Wednesday, September 27, 2006

September 2006 Newletter - Cambodia Reflections

Dear Family & Friends

As I reflect on my 5th trip to Cambodia, I realized how easy it is to become discouraged and weighed down by all the challenges in this nation. Feeling hopeless and overwhelmed is a constant temptation if one is not intentional about keeping their focus on Christ. Yet, my time in Cambodia was once again an opportunity to step into the River of God and to see Him give life and hope to people in the midst of trying circumstances.

In Cambodia, one cannot hide from the poverty, it greets you every where you go, from the incessant beggars who roam the streets and markets, to the women with faces disfigured from acid due to revenge attacks, young kids half clothed or naked for which begging is a way of life, to the brothels that operate in the midst of residential areas or near local pharmacies. Sadly, sex for sale here is just another commodity. It is no wonder that those in the marginalized Vietnamese community who live along the river banks find it ‘normal’ to sell their 13 year old daughters into prostitution. The level of resignation and helplessness of the poor adds to the spiritual oppression that weighs on people as the ‘darkness’ attaches itself to the poverty. This was perhaps no more evident than in the border town Poipet, which is often referred to as the armpit of Cambodia. I don’t think I have ever encountered such 'darkness' in my life. Driving through the 'no man's land' section---an area that is neither Thai nor Cambodian, but is a strip of land that houses several white washed casinos and one infamous ‘luxury’ brothel that caters to heterosexual and homosexual pedophiles; how easy it is for the devil to deceive us with those fancy 'white buildings' with all their glitter and gold highlighting their external beauty to entice anyone, yet within the walls of these buildings, the darkness reigns. As I left Poipet I couldn't help but think this is the devil's play ground--for now. Yet, it is in these very environments that God’s redemptive work can be found as the darkness is penetrated with the Lord’s explosive light. It is these places that the words from the prophet Isaiah are becoming a reality through the work and life of those whom the Lord has sent to serve there. "Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke? Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter— when you see the naked, to clothe him. If you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday. The LORD will guide you always; he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land and will strengthen your frame. You will be like a well-watered garden, like a spring whose waters never fail. Your people will rebuild the ancient ruins and will raise up the age-old foundations; you will be called Repairer of Broken Walls, Restorer of Streets with Dwellings. (Isaiah 58:6-7, 10-12)

One of the inspiring repairers and restorers of the broken walls in Cambodia is Marie Ens, a 71 year old Canadian missionary whose life exemplifies the words found in Psalm 92:14 --- They will still bear fruit in old age, they will stay fresh and green. In my annual visit to Place of Rescue, an orphanage and AIDS centre where Marie acts as an advisor, I am reminded that this is one of the pockets of light that is making a hole in the darkness. Coming here is like a breadth of fresh air. AIDS families/widowers who are so often ostracized have the opportunity to be part of a community that cares for both their physical, emotional and spiritual well being. It was such a blessing for us to pray for each of these families. Quite a few of them are responding well to the anti-viral drugs and gaining weight while others seem to be flourishing without the medication. There is even room here for grannies---many of whom have been left destitute as their families have died of AIDS. The 116 orphans that call this place home are so filled with the Father’s love and joy, smiling and cheerfully greeting all who come to visit. They act as little tour guides quickly grabbing your hands and proudly showing you around the grounds. We celebrated the monthly birthday party with them and provided knapsacks for all the kids along with other assorted goodies. Seeing Marie this time, I couldn’t help but wonder, what if she had listen to voices who were telling her not to return to Cambodia because of her age, what if she hadn't followed the vision God placed in her heart for this AIDS Centre & Orphanage. Praise God, she did. Her life is a testimony and a reminder to me about following in obedience to the Lord. I think of the implications of her choices and the many Khmer lives that have been impacted already. I dream of that day in the future when all these orphans grow up and the impact they will hopefully have on this nation for God. I dream of that day when they testify of what He has done in their lives all because one woman embraced her divine moment and was obedient to the calling placed on her life.

Another place where God’s light is shining is at CCAM - Cambodian Christian Arts Ministry. It was started by two broken, middle-aged, single-again women (one widowed and one divorced) who are both in their late 60s ---Noren Vann Kim a Khmer and Gioia Michelotti, an American. God laid on their heart a vision in the late 1980s to use Khmer traditional arts (music, drama, dance, visual arts and literature) as vehicles for evangelism, church training and worship. In 1995 they opened CCAM. Today, 46 boys and girls who were former street kids and gang members have been rescued, sheltered, protected, fed, clothed, and educated in a Christian environment. They are part of this program that is using the arts to bring healing and expression to their lives. All the children eventually become members of the CCAM Evangelistic Performing Team that travels around Cambodia and tours around the world preaching the Good News of Jesus Christ through traditional Khmer style songs, dances, dramas, plus preaching and testimony. As I watched the kids perform a series of beautiful Cambodian dances based on the psalms and Cambodian folk tales, I could not imagine any greater joy but seeing young lives that were once broken, be restored and the hidden beauty of God in each be unveiled, as they use their talents to worship the One who first loved them.

One of the personal highlights for me was spending time with Helen Sworn of Chab Dai—an organization that represents a coalition of 20 Christian NGOs that seek to end sexual abuse and trafficking of children in Cambodia. Chab Dai has developed an innovative project in rural areas of Cambodia to increase awareness and education of sexual abuse and trafficking, through a training program for churches. During a pilot scheme in 2005 it was found that many of the pastors were unaware of the issues of people trafficking and how to tackle them, through this naivety, some had even facilitated children being trafficked. The pastors were then educated and helped with current cases in their communities. They now have a renewed passion for protecting the vulnerable in their communities. They have confronted traffickers, followed up cases with the help of the coalition’s assistance and have spoken out about the problem. This has had such an impact at the community level that the Village and Commune Chiefs will begin attending training. It is through programs like this that God is transforming communities and empowering His people to fight on behalf of those who are oppressed.

Gladys K Mwiti, an African counsellor working among children in crisis writes: ‘If any adult has ever loved a child, he already carries in his heart the potential solution to the enormous problems of some child nearby. If you have ever delighted in a child, then your heart already knows the way. If a knot has ever formed in your throat over the problem of a particular child, then your journey has begun. The knots began to form in my heart in my two visits to the NewSong project otherwise known as the Agape Restoration centre run by AIM4ASIA. The centre is protected from prying eyes by lots of trees. With its oasis like feel, it truly is a place of refuge for young lives that have tasted much sorrow and/or horror. The girls that live here are those who have experienced the ‘worst of the worst’ having been sexually exploited, tortured and abused in ways that we can never imagine. Some of them have STDs and are HIV infected. But here at the centre, each of them is being restored to a life of dignity, their hearts, minds and souls transformed through various lessons, counselling, and the powerful, healing message that God loves each of them. What a privilege it was to meet 16 special young girls ranging in the age from 10 to 17 years old and their caregivers/house mothers. To watch them sing “Jesus loves me this I know”, to see them laugh and play in the centre’s swimming pool and to sit with one 16 year old who shared about her dream to be a pilot, I could not help but be filled with hope that Jesus will one day ‘repay them the years the locusts have eaten and never again will they be shamed’ (Joel 2:25,27) As my team member Kelita sang a few songs, the girls sat listening attentively to her while I found myself in tears as I quietly prayed under my breath for each of them. In that moment, I seem to be gripped with two competing emotions: sadness & grief for the suffering and pain that they endured and yet, joy & thanksgiving for the One who rescued them and Who is able to make something beautiful out of their brokenness and bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair so that they will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the LORD for the display of his splendour. Isaiah 61:3

In returning home, the journey with these ‘new friends’ continues but in a different way. The Lord has opened doors over the next 3 months for me to speak on the plight of these young girls. Pray that He would anoint my lips and that His heart would be reflected in the words I speak. As well, as I think about tangible ways in which people on this side of the pond can be more directly involved in investing in the lives of these precious children, pray that it would be His dreams and visions that I would follow ‘for unless the Lord builds the house, its builders labour in vain.’ (Psalm 127:1)
In closing, I am mindful of so many of you who have stood in the gap for me time and time again. How grateful and thankful I am for your continual support and encouragement and most of all your prayers offered up to the Throne of Grace on my behalf. Truly this year has been one in which I have felt overwhelmed by God’s goodness and love, something that continuously humbles me and yet captivates my heart. There really is no greater joy and privilege in walking with the Lord through places of pain and suffering and realizing that Jesus Himself ‘endured the cross for the joy that was set before Him.” (Hebrews 12:2) It is this joy in doing the Father’s will, the joy in the risen Christ, the joy of knowing Him, the joy of partnering with Him, the joy of seeing Him transform and resurrect lives that have been mistreated, devalued, dehumanized, oppressed and imprisoned---it is this joy in Him and through Him that I long to see in those who are finally set free from the yokes of injustice and oppression so that they can be all that He has destined and intended them to be. Indeed there is no ruined life that is beyond God’s repair.

For His Glory

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