Monday, February 11, 2013

Chinese New Year In Svay Pak

Yesterday was the official New Year for both the Chinese and Vietnamese lunar calendar. While it is not an official holiday it is widely celebrated in Cambodia and many shops were closed in Phnom Penh. In Svay Pak, many Vietnamese families were celebrating the Vietnamese equivalent known as Tet for the New Year. But it was a busy time, every where I walked in Svay Pak, Vietnamese families had gathered together drinking, gambling,  and playing cards. Pastor Chantha and I were walking around and he stopped to talk to this ''old granny'' who was in a drunken stupor but who was happy to chat with me.

She was offering me the ├íng pow'' or red money packet which is usually given to single people during the new year festivities.  So I initially took it and then told her I would pray for her on the spot.  I remembered her from 3 years ago when she had come to the medical clinic in The Sanctuary. She was a trafficker and had wanted to have medicine for herself but we knew it was for the ''young women'' she was trafficking. At that time I had prayed for her and once again our paths had crossed so I told her I would pray a blessing over her. So I did, I prayed that Jesus would draw her closer to Him into a deep and personal relationship and she would know the truth that would set her free. I prayed that He would convict her of any activities she was doing and frustrate any plans to hurt others. When I finished praying, she insisted I take a photo of her and I gladly cooperated. To look at this frail old granny, one would think she could hardly harm a fly but I couldn't help but think about the many little ones whom she had made a profit from. In this village, the ties to sex trafficking run deep as all generations and relatives from grandmothers, to mothers, to daughters, sisters and cousins can be involved in this illicit trade to sell the young girls in their families.

Korean Pedophile chatting with some local Vietnanese
Pastor Chantha had mentioned that this weekend was busy as many boratey (foreigners) were in town looking to buy kids. In the brief time that I was visiting, I saw three foreign pedophiles. One of them was a familiar face that Pastor Chantha had seen a few times already this past weekend. Just a day ago this Korean pedophile had come to negotiate to buy a little girl for $100 but the traffickers had refused. Nonetheless, he was not deterred, he was back in the village and we happened to see him as I was being shown one of the newest ''holding pens''---a house where several little girls were hanging out on the steps in front of the home. Several of them were all dressed up looking like they were ready to go to a party. Once again, I was face to face with the reality of this horrific trade of innocents. These little five or six year olds were being prepared to be auctioned off.

Shortly thereafter, I was sitting around at the local coffee shop opposite Rahab's House having some Vietnamese coffee when a beautiful little girl probably around 7 or 8 years old came up to me. She was wearing a pink colored shiny satin dress with eye liner and a light eye shadow and a handbag over her shoulder. I was told that she was adopted by some traffickers. I can only imagine what her life must be like and what she must be thinking on this new year's day ---a day when people should be celebrating with family, she was being prepped to be sold.

Not long after that scene I went to see Pastor Chantha's disciples play some volleyball. They have been doing this daily as part of their exercise and fun. Once again I came across two little sisters all decked off in matching yellow dresses. They attend the Svay Pak school but this day, they were off heading to the adult world of sexual perversion. I asked them if I could take a photo of them and they quickly responded with a ''no.'' That response in itself was interesting as many kids love when one wants to take a photo of them, but not these two. Perhaps they had seen enough of such photo taking that exploited them.

These grim encounters are a reminder that trafficking of minors continues in this place and on such special occasions, the demand for them is even higher. Yet in the midst of such darkness, God once again shows me a pocket of light as I meet two dear little sisters that I have known since 2009.  ''SN" and her sister ''C'' who now attend the school in The Sanctuary come by to say ''hi''. They are a living testimony of the power of prayer for many years ago they too were trafficked by their parents who own a brothel. But in the summer of 2009, I along with many of our intercessors in Canada had the privilege of interceding for these two little ones. God in His sovereignty responded resoundingly and since then, their grandmother who attends the Svay Pak church has been their guardian angel protecting them from those who would abuse them and from their parents who would willingly sell them on a regular basis. In seeing SN and C, it is the verses from Galatians 6:9 that come to mind:  Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Despite the ongoing darkness that is so ''in your face'' in this village, my two little friends serve to encourage me, to keep fighting, to keep running the race, to keep persevering and pressing on, for as we do, we will have the privilege of seeing many lives that were once crushed and broken, be set free from the chains of oppression.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

A Trip to Mondulkiri

Thank you to all who prayed for our team and young women as we traveled by bus to Mondulkiri one of the northwest provinces in Cambodia on Feb 1. Our day started early as I left my home at 5am which was a good thing as I was heading to the RAP community home the police had already started blocking off streets as they were preparing for many to mourn the loss of the King Father Norodom Sihanouk. At that hour of the morning, while I was leaving the city, I saw many policemen and people dressed in mourning attire---white tops and black pants or dark coloured skirts making their way by foot towards the direction of the Royal Palace. I continue to be in awe of the immense respect and reverence the Khmer people have for their king and the personal sacrifices they make to mourn His lost. It makes me wonder where we are in terms of our reverence for our King and what personal sacrifices we are willing to make to honor Him!
Heading to Mondulkiri

At any rate, when I arrived at the RAP home at 5:30am, the private bus we had hired was already there and several of our young women were already standing at the gate entrance with their backpacks eagerly awaiting departure. They were wide awake, hair done, make up on, quite excited. I'm always amazed at how easy it is for young people to be up and ready to go when they want to go somewhere that they are excited about. None of them had never been to Mondulkiri---they had previously visited Siem Reap and Sihanoukville so this was a treat to a different place---a more mountainous area, that had more scenic vegetation and is known for its coffee. We opted to go on an organized tour so that our staff too could rest although they never really do as they have to keep their eyes on the young women.
One of the RAP young women singing on the bus

So off we left at 6am sharp beginning first with a prayer for safety as the excitement was building in the bus. The bus was meandering around several side streets because there were already many road closures. We finally made it out and within an hour had our first pit stop---breakfast at a local restaurant. One of the blessings of going with the Khmer is you learn to eat what they eat----although I'm not one for too much adventure eating but a traditional Khmer breakfast can be noodle soup with meat balls or pork, or rice and chicken or rice and bbq pork. Yes no bread here if you are looking for a continental Western style breakfast. As our staff and the young women were feeling a bit cold (it was about 26 degrees)--- they all ordered a noodle soup but my standard diet when I am traveling is steamed rice and fried chicken and some Vietnamse coffee ---which is a common drink for breakfast as it is made with a strong cofee---its one meal that keeps me healthy. With a full stomach, we were off again and the young women opened up the worship books that we had brought with us and began singing a selection of Khmer worship songs for 1 hour in a loud pitch.
Rubber tree plantation
Shortly there after our first picture taking stop was at a rubber tree plantation. Out came the cameras and the photo taking began. This continued at each place we visited. The young women love taking photos and posing continuously. I was tired just watching them take all the photos! I think I'm getting old!

Two of our staff looking at a mini waterfall
One of the places we visited reminded me of a smaller version of Stanley park in Vancouver with all the beautiful flowers and lush gardens. The Cambodia that I am used to seeing doesn't normally have such lush vegetation but in this part of the country, it was a wonderful opportunity to see God's creation.

Little outdoor huts with hammocks
Our next stop was to visit a village of a hill tribe. In fact,  80 percent of the population in Mondulkiri is made up of ten tribal minorities, with the majority of them being the Chunchiet from the tribe of the Phnong. The remaining 20 percent are Khmer, Chinese and Muslim Cham. Most of the population lives off the land, planting rice, fruit trees and a variety of vegetables. Others grow, coffee, strawberries, rubber and cashew nuts. The young women at RAP had actually bought packets of candy to hand out to the kids in the village. It was wonderful to see them going around to the kids on their own initiative and handing out the candy that they had purchased with their own funds. Such a desire to bless others who are even less fortunate than they are is an important part of helping the young women to know that they too are blessed to be a blessing.
Three of the RAP young women talking to the kids and passing out candy

We got a glimpse of the homes in which the tribal people live which were made of straw or hay and bamboo. With the cooler temperatures in this mountainous area, they actually have an open fire in the inside of their house.
Open fire in the center of the home
 With this open pit, the smoke fumes filled the entire home but no one seemed to be bothered by it. They were large vats lined up along the inside corners of the home and these are used to store rice wine.
As we walked around this village area, we had an opportunity to see life on the farm with pigs eating their feed and goats walking around the pasture.

Day 2 on the trip we set out early again to see several waterfalls which are found in this area. It was once again another photo taking opportunity as our young women went for a morning hike to the waterfall.

Posing on a rock

Our staff also got into the picture taking mode and every where I turned, there was a photo shoot going on.
Some of our RAP staff
We are thankful for the opportunity to take all of our RAP staff as they put in many long hours and even on this trip, they never really do get a full rest since they have to make sure the the young women are okay. Nonetheless, it was great for them to relax and just be pampered a bit. They who work on the frontlines need much care and support for their souls so that they do not burn out and we believe these trips are a small token to demonstrate our appreciation of all they do.

One of the most beautiful waterfalls we saw is the Bou Sra Waterfalls. It is stunning and some of our young women took the opportunity to change into tribal outfits of the local hill tribes in that region so that they could take some photos. Even some of our staff  got into the action, trading their regular clothes for the tribal outfits.
RAP staff in tribal outfits
It was a time to just sit in the outdoors and take in the fresh air. Many families were also touring the area and all along the waterfalls, people were simply relaxing and eating their picnic food. We were fortunate that our tour guide arrange for us to have a simple lunch of fried chicken, fried fish, mango salad, curry chicken and rice. In this setting, it was another opportunity to slow our pace down and simply relax.

One of the young women reading her book next to one of our staff
Lunch: fried chicken, fish  & mango salad
After two days of visiting different waterfalls, a park and a few villages it was time to head back to Phnom Penh. On our way back we experience God's protection over us as the front tire on our bus had a puncture. Despite the speed, the bus did not veer off to the side and we were able to stop safely. While waiting in the noon day heat, the young women and staff used the opportunity to hunt for some shade. Some came across a mango tree and I sat marvelled at their ingenuity in finding a stick and picking the mangoes. Within minutes 20 mangoes had been picked and they sat eating the green mangoes.
Mango picking!
Other staff and young women on the other hand were quite contented to find another shaded spot to just hang out and chat.
Hanging out in the shade
In all of these simple little activities, we trust that the Lord has used this time to strengthen the bonds and the relationships between our staff and the young women. As well, this mini trip a way serve to be a blessing to us all to just relax, have fun, recharge our batteries a bit and enjoy the beauty of God's creation.