. Unlike North America, both the single young men and women line up to participate in this activity. It was so cute to see one of Pastor Chantha's disciples Chitra catch it. He went up on stage and was interviewed about when he was going to get married. His expression was priceless.
 Tossing of the bouquet
One of the disciples catch the bouquet!
Finally it was time for the first dance! Am not sure what time the wedding will end tonight but it was time for me to head home. Tomorrow morning I'll be back in Svay Pak for the church service and to witness the exchange of rings and vows. Pray for this couple. ''S"' will continue to live here while her husband will head back to the US in two weeks. We're not sure when he will return.

Next week, I'll have an opportunity to attend a full Christian wedding as both bride and groom are children of pastors. It will be fun to participate in the 7am ceremony and to witness what a Khmer Christian wedding ceremony is all about.

Thursday, March 29, 2012


One of the challenges of living in the city is the level of noise that one hears. There is a constant sound of horns honking from cars or motos and near where I live, there is a construction site so there is a daily pounding and drilling sound. There is also the ringing of bells that one may hear on a daily basis coming from the local Wat or pagoda, there could be some chants as well, and then at night there is the sounds of cats and dogs fighting, at least so I thought. In talking with friends it seems we all seem to have dogs and cats that make noises at night. I used to think they were fighting until one dear friend told me that no the cat sounds I hear was not from fighting but was from them mating! The things one learn living in a third world country.  Early one morning at around 2am I was awaken to the sound of cats and can I tell you, they were in their element for over an hour. I even prayed that God would subdue His creation but I guess there was nothing demonic in their actions. :-)

Nonetheless, day in and day out, these noises can irritate one's spirit.  In North America, our neighborhoods are so quiet you could probably hear a pin drop. But not so in Phnom Penh. So at the beginning of March, I had a skype call with my church family and asked them to pray that I would find a bit more tranquility, silence and peace. As those prayers have gone up to the Throne, indeed the cat and dog activities have subsided immensely. Perhaps mating season has ended or they have gone their separate ways. Even the roosters that used to crow at 4:30am and 5am respectively seem to have suddenly disappeared. Perhaps someone got hungry and ate them! (There isn't much roosters in the city as far as I know only in the rural areas). All in all, I think the Lord has some how closed my ears to those sounds.

Last weekend I went to Kep for a mini break which is on the southern coast of Cambodia. As soon as we stepped out of the car, there was silence. Its funny how we can notice the stark difference between the city life and the more rural quiet places in Cambodia. I was looking forward to having some peace and quiet and then to my disappointment on our first night, we heard all the little creatures outside our hotel room. It sounded like a choir -- one was that of a frog. I didn't even know frogs made sounds but this one was at it for most of the night with his baritone tune combined with the crickets and some other wild creatures. Talk about getting back to nature.

All jokes aside, the noise level here is not pleasant at times. It is hard to find a quiet place and so as you think of all of us who are living on this side of the pond, pray that the Lord would continue to shut the noise around us so that we can truly enter into places of silence and solitude. Perhaps its an age thing as the older I get, the more I crave solitude and silence!  I am thankful that I typically sleep deeply but rest is such an important part of caring for our souls and some friends I know have difficult sleeping at night. How much more when you add in all these noises. They are part of the spiritual warfare that we deal with here. All of these things can add to the stress levels and affect our resilience and energy levels. May the Lord Jesus plug our ears and give us peace, silence and rest on all sides!

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Dramatic Intervention

A few days ago my colleague Brian McConaghy posted on our Facebook page asking for prayer for a young woman called ''H'' whose house was surrounded by a gang that were threatening her family.  Her sister was in a relationship with the gang leader and he recently attacked H’s sister with a knife but she managed to escape home with serious injuries to her hand and leg.  Prayers went forth for this young woman and her family that God would surround their home with angels and protect them because we all ultimately believed that the God we serve is far more powerful than these gangs.

Yesterday we heard that the gang were lighting petrol bombs to throw on her family's small home. This is just another example of the level of violence that exists in some neighborhoods in this place. While the police were notified, the reality is they would not go unless the family paid them money. Yet in spite of this, we witness nothing short of a miracle when we heard that in the nick of time the whole village came together against the gang and demanded they leave! The irony in all of this is that this community has looked down on H's family because they know she was rescued from sex work. In fact, they were known to say condescending and demeaning things to her. So the fact that they actually came together to stand against this gang is nothing short of a miracle! How does one explain such unity of heart in the midst of such a volatile situation in such a short space of time? The answer for those of us who serve in this ministry, is GOD! There is no other who can work in peoples hearts and cause such a radical change in an entire community?  Perhaps the people in this village were concerned that if those petrol bombs got released their homes would go up in smoke as well. Nevertheless,  God can bring together the most unusual alliances to achieve His purposes. The bible reminds us time and time again that His plans will prevail and His purposes will not be thwarted.

As I have been reflecting on this situation, I am once again reminded that ministering to former victims of sex trafficking has its challenges on many levels. We are not just ministering to the young women themselves but to their extended families. Asian culture after all is built on communities and tightly knit families where decisions are often based on what is best for the group. Individual rights are often non-existent. Here in Cambodia, the poor like in many other countries are marginalized and those who have been trafficked are treated as if they are sub-human. Yet in God's economy, the weak have a special place in the body of Christ.  In 1 Corinthians 12, the bible talks about us each being parts of Christ body.  Those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, 23and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty, 24 while our presentable parts need no special treatment. But God has put the body together, giving greater honor to the parts that lacked it, 25 so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. 26 If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it. As I think of my ''sister in Christ--- ''H''  I am reminded that we are called to share in her suffering, we are called to stand in the gap for her and her family and many for who she/they represent. In so doing, we are conferring God's honor, dignity, hope and love to her. We are saying to her that her life does matter that we will walk with her through her valley of death and through her mountain top experiences because like Christ, we believe she is a treasure of immeasurable worth!

In the bigger picture, this ministry will ask everything of you---it can be physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually draining because we become exposed to a level of darkness that so often stretches our understanding of evil. We are exposed to hostilities, hatred and violence that is so deep. Yet, we are called to persevere especially at times when you may feel you are like a 'doctor on call', 24/7'' for on the one hand we see a depth of human depravity that boggles the mind and then on the flipside, we see our God manifesting His power in the most unusual and incredible ways. It is celebrating these ''victories in Christ'' that strengthens our resolve to press on, knowing that the God we serve and the promises that He gives us stand firm forever. 20 For no matter how many promises God has made, they are “Yes” in Christ. And so through him the “Amen” is spoken by us to the glory of God. 21 Now it is God who makes both us and you stand firm in Christ. He anointed us, 22 set his seal of ownership on us, and put his Spirit in our hearts as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come. (2 Cor 1:20-22) It is stories such as that of ''H''s recent situation that demonstrate the power of God to deliver with such a dramatic intervention using her community to be His angels. It is He who has set His seal of ownership on ''H'' as He has on us. What a privilege it is that we have to see our Lord reveal Himself to us and to these young women in ways that we could never ask or imagine. What a privilege it is to be part of the body of Christ, sharing in the fellowship of His sufferings as we walk with those who suffer!

Saturday, March 17, 2012

I Will Never Let You Go!

Before I came to Cambodia last summer, one of our worship leaders Michelle Lorimer at my home church in Canada Rexdale Alliance wrote a song called ''I Will Never Let You Go''. This morning as I was listening to a bunch of worship songs, this one came on and I sat again thinking of the words and thinking of Cambodia and the many people and children who have been through much suffering, hardship and pain. As I was reflecting on the lyrics, I thought of:

Those who are in pain
Those who are suffering
Those who are enduring hardship
Those who feel forgotten
Those who feel forsaken
Those who feel abandoned
Those who feel rejected
Those who feel overlooked
Those who do not feel they belong
They who feel hopeless
Those who feel lost
Those who  feel enslaved and entrapped
Those who feel helpless
Those who have no voice
Those who are hidden to the world but visible to God
Those who are crushed in spirit
Those who are bowed down
Those who feel disconnected
Those who feel disowned
Those who feel lonely
Those who feel unworthy
Those who feel unloved
Those who feel vulnerable
Those who feel ashamed
Those who feel broken

I Will Never Let You Go

I Will Never Let You Go (By: Michelle Lorimer)

God says to you: I have not abandoned you, I have not left you for lost, I will make a way for you through the pain and the cost. Do not be afraid My child, I have called you My own for I've prepared a place for you and each day, I am leading you home.  I have loved you with an endless love, I will never let you go. Oh My children hear my voice and live, I will never let you go.

This is my prayer for that little 7 year old girl that I wrote in the previous blog post. I found out that she miraculously survived that brutal assault and is no longer in a coma. Her mother is now in contact with certain NGOs for help. Praise God! I pray that the words of this song will one day be life for her soul that she will one day know the One who knows her by name, the One who has loved her with an everlasting love, the One who has seen her suffering, the One who has heard her cries, the One who understands her trauma and the One who will demonstrate His miraculous healing touch over her body, her mind, her soul so that she will one day testify of His resurrection and His redemptive power! With God all things are possible! May it be as you have said Lord!

Monday, March 12, 2012

Fueling My Holy Discontent

Today one of my Khmer friends texted me to ask if I had heard of a  recent story of a 7 year old girl who was gang raped here and spent 4 days in a coma. I do not know whether she is alive or not, or where she is now but upon hearing this news, I got enraged. Over here one journalist wrote that gang rape has become the sport of the young generation and an acceptable form of recreation. The  practice known as "bauk" - literally meaning "plus" in Khmer – where up to a dozen youths have sex with the same female, usually a prostitute. Bauk takes placed usually when two young men procures a prostitute or the affection of a young woman and take her to a guesthouse where their friends, between four and 10 youths, lie in wait or turn up shortly after for sex.   

As I thought about this little 7 year old girl,  I sat again wondering how such evil could exist and again the question of ''why'' ----why would anyone do such a thing? What would possess a group of young men to gang rape such a young child? In the face of such questions and such darkness, what is my response? What is our response? Do we shake our heads and move on to the next story? I feel compelled to write about this young life who I do not know because she has been made in God's image. Satan is doing all he can to destroy and devour this life but I believe God will have the last word on this young life, not satan.  Our organization was established because of a little girl named Ratanak who Brian McConaghy never met but whose suffering compelled him to respond. So it is in our DNA to not forget these little ones, to not overlook them but, to see every little girl as a Ratanak---the Khmer name for ''Precious Gem." As I think of the 7 year old girl, her pain, her suffering, her brokenness should not be silenced, it should not be forgotten. We need to keep bringing these horrendous acts into the light. We need to bear witness to the universal wrong of such acts,  for the day that we turn away, is the day that we value our comfort more than their pain. The day that we close our hearts from from entering into such pain is the day our heart is no longer broken by the things that breaks God's heart.

Stories of such horrendous abuse do not discourage me, they have the opposite effect. They fuel my passion to speak up for those who have no voice. They fuel my desire to seek justice on behalf of the oppressed. They fuel my Holy Discontent. What do I mean by that?   Bill Hybels describes Holy Discontent this way: if you expose yourself to all that’s broken in our world but neglect to view the brokenness from heaven’s perspective (which promises that everything is in the process of being restored), then you’ll get sucked into an impossible downward spiral of aggravation, frustration and anger. Once that frustration and anger is understood as being your ‘holy discontent’ through your spiritual connection to the God who’s working to fix everything, it’s as if an enormous wave of positive energy gets released. This energy causes you to act on the dissatisfaction that’s been brewing deep within your soul and compels you to say ‘yes’ to joining forces with God so that the darkness and depravity around you gets pushed back.   Your perspective shifts from that which your eyes can see to that which God tells you is true and it is in this reality that what is enslaved can still be set free, what is broken can still be mended, what is diseased can still be restored, what is dirty can still be made clean and what is wrong can still be made right.  It is that one cause or purpose or problem that grabs you by the throat and just won’t let you go. It is that “one thing” in your heart that God is stirring a passion for.  Your ‘one thing’ brings you to a place where you feel you simply must do something. When you have a deep desire to see things change, you are compelled to show up. Your soul doesn’t give you a choice in the matter. Ultimately you have no idea what the end results of your labor will be; all you know is that it is critical that you engage.

So friends I thank you for your support of the work we are involved in in Cambodia. For as you join us, you are not only feeding your Holy Discontent but even more so, you are ministering to Christ in His disguise as so eloquently described by Henri Nouwen: In these suffering bodies of people we must be able to recognize the suffering Christ. They too are chosen, blessed, broken and given to the world. As we call one another to respond to the cries of these people and work together for justice and peace, we are caring for Christ, who suffered and died for the salvation of our world."  In each one of them we see Jesus in disguise.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Cultural Nuggets!

One of the joys of having Khmer staff is the opportunity to learn more about Cambodian culture and how Cambodians view foreigners. So the other day our accountant Sathya was telling Faith and I that there are benefits to being on the heavier side ie: not skinny but chubby. For it seems that if you are of the larger persuasion, you are considered wealthy and therefore, you are more likely to get better deals and discounts. Its such a far cry from how we in the West adore the thin and skinny look. The thinking over here is that if you are big in size  the assumption is that you must be wealthy because obviously you can afford to eat well and therefore, there are advantages to treating you well because you will likely spend more and buy more, hence, you are more inclined to be offered better discounts. So for those who are concerned about being overweight on this side of the pond, it seems that you are far more cherished, valued and appreciated for your size. Moreover, you are more likely to be extended greater discounts! Thankfully in God's kingdom, size is irrelevant. All that matters is the heart!

Another interesting tidbit that we learned was the perception that can be created when Western Christians drink alcohol over here in the presence of Khmer Christians. According to our Khmer staff person, Christians are seen like the Buddhist monks except one would call us ''monks for Jesus.'' Since monks are revered here and are considered to be live a pure and clean life, so too there is a perception that Christians should walk with that same kind of purity. So when it comes to drinking, alcohol is often viewed here similarly as in some Christian circles  as a vice and so if Christians are esteemed like the monks, then they too should be seen as refraining from drinking alcohol. For a Western Christian to drink alcohol in the presence of a Khmer Christian can potentially be a stumbling block because of the perception that alcohol over here is associated with drunken and lewd behavior, domestic violence and not being a Christian. While one does not want to be legalistic and this certainly gets into the whole debate we have in the West about whether Christians should drink alcohol, it was interesting to note that certain mission organizations here are mindful of the cultural perceptions that alcohol can create and so their members are asked to refrain from drinking alcohol in public places or in places where there are Khmer Christians present. These comments have been insightful especially for us who live and work here. We certainly do not want to be a stumbling block to our Khmer brothers and sisters. It reminds me so much of a conversation I had with my young Loak crew (language instructor) who before he was a Christian use to frequent the beer gardens and was part of a gang. When he became a believer, he stopped going drinking with his friends and now is totally sold out for Christ hoping one day to become a pastor. Recently he shared how his non-Christian friends kept calling him to go drinking with them but he refuses because for him those places and activities do not enhance his Christian walk but take a way from it. I admire his desire to walk blameless with a pure heart and clean hands.

I am thankful for these cultural nuggets as they serve as reminders that we are called to be in this world but not of this world. For as 2 Corinthians 6:3 says: We put no stumbling block in anyone’s path, so that our ministry will not be discredited.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Missionary Midnight!

Here in missionary circles there is a term that we use called ''Missionary Midnight''---this basically means that one should be in their home by 9pm....missionary midnight is 9pm Cambodian time. Why is that? For safety reasons, it is recommended that international workers return home around 9pm or the latest at 9:30pm.

According to my Khmer friends, people start exiting the beer gardens around 9pm. So the chances of encountering a person who is drunk driving a moto or car is much higher after 9pm. So its better to be home safe and sound than having to deal with reckless moto drivers or worst yet a drunk driver of an SUV. Secondly, I am told that the police usually head home around 9pm and the criminal element starts to surface at or around that hour. Of course if you are driving around 9pm you will notice that the traffic lights don't work so it seems the city slowly starts to go to sleep. The night clubs however are just opening up at 9pm for the hoards of young people and perhaps tourists who want some late night entertainment. The danger however for those who want to hang out in the bar scene is the potential for dealing with wealthy individuals who perhaps have a little too much to drink. They usually are carrying a gun and/or are surrounded by body guards so its best not to pick a fight with them.

However, for those of us who live a more simple lifestyle in the missionary circles we are back in our homes at 9pm. I remember in the early days when I first came to visit Cambodia in 2000, I used to stay at the OMF guest house which was a former UN office. Back then the ''curfew'' hour was 6pm because Cambodia was still considered a bit more of the wild wild west as one could hear gunfire going off in the surrounding area at the local bar. As the years have progressed, the ''curfew'' hours have extended and now its 9pm. Beyond that time, it is a bit more risky to be out as you can see.

So last night was quite interesting when Faith and I arrived back at the Ratanak office/apartment just after 8pm. There was loud music blaring with English songs from one of the Western restaurants. They were playing some popular old tunes but for some reason they felt it was necessary for the entire neighborhood to hear the music. This continued for a few hours and as I was hitting the sack at around 10:30pm, the music continued. Ear plugs would not have worked as the stereo system they had seemed like ''surround sound'' ---whether you were at the front of the apartment or the back of the apartment you were surrounded with music. I have to say at that point, I was not amused and started to pray for the Lord to pull the plug and perhaps have a blackout so we could have some peace and quiet. (We've been having rolling blackouts here periodically because of the high electricity consumption as people use their air conditions to get some relief from the heat).  My spirit was getting irritated as I thought to myself, ''don't these people know its time to go home, its way pass 9pm, people are trying to sleep :-).'' Oh well, I can't help but think that some western establishments here do not have an appreciation or respect for the Khmer way of life. The fact that they have no problems blaring their music to the highest decimal when most people would be in their homes, suggest how culturally insensitive some businesses can be. Perhaps someone needs to tell them about Missionary midnight! :-)

Monday, March 5, 2012

Visiting Proyouth Village Projects

It is now mid afternoon in Siem Reap and we have been in the KCC (Khmer Christian Center) that is operated by our partner Reaksa Himm. It is hot and when I say hot, I mean really hot. Yesterday I read a prayer letter from another International worker who is up in Poipet which is about 3 hours from here. According to their thermometer it was 122 degrees Farenheit. Even Sathya our Khmer staff was sweating and commenting how hot it is. For a Khmer person to feel the heat means it must be hot. We are drinking loads of water to stay hydrated but in spite of that, my concentration levels are low. The heat makes me want to sleep all the time! So today, I've had to improvise a bit dipping my Krama (Khmer scarf ) in ice cold waer and wrapping it around my neck in the hopes of keeping cool and keeping awake. Nonetheless, we have had a good opportunity to see some of the capital projects that Ratanak has had the privilege of funding.
Reaksa outside the Khmer Christian Centre(KCC)

In this particular village of Proyouth, that is about 10 miles outside of Siem Reap, Reaksa has been involved in rebuilding this community for the past 10 years. When he first arrived here, there was a lot of hostility but as trust has been established,  the villages have seen the sincerity and genuineness of those who serve at KCC and that has open the door for further development projects. Just as I pen this the commune leader came in to thank us for our support regarding a recent project. 

One of the first projects to be developed was a road that was paved. Since then the Khmer Christian Center (KCC) was established which has a library for the kids to come and read or learn computers. 

In these rural settings, there are no video games to play with so it is a refreshing site to see young people engage in reading books. The kids here for some reason like to read out loud and they seem totally engrossed with their books. The older teenagers were quite happily learning to type on the computers. Of course those of you who have visited here know about the infamous hockey playground. Reaksa was hoping we could play a game of hockey, thankfully we have no time for that as I think if we did, we would last a mere 5 minutes and then collapse from heat exhaustion :-) 

One of the projects we recently started to fund in this area is a drainage system and a small dam that will benefit 11 surrounding villages once it is completed.In the last four years, this community has been affected by  severe flooding.  Hundreds of hectares of rice paddies were damaged by the floods but the new drainage system is meant to help divert the water faster so that it will not allow the water stay too long in the flood season. It will also help to stock water for up to 500 hectares for farming after the reaping season. All of this will help to minimize poverty in this community.

We will have the opportunity to come back later this year when it is all completed for the dedication service. But more importantly, from a sustainability perspective,  it is encouraging to know that years from now, this community will continue to be blessed with a drainage system that limits flooding and enables their rice fields to have the appropriate water supply to grow their  rice which hopefully will provide a sustainable source of income for them.  It is this kind of long term development work that we are privileged to be given the opportunity to be involved in as we seek to be agents of change rebuilding both the physical capital and the human capital of this nation.

 Construction workers pressing rocks and filling with cement

One of the the other projects that is being constructed simultaneously not too far from this drainage system is a boys and girls dormitory. It is small dorm but provides a place for young people from the rural areas to study. KCC hopes to provide a scholarship to these young people so that they will have the opportunity to go to university to further their studies. Again our desire is to empower the next generation of Cambodian youth 
 Dorm Construction

so that they will have a positive impact on their communities and ultimately in their nation as they reflect Christ's heart and values in their spheres of influence.

As you think of all the projects in this village, pray for Reaksa as he juggles managing these different projects with his other roles of training up young leaders to take on more responsibility and ultimately oversee the work in this community. Pray for the Lord to give him much wisdom and discernment and a humble heart as he continues to serve the people of Proyouth and that the Lord will raise up a generation of leaders in this village with His servant heart.   May the physical buildings continue to reflect that Jesus is the chief cornerstone of this community and that each person who passes through and benefits from the ministries of these projects be living stones through whom Christ will be exalted and glorified as He imprints His mark on their lives!

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Visiting Siem Reap

Today Faith, Sathya and myself headed to Siem Reap for a brief visit as we have some meetings with one of our Ratanak partners Reaksa Himm. I haven't been to Siem Reap since 2006 and this was the first time flying there. The 45 minute plane ride was short but provided enough time to take a cat nap.

 Faith & Sathya
Cambodia Angkor Airways

Our Ratanak partner Reaksa Himm met us at the airport and took us directly to our hotel to check in as we were heading to a nearby area for a quick visit at our partner AIM's new ministry that has recently got started in an area that is well known location for a lot of KTV entertainment places.
Reaksa Himm

We met up with a young American family Steve and Lygia Gherbean who have moved here from California to oversee AIM's ministry in Siem Reap. AIM has set up a similar ministry to the one that is in Svay Pak as they seek to reach out to many young women who are trapped in the KTV scene. 
Steve & Lygia Gherebean
Similar to Svay Pak, there was an initial hostility to their presence in this area of Siem Reap but Steve commented that slowly the community is warming up to them. The initial outreach targeting the kids in the community has resulted in kids coming to Rahab's House - Siem Reap to learn computers and study English and there are also similar classes for girls who are from the KTV establishments.

Jayme another young American from Bayside church in California who is also part of the team here in Siem Reap has moved up from Svay Pak to help oversee the beauty salon and mentor some of the young women who have moved up here from the brick factories in Svay Pak. These other young women have been trained in hair cutting and this week they will be officially opening the salon.

Steve in one of the classrooms set up to teach English

Computer lab

 Jesus was right when he said  in Mark 10:14-15 Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. 15 Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it. It is the children who were the first to come to Rahab's House in Svay Pak and here again it is the children who are paving the way for this ministry. Its amazing how the Lord uses the weak and the vulnerable to build His kingdom. It is so opposite to how the world operates but it is a great reminder that the least of these are the ones who are so often open to God's ways.

Since I last was in Siem Reap much has changed. This sleepy tourist town is not that sleepy when it comes to sex trafficking. It is one if not the hot bed for sex trafficking. Today as we were driving by one of the main streets it was quite interesting to see many establishments owned by a particular Asian nation. There are many restaurants and KTV establishments run by this ethnic group. It was quite an eye opener to see this but not a surprise as we have been aware of this for some time. There are tour buses catering to sex tourists who come from this particular Asian country and bus loads of these men are dropped off to feed their warped fantasies and perverted appetites. It is clear that this place is the new Sodom and Gomorrah. It is a place that needs a lot of prayer. 

Friday, March 2, 2012

Violence against women and children

Today I read an interesting article in the local newspapers that talked about the fact that ''domestic violence is seen as the norm and women themselves do not think it is criminal but a regular part of married life. Women are often loathe to report their abusers at times opting for divorce rather than see their spouses punished.  This kind of mindset according to the reporter has to do with deep seated cultural  obstacles. Like many Asian countries, women here suffer in silence. People do not want to air their dirty laundry but would rather bury their pains or find alternative ways to forget about their pain. So it is not surprising to read that abused women loathe to report their abusers or that they get a divorce. It is a way of coping and containing the shame associated with such violence. It is a way of numbing the pain but never really escaping or being freed from the pain. The problem with this mindset is that it perpetuates the cycle of violence as kids in the home observe these abuses and grow up with a distorted view of what family life is all about.

What was even more alarming to read is that 19% of the 476 reported rape cases last year involved children under 10 years old. Why such violence against children? There was no reasons given but all of this goes to show that violence goes deep in this nation. Thirty years later, Cambodia is still reeling from the effects of the Khmer Rouge era and the spirit of betrayal and violence that was so much a part of that genocide continues to reign in Cambodian society against the weak and the vulnerable.

What is needed is a transformation of hearts and that transformation can only come when a nation is awaken to the truth that God has made each individual in His image and as such each individual has value, each individual deserves to be treated with dignity, each individual is precious and deserves to be treated with respect and honor. 1 Corinthians 12:22 says: those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor. God's ways are so much different than man's ways. We look down on the broken and bruised while God lifts up the broken and bruised. We pass by the marginalized and He stops and picks them up. We look down upon those who are weak and He confers special honor on them.  

Lord Jesus, how we long for you to reveal yourself as The Way in this land. Your Way is the road to healing, the road to hope, the road where joy and love replace sorrow and hate. How we long for you to reveal yourself as The Truth---for when we know The Truth it will set us free--- we will no longer accept violence as an acceptable practice but see it for what it is, a destructive force that continues to tear the family structure apart. Lord, how we long for you to reveal yourself as The Life so that the poor, the broken, the forgotten can discover that in You,  they are a new creation, the old has gone and the new has come. The former way of living gives way to a new life filled with peace, hope, joy sealed by Your love. Come Lord Jesus, be a healing balm and pour out your touch on those who continue to suffer in this land!

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Historic Day!

This has been a very busy day on all fronts but nonetheless a historic day for Ratanak Cambodia! Today was the first day of our two newly hired employees. Our accountant Sathya and our driver Samnang. When I think of the last 22 years and how the Lord called my colleague Brian McConaghy to serve the Cambodian people by setting up a Christian charity to invest in the lives of the broken, the vulnerable, the forgotten, the marginalized and the hopeless in this nation, today was a historic day in some ways because of the opportunity to serve along side these young Khmer brothers in Christ. It was such a privileged to welcome our two new employees as Beth, Stephen and I gathered together with them in our office. Unfortunately Faith, our accountant from Canada has picked up a nasty stomach bug which seems to be making its rounds and so she spent the entire day sidelined in her room just resting trying to shake the illness.

Nonetheless, the 5 of us gathered together in a time of prayer. Today in the Ratanak office prayers were heard in both Khmer and English, can I tell you what a wonderful sound that is. I found myself in tears as I started to pray touched by the Holy Spirit as I thought of the history of this organization and the love for the Khmer people that God has put on our hearts. Many people have supported Ratanak over the years and so in a sense today just felt like a gift that God has given to all of us. It seemed like such a special time of prayer as we asked God to bless them and to bless us as we serve together. It is hard to describe this feeling but for those of us who have had the privilege of spending time with our Khmer friends in this land for several years, it is both an honor and yet humbling experience as I thought of this opportunity to journey together as one body of believers building God's kingdom in Cambodia. In many ways, it felt like the birth of a new chapter in this organization. As my pastor back in Toronto has often said, ministry is not our gift to God but God's gift to us. I constantly feel like we are unwrapping God's gifts to us in this land. Our desire and hope one day is to have the Ratanak Cambodia office be fully staffed with Khmer personnel and today in some ways was a spiritual marker, paving the way for the future.   Following our prayer time, I had the opportunity to share about Ratanak's ethos and about our values and who we are as an organization. Then off we went to get some office supplies.

Faith suggested a welcoming lunch for our two new staff but while she fasted in her room, Samnang, Sathya and I went off to Daughters Cafe. How fitting it was to have lunch here at one of our partner organizations.
Samnang, Sathya and myself

In the next few weeks we will be commencing interviews as we seek to hire staff for our Ratanak Achievement Program (RAP)---a Christian community home dedicated to equipping and empowering young women, 17-24 years old, who are former victims of sexual exploitation to achieve their God given potential by supporting their transformation and their full reintegration into society. So we would ask of you to join us in prayer as we go through the interview process that the Lord will bring the people of  His choosing who have His heart and His love to invest in these young lives. No doubt that will be another historic day as we hire these additional Khmer staff to support the ministry. Indeed this is a day the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it!