Wednesday, August 29, 2007

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.

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