Thursday, January 31, 2013

A Time to Mourn and a Time to Retreat

Here in Phnom Penh we are on the eve of a 4 day holiday from Feb 1 to Feb 4th as Phnom Penh prepares for the King Father Norodom Sihanouk's funeral and cremation.  An influx of people from the provinces as well as dignitaries from abroad are coming to pay their final respects and it is estimated that around 1.5 million to 3 million people will descend in Phnom Penh. For those of us who live in the city, we face road closures and many businesses along the funeral route are required to close as a sign of respect. The official mourning period is from February 1st to February 7th and this evening as I headed out for my walk, the streets are much quieter with less people. It appears that some of the residents of Phnom Penh perhaps have left the city. Hun Sen park which is usually busy in the evening with people walking and exercising was much more quieter except for the speakers that were placed in trees along the main boulevard which played Cambodian music. Along the park, large photos of the late King Father were posted and on the main streets, the security forces are out. Cambodian's special force policeman with their purple coloured motorbikes stand at the corner, holding their AK 47 guns wearing their flap jackets. In the blistering heat, I can't help but wonder if they are hot under all that gear!

Flags are lying at half mast and around the park people were wearing black ribbons with pictures of the late king.

Black Ribbons with the king father's face
With all the schools closed and massive congestion expected in the heart of the city (near where I live) and 
an 11,000 member security force including police, military policy and bodyguards present to keep things under control, getting around this part of the city will be challenging.Pray for safety and protection for all those who are coming into the city for the cremation services.

As for our team,  we are using this time to take the young women from the RAP community home for a retreat to one of the northwest provinces in Cambodia that is one of the largest in size and yet one of the most sparsely populated. I am told it can get quite chilly at night but am learning that cold is relative here in Cambodia. What's cold for Cambodians is summer for Canadians so am debating whether to take any long pants or shirts. Our young women who have been studying hard at school are looking forward to the break away from the city to spend some time in a more quiet and scenic environment. The trip is expected to take us 8 hours by bus although I imagine we will be taking many pit stops along the way so the reality is that it maybe a 10 hour bus ride. We look forward to a special time of team building and bonding with the young women. During these past few days, they have been busy buying little treats and snacks to take with them in addition to buying some new clothes from their weekly allowance. Pray for our safety in travel as we leave the city at 6am and begin the journey by bus. We plan on taking the guitar and using the time on the bus to worship, play games and of course eat and sleep (okay this latter idea of sleep maybe a bit challenging with 13 teenagers!). Pray that it will be a time for renewal and refreshment for all of us as we enjoy the beauty of God's creation that we anticipate seeing around us in this mountainous region.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Transitions & Extreme Parenting!

Christian Author Graham Cooke said "Transition is a place between promise and fulfillment where we are tested to see if we can inhabit the place that God wants to give us." As I thought about this comment, my mind wonders to the 13 young women at RAP (Ratanak Achievemnt Program) Community home who have now been staying at the RAP Community home for 2 months. All of them are in a place of transition, transitioning from a shelter environment or semi independent living group homes to this community home. The RAP Community home represents a place between promise and fulfillment for they are each on a journey, a journey towards independence, a journey towards discovering what it is like to live a more normalized life like many other young adults, a journey to discovering that God has a plan and purpose for each of their lives.

The RAP home is a place where they can enjoy more ''freedom'' than the shelter environment they have been used to. It is a place where they learn about being responsible young adults, doing daily chores---cooking for their fellow room mates, cleaning their rooms and the common areas, washing their own laundry,  doing their home work, learning new life skills, attending regular devotional times, learning how to save,  going to work and earning a wage and returning home at a set time in the early evening. But the transition is not always easy for just like many of us, transitions involve adapting to new environments, new relationships, new challenges. It is a place that offers many promises but at times we can get stuck in old habits and behaviors that prevent us from transitioning well. Most often these old habits and behaviors have been learned in environments that have been harsh. For these 13 young women, they have experienced different levels of trauma and so the journey of restoration, is often a journey of transitioning from the old to the new, from letting go of the past and moving forward with hope, that the future is full of promise. This is not always easy for when one has encountered abuse as they have, when one is treated in a degrading way, when one is repeatedly treated as garbage, when one is treated as an object to be exploited, it is easy to see why a person can believe they have no value. 

Such transitions are not easy for ''emotionally healthy individuals' for we too can get stuck if we resist change and new experiences. How much more so for these young women and those of us who act as caregivers on the frontlines. My friend and Ratanak board member Cheryl Weber describes what we do as ''extreme parenting.'' I laughed when she told me this but as I reflected more deeply on those words I realize that is probably how the Lord relates to us as well. His love is extreme--laying down His life for us while we were still sinners---talk about extreme love! His parenting skills involve being ''slow to anger and full of compassion and mercy'' when we keep sinning and falling short of His goals and desires for us. He is the epitome of patience....He is patient with us, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance (2 Peter 3:9). So we too who work on the frontlines are called to reflect Christ heart to these young women to demonstrate the ''extreme love'' of Christ day in and day out. During this time it is the verses of 1 Corinthians 13:4-8 that we keep sharing with our staff.  Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.Love never fails

Anyone who has teenager daughters know the mood swings, hormonal issues, silent treatment,  rebellious behavior and attitudinal problems that so often are seen in this age group. Add trauma to the mix and well you can witness extreme behavior. Hence the need for extreme parenting and extreme love! :-)  His agape love really is an extreme love since none of us really have truly experienced that kind of unconditional love from other humans, yet this is what Christ is calling us to do as we minister to survivors of trafficking and sexual exploitation. 

Extreme love involves extreme patience as we walk with these young women who so often are still acting out related to their traumatic past. They are still learning what it means to experience a life of freedom. Such a life does not mean that they can do whatever they want, but true freedom involves making wise choices after all, their previous traumatic past prevented them from even having choices. So as they transition to a  new life, a life that offers more independence, it is a life that requires more choices. At times, they often stumble around in the darkness, repeating the same mistake and making decisions that so often hurt themselves and can impact their safety and their future potential. As caregivers, we are called to encourage them to assess and evaluate their choices, to help them understand the implications of taking one path versus another, to encourage them to make the best choice. We are called to not keep a record of wrongs when they make poor choices, but like Christ extend grace and yet speak with truth in a way that builds them up. So as you pray for the young women at RAP, please pray that the Lord will bless them with godly wisdom to make wise choices. Pray too for our staff that they will be filled with the Holy Spirit daily to endure the entourage of demands that are placed on their lives and their time.

Indeed we look forward with faith and hope that these young women will continue to transition well from a place of promise to a place of fulfillment where their true reward is living the life Christ has for them, full of potential, full of opportunity and most of all full of experiencing the deep and abiding love of Christ whose love never fails and who is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow! He is the ultimate example of extreme parenting offering us extreme love at all times and at all places!

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Evil Has No Boundaries

This past Sunday I woke up with four words on my mind ''Evil has no boundaries.'' I was thinking about that because last Saturday I had an encounter with a French pedophile while I was walking along the waterfront with one of my Khmer friends. We had just noticed him having a seat by the water when about a minute passed and a woman and her child who looked no older than 12 years old came and sat next to him. What was interesting was his position. His back was to her as she started to chat with him. Initially we walked by but perhaps it was the prompting of the Holy Spirit that we felt we couldn't just pass by. We had to stop and look and watch. God had given His eyes to see the evil before us. The word ''evil'' is a strong word but for me there is no better word to describe the kind of atrocities that are being perpetrated against vulnerable young kids in Cambodia. It is an outright attack on the innocent and the defenseless.
French Pedophile in the middle of the photo in a white t-shirt with his back towards a mother and her daughter

We decided to sit next to the threesome and eavesdrop on the conversation. The little girl was asking for food. My friend noticed the old man passing money behind his back to give to the woman. We heard snippets of the conversation, like the girl calling the woman ''mak'' (mother') and the ''mother'' telling her that she would have to go alone. What did that mean? We sat and waited. About 10 minutes later they moved on to another section of the waterfront on a park bench that was away from the crowds. So we continued to watch. We then began to pray for the Lord to frustrate the plans of this man, to block his efforts to harm this young girl, to make him so sick and even impotent...yes I pray some outrageous prayers so that he will hate being here that he will never want to return. God brought to mind Psalm 10 at that time as I had just read it earlier that day in my daily bible readings.

Psalm 10:2 in his arrogance the wicked man hunts down the weak, who are caught in the schemes he devises.His mouth is full of lies and threats; trouble and evil are under his tongue.He lies in wait near the villages;from ambush he murders the innocent.His eyes watch in secret for his victims;like a lion in cover he lies in wait.He lies in wait to catch the helpless;he catches the helpless and drags them off in his net.10 His victims are crushed, they collapse; they fall under his strength.11 He says to himself, “God will never notice; he covers his face and never sees.”12 Arise, Lord! Lift up your hand, O God. Do not forget the helpless.13 Why does the wicked man revile God?     Why does he say to himself, “He won’t call me to account”? 14 But you, God, see the trouble of the afflicted; you consider their grief and take it in hand.The victims commit themselves to you;you are the helper of the fatherless. 15 Break the arm of the wicked man; call the evildoer to account for his wickedness that would not otherwise be found out.

Thirty minutes passed and I began to feel more agitated and irritated. I had to do something.I wanted to plant some fear in this man but what really can I do. I think we often feel this way when we see what appears to be a ''Goliath'' situation before us.  It was so clear that this man was like a lion waiting to catch his prey. Anyway, I felt led to talk to him and share with him four words so off I went in his direction with my friend walking alongside me. He saw us coming towards him and began waving us off. I think he probably felt that we could not speak English so as I went straight up to him I said ''sir, you are being watched.'' I turned and started walking away and he got up, indeed he was a bit of a skinny Goliath over 6 feet tall but very frail looking as he must have been in his late 70s. He looked at me a bit stunned until the words sunk in and then he got up and started in my direction yelling at me ''hey, what I am being watched for." So I repeated the same words again and as he started walking towards me, I looked in the face and pointed at him saying ''don't you come near me, you are being watched.'' 

What did that accomplish? If anything I hope it created a bit of fear and doubt in his mind that where ever he went, he would feel that someone was watching him.   Indeed, someone is watching him all the time. God indeed is noticing the evil intentions of this man. Moreover, I hope that little 12 year old girl did not have to face a night of terror that evening. She had one more night free of violence. But in the midst of such darkness, we are not naive to believe that that mother will not attempt to sell her daughter again or that pedophile will not attempt to hurt another little girl for evil has no boundaries, it simply wants to seek, kill and destroy all the time, any where, anyone. Yet despite this, I call to mind the words of Psalm 10:16-18, The Lord is King for ever and ever; You, Lord, hear the desire of the afflicted; you encourage them, and you listen to their cry, defending the fatherless and the oppressed, so that mere earthly mortals will never again strike terror. These are the promises of God that we stand on knowing that He does see, He does hear and He does respond just as He did in the past when He sent Moses to deliver the Israelites from the Egyptians. So once again all of us who work on the frontlines ministering to survivors of trafficking and you who diligently pray and give --together we are called to be modern day Moses who God is sending forth to seek justice on behalf of the oppressed  into places like Cambodia, a hot bed for sex tourism and sex trafficking. This battle is not for the faint hearted, it can wear you down, it will disturb your spirit when you hear and read of man's inhumanity to a child,  it will require more than you and I can ever give but nonetheless, it is worth it--it is a fight for life, it is a fight for dignity, it is a fight for freedom, it is a fight for hope and it is a fight for love. Everyday at the RAP home,  we remind the young women how much we love them and how much God loves them. For love is the greatest apologetic.  It is the essential component in reaching the whole person in a fragmented world. The need is vast, but it is also imperative that we be willing to follow the example of Jesus and meet the need.(Ravi Zacharias)

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Holiday Activities and Events

The Christmas holidays have come and gone and its back to school and work for all of us here in Cambodia.   Nonetheless, we just wanted to update you all on some of the recent festivities that remind us again of God's goodness.
Courtyard Christmas Party
On December 23rd, our partners in Svay Pak had a huge outreach Christmas Party with well over 600 people attending from the Svay Pak area. The Courtyard which is located at the back of the Sanctuary building was transformed into one big tent city as people from the community joined into what would be a 5 hour Christmas program which included all sorts of drama performances, Khmer dancing, singing by both the youth and elders within the Svay Pak church and a powerful message about the birth of Christ by Pastor Chantha. This land which just a year ago was one big sewage dump was now a place where Christ name was being exalted and preached.
Svay Pak residents taking in all the Christmas events

Story of Mary and Joseph being performed by the disciples in Svay  Pak
As I walked around, there were people young and old watching all the drama skits, listening with curiosity as scripture was read about the birth of Christ. The entire Courtyard was full of tables of people but that did not stop onlookers from around the neighborhood who were determined to not only get a glimpse of the activities but to listen in on all that was happening.
Svay Pak Residents outside of the Courtyard checking out the activities

Kids outside of the Courtyard looking on at the festivities
These people sitting on the fences or peering reminded me of the story of Zaccheaus the chief tax collector who climbed up a tree so that he could get the best view of Jesus. It was that very day that salvation came to the house of Zaccheaus and he felt convicted not only to stop oppressing the poor but he responded with restitution. Perhaps in that crowd on December 23rd, there were some Zaccheaus types---chief brothel owners, chief traffickers, chief Mamasans....we don't know but what we do know is that God's word will not return void or empty to Him but will achieve its purpose and so as it was preached through song, drama and a message of Christ's birthday by  Pastor Chantha and his team of young people, we hope and pray that that day and in the days to come, salvation will come to those who for years have oppressed the vulnerable and exploited the weak in this community and that they will have the opportunity to testify that once they were lost but now they are found by the One who came to give them a new life free from sin and a new life full of hope of a future that is beyond their wildest imaginations.
Svay Pak Youth group performing a Xmas skit

Pastor Chantha preaching about the Jesus our Savior
Pastor Chantha mentioned that he and his team of youth had fasted before this Christmas party. In all of this we believe that seeds are being planted. May the Lord plant them in good soil that will one day grow and bear fruit for His kingdom in this place!
View at Kirirom
On New Years day, our young women at RAP had a holiday so we took this opportunity to take them on an outing to Kirirom which is a mountainous region that is about 150 kms outside of Phnom Penh. It was quite the drive but once we arrived on what was a cool crisp morning, the scenes were breathtaking.  I actually thought I was somewhere in British Columbia with the mountain ranges and the surrounding greenery.
Nary (RAP Operations Manager) and Sokunthy (Home Advisor)
 With the cooler temperatures (25 degrees celsius--okay ''cool'' is all relative) the young women were dressed with sweaters and scarves. One would think we were some where in Canada. Teenage girls are very fascinating to soon as our vehicles stopped, the young women didn't waste any time jumping out of the van snapping photos left and right, posing like models with each other, giggling and laughing as they sought different venues to take photos of each other.

Some of the young women checking out the picnic site
Thirty minutes of photo taking and we were off to our picnic site in another wooded area of the Kirirom region. The young women had gotten up early at around 5am with the home advisors to cook and prepare all the food that we would be taking with that day. It always amazes me how teenagers can get up early if they are excited to go somewhere they want to go. This day was no different, they had helped fried the fish and chicken dishes and cut up the vegetables and fruits.
A view from our picnic spot
Lunch time
Many other families had come up to this area to swim and here in Cambodia, everyone swims with their clothes on because no one wants to get dark. The young women at RAP are no different, off they went after lunch in full clothing with our home advisors as they waded into the water all for the sake of a photo shot. Others were quite contented to lie in the hammock and nap, while others just wanted to read a book. Nonetheless, it was another fun time for them to relax and enjoy the fresh air as they were surrounded by God's creation.

At 2:15pm it was time to pack up and head back to the city. One of the joys of being around Cambodian youth is that everyone pitches in to clean up and help. No whining or complaining, after a fun filled day, just a ''happy tired'' as we packed up within 20 minutes with everyone carrying something back to the van and car.

We praise God for such opportunities to just rest and relax. Events such as these serves to strengthen the bonding between the young women and also with our staff and to create space for a sabbath rest from all the stresses and strains of daily living.