Life is all about bitter and sweet moments and how we learn to respond to them. Here in Cambodia there is not a day that doesn't go by where we do not encounter one of these emotions. The sweet moments are so often infrequent that we barely have time to savor them and then we are hit with a bitter moment. Many times, it is the bitter moments that weigh on our spirit and if we are not careful, we can either let such moments take us down by discouraging us or we can embrace those moments in all their fullness knowing that There are blessings we can never have unless we are ready to pay the price of pain. There is no way to reach them save through suffering. —Dr. Miller. Yesterday I experienced both the bitter and the sweet all in a short space of time.
One of the joys of this ministry is seeing young women overcome all the challenges of their past and live a ''normal'' life. So it was a joyous moment when I and our RAP Program Manager were met by one of our reintegrated young women V near her work place. She had heard we were coming to pick up one of the other young women at the RAP home from the same work place as we were going out on a ''date night.'' So when our reintegrated friend V heard we were coming she wanted to say hi. It was so good seeing her and seeing the little weight she had gained from over a month ago since our last visit. She is doing so well and in her second month on the job, performed her work function so well that she got an unexpected 25% bonus on her salary. We took the opportunity to visit the place she rented which is within walking distance of her work place. By North American standards, one would consider this a little shack, but by Cambodian standards, it is a huge place for one person. It could easily fit a family of 10 people. She proudly showed us around her simple surroundings and brought out a large fresh fish that she was given by her ''mother in law to be''. This was her dinner with some steam rice and being the ''mother'' that I am, I asked her if she wasn't going to have it with vegetables to which she replied ''Bong Lisa, Oun oth joel jet bonlai (ie: Young sister does not like vegetables)---oh yeah I forgot about that! Her bedroom is on the upper level and as I am getting a bit old, climbing up to this other level by way of a wooden ladder was a reminder that I need to go and get some exercise.:-). It is like a little attic but in this upper area one finds her bedroom, with some of the items we had purchased for her as part of her reintegration package. V is unusual in that she enjoys living on her own albeit her boyfriend's family is not too far from here. Nonetheless, she is relishing this opportunity to live independently and is currently working in order to save money for her future. We are thankful for our partners who work in this community as their staff also encourage V and keep an eye on her in case she needs any support.
So as I was walking around this familiar environment with my Khmer friends, I asked about another little friend S who I have known for 5 years. I first met S in 2008 when she joined in the kids club that I was involved with with our short term team from Canada and our Khmer friends. She was a spunky little kid with a bit of a tough attitude but that soon soften as she began to frequent the kids club held in this community. She joined the community school as well and from time to time, I would see her in this village whenever I visited. She has always remained very dear to me as I remember going to visit her one day in her home and her grandmother promptly asked if I would adopt S when the grandmother died. It was an unexpected question as this little girl looked at me. Navigating such questions is not easy but I managed to suggest that I would have to consult with the local pastor to see what the possibilities were. That seemed to pacify the grandmother at that time. That was 3 years ago. Fast forward a few months ago and I was out on one of my regular exercise walks near the waterfront in Phnom Penh when I heard a little voice calling my name. Surprisingly enough it was S standing there all dressed up with her little sister. I was so overjoyed to see them both and asked her a few questions in Khmer to which she quickly responded in English! She is so smart! She was just ''dahling'''---meaning visiting in the waterfront. Of course I had to ask who she was ''visiting'' with and she pointed to her older sister sitting on a motorcycle curb side who looked at me rather suspiciously as she talked on the phone. At that moment, I asked her if I could take a quick photo as she had now grown so big and was close to my shoulders. She quickly obliged with a big smile happy to pose and we chatted a bit more before I left. But my joy of seeing her quickly turn to concern as I walked away thinking of what I had just seen on her face and that of her little sister. They were both wearing makeup---my mind started to compute and that sinking feeling set in. She was not just ''visiting'' the waterfront, she was being prepped to be sold along with her little sister that very evening. S is now about 12 years old but her size is that of an 8 year old. As for her little sister, while she is the size of a 6 year old. As I walked back home, I prayed for her and her sister not knowing what would happen to them. So yesterday as I was catching up with some of my Khmer friends in this little village so notorious for the deadly abuse of so many young pre-pubescent girls, I asked how is S? To my dismay, I was told that S no longer goes to school nor the kids club but daily she is all dressed up and wearing lots of make up. My worst fears for this little friend had now become a reality.
What does one do with such news? What can we do? I found myself last night and this morning literally crying to God for this little soul. She is one of many that is being sold but she is one whose name I know, more importantly she is one who is not forgotten by her heavenly Father. I don't know whether we will have the opportunity to walk with her through a journey of restoration and healing but I have to believe, that God has allowed our paths to cross for a purpose if only or at the mere least for us all to intercede for this young life. So as I write this, it is the song ''Blessed Be The Name of the Lord'' that rings in my head ''He gives and takes away but my heart will choose to say, Blessed be the name of the Lord.''
In these two stories of V and S, God has given but God has also taken away---at least for now. We rejoice and praise God for His redemptive work in V and cherish this sweet moment of seeing her becoming a responsible young adult. But as I think of S, it is a bitter moment, yet, we are called to embrace the pain of loss as we grieve for S and what is being done to her daily all for the sake of money. As we grieve and sow our tears by praying we are sharing in the fellowship of Christ suffering. I long for the day when her suffering will end but even that I have to entrust into God's hands. He is sovereign over this young life, He is sovereign over her suffering, He is sovereign as we wait for her rescue and restoration. In his Sovereignty, I rest knowing that He is her Messiah, He is her Savior and He is her Redeemer!