Saturday, May 26, 2012

Introducing The New Courtyard!

The New Courtyard
The Old Courtyard
Today as I saw the ''new'' Courtyard in Svay Pak, the verse that came to my mind was from Isaiah 43:18-20 -- “Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past.  See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland. The wild animals honor me, the jackals and the owls, because I provide water in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland,to give drink to my people, my chosen, the people I formed for myself that they may proclaim my praise."

God is always doing new things and how much more in places like Svay Pak. It was pure joy stepping onto this land that was once raw sewage and walking around it with Pastor Chantha. God indeed has made a way in this wasteland. 

It has taken 514 trucks of soil to fill this land which is about 3 feet above the surrounding area but we are told it will flatten down with the rainy weather. The next phase is to put some sand on it so next week 100 trucks of sand will be deposited on top of the soil. This will take about 2 or 3 days. Then, after that,
A view of the Courtyard facing the back part of The Sanctuary
another contractor will come into build a fence around it and we will install a new drainage system which we anticipate will bless the entire community that lives in this surrounding area. As we walked around the perimeter of the land, I couldn't help but hear the worship music coming out of third floor of The Sanctuary. Some of Pastor Chantha's disciples were either singing or listening to a song called ''Shout To The Lord'' as the music reverberated and echoed through the windows to the surrounding area: 

Shout to the lord, all the earth let us sing.
Power and majesty, praise to the king.
Mountains bow down, and the seas will roar, 
At the sound of your name.
I sing for joy at the work of your hands, 
Forever I'll love you, 
Forever I'll stand.
Nothing compares to the promise I have
In you.
This is our desire for the people of Svay Pak that they too will sing for joy at the works of His hands as they look at this land, may they one day proclaim that nothing compares to Him. 
Residents at the edge of The Courtyard
At the beginning of this clean up the residents around the swamp land were a bit edgy but as the days progressed and as the land was cleared, they have become excited and are more filled with joy as they see the land being transformed from a wasteland to a land of potential. Pastor Chantha has shared with them that Jesus wants to bless them through this land. So we went to visit some of them today. These are Vietnamese people who live at the edge of the Courtyard. One woman pointed to the water/sewage that was collecting next to her house. We had a nice chat with her and they were all smiles as we shared with them our desire to install a drainage system that will hopefully solve the flooding issues. For these Vietnamese women who for years have felt marginalized, they have an opportunity now to voice their opinions and be heard. But we trust that in time, they will discover the One who makes all things new, the One who wants to give them a Hope, the One who wants to bless them in ways they could never imagine! 
Next door neighbor to The Sanctuary
 But other neighbors are also doing a new thing through this process. The neighbor next door to The Sanctuary decided he would use this opportunity to build himself a new house with a more secure foundation. How symbolic is that! God is building His foundation in this place in more ways than one!

In all of this, the greatest joy for me today was seeing the kids. After spending 30 minutes meeting with the Sangkhat and village chief, I couldn't wait to go outside again to take some more pictures of the Courtyard. Kids know a good thing when they see it for before me was a picture that was surreal! Who could have imagined this view a year ago----little kids, big kids, playing and laughing as they ran around the Courtyard. As time went by, more kids came along and groups of them started forming playing their own games and chasing each other. Finally, a place for them to play, a place for them to have fun, a place for them to laugh, a place for them to be blessed, a place for them to be themselves, to just be like any normal kid any where else around the world!
One solo kid playing with the soil!

A gathering to play a game with both boys and girls

Pastor Chantha & Bunthan's son ''Joshua"(right) giving the ball to an older kid
A Soccer game begins!

Of course there were other kids nearby who preferred to just sit and watch all the actions.

And then there were those kids who wanted to get involved in the building of the ''new'' thing that God is doing on this land.

I cannot think of a better way to spend a Saturday afternoon but to hang around the Courtyard in Svay Pak and see the smiles on the faces of many little ones who were screaming---not in pain, but in laughter, filled with joy, grinning as they ran around the Courtyard, some resting as they observed the activities of others. This is the wonderful new thing that God is doing, bring life to dead places, shining His light in the dark places---restoring, rebuilding and redeeming! What a mighty God we serve!

Wednesday, May 23, 2012


These past couple of days we have started our training modules with all of our staff. Our day starts at 8:30am at our training venue which is a 5 minute walk from the Ratanak office. God provided a wonderful Khmer restaurant that rents out conference rooms and catering at an extremely reasonable prices. One of the team building games we played was having each person share 3 things about themselves but one of those things would be true and the other two comments would be false. The rest of the team then had to vote on what was true and what was false. This game was a wonderful opportunity to get to know each other in a more casual way but it also turned out to be a teaching moment as we shared that when you speak the truth you don't have to think much but when we try to lie, we have to remember all that we had said.

Our mornings begin with a devotional based on one of our Ratanak core values. What has been encouraging from the beginning of our training sessions is the openness and depth of sharing that has already started to happen among the staff and the comraderie and humor that we are observing. Our consultant/translator commented that even the way our two home advisors were speaking to one another was touching as the language they were using was a sign of endearment and affection. We have a sense that the Lord is beginning this journey of knitting our hearts together.  It has been a huge answer to prayer.

In one of our core values about being a Christian organization, we highlighted that we follow Jesus as our model and so we asked the staff several questions. Who is Jesus? Why should we follow Him and not follow ourselves and how should we follow Him. What does it mean when Jesus says He is The Way, The Truth and The Life (John 14:6).  Each of our staff shared their own personal encounters with the Lord and it was a blessing to hear different testimonies of how the Lord had been working in their lives and showing Himself faithful in provision as they chose to follow Him.
Yesterday's lunch
At lunch time, the restaurant has given us generous portions of Khmer food so much so I think we will all be gaining some weight from the eating. Nonetheless, it is these times of casual fellowship that serve to further unite and bond the team together.
Today's coffee break snack -- more like breakfast
Discussions on the RAP Framework (Malak, Julie & Nary)

The next two days our staff have gone for some technical training on burnout prevention. We feel that it is important to equip them in this area  as the work in this ministry can be so demanding emotionally, mentally and physically.

Next week we will continue to focus once again on our core values as an organization and do further reflections in the morning while the afternoons will be spent on more light hearted team building exercises. In all of these exercises we trust that the Lord will deepen our walk in Him and our relationships with each other!

Monday, May 21, 2012

Introducing our RAP Staff

Our RAP Staff (L to R)- Sophea (Home Advisor), Soklin (Counsellor), Nary (Operations Manager), Sereyrom (Social Worker), Sina (Home Advisor), Malak (Psychosocial Coordinator)

Today was another special day as the remaining 5 staff for our RAP (Ratanak Achievement Program) community home started today. Some of the staff were so eager to start they arrived at the office 45 minutes before the official office start time of 8:30am. Here in Cambodia, it seems to be the norm for people to arrive for interviews very early but I didn't know they also do it for their first day at work so another interesting insight.  I was in the midst of language lessons when the new staff arrived but thankfully, Nary our Operations Manager is usually in the office by 7:15am so she was able to host them while I was studying Khmer lessons with a new language teacher since my old language instructor is now a teacher in Svay Pak.

We created a Ratanak Orientation folder for each of our staff which includes info about questions most frequently asked about Ratanak International such as who we are as an organization, how we got started, what projects we have funded, how we operate and who are our partners.We also provided a staff training program/schedule which we affectionately called 'The Ratanak School'. It is a reflection of our desire to invest in our staff to empower and equip them with the necessary tools they need both on the technical level as well as to cultivate an atmosphere for them to deepen their spiritual journey with the Lord. Through all of we trust it will provide a good foundation for the staff and nurture a spirit of unity in the midst of their diverse skills and background.

Nary, Samnang, Sathya and Malak 

Next week, we plan on doing an individual devotion on each of the Ratanak Core values. Lois Cunningham one of our volunteers has helped put together different devotional on each of these values which I will share with the team. Following that, we will spend time praying over each one of them and in a sense commissioning them into their new roles.

Sophea, Sereyrom and Soklin

Today was a very relaxing day as we spent time learning about the organization and the team had some time to just bond  and get to know one another.  Following that, we had an opportunity to fellowship over lunch at one of the famous Khmer buffet restaurants known as Tonle Bassac!

Sophat (a translator we hired for today) and Sina
Lunch at Tonle Bassac

After lunch the girls and boys split up :-). Sathya our Financial Manager was off to do some business with Samnang while I drove the RAP staff to check out the RAP Home. It was great to get their feedback on different aspects of the home and we can see God's wisdom in having them start at a time when we are in the midst of the renovations. In many ways, it is an opportunity for them to take ownership of the creation of this home from the ground up as they share their views and decorate the rooms.

Our RAP Staff (L to R)- Sophea (Home Advisor), Soklin (Counselor), Nary (Operations Manager), Sereyrom (Social Worker), Sina (Home Advisor), Malak (Psychosocial Coordinator)
Front Row: Samnang (Driver), Sathya (Finance & Admin Manager)
Ratanak International - Entire Cambodia Team

Thank you to all of you who for months have joined us in prayer that God would bring us the people of His choosing. It is through your prayer partnership, that we have seen His hand of provision with staff who not only have worked previously with trafficking victims but who reflect His heart. As you think of our team, please continue to pray for them over these next two months as they spend time in an intensive training schedule. Pray that it will not just all be head knowledge but that each of the training modules would deepen their relationship with the Lord and equip them in greater measure to serve the young women who enter our program. For we believe that our great Shepherd of the sheep will equip them with everything good for doing His will, and as He works in them what is pleasing to Him, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Hebrews 13:20-21.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Home Renovations - Cambodian Style

One of the enjoyable aspects of living overseas in a cross cultural setting is that you are always learning new things. For someone who does not like routine and thrives on variety, Cambodia is a place that offers me much in the way of daily adventure and variety. So this past week, I'm learning lots through my Operations Manager Nary as we are in the midst of renovations of our Ratanak Achievement Program (RAP) Community home.
New toilets waiting to be installed

Unlike North America, where we can go to Home Depot and pretty much find all that we need to do renovations, this is not really the case in Cambodia. One stop shopping is not the norm but the exception, so when out of the blue one discovers a place that can provide a variety of items needed for renovation, it is noting short of a miracle! Such was our case this week. Here in Cambodia, if you want the work to be done properly, you actually go and buy the materials and the products yourself. You don't enlist a contractor to do all of that. They just provide the labor but you have to buy the parts!
A Workman repairing one of the bathrooms
Given that I have never  renovated a home in Canada, I had no idea what to expect here. So am thankful that the Lord has  blessed us with a capable Operations Manager who is not only competent but who single handily arranged for all the home renovations to the RAP home this week. She is not just like a foreman or in this case a forewoman who instructs the workers what to do, but through her contacts, she knew where to find the cement, the sand, zinc, electric wiring materials, toilets,bathroom fixtures and lights to name a few of the items purchased. But she was also like a lawyer, drawing up legal contracts or agreements and negotiating a price for the work and the time it is to be done. She is not only a ''Jill of all trades'' but a master of many things! Every dimension of this renovations involves bargaining and negotiating prices and so it is great to have staff who are skilled negotiators. To say that we appreciate her giftings is an understatement. Within 3 days the materials were bought and the work has started.
Re-wiring the home
We anticipate all the renovations will be done in early June and then all of our newly hired staff who will work at the RAP home will move in there as it will also house our offices for the RAP staff. It is a really nice size property with eight rooms and six bathrooms with lots of windows, so it not only meets our existing needs but has space for expansion. It creates an opportunity for us to have both staff training and client training onsite without being an intrusion into the girls private space. But the most important factor for us in choosing this place is that it needed to be culturally relevant, it needed to reflect the kind of environment that the young women will be re-integrated back into. One of our staff said it reminded them of a home in the rural areas. There are mango trees on the property and today I learned that there are also jackfruit trees and another fruit which I thought was a pomegranet tree but then figured, that pomegranets may not grow in climates like this.
The Mysterious fruit Tree!
 Nonetheless, the fact that there are fruit trees on the property plus a fair bit of land to plant and create a garden is another unexpected blessing as we believe it will be a wonderful therapeutic exercise for the young women. One of the other blessings is the quiet and peaceful surroundings. In one of our previous blogs we mentioned how noisy at times it can be in Cambodia, but at the site of the RAP home, there is a peacefulness and a serenity that is felt just standing near the fruit trees and feeling a gentle cool breeze.

As we looked around the neighborhood, the road is being prepared to be paved and flooding seems to be not an issue in spite of the recent torrential rainstorms that we have had here. We noticed some of mansions being built in this quiet neighborhood which is a good thing as it means that some one important will likely be living nearby and as such, the likelihood of consistent electricity is high! Nonetheless, we will probably have a small generator onsite.

All in all, we are once again thankful to the Lord for how He has directed us on this end. Both Nary and the pastor of local Khmer church that we are partnering with, independently found this home to rent for us. As well, God has not only given us an incredibly low rental fee given the property size but we are thankful to one of our supporting churches who is funding the capital set up of this home. We continue to be in awe of the Lord's provision, His faithfulness and His timing in providing the workers and the staff needed to help us make this dream of a community home become a reality. He truly has been our pillar of cloud by day and pillar of fire by night, guiding and directing our steps as we look to Him to supply all our needs according to His glorious riches!

Thursday, May 17, 2012

A Picture Says A Thousand Words

I am not sure where the quote ''A picture says a thousand words'' comes from but I couldn't help but post comments that my colleague Brian McConaghy shared on Facebook a few hours ago. But as I read his comments, I continue to stand in awe of our Lord who will use anyone who makes themselves available and how He releases His love in them to give hope to others who have struggled with hopelessness. Read Brian's comments and be blessed!

Last week on the trip to New Brunswick I met many people, elected officials, police and church leaders, business owners etc. but the highlight for me was a visit to a New Brunswick Youth detention center. I spoke to groups of both young women and men. I’m not sure what they expected but I was surprised they would even come to hear me present. Being an ex member of the RCMP I could totally understand if they wanted nothing to do with me. 

However as I presented it became clear that the message was for all of us. For no matter how broken, abused and discarded the Children of Cambodia feel they have value – this fact proves a foundation on which they can go on with life – even a life of hope. So too with everyone in the room I was speaking to, inmates and corrections staff alike. No matter what our circumstances there is hope.

I was thrilled by the response. They were able to see past me having been in the RCMP and were able to focus on the kids in Cambodia. Comments like “we thought we had it bad” surprised me - it must be so hard to see beyond your own circumstances when you have lost your freedom. One question from the women stands out -“how can we help?” How do people locked up, with no current income, with many of their own issues to deal with and extremely limited contact with the outside world, help? I did not have an answer so they came up with their own. They committed to colour pictures for the girls in Cambodia that I could carry over on my next trip. What a wonderful expression of kindness towards kids that they have never met but for whom they felt compassion. In their current circumstances they have very little to offer but they offered what they could. As such they are an example to us all. They were creative in thinking up a way to help under circumstances WAY more restrictive and inhibiting than the rest of us have to deal with. 

So, ladies, if you get to read this, you are the heroes of my time in New Brunswick. You have set the bar high for the rest of us, who have way more freedom to help. And in all of this, no matter how difficult the circumstances, remember… you are “to die for”. It was both a privilege and honour to meet you all – really! I pray Gods richest blessings on you for restoration to a future of hope knowing that you are valuable.

And for the rest of us in this FB group (all 1361 of us) I would ask that you take time to pray for those in the New Brunswick Youth center that have been such an example of compassion and concern to all of us and such an encouragement to me and to kids of Cambodia.

Monday, May 14, 2012

When It Rains It Pours and It Floods!

So the weather here is quite interesting. We went from 100 degree temperatures in April and in recent days we have had some torrential rain storms that feel like mini hurricanes with sudden downpours that flood the streets and lots of high winds, lightning and thunder. We are not even in rainy season but we are having some serious rain storms. Today we even had a power outage so I took the opportunity to open the veranda doors so I could have some light.

The streets here flood like crazy because the drainage system is not that efficient. So today I decided to snap some photos of some of the activity that was happening just outside our office on the main street.
 Kids using the flooded streets as a pool!

But life still goes on and I am always amazed at the resilience of the Khmer people. Weather does not hinder them in any way. They just go about doing their business, making the best of the most difficult and challenging situations.

A fruit vendor riding through the flooded street

With this kind of rain, it is an advantage to drive some kind of SUV as tuk tuks, bicycles and motorcycles have a much harder time wading through the water.If you happen to be a pedestrian on the street, be prepared to be engulfed by a wall of water as cars or SUVs drive by.

One of the most humorous scenes for me was watching the guy below sweep the water from his driveway. I think he was trying to direct the water towards the drainage system but to no avail as with passing cars, he just got dumped with further water.
Living here is an adventure. You never know what to expect but that is what makes it fun.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Courtyard - Take 2 - The Process

Today I decided to head back to Svay Pak to check out the ongoing clean up of the Courtyard --- otherwise known as the sewage dump located at the back of the Sanctuary. We heard that rats and snakes were being uncovered and that the sidewalks around the Courtyard were falling apart. I guess it was like a mini earthquake so I figured I would go check it out.

There were trucks bringing soil to create a path and a foundation for the Bobcat excavator to stand firm in the midst of the liquid sewage.
 Trucks carting soil to dump at the edge of the Courtyard

This continued for a while and then came the Bobcat spreading the soil into the sewage dump.

It then started to dig up the black slop and I have to confess, it was not a pleasant smell as several of us stood watching this activity.  At one point, my gag reflex kicked in and had to walk away as the smell was getting to me.

The Black liquid slop

I couldn't help but wonder how long has this sewage pond been around for and all the different things that could possibly be in there. Pastor Chantha mentioned that as as the excavator goes deeper into the middle of the sewage dump that we could see some interesting things come up so I think I'll be heading down again in a few days time to check it out.
 The Village Chief (left) and his assistant overseeing the work

While all this early digging was going on, the village chief and his assistant were close by directing the traffic of the Bobcat and the trucks. Its great to have their support and I greeted them briefly before they went back to overseeing the work. No doubt they recognize what a blessing it is to have this sewage dump be cleaned up.
 Kids checking out the sewage pond and watching the excavation

The families who live around the Sewage dump are getting a bit edgy with this disruption of their regular routine. Some of them stood around watching the excavation. The ones that seem the most fascinated and happy about it were the kids. Funny how it is that kids have a different perspective when it comes to change. 

Once the clean up of the black liquid is done, we hope to install a retaining wall around the entire Courtyard and then add a new drainage system which we trust will benefit the entire community. Following that,  sand and soil will be added to create a much cleaner environment and the enclosed area will be used as a playground for the students who attend the Svay Pak school.

This community is very complex and it is totally understandable why they may feel a bit uneasy about all that is happening so we want to do our best to bless them through this process. Please join us in prayer for this excavation process and for God to go ahead of us and the people who are working on this clean up.

As I think of the black slop I saw today being dug up, I couldn't help but think of the symbolic aspect of what it implies. All that muck and dirt, is like the sin that so easily entangles us and it can be painful as God cleanses us, as He has to go deep within us and so often we can feel uneasy and uncomfortable through the process because we do not know what the result will be. But thank God, He does. Thank God He does not leave us where we are, nor defines us by our limitations or the sin within, but sees the potential in us and does all He can to excavate our own hearts and cleanse us from the inside out so that we can be free of all that so often encumbers us and lead us to the promise land that He has for us because He loves us and wants the best for us! As I think of this community in Svay Pak, this is our hearts desire for them. That as this land is cleaned up and rebuilt, they will gain a glimpse of His beauty and the beauty that He is seeking to cultivate in each of them.