Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Happy Birthday Jesus - The God Who Can!

Happy Birthday Jesus! Thank you that you are the gift that keeps on giving. There is no one else or no other gift that we can ever find true satisfaction in. Oh Father will this truth be borne and engraved deep within my soul, my heart and my mind. On this Blessed Day, I am reminded that without you, I do not have life—You are the air I breathe, the wind beneath my wings, the light in my darkness, the Shepherd of my soul, the One who descended down to His creation to lift humanity into the divine life, that we might have and experience life to its fullest. Thank you Jesus. Thank you that you were born and became flesh. Thank you that you are the Source of Hope, the Fountain of life that gives life to dry bones. Thank you that you are our Mighty Fortress and Firm Foundation when every thing around us is moving and shifting, friendships changing, transitions in our midst, you are My shield, My Rock who I can trust in who is unshakeable. Thank you that you being born in a stable demonstrate your heart for the poor, the humble and the oppressed. Thank you that you identify with our weaknesses and as your word says you give strength to the weak, your grace is sufficient for us for in our weaknesses, we are made strong in You.

Lord, who can give us such a life, who can give us such a hope, who can give us meaning in our lives, who can show us the way, who can lift us up when we fall down, who can love us like no other, who can stand with us and who can restore us and redeem us when our lives have fallen short, who can pick us up and give us a second chance, who can forgive us our sins and set us free from the imprisonment of our souls, who can lift us up from our pits of despair and instill fresh joy and hope, who can do for us more than we can imagine, who can sanctify our minds and cleanse our hearts, who can fill us with such a passion for the broken and give us the courage and strength to fight for the injustices of this world, who can spur us on to good works, who can give us a sense and purpose for our life, who can know the deepest and darkest areas of our souls, who can we turn to and find comfort and strength in our time of need and grief, who can heal our emotions, our physical ailments and our spiritual afflictions, who can give us the deep rest that our souls long for, who can save us from the perils of this world, who can give us new appetites for the eternal, who can fill us with wisdom and discernment, who can establish the works of our hands, who can lead us in the path of truth, who can help us to stand firm in the midst of our temptation, who can give us holy desires, who can empower us beyond our human abilities to accomplish much for the kingdom of God, who can make our dreams become a reality because they were His dreams all along, who can give us a vision of the future that produces a passion in us, who can do all these things---only Jesus can. Lord, I am glad that you came, that you are Emmanuel –God with us who not only ‘CAN’ but who IS and was and IS to come. Thank you that you never change for you are the same yesterday as you are today as you will be tomorrow. Thank you that you came as a babe and in your coming you have made “eternity enter into time and time, sanctified is caught up in eternity.”(Thomas Merton)

Friday, November 16, 2007

Seeing Jesus In The Least of These

Jesus is the Hungry-to be fed
Jesus is the Thirsty-to be satiated
Jesus is the Naked-to be clothed
Jesus is the Homeless-to be taken in
Jesus is the Lonely-to be loved
Jesus is the Unwanted-to to wanted
Jesus is the Leper-to wash his wounds
Jesus is the Beggar-to give him a smile
Jesus is the Drunkard-to listen to him
Jesus is the Mental-to protect him
Jesus is the Little One-to embrace him
Jesus is the Blind-to lead him
Jesus is the Dumb-to speak for him
Jesus is the Crippled-to walk with him
Jesus is the Drug Addict-to befriend him
Jesus is the Prostitute-to remove from danger and befriend her
Jesus is the Prisoner-to be visited
Jesus is the Old-to be served
Author Unknown

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Testimony of Sharon Cohn - IJM

Testimony of Sharon Cohn, International Justice Mission (IJM)
Before the House Foreign Affairs Committee
Thursday, October 18, 2007

Thank you, Chairman Lantos and Representative Ros-Lehtinen for holding this important hearing on slavery and trafficking, and for inviting me to testify. My name is Sharon Cohn, and I serve as the Senior Vice President of Justice Operations at the International Justice Mission. IJM is a faith-based human rights service organization that exists to protect people from violent forms of injustice by securing rescue and restoration for victims and accountability for perpetrators. I would like to reflect on some of the lessons we have learned from years of casework on behalf of individual victims of slavery and trafficking in seven of our fourteen overseas offices.

If you will permit me, Mr. Chairman, I would like to direct the attention of the Committee to two photographs from Cambodia. The first was taken by in February, 2003 by IJM under-cover investigators. These little girls, who were Vietnamese trafficking victims, were being offered for sex to pedophiles from the West. The other photograph is some of the same children in July 2007 – four years after they were removed from the brothel and provided with intensive health care and mental health services, a home, and loving caregivers.

I would like to use IJM’s experience with the rescue of these little girls to make the following points:

Restoration and After-care: First, as these photos suggest, even the youngest and most grossly exploited children can be reclaimed and restored. IJM’s former clients are happy and healthy students, developing skills that will serve them well through life. Thanks to inspired after-care, these children will be in a good home until they are adults.

Among the many lessons from the field that we have learned is that the sooner children can be removed from sexual exploitation, the more complete will be the recovery of their mental and physical health. It is essential that they be provided with comprehensive, long-term trauma care, shelter, education, and life skills and that they are protected from former pimps and brothel owners who are often eager to secure the recovery of their “property.”

To be sure, the overwhelming majority of trafficking victims are older than the clients depicted in these pictures, however, our experience everywhere we have worked, is that aftercare is a long term resource intensive investment, but that it can be successful. One area we would like to bring to the Committee’s attention that is vital to the recovery and reintegration of trafficking victims is education and sustainable employment for girls once they reach adulthood. We see a need for investments in this area everywhere we work on sex trafficking cases.

In our anti-trafficking work in Cambodia, Thailand, India, and the Philippines, IJM has found that often university-trained social workers lack training in addressing sexual trauma among trafficking victims. (Note: The same can be said with regard to minor victims of rape or sexual violence unrelated to prostitution.) IJM provides this training to our own local staff, but, given the great need for trauma assistance for child and adult victims of sexual violence, we would like to see governments and international donors help local universities incorporate this area of study into social work curricula.

Diplomacy and Political Pressure: IJM’s experience in Cambodia provides a vivid example of the important role that U.S. diplomacy can play in encouraging governments to take action against trafficking. The Government of Cambodia tolerated the sale of young children for many years. International experts credit the deployment of international peacekeepers in Cambodia in the 1990’s with the demand for young children for sexual exploitation. The youngest girls are Vietnamese children trafficked into Cambodia or sold by their families.

IJM investigators identified these and other pre-pubescent girls in Sway Pak in 2002 and appealed without success for official intervention on their behalf. It was not until 2003, after high-level diplomatic efforts by U.S. Ambassador Charles Ray, who invoked the Trafficking Victims Protection Act, that the Cambodian authorities made a decision at the ministerial level to address the issue of child sexual exploitation. In March of that year, General Un Sokunthea assigned 80 police officers to work with IJM. Police intervened in the specific brothels in Sway Pak where these children were for sale. They arrested 13 perpetrators and removed 37 victims under the age of 18, including ten girls under 10 years of age; the youngest was 5.

Clearly, countries differ in their susceptibility to U.S. pressure; however evidence clearly indicates that many victims have benefited from the State Department Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking (G-TIP) review process. When U.S. government officials not only at G-TIP but across the USG, including our embassies, convey American seriousness about the TVPA, trafficking victims benefit.

Limitations Due to Lack of Capacity: In countries with a significant trafficking problem, some degree of official complicity is almost invariably a factor. Indeed, it is hard to imagine how brothel owners, pimps and traffickers could openly violate national laws were not local authorities at least willing to turn a blind eye. But not every infirmity of local law enforcement or judicial process is attributable to corruption. In Cambodia, for example, where IJM has since 2004 trained over 600 Cambodian National Police in the Juvenile Protection and Anti Human Trafficking Unit. We have found them to be eager students – with much to learn. In one training simulation, for example, our training staff observed that offenders were not searched or disarmed and the back door was not secured before participants entered the front. Even such elementary steps to secure their own protection were neglected. With proper training and mentoring, these skills and others necessary to securing victims and apprehending perpetrators were developed.

General Un Sokunthea, the commander of the Juvenile Protection and Anti-Trafficking Unit of the Cambodian National Police visited Washington last month and met with State Department officials. She reported on some of the child protection procedures that the Juvenile Protection and Anti-Trafficking Unit has incorporated into its operations. For example, police in her unit now routinely secure a legal advocate for child victims so as to protect them throughout the process of prosecution of perpetrators. She has instituted private interview rooms for child victims, as well. These are things that we arranged for our clients with the officers we trained; that her unit is now routinely offering such protection to trafficked children is an example of the structural changes that can come from individual casework.

IJM’s experience in training the Cambodian police provides another lesson we have learned about combating the crime of sex trafficking. Cambodia is a country that has a very long way to go before it meets international human rights standards. IJM’s successful collaboration with the Cambodian authorities on child sexual exploitation cases does not exonerate the authorities for a significant pattern of human rights abuses in many areas. Nor does it mean that police malfeasance has ended. It does suggest that is possible to achieve very real gains against trafficking and child sexual exploitation even in such difficult circumstances as Cambodia’s. The elements that contributed are the creation of a separate anti-trafficking force, the leadership that General Un has shown, police training, and the continued interest and pressure of the United States on trafficking.

Effective Law Enforcement Creates Deterrence: Since the 2003 police operation in Sway Pak, IJM has worked with Cambodian police and prosecutors to secure the conviction under Cambodian law of 77 pimps, brothel owners, customers, and traffickers for the sexual exploitation of children. While it is still possible to locate children in the commercial sex industry in Cambodia, there appears to be a significant reduction in their number.

Trafficking is an economic crime. Trafficking enterprises, like other businesses, display their wares in a market, and markets need to ensure that the demand can find the supply. It is not hard to find trafficking victims. Inebriated perverts who want to have sex with children are able to find the victims. IJM investigators are also able to find the victims. So, why can’t the police find the victims? Human trafficking thrives only when and where the local enforcement authorities decide that they will not intervene to stop it. They don’t stop it because they are overworked and understaffed, poorly trained or bribed.

It has been IJM’s experience that the cost incurred to brothel owners and pimps of securing a minor into prostitution is quickly made up by the income generated by offering the victim to many customers, many times. For example, the brothel where these children were located offered them for oral sex for $30 per act. To extrapolate, even if each of the 37 rescued girls had performed sex acts only once a day for the previous year, at $30 an act the perpetrators’ total gross receipts for the year would have been more than $400,000. Per capita income in Cambodia in 2004 was $2,000. A Cambodian policeman’s salary at the time was approximately $43 per month. The economics of sex trafficking and the poverty-level wages of local police illustrate why they are so vulnerable to corruption.

But if even a few traffickers and bar or brothel owners offering minor children to customers are prosecuted and convicted, traffickers must incorporate the potential cost of jail against their future earnings. Increased security and measures to offer trafficking victims to only trusted customers quickly erodes the profits to be made. At a certain point – well before every case has been investigated and prosecuted – the risk of selling minors simply outweighs the benefits.

A recent internal review of operations conducted by International Justice Mission suggests that strong law enforcement has effectively ended the open exploitation of minors in Chiang Mai, Thailand’s commercial sex industry. A comparison of data collected in undercover investigations between 1998 and 2002, with data from a comprehensive July 2006 survey, found that the percentage of minors in the industry has fallen from approximately 10% of all women in prostitution to less than 1%. Only 1 minor was found in July 2006, out of over 428 women in prostitution surveyed.

This represents a radical change in Chiang Mai’s commercial sex industry where finding a minor for commercial sexual exploitation used to be as simple as walking into a brothel and asking for one. Commercial sex operators repeatedly said that they no longer use minors because of stricter law enforcement: the police no longer allowed young girls to work in the brothels. IJM’s anecdotal experience over a seven-year period in Chiang Mai and the anecdotal evidence of its operational survey strongly suggest that law enforcement can indeed have a deterrent effect on the trafficking and exploitation of vulnerable minors.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Vietnamese Villages in Cambodia

One of my friends took us to visit a Vietnamese village located along the Tonle Sap river. The conditions they live in are deplorable as they are stateless with no legal rights. On our recent trip, I had the opportunity to visit one of the nearby villages that is close to Phnom Penh. In seeing first hand the living environments of so many who are poor, I am truly amazed at the resilience of the human spirit to persevere in such conditions. Only God can give someone the ability to have hope and joy in such a challenging environment. Visiting families required us walking along these narrow wooden planks or taking a little boat with the aid of a young Vietnamese family member. Venice this is not, as electrical cords dangle from bamboo sticks that act as 'support' beams' along the wooden path way. The Vietnamese that live along the river banks have to pay a 'docking fee' to the owners whose homes align just infront of the Vietnamese boat houses.
In these muddy waters of the Tonle Sap the kids will bathe and their clothes (if they have any) are washed. One can only wonder how it is people can survive in such difficult circumstances and yet they do.

Meat Anyone!

Okay those of you who know me, know that I am a meat lover so on my recent trip to Cambodia in August, my travelling companion took some interesting shots. Just thought I'd share a couple of protein based photos for fun. Hope you enjoy them. The first photo is pretty self explanatory and the second photo, well these are pigs (in disguise) going to the market!

Saturday, October 27, 2007

The Tentacles of The Giant

Today I had lunch with an ex-colleague of mind. He and I typically try and meet every Friday to discuss the bible and how it applies to our lives. God has given me the privilege of sewing into his life when he used to work here and over the past year there has been a quite a transformation as the Holy Spirit has gotten hold of him. He and his wife and kids first visited my church earlier this year but as much as they enjoyed it, they found the distance too much and so they have settled into another church near their home which is part of our denomination. In recent times, he and I have had discussions about the whole issue of child sex trafficking. Initially he found it so difficult to deal with but yet as time has gone by God has given him an appreciation for this very challenging ministry.

A few weeks ago my ex-colleague who I shall called DP went on a business trip to China with a bunch of other businessmen alone with their wives. He was visiting plants of various companies who are listed on our stock exchange here in Canada. In one of the side trips, he was taken by a Chinese executive to another town and found himself in an unexpected environment. It turned out he was escorted to a hotel and led to a specific room and what he relayed to me was not surprising but for the first time it made me realize that the biggest giant is in China. DP described how he sat in hotel room with this other man and there was a knock on the door. In walked 1 man with 4 Chinese women that he figured would be between ages 18 to 20 years old. He was shocked, the man who had led him to this place asked him to choose a girl but he shook his head and said no he wasn’t interested. The executive who apparently was married was not deterred by my friend’s disinterest and chose one of the women and the other 3 left. At that point, my friend figured he would just do some work on email and watch TV since he had to ‘wait’ for the Chinese executive to finish his business. But it wasn’t long before a second knock and the door flung open and in came two men with 4 different girls. The same question was asked of my friend and he said what came to his mind was the face of his youngest son back home and so he refused again. At this point the men who had escorted the girls were quite puzzled but left. A few minutes later, a third knock and yes another 4 set of girls. By now, my friend was beginning to realize that his refusal was starting to create a problem for these men who were slowly getting a bit irritated at DP’s response. DP looked at the girls and as he said they were pretty and the next thought into his mind was ‘disease’ and he thought of his own Asian wife who he was planning to meet later that day and so he flatly refused. By now he was hoping that this would be the end of this saga but that was not the case. Another few minutes passed and another knock on the door and in walked in 4 more girls and their ‘bodyguards’. DP looked at them and caught the eye of one girl who seemed quite smiley and cheerful and then two thoughts came to his mind. First, ‘I wonder whose daughter she is? What would her father do if he was in this situation? Second, he remembered the conversations we had had about child sex trafficking and he thought to himself ‘if Lisa could only see where I was.’ My friend DP refused and at that time, the ‘bodyguards’ were not too happy with him and motioned that he was no longer welcomed to stay in that hotel room but would have to wait downstairs until the his other Chinese executive had finished his ‘business.’ So DP left and waited in the lobby.

As I sat listening to his story, I was proud of this friend---Satan was trying to tempt him and yet each time, God was watching over him and bringing to mind images of his family or thoughts that made him look at this situation not from a ‘man’s perspective but from God’s viewpoint. As DP shared, he said ‘maybe 10 years ago I would have been tempted after all, ‘no one would have known’ but with each knock on that hotel door ‘I began to feel more disgusted at what I was seeing and it became much easier to say ‘no. It would not have mattered if these girls were naked because once I began to see them as someone else’s daughters, this whole situation became even more deplorable. I felt sorry for these girls and it was if I was filled with compassion.’ I thank the Lord for protecting this man and for helping him to see these young women not as some commodity to devour but as human beings who have value and worth if not in their families eyes, but in the eyes of their Creator. As DP shared this story, my eyes were filling with tears and he asked why. God’s heart is breaking and grieving at what is happening in the lives of these young women. I am so grateful that He continues to break my heart for this abomination that is happening so prevalently around this world.

The giant we are dealing with has some huge tentacles. More and more I am hearing stories of this from China. My brother and family were vacationing in China this past August and he told me how the hotels seem to be in collusion with the massage parlors as every morning at 8am they would get a phone call asking if they wanted a ‘massage’ at night. This is not just happening to businessmen but families that are traveling on holiday. Even in Cambodia, money is flowing in from China as these so call ‘wealthy Chinese businessmen’ come buying up property and building new high end hotels and casinos which simply are fronts for high end brothels. As one of our partners in Cambodia said recently ‘this situation changes creates a new paradigm in how we are going to have to minister and rescue the victims of sex trafficking.’

If I needed any reminding that this giant is big and strong and its breadth is spreading, these stories certainly add fuel to this. But just like we seek justice for one child at a time, it is ‘one stone’ at a time and one giant at a time. We do know that this battle is long and hard and it is not without its obstacles; obstacles that seem so hard to overcome from the human eye that it makes more sense to stop and give up but those of us who God has called, have chosen a different path. Like David of old, we refuse to let this ‘uncircumsized giant’ dishonor and degrade the name of the Lord and all that He has created. And so I look to one of my heroes, William Wilberforce and take heart in the words that John Wesley wrote to Wilberforce after his 2nd attempt to pass a bill to abolish the slave trade had been struck down after months of preparation, presentation, etc. Dear Sir:Unless the divine power has raised you up to be as Athanasius contra mundum, I see not how you can go through your glorious enterprise in opposing that execrable villainy which is the scandal of religion, of England, and of human nature. Unless God has raised you up for this very thing, you will be worn out by the opposition of men and devils, But if God be for you, who can be against you? Are all of them together stronger than God? O be not weary of well doing! Go on, in the name of God and in the power of his might, till even American slavery (the vilest that ever saw the sun) shall vanish away before it.... That he who has guided you from youth up may continue to strengthen you in this and all things, is the prayer of, dear [miss], Your affectionate servant,John Wesley

May we all indeed continue to walk not by our might or by our strength but by His power!

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

My Little Sister

God never ceases to surprise me in how He can transform peoples heart. A couple years ago I met a younger sister in Christ who is 5 years my junior. Some times you meet people and there is that kind of bond or connection that you know something significant is going to come off this friendship but you have no idea what it will be. Such was the encounter I had after having an unexpected dinner with her. For those who know me, these past 10 years I have hung around a lot of Koreans such that my Korean friends are convinced that I am a 'wannabe Korean' but I tell them its only their food I'm interested in :-) Actually it is just one dish---Kalbi and if you have never had it and are a meat lover you MUST try it! Anyway, why do I tell you all of this?

Well my little sister is Korean but her's is a very fascinating story. While she was being shaped in her mother's womb the enemy tried to destroy her but God miraculously preserved her life through a series of interventions. When I first heard her story I got goose pimples up my back because I felt I was sitting before someone who was a miracle from God. The lengths and depths and breadth that He went to protect and preserve her life while she was still being fashioned in her mother's womb made me conclude that He wanted to use her significantly in her generation. But more than that, it demonstrated to me how deeply God must love her that He would literally pull out all the stops to protect her life. Fast forward some 30 something years and here she is a a grown up woman with lots of questions but one who has come out of a 'fog' that seemed to be over her life in her teenage years and early 20s. Now she is a woman after God's own heart...seeking Him and continuously pursuing Him with with such intensity. Last October, I approached her as I felt God laying her on my heart to spend more time intentionally with her and I invited her to come to a weekly bible study that my church was having. We were studying a series by Beth Moore called Believing God. (And if you haven't heard of Beth Moore or done any of her bible studies, I encourge you to do so. That particular study has revolutioned my thinking and God has used it so powerfully in my life). Anyway I digress. My 'sister' who I call GK came and God began to forge a friendship between us. Over this past year, I have seen Him transform her heart and mind and deepen her understanding of who He is. But more than that, her desire to walk blameless before the Lord in all areas of her life has been one of the ways God has used her to challenge me to keep seeking those higher heights in Him.

Over the past few months she offered to be my 'gopher' at the Slaying the Giant conference. In her words 'she just wanted to support me after all I had done in her life' but I laughed at her and said 'GK this is not about me, even though you think you are helping me in this conference, this is about God and He has something for you because He sees your heart and your desire to serve.' Little did either of us know what He had in mind. So as time progressed GK confessed she had no interest in child sex trafficking nor Cambodia. In fact she acknowledged that she was only participating to simply help me and I remember telling her that that was okay since God doesn't call us all to have the same passions but He is more interested in our hearts. So she continued to help despite feeling sick. At times she would say how energized she felt when helping me to prepare the conference survey and reviewing the flow of the service for that day etc. On the conference day she showed up ever so faithfully and did exactly what she said she would do. She became my gopher, doing what ever I asked and making sure I ate, helping out where ever she could. Her servant heart and attitude was a blessing and I will always appreciate her willingness to give of her time despite not feeling well. That day, she showed me Jesus in the flesh 'making herself nothing' in order that others might be blessed and encouraged. She didn't attend any of the seminars or workshops and while I was surprised, I realized later that it was her way of 'protecting her heart' from the suffering of these girls who were sexually exploited.

Well as God would have it, my colleague Brian McConaghy from The Ratanak Foundation was speaking at her church the next day. I was waiting there for her as I had asked her to keep all the conference monies and give it to me on Sunday at her church. Little did I know she was battling the Lord that very morning. In her own words: 'Lord I don't want to go to church this morning, I don't want to hear Brian McConaghy speak, I don't want to hear about Cambodia or child sex trafficking, I want to go to Peoples' church instead.' The response from God was 'GK, it is not for you to decide what you want to hear or not hear or where you want to go.' And so like a reluctant Jonah, she came to her church that morning partly because she had promised to handover the funds from the conference. So she went in to the service and as she listend to Brian, her heart began to warm towards what He was saying. She enjoyed the way he communicated and then with a loud 'bang' the Holy Spirit came over her as Brian began to talk about Nhu and Sung. GK began to cry uncontrollably and shake. God had finally broken down whatever walls she had put up and within minutes she found herself saying to the Lord 'God if you want me to go to Cambodia, I will go.' Now you have to understand, this is a person who doesn't cry easily. In fact she is fairly calm and is not easily rattled but that day, she had a divine encounter that completely transformed her heart and mind. When she told me what had happened, I just laughed because this is the same person I had asked a few months back 'oh you should come with me to Cambodia and she quickly responded with a resounding 'no.' Now, she has done a 180 degree turn and I praise God, not because she is interested in coming to Cambodia but more than that. He has opened her heart to the things that are on His heart and He is beginning to move her from living 'safely' to living 'courageously' for Him. I can't wait to see what vision He lays on her heart for the nation of Cambodia and I count it a privilege to just see all of this happening.

All this to say, on this thanksgiving day, I am thankful to God for these precious friends that He has given me and for this 'little sister' whose servant heart and generosity reflects the very love of God who simply wants to bless us, lift us up and enable us to be all who He intended us to be.

Monday, October 08, 2007

The Aftermath

It's been over a month since I've had a chance to update my blog. So much has happened in these past few weeks that I have not had enough time to process and to reflect. Have you ever had those times in your life when you feel like you have just been 'Martha' --- so busy doing, doing and doing and you know you need to be 'Mary' but the endless to do list and certain situations require that you can't really stand still cause you have deadlines to meet. This is how my life has felt over the past month since I got back from Cambodia. Planning and organizing a conference with others involves a lot of coordination but I look back at this last month in true amazement at how God sustained me and protected me from health or any other interruptions. To say that I had 'supernatural energy' is an understatement considering that I was averaging 5 hours of sleep a night for the last 5 weeks. God is good, God is faithful, God is my rock where would I be without His strength and His loving arms holding me up when I had nothing left to give or to offer and yet each day He was there, filling me up, giving me what I needed. This past weekend was no different. I had to share with Shannon, one of the younger sisters who travelledwith me to Cambodia this past August at 3 services at church. Even though we didn't have a long time to share, I was concerned at the beginning of the week as I was feeling so exhausted and dry after all the conference stuff and needed the Lord to give me some revelation, some inspiration as I so desperately wanted people to see His heart and to hear His heart. Once again, He showed up and even though I spoke for only 8 minutes, I praise God for the Holy Spirit for touching me and giving me the words that would speak of God's redeeming love in the lives of my spiritual daughters in Cambodia. If you are interested in hearing what was said check out the Rexdale Alliance site: under sermons. You'll have to search through the MP3 for the last 12 minutes of the service though.

In the next few days I hope to give some updates on the conference. This past week I found myself physically at work in my 'day job' but not mentally there. Now I feel like Elijah after the battle of Mount Carmel and I just want to hide under one of those trees. The adrenalin has gone and the old body is saying rest. So this is what I am planning to do. Rest over the next 3 months---taking a bit of a sabbatical from ministry but any of us know a true sabbatical from ministry doesn't just happen, it has to be intentional with the right balance so we'll see. There is lots to think and pray about but I love these times of cultivating a sabbath heart and attitude as God has so often spoken to me through them so I look forward to just sitting still, resting and waiting on Him.

In another few minutes it will be Thanksgiving. There is much that I am thankful for but the most important thank you I can say is to my Lord and Savior Jesus for who He is in my life nd and for His heart for those who are brokenhearted. I thank Him for the calling He has given me to speak up for these who have no voice and to be an advocate for their plight. I thank Him for HIs love in my life and for the grace He has extended to me so many times when I did not deserve it. I thank Him for all 173 people who attended the conference and for what He did that day to stir hearts and to break hearts and to cause people to weep for these little ones that He weeps over. I thank Him that He is calling me to share in the fellowship of His sufferings as I enter into the sufferings of these little girls who have been sexually exploited. I thank Him for His redeeming love and for the story of Hosea that He is bekoning me to read that I may understand how to minister to them and to love them unconditionally. Thank you Lord for your extravagant love that you continuously lavish on us.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Sing A New Song

Have you ever woke with a new song in your heart? I don't mean the you wake up with a tune in your head although that happen to me a few weeks ago. Rather, you wake up with a deep desire to just praise and worship the Lord. This morning was one of those rare moments and I mean rare as I don't typically wake up before my 5am morning alarm but there I was at 4:20am in the morning wide eyed and felt the urge to jump out of bed and just worship the Lord. So I put on a new CD by Hillsong called Savior King and there I was singing my head off and hands lifted high. I'm not a typical 'right' brain person so acting like this is not the norm but then again, when the Spirit of God falls upon you, one never knows what unexpected things can happen. It was just a precious time of praise and a time of offering prayers of thanksgiving for who He was and all that He has done in recent times.

Since returning home from Asia, I have had a sense of something going on deep within my spirit but I cannot yet explain it at this stage which is okay as time is the greatest gift for God to bring forth His revelation, but the three words that keep ruminating in my brain is faith, hope and love. I look forward to seeing what new thing will spring forth from all this percolating!

Back Home

It's been 2 days since I've been back home and God has amazingly given me a fresh level of energy. I arrived back at 10pm on Monday evening and went to sleep at around 1:30am. Yesterday morning I awoke at around 9am and spent the initial morning unpacking and doing my laundry before meeting a friend for lunch. The Lord has been faithful in answering prayers as I have not suffered any jet lag at all. Praise God! We had the shortest flight back from Asia with flying time only 17.5 hours compared to my typical 26 to 28 hours flying. I am thankful for the extra energy as late yesterday I discovered some technical glitches with our online registration for the Slaying The Giant Conference. Overnight I prayed and others were praying too but the computer bug could not be located. Fortunately, one of my friends from church came to the rescue and help set up an alternative online registration template so we are now back on line. With about 3 1/2 weeks left before the conference there is much to do and I realize now how grateful I am that my trip to Cambodia was not too strenous.

Now the challenge is to process all that I have seen and heard and while I typically tend to lie low for the first month back from my annual Cambodia trips, this year I will not be able to afford that luxury. So I am praying that God would give me the ability to cultivate a sabbath heart and attitude despite the preparations I need to do for the upcoming conference and that He will redeem the time in order for me to hear His voice afresh.

Monday, September 03, 2007

One Last Time

I am sitting at the airport typing one last message from Cambodia. It is morning here and I have tried to stay awake as much as I could all night. It was a rather busy time as one of my young friends from TLC texted message me while we were in Kep and asked wanted to see us one more time before we left. So we went over to visit for a brief stay. Saying goodbye to them I just told each of them that Jesus loves them and that I love them. I will miss their smiling faces and yet I am thankful to the Lord for the precious divine moments in which our lives intersect. I hope to see them again next year but am mindful that not all of them will be there but I am encouraged that God's love knows no barriers and despite the language challenge at times, our hearts are one with them. THank goodness for email and text message and one of our friends here will start volunteering at the center and so through her connection I hope to be able to stay in touch with what is happening there a well as through email communication with the director of TLC. AFter we left there we went for dinner with a couple friends and head back to our home to spend some time in prayer for these two friends.

For now I sign off for the long plane ride home in which I will have much time to begin to reflect and process all that the Lord has shown me.

Kep & Divine Interruption

On Friday morning we left for Kep a small seaside resort that is not quite on the main tourist list as yet. Kep is located in the south of Cambodia on the Gulf of Thailand. It is about 3 hours drive from Phnom Penh and as we headed into the rural areas it is an opportunity to see the plush green rice paddy fields intermingled with little villages and markets that dot the route to Kep. What I have often noticed on driving out to the rural countryside is the water lilies and beautiful flowers that grow in the midst of all the over grown grimey vegetation that lines the streets and water. It reminds me that God can still make something beautiful despite the dark surroundings.

Many years ago before the Khmer Rouge era, Kep was a place where all the rich & famous hung out. Some might call it the French Riveria of Cambodia as it has a small beach and a boardwalk that was recently refurbished. Yet in the midst of this coastal town, are ruins of many beautiful homes and estates that were destroyed but not by the Khmer Rouge. Instead, when the Vietnamese invaded Cambodia they looted and stole all the materials that were in these houses. Today, Kep is a place of ruins but yet the land values are rising as the government has been promoting development in this area. Currently there are two main hotels and a few guests houses but it will be just a matter of time when further hotel developments will dot this landscape. The place we stayed at is the Beach Hotel which is situated on a hill right in front of the beach. It provides a wonderful view of the Gulf of Thailand and the sea breeze that comes off the Gulf makes it a great place to have some R&R. Our plan in coming here was to just simply take it easy and for the most part we did rising at 6am and heading out for walks along the boardwalk with our Ipods in hand praising the Lord.

Our first day in Kep we got talking to a young Khmer man named Diamond who oversees the hotel while his big boss is in Phnom Penh. He was so friendly and wanted to constantly practise his English on us. Diamond was recently married to Moon---these are their real English names in case you are wondering ---- and so on one of the evenings we went for a walk with them and as I looked up into the sky and saw a plethora of stars, I remarked that God had made the stars. This small comment was the beginning of a longer spiritual discussion that I would have with him and as we went to bed that first night we prayed that God would give us more opportunities to chat with Diamond as he had commented that he had been a buddhist monk for 10 years.

On Sat morning as I sat in an open veranda near our hotel room, Diamond came over to see what I was doing. He noticed I was reading the bible and I asked him if he wanted to practise his English. As he was quite keen to do so, I opened my bible to Genesis and he began to read Genesis 1. His English comprehension and reading was excellent and so this led to greater dialogue but what struck me most was his reaction when he read about what God was creating in each was like watching a child who was in awe and wonder about God. As he read the creation account I could see and hear from his responses that God's word was speaking to his heart and it gave us an opportunity to dialogue further that God had created man and woman in his image. I then led him to Psalm 139:13-16 and he began to read about how we were each fearfully and wonderfully made. From there we moved to John 14:6 that Jesus is the way, the truth and the life and then as he began to ask more about Jesus, I led him to Matthew 1:18-24 about the Virgin birth---has anyone ever tried explaining the immaculate conception to a person whose first language is not English. This is where my OMF friend Cathy jumped in with her Khmer. We then moved from there to the good news of John 3:16 and then started talking about the Cross and the Resurreciton before we finally hit Revelations 21 about the New Jerusalem. By then over 2 hours had passed and we decided to break for lunch. During this time we hastly made a call to another OMF partner Ling who lives in Kep and we asked if she had any Khmer bibles. Thankfully she did and as she was meeting us for dinner that night she brought it with her. Later that afternoon, Ling who is Cambodian appeared and all 3 of us sat with Diamond sharing the gospel but Ling now began to show him the verses in Khmer. We finally got to Revelations 3:22 about Jesus knocking at the door and wanting to come in if we would let Him in. It was at this point Diamond said that he would like to go to heaven and so Ling was gracious in sharing with him what steps he needed to take.

Diamond had not yet made a decision for Jesus but we viewed our time with him as a divine interruption and we believe it is just a matter of time before he receives Jesus. I was touched by his hunger to know more and during my time with him as I felt like Philip talking to the Ethiopican Eunch as we moved from scripture to scripture. We prayed with him before we left and we are thankful that our friend Ling is living in Kep and can follow up directly with him. One of the interesting tidbits from this whole experience was what Ling told me later. She said when sharing the gospel with Cambodians we must always start with the Creation story in Genesis 1 and not with the cross or with the gospels because after the Khmer Rouge era Cambodians have struggled with their identity because all the 'gods' they believed in had been destroyed. I never knew this until she mentioned this and as I look back at my converation with Diamond it was just interesting to see how the Holy Spirit had led our discussions to start at Genesis 1. As I recalled Diamond's reaction to God's truth it brought to mind the words from Romans 1:17 that the gospel is the power of salvation for all who believe. God's word indeed was breathing spiritual life into this young man's body. We may not see the fruits of our labor but we take heart in knowing that God has given us the opportunity to plant His seed in Diamond's heart and we trust that the Holy SPirit will water these seeds so that this young man can truly make a decision for Christ.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Hagar Catering & Street Elderly Drop In Centre

Today has been a busy day starting with a 7am breakfast with Marie Ens at Rescue. We had breakfast at Hagar's Catering which is a ministry founded by YWAM many years ago. Hagar's catering hires women who were once in the sex trade and gives them 6 months training in their catering school. The restaurant provides western food and the Director Frank Wood who knows Marie came over to chat with us for a bit. Frank used to live in Australia and is now retired ---probably around his late 60s in age. He came here for 4 months but now has stayed for 4 years. His experience in catering has led him to oversee this ministry which has become quite successful. I wish I had a few more days in Phnom Penh but time is slowly running out as I would have loved to spend more time chatting with Frank but perhaps that will be for when I return again on next year's trip.

At 11am, Shannon and I went with Sotheary who is Ratanak's lone paid employee to meet Lorraine a 70+ international worker whom God has given a heart to reach out to the elderly beggars in Phnom Penh. Ratanak funds the Street Elders Drop In Centre that Lorraine runs. Today, there were about 12 people who dropped in---both old men and women who beg for food around the markets. The drop in centre provides lunch for the elderly and then provides mats for them to lay down and rest in the afternoon. Those who want to take a shower can also use the shelter's facilities. There are Christian books that are available for the elderly to read. When I look at these old faces, it is at times like this I wish I could speak the local language. Their faces reflect the hardships they have endured and yet despite their daily challenges, they still manage to give us beautiful smiles. I wish I could hear their stories, for the old have so much wisdom and experience to offer to us but so often we discount what they have to say. Thankfully God knows their history and am thankful again that this place provides a shelter from the storms of life and a place of peace. This is a new ministry that is being started here and as far as we know, no one else is reaching out to the elderly. There are so many who beg on the street and have no place to go. It is for these who live 'outside' the city gates that Christ calls us to reach out to. The marginalized, the outcasts, the displaced, the poor and the oppressed. The poor indeed is all around us and the divide between the rich and poor seems to be getting worse and these elderly especially are so often ignored. Yet is ministry's like this drop in centre that reminds us that despite the overwhelming poverty around us, God does not forget these who society sees as valueless. It is these pockets of light that give glimpses of God's hope to those whose daily existence seemed so meaningless.

These next two days we will be visiting friends in Kep---located in the south of Cambodia. It will be a time to rest and reflect and with no email access, my next posting will likely be on Sunday September 2nd.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Visiting Kampong Chnnang

This morning we headed out on a two hour drive to visit Kampong Chnnang as Pastor Sok & Savy Em who used to oversee the Toronto Cambodian Alliance church are now serving the Lord full time here in Cambodia. Our group went to prayer walk in their community and also it was great to go on a follow up visit to see the completion of the Tahas Bible Institute that Pastor Sok and others have established to train leaders and pastors. Tahas is actually the name of the first Khmer who became a Christian by the C&MA. We arrived at 10:30am and had a brief chat before we headed down the dusty red coloured road towards the bible institute. Not too far from Pastor Sok's house we were told that a building that is being constructed is suppose to be a place for a brothel or where prostitutes will live. Even here in the rural areas, these type of illicit activities invade a quiet sleepy community. We decided to pray over the construction of that site and asked the Lord to put obstacles in the way of any such development and we claimed the land back for godly purposes. We kept on walking and found our way to the Tahas Bible institute and began to pray God's blessing in each of the rooms as well as the land that the buildings lie on.

The couple who are living on the site---Chong and Kung are from Banteay Meacheay which is located along the Poipet/Thailand Border and is a well known as a Khmer Rouge stronghold. However, when Chong became a believer, he felt God calling him to work in Kampong Chnnang and so he and his wife now live on the grounds of the institute. We took time to pray over them as well before heading back to Pastor Sok & Savy's place for a typical Cambodian meal of Lok Lak and fried fish.

On our drive back and forth from Kampon Chhnang we noticed corn on the cob ie: corn being steamed and it looked like an enticing treat. Our driver suggested it was okay to eat but we decided to wait and confirm with Savy. True enough, we found out that it was not a wise thing to eat the steamed corn sold. Apparently the Khmer spray it with acid and then steam it. Savy who had eaten one a while back had a reaction from the acid that caused her throat to be soar and itchy. So much for wanting to eat local stuff.

Unexpected Meeting with Nhu

Many of you may recall that the NewSong centre is named after two girls. One is Nhu and the other Sung who is still missing. Nhu is now in a centre that is run by another Christian organization and she has the opportunity to go to school, learn English and also teach other girls at that centre beautician skills. We were not sure if we would see Nhu on this trip as our schedule has been quite busy but last night as we went to pick up a friend for dinner who was teaching at one of the New Hope Schools, we unexpectedly bumped into Nhu. She was waiting with some of the other girls for their evening bible study. IT was great to see her again and she briefly commented about meeting me last year. I told her ├Żes' as she had done my manicure when I had gone to the Singapore Salon.

I'm grateful for God's sovereignty and how He ordains unexpected meetings. We didn't have a chance to pray with her but whenever I think of Nhu I am reminded that God is mighty to save and her life is a demonstration of God's ability to redeem lives and restore them for His glory.

New Hope

Tuesday was a long day so no time to blog. Our friend Kim who is an international worker here with the C&MA came to pick us up. She was sent out by our church and is now serving here ministering to the Vietnamese community as part of New Hope Ministries. She picked us up at 8am and off we went to her home. Every month Kim has a bible study for the Vietnamese kids who used to attend New Hope schools---a ministry that was started by Rick and Beth Drummond many years ago to reach out to the marginalized Vietnamese community that was here. Many of the kids attend church but their parents do not. God has given Kim a vision to invest in the next generation especially those who have completed grace 6. Beyond that grade, the Vietnamese kids will have to go to a Khmer school but entrance into these schools are difficult since the Vietnamese are discriminated against as brides are required to give them access to these schools. Kim sees the kids as the next leaders of the Vietnamese church and truly in this environment there is such an uphill battle for them to get the education they need to progress and do well. Thankfully we have a God who is a God of the impossible.

There are about 18 kids that come to today's bible lesson. They range in age from 13 to 18 years old. One of the girls in the group is at risk of being sold into prostitution since her mother has already sold her older sister into a brothel. For now we are told that her mother doesn't need extra money so she is safe but living with this uncertainty we can pray and call out to our Lord on her behalf that He will protect this little girl.

As the kids arrive they have breakfast which consist of steam buns or in Chinese they call it Cha Siu Bao---it is a bbq pork bun. The kids are all shy not wanting to eat so I get up and offer them the buns. IT reminds me of my time back home when I had the privilege of serving the 2 and 3 year old toddlers....In the Asian context, it is not the older that serve the younger but rather it is the younger ones that serve the older ones. I trust that we can break through some of these cultural barriers and just reflect Christ to them.

The meeting is held on the top floor of Kim's home which has about 4 stories. This is an open air terrace so its quite breezy. Unlike the kids at TLC, these kids are quiet. It is hard to have a conversation with them as they speak limited Khmer and only Vietnamese so we sit smiling at one another. Their shyness and not so friendly behavior might seem distant but in fact it is quite 'normal.' Healthy kids know appropriate boundaries and are have their guarded in meeting strangers. They are not overtly touchy or welcome you with open arms but I am reminded of what my friend Helen at Chab Dai shared about kids who have been sexually abused. Kids who have been traumatized respond in two different extremes....either they will be distant or either they will be extremely touchy. If they are overtly physical it has to do with the fact that they do not have or have not known any boundaries so they are physical with any one they meet. Certainly the kids at TLC displayed this behavior but I trust that even through our hugs and our holding hands and our words to them, that whatever distorted view they may have experienced, they would know that the love we offer them is sincere, pure and genuine.

Anyway back to my new Vietnamese friends, we start with a Christian English song which my friend Shannon reads out slowly and the kids repeat. Eventually the music comes on and the kids are laughing as they sing to different actions. We do this with a few songs and then Kim asks if I would share something with the kids so I use my 'pearl' story that I had shared with the girls at TLC. Some of these kids may not have been sexually abused but physical abuse rears its ugly head in this community. Kim shares a story of one young boy in her class who had so many bruises on his body. Apparently he was not able to find enough garbage to recycle so when he went home, his parents hung him up against a wall using chicken wire and then tortured with an electric shock. Once again the need for a strong parenting model is important but sadly at times in the Asian context, respect and obligation to the parents comes at all costs and that also means suffering in silence. At the end of the meeting, I have the privilege again of anointing and praying over each child in Kim's bible class. This small act seems so inconsequential to the challenging lives these kids face but I take heart in knowing that God's word does not return to Him empty or void but achieves that for which He has purposed. HE indeed never forgets where He has planted His seed.

In the Vietnamese community many people are not married and live common law since they are stateless here they have no legal rights. As such it is not unusual to hear of men and women having multiple partners. One story we heard was of a woman having several boyfriends over to her home after her husband died. She had a few children and they all lived in a one room shack and would witness overt sexual behavior between their mother and her partner. To listen to these stories are not easy as one can easy be demoralized but on this journey I am often reminded to keep looking to the Cross and looking to Christ. Without hope in Him, these situations look hopeless and so we cling to the knowledge and belief that He can transform these communities. The challenge though is whether we as followers of Christ are committed to seeing His kingdom come in these places of darkness and engaging in the darkness to bring His light.

Later that afternoon, Kim takes us out to Preak Pra village which is located across the Monivong bridge. Several Vietnamese families live in abject poverty in boat houses along the Mekong river. Those house boats that are close to the shore andhave to pay a docking fee as well as a walking fee because of the wooden planks which connect their boats to shore. We visit one of the New Hope schools along the river and what an eye opening experience this is. Walking on these narrow wooden planks that are made with bamboo sticks or scraps of wood does not give one confidence that they are sturdy. Any mishap or slip and off you go into the murky muddy sewage waters of the Mekong. We walk on several of these and find out way to a school that New Hope runs in the community. It is a one room classroom and some of the kids are helping their teacher hang decorations on the walls. Kim hands out the teddy bears that two seniors at our church Hazel and Marg have made. The kids here are so poor and so to finally have something of their own to play with seems to bring much joy and many smiles to their face. How much more is waiting from them as they learn that God has given the greatest gift of their life through His son. The kids are tri-lingual and demonstrate this by singing the song 'This is the day the Lord has made' in Khmer, Vietnamese and English. These kids and their families may not have much in this world and may be stateless in Cambodia but in God's family they have citizenship.

One of the house boats we visit is a 'luxury boat'---larger in size and its zinc roof has extra insulation as cardboard material is flattened across the roof to keep it cool. There is a little 1 month old baby that we meet and her mother changes her cloth diaper---there is no Pampers in these surroundings---and replaces it with another cloth hankerchief. Kim remarks that the mother will take the same dirty diaper and wash it in the muddy diseased infected water right next to their boat. Children in this environment have so many odds stacked against them to survive and we comment to one another they probably don't need to have any immunization shots because they have a natural immunization given where they are living.

Coming face to face with a new level of poverty gives much to think about. How do people survive and what kind of hope do they have on a day to day basis. The darkness is so pervasive. Truly they need a new hope and yet I am once again reminded of the resiliency of the human spirit that God has given to each of us and especially to these who live in such horrendous conditions.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Precious Treasures in God’s Sight

Last year when I was visiting Cambodia, three of my travel partners gave me a silver ring with a pearl in the center as a thank you gift. Knowing my heart for girls who are sexually exploited they shared that whenever I would wear the ring, may it remind me of how God views each of these young girls---as precious treasures in His sight. So this year before I left home, another friend gave me a significant donation and asked if I would use it to bless the young girls I met. The thought that came straight to my mind was to give each of them a pearl ring similar to the one that was given to me. So a few days ago we took the finger measurements of our young friends at TLC and went off to our favourite jeweller at Toul Tompong (Russian) Market. Tonight we had the privilege of giving each of the girls a custom made pearl ring and I shared with them 3 stories associated with the pearl ring.

First, I asked the girls to describe the qualities of a pearl. Their responses: it is beautiful, good, lovely and shiney. I told them this is exactly how God sees each of them. In Him we are beautiful, valuable and a precious treasure that reflects His light. We had one of the girls read Psalm 139:11-16 from the Khmer bible, “For you created my inmost being, you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place. When I was woven together in the depths of the earth, your eyes saw my unformed body. All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.” I continued on sharing that God has created them all and that whatever He has created is good and is beautiful and that even before they were born, He was creating them each for a special purpose. In His eyes they are a valuable treasure.

Second, I asked them what is the make up of a pearl? It is a stone and what does that symbolize? One young friend who I shall call Srey Nih said ‘a stone is strong and it cannot be destroyed.’ And so we then led them to read the passage from 1 Peter 2:4-6 “as you come to Him the Living Stone---rejected by men but chosen by God and precious to Him, you also, like living stones are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood....for in scripture it says ‘See I lay a stone in Zion, a chosen and precious cornerstone and the one who trust in Him will never be put to shame.” I reminded them that just as Jesus is our Living stone that He has not only chosen us to be His children but He has also created us to be living stones that we too indeed cannot be destroyed if the Spirit of God lives within us. That if we trust in Him, we can never be put to shame because God loves us and is for us. We can be living stones when we love one another, encourage one another, serve one another and forgive each other when we do hurtful things to each other.

Finally, I asked them ‘how does a pearl’ continually reflect its beauty? They replied: it needs to be cleaned and polished and so i encouraged them that as we are God’s pearls, one of the ways we can be cleaned and polished is if we continue to walk in His ways and to be obedient to His truth. Then, we will always reflect His beauty and be light in the darkness.

We closed our time together by forming a circle and one of my traveller partners prayed a blessing over both the girls and their caregivers and we followed the prayer by singing Jesus loves me this I know! We are not planning to see the girls again on this trip and saying goodbye to each of them was not easy. As we have visited them and bonded with them over this past week, they kept asking us when we will come back. I found myself trying to keep the tears from flowing as I began to give each of them a hug and tell them how much we love them. I can’t help but wonder how those who are involved full time in this ministry must feel when they have to say goodbye to these precious ones who have become so dear to them. It is as if we have left part of our hearts with them and our goodbyes each time we see them get longer and longer as everyone wants to keep holding on to each other. I am grateful for what little God has allowed us to experience through these young lives. I trust that as they wear the pearl rings we have given to each of them that they will be reminded that they are precious treasures in God’s sight; the apple of His eye and that their value comes from Him and Him alone! May these truths be engraved upon their hearts no matter where they are and what they are doing and what challenges they face.

Dinner by the Riverfront

Sunday night we invited our young friends from TLC along with their caregivers for dinner at a restaurant called Heng Ly on the riverfront crossing over on the Japanese bridge to the other side of the Mekong river. We arrived at their home at around 5:30pm and were greeted with the usual hugs. Hanging around them, we feel like one big happy family like the Brady bunch. They were all dressed in their own teenager fashions and all 19 of us crammed into a mini-van. Of course this would never happen in Canada but here in Cambodia or in South East Asia, anything goes! It was a sight to see as people sitting on top of one another but we all fit in. The girls like to sing and so we drove off to the restaurant all sorts of English songs were being belted out---You are my sunshine, Edelweiss, The Sound of Music, Row, Row, Row Your Boat, God is so Good, Jesus Loves Me This I know, Praise Him. I felt like I was off to a summer camp with a bunch of youth.

One of the international workers from our church who is Vietnamese Canadian joined us as she has a heart for this ministry to girls who have sexually exploited. It was good having Kim with us as she was able to speak to some of the Vietnamese girls while my other friend Cathy spoke to others in Khmer. The rest of us used our English as some of the girls who come from NewSong have had fairly intensive English lessons so their ability to communicate in English is quite impressive. Our male driver probably had no idea what he was getting himself into by carting all of us females around as the sound level within the van would often reach a high pitch from all the singing.

The restaurant has a huge stage and as we began our meal, different singers came on stage to serenade us. Our young friends were laughing and having a good time, lke any other teenager and I have to say, hanging out with them makes me feel like I am reliving my childhood. While we may not be able to speak Khmer fluently, I pray that the language of love we demonstrate through our actions would be healing to their souls as they see God's light in us as we seek to be His restorers of their dignity by treating them as His treasures.

Place of Rescue

This past Saturday we went to visit Place of Rescue AIDS Centre & Orphanage. Coming back to Rescue every year is always a wonderful reminder of the hope we have in Christ. Marie Ens at 73 years old continues to inspire me to live a life fully for Christ and epitomizes what Eugene Peterson once said 'a long obedience in the same direction.'

Rescus's ministry has expanded over the years. It ministers to over 100 orphans but also serves as as place of refuge for those who are marginalized and the modern day lepers ---AIDS patients as well as 'grannies' who have become desitute either because their family members have died from AIDS or they have lost all their family during the Pol Pot era. Cambodia has no safety net for the elderly and so many of these folks can often be found begging on the street. Some times I wonder what Jesus must think about how we treat those who are old in our society.

We arrive at around 5:30pm at Rescue after shopping for some fruit for the 10 grannies who live at Rescue. Their request today was for durian---known as the king of the fruit in South East Asia. We decide to also buy some Mangosteen ---the queen of the fruit and rambutan to put in our little granny bags. As we hand out the fruit at 'granny home' some of the orphans crowd around to see what we are doing and giving the grannies. I hand Marie a letter that one of my friends had given to me. In February of this year, one of my good friends from California had taken a team to Cambodia and visited Rescue. God placed a burden on her heart for the plight of the grannies and she decided to sponsor one of them who is called Ruth. Ruth was delighted to see a photo of herself and to hear of all the encouraging words written in the letter. Following that we spent the next 45 minutes praying for each of the grannies and then anointing them with oil. In this environment people are so open to wanting to receive prayer and one granny who had asked prayer for her health seemed visibly touched by the Holy Spirit as she began to weep. I am always so amazed at how God's spirit can minister to someone even when they are being prayed for in a language other than their mother tongue. Again it is just another reminder that God's power and His ability to change hearts is not limited by our own human limitations but how His Spirit works and flows is something that I will never fully comprehend on this side of heaven. I am just touched that He has blessed this particular granny with His Spirit.

As we are about to head to spend time at the monthly birthday party celebrations with the orphans a young boy comes up to us. His name is Thuan and he asks if we would pray for him. He hasn't eaten for a few days and has lost his appetite and wants to be well again to enjoy his food. As we begin to pray for him, I keep my eyes open and I look at his face---so intense yet so open to receive whatever the Lord wants to give him. Truly Jesus says 'let the little children come' and Thuan has come wanting God to heal him. He has come to the One who offers him more than just physical food but who will be his daily bread and nourish his soul with the spiritual food that will sustain him far more than he realizes perhaps at this time. Surely, this is God's desire for each of us that we would come seeking Him and when we do, His word reminds us that when we seek first His kingdom everything else will be added. I pray that God would take this physical hunger within Thuan and make it into a spiritual hunger for Him that will satisfy the longings deep within his heart. We feel so privileged to encourage this young boy through prayer.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Another Visit to Newsong

Friday afternoon we dropped by to visit our young friends at Newsong. The last visit here we forgot to buy some of the wonderful pearl necklaces and key chains they made. The girls get a $1.00 for each item they make and they save it as part of their monthly allowance. It teaches them the value of earning and saving as Cambodia has received so much donor money that inherent in the culture here is to receive handouts. Our partners at Newsong want to teach the girls about being financially responsible from a young age. Today some of the girls went with the caregivers to the local market to do some shopping. Each girl gets $5.00 a month as an allowance and while that may not seem like much money to us, it is a lot for them considering that the average teacher's salary is $25.00 a month and the annual per capita income here is $300 a year. The girls who are back from shopping proudly display their purchases. Like typical females, they have bought clothing and shoes. It's great to see them just being like any other young girl rejoicing in what they have gotten and sharing of their shopping deals!

One of my friends Shannon spends some time teaching some of the girls how to make friendship bracelets using yarns that she has brought. The girls are extremely quick in catching on and make no time in creating their own variation of friendship bracelet. Sopheak my young friend who I mentioned in a previous blog asks if she could make a friendship bracelet for me. I am glad the she has done this as I wear it, it will act as a daily reminder to continue to pray not only for her but for many of these young girls that she represent. We dialogue more on what her interests are and what her favorite food, music and tv shows are. I realize I am getting old :-)----she mentions a music band that I am not familiar with but my travel companion knows. I guess I will have to brush up on what young people are watching these days so that I can have a more intelligent conversation with them!!! :-)

I hope to be able to dialogue with Sopheak more when I am back in Canada through email. When I think of her, God reminds me again that in this ministry, it is one child at a time and so while saying goodbye to the 30+ girls, I am not sad but rather just continually thankful that the Lord has brought them to this place of healing and hope. The River of Life is the One who will refresh their souls. Our part is simply to stand with them whether it be through prayer or through supporting them tangibly or speaking up for them. I pray that people back home will not grow weary of their plight for I believe when we as a society become tired of the sufferings of this world, our hearts have become cold and we no longer live as Jesus would have us. Instead, we have become lukewarm and indifferent to seeing His kingdom come not only in our own hearts but in the hearts of many who are in need of His hope and love.


Today we spent some time with Trevor who runs Yejj. Trevor is an entrepreneur whom God has used here to set up some amazing opportunities for young people. Ratanak recently funded a new program that Yejj started called the Yejj Hospitality Training Centre. It provides training in hygiene, cookery, housekeeping and English skills, to up to 180 students per year, so that they have access to sustainable, long term employment and careers in Cambodia. Some of the young people who attend here may have been girls who were formerly sexually exploited. It may not seem like much to us in the west, but it gives girls the opportunity to gain skills given their limited education. Most of the girls's education levels initially range from Grade 1 to Grade 6 so much of the training is also done through pictures and provides practical hands on applicaiton. But this is just one program.

Yejj also has a vocational training school that also provides cross training so that young people can learn English and computers that will position them to get jobs both within the NGO world as well as regular businesses. Specifically, Yejj has developed The Cisco Networking Academy Program, a comprehensive e-learning program that provides students with technology skills essential in a global economy. Courses deliver web-based content, online assessment, student performance tracking, hands-on labs and preparation for industry standard certifications

One of the other ways Yejj has expanded is through Cafe Yejj which provides western food and is located near one of the infamous tourist shopping markets. It offers skills training and employment in catering and hospitality, especially to women from ‘at risk’ and vulnerable backgrounds.

For me personally I love this model as it speaks much to the business as missions model that so many people have talked about but few have been successful at implementing. It is holistic in nature, seeking to minister to the social needs and economic needs in this country and yet by its very being, its focus is to enhance the lives of young Cambodians by equipping them to be all whom God has created them for. Yejj like any other for profit businesses is not with its challenges but more and more as the Cambodian economy grows and develops, Yejj has established a niche business that has a sustainable business model. Donors act like venture capitalists here giving seed money to help Yejj set up its businesses but the longer term view is for each business to be profitable and sustainable. So far, Yejj has shown that this is possible. May the Lord continue to show His creativity through innovative organizations like Yejj who seek to impact lives by offering opportunities to the most vulnerable in societies in order that they may have a hope and a future.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Praying For Frontline Workers

Thursday was a fairly quiet day as it was one really spent praying with different people that are living here. I had the privilege of meeting an 'old friend' who returned to Cambodia a few years ago. He exudes such humility and yet God has placed him in a role that carries significant influence. He is a man after God's own heart seeking to bring transformation at leadership levels and continuously desiring to see God's kingdom come in the heart of his people. I am always blessed when I spend time with him and count it a privilege to pray for his needs. He also has a heart for the widows and orphans of this land and a keen interest in educating his people about the sexual exploitation of children that is going on within this country. We discuss ideas on how we can partner together and perhaps do seminars in the future. Much to think about after this meeting.

Later in the evening, Cathy, Shannon and I head to TLC to spend time with our 9 young friends and their caregivers. We just step in to a Tuk-Tuk--a motorcycle driven carriage and a torrential rainfall hits. As our driver takes us towards TLC the rain is in our faces and we are getting drenched but this is life in Cambodia so we laugh it off. We finally arrive at TLC and only a few of the girls are at home. Some of them haven't come home from work and others of them apparently have boyfriends so are out. They have an 8:30pm curfew but like all teenagers they try to stretch it and test the boundaries.

TLC has 4 full time staff who either live with the girls or are there daily. Jane (not her real name) supervises the whole centre and lives on site. She is in her 50s and is such a joyful lady whose desire is simply to pour out love on these girls. Then there are two counsellors--- Pauline and Savy (not their real names) who spend time ministering to the emotional challenges and hurdles that the girls face. Finally, there is Sokhan(not her real name) the house mother, a single young woman whose gentle spirit is so evident. God has given each of these women an enormous heart of compassion and grace to care for the girls and this at times is not an easy task given the fact that the girls have had minimal exposure to godly parenting before. There are all sorts of dynamics at play when one is seeking to minister to older teenagers. It is our prayer that the Lord will bless the staff with much wisdom and discernment as they continually care for these precious ones and that HIs holy love would continually flow through them as they seek to be His hands, voice and feet to these young women.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Svay Pak

After the visit at Newsong, our partner Don takes us to Svay Pak. It is the modern day Sodom and Gomorrah that is about a 25 minute car ride from the city and is notorious for its brothels. A few years ago, IJM (International Justice Mission) did a raid here. The government has been under pressure to close Svay Pak down but the reality is the illicit sex trade for under age minors is still prevalent here. Instead of the girls being visible, the whole sordid trade has gone further underground and the supply of young girls is still readily available as Don shares with us about a recent fact finding trip he went on in Svay Pak.

One of the organizations we know has rented a property in Svay Pak. Their desire is to see transformation happen in this seedy environment and so they are doing exactly what Jesus would have us do---go to the places where the darkness is and be a beacon of light for the people in the community. It will no doubt not be easy but if God can tear the walls of Jericho down, surely He is a God who can break the ancient gates in this community and shine His light in this place.

We enter the buildings our friends have rented, it is a former brothel and as we walk towards the hallway, we observed several cubicles with numbers on it. For those of you who saw the Dateline NBC Documentary Children For Sale, you may recall some of the photos of the brothels. Condom ADs still hang on some of the walls. In one particular room, we see two crosses drawn. One has a sad face in it and the other an angry face. Some child that was being held in here knew of God. One can only imagine the atrocities that were being done to the girls who lived imprisoned in these cells and as we take photos, there is a errie feel of being in a crime scene. As I walk around the inside, I pray blessing on this place and ask the Lord to cleanse it. After all, He can take any filthy place and make it new again. One day this place that was once a place of debauchery will become a place of worship to the One who sees and hears the cries of His precious ones who once lived in such horrendous conditions. Lord, let your kingdom come in this place and make it holy ground where your glory will shine forth.

As we head outside the building, not too far from us is a group of men sitting playing cards. I'm told they are pimps and this is their daily routine. They hang out together and if a foreigner comes down this road, they will all rush to speak to him. It is one thing to hear about this place but in visiting it, one gains a different perspective. Truly it is only Jesus who can penetrate such places and bring transformation to this community. Those who are seeking to be HIs light in this environment are up against a lot of obstacles and risks, yet they are willing to risk for Christ. A book I am reading while here called The Healing Path sums it up best: a person who lives a radical life, who is on the healing path towards becoming more fully himself and more essentially like Jesus, moves into the hearts of others with a redemptive purpose; to expose depravity and draw forth dignity. May it be the desire of each of our hearts to live radically for Christ.

Newsong Centre

Tuesday afternoon we went to the Newsong centre and had lunch with the girls. There are 34 girls there now, almost at full capacity and up from the 16 that were first there when I visited last year. One of the girls I met last year, Sopheak (not her real name) comes over to greet me and we sit together on this long table and eat our lunch---my favorite dish called Lok Lak---a stewed meat with vegetables and rice. Sopheak's English has improved so much from last year and I ask her a bunch of questions. Other girls come by to greet us and give us hugs. It is surreal really as they are so friendly and open but it speaks much to the healing power of God who can do more than we can ask or imagine. His love in them is so evident as they exude it in the way they respond to each of us. After lunch, they take us around their 'home' like little tour guides showing us where they sleep and their classrooms. One of the things their house mothers have taught them is how to make necklaces and we see a display of the pearl necklaces that they make. I am impressed by the quality of their workmanship and we congratulate them on the work they have done. Their faces beaming back with joy as they hear our comments.

This place indeed emnates the presence of God. Indeed He has put a new song in each of their hearts. Scripture reminds me that God sets the lonely in families. At the Newsong Centre, this is the atmosphere that pervades as each set of 6 kids has a house mum who lives and sleeps with them in their rooms. It is like one big family in this place and the girls are constantly laughing and teasing one another. Being around them makes me feel young again as one of the little ones pokes at me and I go chasing after her. Their playful hearts really reflect the joy that is within them and demonstrates that God is restoring their childhood that was once stolen from them. We'll be back to visit them again on Friday and I can't wait to just hang out and play with them.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Worshipping at TLC

Last night I went to TLC on my own and spent a couple hours with the my young friends and their caregivers. I took some nail polish as for the girls as they are at the age where external beauty takes on a greater focus. I suppose they are no different than any other teenagers I know. A few of them were wearing the T-Shirts we gave them from Canada with matching headbands and pearl bracelets.

I asked them if they would sing a few songs and to my surprised they pulled out books that had hymns and contemporary Christian music. They began to sing a variety of songs and even sang This is The Day The Lord Has Made in English and then switched into Khmer as they sang Silent Night. This continued for several minutes and I asked Jaya who overseas the centre whether they were all Christians. She said all of them were baptized a while back as they all wanted to become Christians and while this is exciting to see I am keenly aware that in Cambodia many young people are anxious and eager to become Christians but unless they are grounded in the Word, it is easy for them to become disillusioned and backslide. In some ways it is no different than us in the West as the ways of the world distract us and guide us away from the One who first loved us. And so as I think of each of these special young friends, my own prayer for them is that as they are enjoying singing these songs and hymns and as they have bible study that the Lord would use these very 'tools' to engrave His truth upon their hearts and enable them to gain a deeper understanding of who He is. That they would not just believe in God but believe Him and take Him at His word and as they grow in their knowledge of Him they would know how deep, how high and how wide is the love of God and will be filled with the fullness of Christ. When I look at their young faces I often find myself wondering how anyone could inflict such hurt on them. But then again, evil has no rational mind, it seeks only to destroy that which God has created.

As I sat listening to them singing in Khmer, one of the girls that was sitting next to me was not singing. She is of Vietnamese descent but yet speaks no Vietnamese. I will call her Thu. I asked her why she wasn't singing as over here everyone loves to sing. She said she can't read Khmer and so she was quite contented to paint my finger nails while the rest of the girls sang. Thu is one of the older girls here at 22 years old. IJM (International Justice Mission) brought her here so she has not had the benefit of being part of the Newsong Centre education programs. I'm not sure of her complete story but here at TLC she is being taught English and computers but to what extent she is able to read and write is still unknown. Yet her command of the English language is quite good as she is able to have a conversation with me and also is a bit of a joker. Unlike the other Vietnamese girls who live here, she was separated from her family when she was quite young and so is unable to join in with them when they sing in Vietnamese. I feel for her as even within this context, I wonder how she copes with being 'not quite Vietnamese' despite having the heritage. In many ways her brokenness is more visibly evident than the others but yet I am reminded that God always is able to make something beautiful out of our brokenness. It is for these who are on the fringes and are the outcasts that Jesus came to bring life and to give life to. Thu's dream and hope is to one day set up a beauty salon. I look forward to seeing how He will empower her and enable her to be all He destined her to be.

Chab Dai & Trafficking

Tuesday morning we spent with Helen who oversees Chab Dai one of the partners that Ratanak funds. Helen and her family have lived in Cambodia for 8 years and has been involved in training and equipping churches and villages to become more aware of child sex trafficking. She is a woman who has a wealth of knowledge through her various experiences here and was responsible for establishing Chab Dai, a coalition of 20 NGOs here in Cambodia that seek to eradicate Child sexual trafficking.

The Ratanak Foundation funds a church & community training program that has so far been targeting the provinces in Cambodia that are located along the Thai/Cambodian border since these areas are the most high risk places for human trafficking. To date over 1100 children and adults in communities, churches and schools have been informed and educated about the issue of trafficking. It was interesting to hear that in the next couple of years a new highway is being built in the northern provinces of Cambodia that will connect to both Vietnam and Thailand. This new highway will provide greater commerce and economic development for those outlying communities but at the same time has the potential to create massive trafficking issues as it is expected this will become a trading zone similar to the Eurozone. The implications of this is quite significant as no one knows to what degrees it will lead to greater statelessness and human trafficking given that it gives traffickers the opportunity to move freely across the borders. Moreover, the potential for AIDS to reassert it self in greater degrees along that highway brings to mind similar problems that is prevalent now in Africa where truck drivers have been partially responsible for the spread of AIDS across borders due to pitstops they make at brothels along the highway routes.

The focus now is to think strategically and be proactive and Chab Dai is seeking to provide further community training in areas that will be affected by this new highway and the economic development that is to come.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

TLC - Grace Abounds

It's Tuesday morning here but I can't sleep. I've been up since 5am this morning as my mind has wondered to the events of the night before. My friends Cathy, Shannon and I first went to the Newsong centre to chat with Don, one of our partners. We will be spending most of the Wed afternoon at Newsong and also will visit Svay Pak --the brothel area that was 'apparently shut down'. More on that on Wednesday.

We were taken to TLC - The Transitional Living Centre where we met our 9 young friends---teenagers who are developing vocational skills so that they can reenter the work force after many years of being sexually abused in the brothels. Their ages do not reflect their youthful appearance and petite stature. I even tower over a few of them and I ain't that tall so you can imagine how small they are. They are 17 and 18 years old and when we first arrive at their home, they greet us with such warm smiles and take our hands. It is as if we are long lost friends being reunited as they give us hugs and seem so overjoyed to see us. One would think they would be suspicious of strangers and withdrawn after all the ordeals they have gone through but God has shown me something new---the resilience of the human spirit to overcome trauma. They are so playful and emanate His love. It is as if His love has been poured down deep within their hearts. In spending time with them I am reminded afresh of the vision He gave me from Isaiah 61:1-4 for indeed He is bestowing a crown of beauty for ashes, the oil of gladness for mourning and a garment of praise for a spirit of despair. I watch their faces and I see such hope.

We handed out our gifts--T-shirts with a Canada logo and also little gold purses with an assortment of goodies that one of my friends and her daughter put together. They are like typical teenagers, overjoyed to receive the gifts but it is I who feel that I have received a very precious gift that no material gift can buy---it is being in their presence and seeing the joy of the Lord in them. We sit in a circle and ask if we could pray for each of them individually. One by one they come forward with specific prayer requests. All of them asking for prayers for their girl's mum is in prison because she apparently sold her daughter to the brothel but as she shares about her mum, she asks that God would make a way for her mum to be set free. Another girl has been separated from her family since she was 9. She comes from Vietnam and has never seen her family since then. She desires to be reconnected but doesn't know if this will be possible. Another girl asks for prayers for her mum who is sick ---I am touched that their first prayer requests are not for themselves but about their families. Then I am completely blown away by a request that is put forth---one girl asks that we would pray that God would bless those who have hurt her. I am stunned but I realize I have just witnessed grace in action and the words from the apostle Paul resonate in my mind, where sin increased, grace increases more. How is it possible for one who has gone through so much to ask for blessing for those who have perpetrated such heinous acts against her? Truly the Lord has shown me afresh through her the gospel of grace and His power to bring such deep healing to her soul. Indeed nothing is too hard for the Lord to do for He is close to the broken hearted and saves those who are crused in spirit. (Psalm 34:18). What He has started in them is so beautiful. His holy love is indeed flowing through them like a crashing wave. Love does conquer a multitude of sins. After we pray for each of them, I anoint them with oil and sign them with the seal of the cross. God is gracious to give me a verse to share with each of them and yet the verse that sticks to my mind this morning is from Psalm 45:11 - The King (Lord) is entralled by your beauty, honor Him for He is your Lord. May they know how beautiful they are in His sight.

There is much to write about but I am re-arranging my schedule to spend as many evenings with them. We are planning to do some crafts with them, teach them how to email us and then we are planning to take them out and their caregivers for dinner this Sunday. I look forward to spending more time with these precious little friends. By their very lives, they speak to me of God's hope and His resurrection power to do more than we can ever ask or imagine!