Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Mourning A Beloved King Father!

Earlier this week as part of one of my regular routines to get some exercise, I took a stroll down to the Royal Palace. A couple weeks ago, the king Father Norodom Sihanouk died and his body was brought back to Cambodia as the nation mourns their king for the next 3 months. Since that time, there has been an outpouring of grief.

As I approached the palace, there was a crowd of people gathering around to pay their respects to their beloved king. Some people were sitting on the ground watching a TV screen that provided historical highlights of the king father's life.

But in the midst of all of this, one couldn't help but notice the vendors who were using this opportunity to sell all sorts of items. One vendor was selling flowers.

Several vendors had printed different photos of the king Father and were using this period of mourning to sell pictures of the the king. These vendors seem to be the most popular attracting crowds of people who were encircling them vying for the best photo.
Looking to buy a photo of the king father
As Cambodia is a Buddhist nation, many Cambodians came to offer up prayers. Candles were set up on several sections to help facilitate those individuals who had bought joss sticks to light and place in big jars in the area.

A vendor selling joss sticks

The entire area was filled with smoke as the incense from the joss stick floated up into the evening air.
The smoke however did not seem to affect those who came to mourn. People would light their joss sticks and would bow their knees where ever they happen to be to pray for the king father.

Some of the older female ''monks'' sat further back from the crowd sitting in a posture of humility. I couldn't help but wonder how long they had been sitting there but I suppose time was not important. What was more important was just sitting there reflecting on their beloved king who they revered.

It is not common to see these sights of public grief as in many Asian cultures, tears are often viewed as a sign of weakness and so they are often shed in private. Yet here were many openly showing their emotions. For a nation that is still recovering from the Khmer Rouge era and trauma from that period, scenes like this display emotional vulnerability in a corporate sense. Pray for the Cambodian people that through the sadness and loss they feel, they may experience comfort and strength from the One who can give meaning and hope to life's greatest losses.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

A Visit To RAP - New Beginnings

I arrived back in Cambodia on late Wednesday night of this past week ---thankful to the Lord for the wonderful time in Canada and for a fresh burst of energy and strength to face my second year here in Cambodia. As I reflect back on this past year, I it is important to remember God's faithfulness for it is so easy to forget when we face new challenges and new opportunities before us. We need to be reminded of how God has worked in the past and that He is our Sovereign Helper and our Jehovah Jireh providing for all of our needs and going ahead of us and preparing the way for new beginnings.

His faithfulness is seen on so many levels ---

  • making a way for Ratanak International to have our two MOUs (Memorandum of Understandings) within less than 1 year. 
  • helping us to find a perfect place for the RAP (Ratanak Achievement Program) community home in a peaceful residential area
  • providing a wonderful partnership with a local Khmer church that has many programs to empower the young women who will be living at RAP and to facilitate their transition to becoming part of a community
  • amazing Khmer staff who are eagerly waiting to serve the young women
  • amazing international workers who are walking along side our team here by mentoring and encouraging them
  • great partner organizations who have blessed us with support on a variety of levels that we do not need to reinvent the wheel. It is a blessing to have this kind of collaboration for we all know that no one organization can put an end to sex trafficking but together, we can make a significant impact in the lives of survivors of trafficking as we share resource and use our giftings to encourage each other to run the race the Lord has set before us
I share of all of this as spiritual markers that affirm the journey that God has called us to for we are on the cusp of receiving some special young women into the RAP home. Yesterday, marked the first visit by six young women who have been staying at the Newsong center, the long term after care facility that is run by our partners at AIM. Our RAP team were fully prepared and organized with each of our staff knowing what they needed to do to welcome the young women and their caregivers. At 2:15pm the van arrived at the RAP home and our two teams gathered in the main lobby area forming a circle as we began the introductions. It was a wonderful feeling of being in one big family. In this ministry, the circles are small and so all of our staff knew some of the staff members from AIM so it felt like a big reunion with lots of laughter and smiles at seeing familiar faces. 

For me, one of the personal joys was just standing and observing our Khmer staff take the lead in all of the interactions. We see the wisdom of a measured approach in spending the time training our staff over these past few months and how prepared they were for this day. Our RAP Operations Manager Nary began the introductions in a traditional Cambodian Sampeah-- her palms together in a prayer-like fashion while bowing slightly. It is a sign of respect and politeness---she greeted each person with the words of ''Chum Reap Suor'' (hello) and introduced herself and her role. Each of us on the Ratanak team did the same and then the staff from AIM followed. Last but certainly not least were the six young women. It was pure joy watching them in these initial stages, somewhat shy and understandably so as they embark on a journey of transition, a journey that we trust will be a new beginning for them---one that will deepen the hope and the love they have already experienced as they move into this phase of their life of becoming independent young women.

Our teams split into two groups with the social workers and counselors from AIM following our Psychosocial team to the meeting room to discuss different aspects involved in the transition from Newsong to the RAP home. Our Operations Manager and our home advisors then took the young women on a tour of their new home. I simply followed along just observing and taking in all that was happening. When the tour was over, I joined this group in the kitchen as we offered the young women some drinks and fruit. It was an opportunity for them to ask questions and for our staff to address any concerns they would have as they contemplate this move. The initial shyness gave a way to question after question as the young women felt safe to ask the things that were on their hearts. Whatever nervousness there was, gave way to laughter and smiles and that led to many more questions. Our staff also asked them how they were feeling and their thoughts about moving to RAP. As they learned more, it was becoming clear to us all, that they were feeling excited at coming to this new place. Nary our RAP Operations Manager did a great job in her responses to the young women, so much so that some of them commented to her that when they grow up they would like to communicate like her and be like her because she was so articulate. When I heard this, all I could do was praise God----praise God for our staff and for their giftings at making these young women feel so at ease. 
The RAP Psychosocial team meeting with the team from AIM

One and a half hours later, the psychosocial teams of both organizations joined us in the kitchen and we all sat around like one big family as the sharing and discussions continued. It was an incredible privilege to witness this oneness of heart between our two organizations. Psalm 133:1-3 says: How wonderful and pleasant it is when brothers live together in harmony! For harmony is as precious as the anointing oil that was poured over Aaron’s head, that ran down his beard and onto the border of his robe. Harmony is as refreshing as the dew from Mount Hermon that falls on the mountains of Zion. And there the Lord has pronounced his blessing, even life everlasting. Indeed the harmony we felt as one big family in Christ was refreshing for we all have one focus, to love these young women, to help them in whatever way to become all whom God has destined them to be, to invest in their lives and pour ourselves out for them, knowing that as we do, we are following in the footsteps of our Lord who said ''whatever you do for the least of these you do for Me.'' We pray indeed the Lord will continue to pronounce His blessings on both of our organizations as we seek to work together to support these young women He has graciously entrusted into our care.  As the van prepared to leave and we all said our goodbyes, one of the young women gave Nary a hug. I think that says it all! Shyness and apprehension, giving a way to a tender touch, a touch that conveys love, care and acceptance!

Next week, a second group of young women will be visiting our RAP home from one of our other partner organizations and we will once again repeat the same process. The proposal to set up this RAP home that began two years ago, is no longer a dream but it is becoming a reality and these past few weeks I found myself praying for the young women who will be staying at the RAP home using the words from Jeremiah 31 and 32:

For the Lord will deliver Jacob and redeem them from the hand of those stronger than they. They will come and shout for joy on the heights of Zion; they will rejoice in the bounty of the Lordthe grain, the new wine and the olive oil, the young of the flocks and herds.They will be like a well-watered garden, and they will sorrow no more. Then young women will dance and be gladI will turn their mourning into gladness;  I will give them comfort and joy instead of sorrow (Jeremiah 31:11 -13)

37 I will certainly bring my people back again from all the countries. I will bring them back to this very city and let them live in peace and safety. 38 They will be my people, and I will be their God. 39 And I will give them one heart and one purpose: to worship me forever, for their own good and for the good of all their descendants. 40 And I will make an everlasting covenant with them: I will never stop doing good for them. I will put a desire in their hearts to worship me, and they will never leave me. 41 I will find joy doing good for them and will faithfully and wholeheartedly replant them in this land.(Jeremiah 32:37-41)

So as you think of these precious young women who will be moving into the RAP home, pray for them, for their adjustment, for this new beginning in their life, that as God continues to turn their mourning into gladness, and their sorrow into joy, they will discover in deeper ways His desire to never stop doing good for them as He faithfully and wholeheartedly replants them in this land. Pray too for our staff as they adjust to new schedules and seek to be God's hands, voice and feet to these young women. Pray that the Lord will fill them with His spirit so that they will have His inexhaustible supply of love and compassion to serve these young women with His heart and encourage them in His truth. 

Finally, I would be remiss if I did not share that this has been a 23 year journey for Ratanak and our founder Brian McConaghy whose love affair with Cambodia and heart to serve the Khmer began so many years ago. As he said to me recently this has been a very long birthing process --- 23 years is a very long pregnancy. The opening of this RAP home is a fulfillment of so much that has been in Brian's heart for many years and while it has always been his desire to serve directly through Ratanak it was always more efficient to serve the Khmer through partnerships. What was best to help the  Khmer was always far more important than any desire he may have had. Ratanak has always been a tool in the hand of Christ to do His will not Brian's nor our own personal agenda. Yet over time God has been so gracious and has honored Brian and Ratanak's commitment that has led to this new chapter in our own lives as an organization to now directly minister to Cambodian young women.  We feel overwhelmed and yet so privileged  that He would entrust such lives to us – they are just so precious. Thank you to all of you who have been walking with us on this journey. We share this moment with you knowing that you too have been so much a part of encouraging us and supporting us. Holding up our hands like Aaron and Hur so that we could keep running the race that Christ has set before us. We praise God for His faithfulness and His love as we embark on new beginnings serving in a whole new way the people we love and cherish!

Monday, October 8, 2012


Psalm 95:2 says: Let us come before Him with thanksgiving and extol him with music and song. Today as I sit here in Canada and celebrate the Thanksgiving holiday this weekend, I can't help but be thankful to the Lord for all that He has done for us at Ratanak and to praise His name!

I am thankful this day for so many things but most of all thankful to the Lord Jesus Christ for who He is for being both my Lord and Savior.

I am thankful that He has a plan and a purpose for each of our lives and that plan is always to prosper us (despite our circumstances our how we feel) (Jeremiah 29:11)

I am thankful that while He doesn't need us, He so willingly uses us in all of our frailties to build His kingdom.

I am thankful for His love and for how He challenges us to manifest that love by reaching out to the poor and the oppressed.

I am thankful that He does not forget the poor. He remembers the poor for they are always engraved on the palm of His hands (Isaiah 49:15-16)

I am thankful that He challenges us to seek justice on behalf of the poor and the oppressed (Isaiah 1:17)

I am thankful for the gift of family both here and in Cambodia and that where ever we go or where ever we live, we have the opportunity to experience the family of God in new ways beyond our expectations (Luke 18:29)

I am thankful for all of our Khmer staff, for their beautiful hearts, for their love, their compassion, their gentleness and their desire to be the hands, voice and feet of Jesus to those who are hurting in their midst.

I am thankful to all of our donors ---whether they are individuals or churches or foundations for their generosity and support of our work in Cambodia

I am thankful to our partners in Cambodia - for their collaboration, their partnership, their desire to join hands to work together to make a difference in the lives of those who so often have no voice

I am thankful to the churches and supporters, for my pastor, and the many friends here and around the world who through their prayers, financial support and friendship are committed to standing in the gap not just for me but all that we at Ratanak do in Cambodia.

I am thankful to our staff in Ratanak Canada for all they do behind the scenes to facilitate the work we do in Cambodia

I am thankful for all of our volunteers in all of our Ratanak offices internationally who are using their time, their gifts, their talents to invest in lives of the vulnerable in Cambodia

I am thankful for health, strength and energy to live out God's dream for my life

I am thankful to our Great God whose love is unconditional, unfailing and limitless.