Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Exchanged Glory - Angkor Wat

We arrived in Siem Reap on Sunday and yesterday (Monday) we went to visit some of the temples at Angkar Wat for the whole day. It was quite an impressive array of man's ingenuity to build all these temples and the intricacy in which the carvings of many legends and folklore associated with Hinduism and BUddhism. Yet after a few stories I found myself tuning out not from physical fatigue but rather from spiritual fatigue. I couldn't help but think how many people believe in these tales and legends and myths about the many gods associated with these two other religions. It is quite exhausting to hear of so many gods when there is One True God whose message is so simple to understand yet the 'god of this age has blinded man' and the gospel is veiled'. Romans 1:25 resonated in my mind---They exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator—who is forever praised. In these temples of AngKor Wat it is easy to see the magnficient creation of man and to be in awe of what man has created yet, the sad truth is that all of these carvings 'serve created things rather than the Creator.' As followers of Christ we look to the Cross and in it we see the glory of God---we see love, pain, joy, hope, resurrection...all of this and much more.

Tomorrow we head to Poipet for two days. So the next posting will be when we are back in Siem Reap on Friday.

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Quick Snippets

On Friday morning our team got invited to meet the folks of CCAM - Cambodian Christian Arts Ministry. It was started by two women---one Khmer and the other an American...they are now both in their late 60s who met in the U.S. Their vision began in the early 1980s to use Khmer traditional arts (music, drama, dance, visual arts and literature) as vehicles for evangelism, church training and worship. Their desire is to train and evangelise Cambodians for Christ through the arts, giving priority to the disadvantaged espcialy the poor, abused, uneducated, handicapped, widows and orphans. There are 46 boys and girls who have been rescued from the streets of Phnom Penh that are part of this program that is using the arts to bring healing and expression to their lives. We saw a beautiful dance performance by the kids at CCAM. Again I couldn't help but be filled with tears as I looked into their eyes. They did 5 dances for us, 3 of which were based on the Psalms and 2 of the dances were Cambodian folk tales. More on this at a later day

Later I met with LInda Chisholm for a meeting. i wish I could spend more time on this email to tell you all that she shared with me but unfortunately I am running out of time. she has so many stories but one that was recent is about two Vietnamese women who have been arrested and are now in one of the prisons that she ministers to..they have been charged for selling their 10 and 11 year old children for sex. As she says, much grace is needed to see them the way Jesus sees them.

I have a meeting this morning with folks at New Song to see the site and then we head back to Place of Rescue this afternoon for the rest of the day. We are planning to pray for each of the AIDS families and then will help at the monthly birthday party in the evening. We bought 130 backpacks for the kids and filled them with all sorts of goodies. It should be a fun but tiring time. Tomorrow morning we leave bright and early for Siem Reap so I am hoping i will have more time to write then.

So I'll sign off for now. Next posting will be in Siem Reap

Friday, August 25, 2006

A Vision of Christ''s Compassion

As I sit there today at this internet cafe I am mindful of the fact that this is one of the things on my 'daily'to do list. While it is less a priority, I know I need to update the journal otherwise it is easy to forget what I see and hear as we move from one meeting to the next. Over the past few days as I have sat and listened to many of God's laborers in Cambodia one of the common threads that I have seen in their lives is obedience to God's vision in their lives. It is not a new revelation but perhaps if anything serves to inspire me more to keep stepping out in faith with God as He imparts vision. In a country like Cambodia there are endless needs because the country's social, moral, spiritual and physical infrastructure has been decimated and it will take years to rebuild. Yet, as I talk to each of God's servants here there is one thing I keep seeing in them---His compassion for the broken hearted, the marginalized, the forgotten, the vulnerable, the exploited. Matthew 25:42-45 and Isaiah 58:7-12 seem to be the scriptures that ruminate in my mind every day as I meet people and learn about what they are doing here. Yesterday (Thurs Aug 24) I met Helen Sworn of Chab Dai. I still haven't processed all that she shared but what amazes me is how God has taken the vision He has placed in her heart and has expanded it in such a short time, such that the work that is being done at Chab Dai is now being used as a model in other countries. But more than that is the people of influence that HE is orchestrating for her to meet. There is no doubt that God is close to those who are crushed in spirit and when the enemy seeks to create discouragement here (and it is so easy to do) the Lord shows that He is in charge and He is in control. It is the Gospel and the hope it brings that is so imperative for all in this land to see. The darkness pervades but the light is shining and will penetrate the darkness no matter what. To those we meet who have experienced much pain and suffering, to the children we see barefooted, crying for food, to the beggars at the market, to all of these the words of Isaiah 61:3 is the prayer offered up on their behalf --this is the vision He has for them- to 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. They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the LORD for the display of his splendor.

STay tuned for more comments about the Cambodian Christian Arts Ministry that seeks to use music, arts and drama to minister to street kids and orphans. As well, a meeting with Linda Chisholm, a 71 year old widow who is the Executive Director of the Prison Fellowship in Cambodia.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

A Pastor's Vision

Today half of us went to visit Pastor Sok & Savy Em in Kampong Chnang. The ride was beautiful as we see all the green hue of the rice paddies. The colors are so vibrant and the road is less crowded as we leave Phnom Penh to these more rural areas. Sok and Savy are setting up a bible training center for pastors in the Kampong Chnang area. Pastor Sok and Savy used to be the pastors at the Toronto Cambodian Alliance church before they felt God's call back to their nativeland. God has given them a vision for training up the leaders in the church. Their house is painted white and stands out among the brown little huts and houses that surrounds the red clay road. They have put a light in front of their house--quite symbolic really as the neighbors comment to them how grateful they are for this street light that brightens this unpaved road in the neighborhood. We spend time praying with them and then take a 10 minute walk to the site where construction is going on of a new leadership training centre. We prayer walk the area and anoint the rooms as we ask the Lord to make this place holy ground for those who come to attend the classes. Already they have interest from 23 young Christian leaders in the area who want to come. The central building has 3 classrooms and they have been given another section of land to build a residence for the students. Pastor Sok & Savy don't have much back in Toronto but they believe in this vision that the Lord has called them to and are using their own funds to build this building. There tell us that Christians as far as Battambang want to come to this leadership training centre when it is done. I'm excited for them as I dream about the possibilities that God would multiply the offering they have made to strengthen the Cambodian church leaders in this area.

Tomorrow we are off to see Helen at Chab Dai.

Jolted Into the Dark Reality

After spending the morning at Place of Rescue and then visiting Nhu we headed to a restaurant near the waterfront for dinner. It was such a day filled with much joy and hope but that didn't lasted long when we were jolted back to the realities of the darkness that pervades this place. After having a wonderful dinner with good fellowship we were leaving the restaurant and as I passed by one of the tables, I noticed an older foreign man with a young girl who could not have been much more than 14 years old. They were not seated opposite to each other as would be the norm but rather, they were sitting next to each other. I could feel the blood boiling within me as I began to get angry ---God's righteous anger hopefully and I started praying as we walked towards the van that the Lord would somehow prevent this man from doing anything with this young girl. The anger I felt turns to tears as I kept asking the Lord ---why, why God, why in this place is this happening? I need to talk to those who are working here on th front lines in this ministry. I want to know how they deal with this when it is so 'in your face'. How do they stand on behalf of these children that are at risk. How do they cope with seeing these men and these children? I realize the enemy is trying to taunt us here. If's as if he is saying 'you want to do good in this land but guess what, this girl is mine'....I share with the others during the debriefing session and we start pleading before our Heavenly Father. Brian's comments ring in my ears ---'one child at a time. One child at a time.' We are not helpless, God is here. The victory is ours but we must persevere in prayer. I am looking forward to meeting the folks at Chab Dai. I know they represent God's hope in this place.

Meeting Nhu

There are a few times in my life when I have the opportunity to meet someone I have read about--someone whom the Lord has used to awaken a sleeping vision that He had placed in my heart some 15 years ago. Many of you have heard of the NewSong project named after two Vietnamese girls Nhu and Sung. On Tuesday afternoon I had the opportunty to meet and see Nhu. She works in a salon here Phnom Penh. SHe is now 19 years old and is working 7days at this place. Please pray for her as she told one of my other team members that she has no time to go to church any more because of this job. One of the missionaries who was with us asked her if she would like to learn English and she expressed am an interest in doing that so we will see how that develops. SHe has such a beautiful smile but we were not able to spend much time with her as she quickly disappeared with a customer to an upper room. While I am thankful to the Lord for this job that she has, we couldn't help but notice that she was off to do a facial massage for an older Asian man. I wonder what if anything goes through her mind when she is working here. We are praying that the Lord would continue to watch over her and protect her. I hope to go back again to visit her before we leave in Sept.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Cambodia Travels - Aug 21 & 22

Monday Aug 21/06

We planned on visiting both Tuol Sleng and the Killing Fields today but only made it to Tuol Sleng as the Killing Fields have been flooded due to the large amount of rain that has fallen here in recent times. This is the 3rd time to visit this infamous S21 --- this former school known for its torture and brutality of many khmer. For some reason during this visitI had the opportunity to really look at the numerous photos of faces of victims whose last days were in at S21. I couldn't help but see the hollowness in their eyes. It was as if they knew the death was upon them and the life that was once there was slowly being drained out of them. This is what the KR revolution did to these innocent victims. As one of my team mates entered into the rooms of photos the only thing that could keep her from not crying incessantly was the worship song that came to her head at that time "He knows my name"---yes the Lord knew and knows each of these victims by their names. They may have been marked with 'numbers' in S21 but their heavenly Father knows their names.

This place always reminds me of many things---man's inhumanity to man but most of all the ugliest that evil can bring forth. It is a level of darkness that is beyond human comprehension.

Tues Aug 22/06

Today we visited Place of Rescue. Such a stark contrast from all that we had seen at Tuol Sleng. There at Tuol Sleng, death is all around us but at Place of Rescue, there is life, there is hope, God's love is evident as we are greeted by so many of the beautiful little orphans whom God has brought to this special place. It is evident to us all that the Father's love prevails at Place of Rescue. The kids are so affectionate, full of smiles and laughter. Coming here is like a breadth of fresh air. I am always encouraged for this is the hope of Cambodia. This next generation of young boys and girls who will one day grow up and hopefully influence the nation for God.

We had the privilege of laying hands and praying over the team at Rescue. It was such a powerful prayer time. Many tears were shed. Seeing Marie, I am continually inspired by her humility and her obedience to God. I couldn't help but think 'what if'' ...what if she had listen to voices who were telling her not to return to Cambodia as a widow, what if she hadn't followed the vision God placed in her heart for this Aids Centre & Orphanage...what if----Praise God, she did....she 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 little Khmer lives that have been impacted. I can't help but dream of that one day when all these orphans grow up and we here their testimonies of what God has done in their lives all because one woman embraced her divine moment and was obedient to the calling placed on her life. THank you Lord for Marie!

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Cambodia Posting 1

Well, we arrived yesterday August 19th after taking a 25 hour flight that saw us fly from Toronto to Vancouver to Seoul before landing in Singapore for a 9 hour layover before flying out to Phnom Penh, Cambodia. Our 15 pieces of luggage arrived safely as well and we quickly settled into the OMF Team centre. For some reason the flight seemed shorter this time as it went by quickly.

Each time I return here it is interesting to observe the continual 'progress' of economic development that is happening. There are more new buildings going up and yet in the midst of that, the 'old' Cambodia is still evident, little kids running around barefoot, with few clothes on, people still begging incessantly. Today, there was a fair bit of rain and in one area there was a big brown pool of water filled with garbage. Yet in the midst of this, we saw about 8 kids swimming and laughing in this infested pool of water. Poverty is rampant on every street corner but I am always touched by the smiles of the Khmer. They are such a warm people. Regardless of their circumstances, they always smile at you. It is a welcoming smile that invites you to want to talk to them. It's times like these when I feel so frustrated at not knowing the language.

We also visted Wat Phnom, one of the temples and saw many little kids. I saw this little boy perhaps no more than 4 years old coming towards us and in his arms was his baby sister who was probably around 8 months old. I don't why, but for some reason that picture brought tears to my eyes. I love watching their little faces as they are always smiling at you. I can't help but wonder if the tables were turned and I were in their position would I be smiling if I were begging?

Anyway, tomorrow we are off to Tuol Sleng and Killing Fields. I haven't seen these since 2002 and so it will be interesting to return to these infamous places with 7 others and to hear their perspectives. Stay tuned.

Friday, August 11, 2006

Asia Bound

Dear Family & Friends

It is that time of year when I once again head east on my 5th trip to Cambodia in what is becoming an annual pilgrimage as the Lord continues to open doors and opportunities for me to be connected with those who labour for Him in the ‘frontlines’ of that nation. I will be in Cambodia from August 17th till September 9th with a brief stopover in Singapore. What started out as a solo trip to continue fuelling the passion God has given me for the people of this nation, has expanded into a ‘team’ of 8 people from 4 different churches. We are a motley crew: an OMF missionary (Cathy), a teacher (Charlene), an administrator (Jeanette), a physiotherapist (Sang), a worship leader (Kelita), her husband and bass guitarist (Gord) and 13 year old son (Keldon) and myself the business person, all of us following God’s lead in what will be quite an adventure as we traverse 5 different cities in Cambodia over a 3 week period using planes, buses, boats, taxis, tuk-tuks (motorized rickshaws) and motodops. What ever moves we will be using it!

One of our purposes on this trip is to spend time encouraging and refreshing missionaries who are directly involved in rebuilding and repairing the broken gates and walls of the nation of Cambodia through their service in a variety of ministries including: church planting, children at risk (www.aim4asia.org ) AIDS hospices (Sunrise), orphanage work (Place of Rescue) and medical care, to name a few. No doubt God has a way of breaking through in unexpected ways despite our ‘set agendas’ and so I look forward with anticipation and excitement for the ‘treasures on His heart’ that He will reveal to each of us as we enter into all that He desires to show us.

The other aspect of this ‘vacation with a purpose trip’ is a more personal journey that the Lord has been leading me on ever since He first began to stir my heart for missions. Specifically, over 15 years ago, I remember watching a documentary on young girls who were sold into prostitution in South East Asia. That documentary led me to apply to OMF in 1993 as I wanted to somehow be involved in that ministry but the Lord in His infinite wisdom, closed all the doors at that time and so I never pursued it, as I assumed it was ‘my vision’ and ‘my agenda’. Scripture reminds me that in his heart, a person plans his course, but the LORD determines his steps (Proverbs 16:9). A year ago in the Spring of 2005, God determined that it was His appointed time to resurrect this vision (which I am discovering is really His vision) when I received a newsletter from The Ratanak Foundation. As I read about young children who were forced into prostitution and Ratanak’s response in helping to establish a rehabilitation centre for young girls rescued from the brothels in Cambodia, I felt compelled to contact Brian McConaghy at Ratanak to see how I could somehow be involved in bringing awareness to this issue and to the many other needs in Cambodia. In January of this year, I joined the Ratanak Foundation as its Toronto representative.

Recently, someone asked me why I would want to be involved a ministry that deals with such pain and suffering of little girls. My mind reflected back to the Seek Justice conference this past June and the tears that were shed by many who attended as the Lord gave us a glimpse of what grieves His heart. By entering into the suffering of the stories we heard of Nhu and Sung, two young Vietnamese girls who were sold into prostitution in Cambodia, God is continually calling us to walk the way of the ‘cross’ as we let ourselves be touched by the atrocities that we see and hear about in the world. I believe this is part of what it means to share in the fellowship of Christ’ sufferings (Philippians 3:11). It is these two girls and many like them that the Lord has used to speak into my heart about following His commands in Isaiah 1:17 – Learn to do good. Seek justice. Help the oppressed. Defend the orphan. Fight for the rights of widows.

As such, as I head to Cambodia on this trip, we hope to prayer walk in an area notorious for child trafficking. Poipet, located in the north west region of Cambodia near the Thai border, is Cambodia’s modern-day “Wild West” although I think of it as a modern day version of Sodom and Gomorrah. Described as the country’s spiritually toughest city, it is known for its casinos, child trafficking, and brothels. In fact, a person can literally buy a child on the street for $25 and take them across the border into Thailand according to one missionary.

As well, I will be meeting with folks who are part of a coalition of Christian organizations called Chab Dai (Joining Hands – www.chabdai.org ) that are committed to ending sexual exploitation and trafficking in Cambodia through various initiatives. I also hope to have the privilege of meeting some young girls who God has rescued from some horrific conditions and who are now placed in an after care facility funded by Ratanak. It is these little ones that God continues to burden my heart with and whom He is asking us to give a voice to and to offer His hope to, in order that they may one day meet the One who knows them by name, the One who has fearfully and wonderfully made them (Psalm 139:13-16), the One who loves them, the One who longs to redeem them, heal them and restore them as His precious children.

Will you join with me in prayer for the following:

• Pray for my encounters with these ‘little ones’ and for the meetings with folks at Chab Dai and the other missionaries that the Lord will engrave upon my heart the things that are on His heart so that as I return, I will be able to share His vision with many others that will bring awareness to these issues.
• Pray for a spirit of unity to prevail upon this ‘team’ that we would have one mind, one purpose and one heart in all we do and say.
• Pray for God’s protection on all our travels and our health as well as our families at home. We will be travelling into malaria areas and some areas notorious for land mines.
• Pray that we would be God’s hands, His ears, His voice, His feet and His servants as we interact with those whom He brings into our paths.
• Praise God for two special retirees at Rexdale Alliance: Hazel Andrews and Marg Beaver who have given a ‘labor of love’ by knitting over 80 teddy bears and dolls that we plan to donate to the young children we meet.

Finally, for those of you living in Canada who would like to learn more about the issue of Child Sex exploitation and AIDS in Cambodia, between August 14th to 17th be sure you watch "The National" on CBC TV. The program will be about child sexual abuse and AIDS in Cambodia. Place of Rescue, an orphanage run supported by The Ratanak Foundation and run by Marie Ens (a former CM&A missionary) will be featured as an answer to the problem. Additionally, The CBC will also be having another, possibly two specials, focused on the work of Ratanak and Cambodia in September. If you would like to receive notification of these additional news broadcast please email: info@ratanak.org

Thank you for taking the time to read this rather long newsletter. I am grateful for each of you and your tremendous support in prayer and words of encouragement. If you would like to follow our journey in Cambodia, I hope to provide periodic updates at the Ratanak Website and/or personal reflections on my blog: Child of God

For His Glory