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 ýes' 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!

Monday, August 20, 2007

Relaxing, Eating and Visiting

It's Monday morning here and the last two days have been quite relaxing. I think the Lord is teaching me to slow down and just be still before Him. It's so easy to come here and pick up with the activity oriented mindset that we have in North America to maximize every moment here by being 'busy'with meetings etc but its been nice just to rest and slow down. Yesterday we went to New Jerusalem Church, a church planted many years ago by the C&MA and even though the whole service was in Khmer it was good to just be there. I spent the time in quiet reflection praying and asking the Lord to bless this church where quite a few young people attend. At one point of the service the pastor invited an older lady who had a limp to come forward and he asked the congregation to stand and we all began to pray in Korean style that the Lord would heal her. This is the first time I've seen this done in Cambodia but I'm not surprised after all, people in South East Asia tend to be more sensitive to what is going on in the spiritual realm than us in North America.

We had lunch with an OMF intern who is of American Cambodian descent. In her mid-30s she has returned her for the first time since she fled this country after it fell to the Khmer Rouge. She is working with Blue Gate which is a ministry that is run by the prision fellowship here in Cambodia and is involved in training the counsellors who minister to ex-convicts that have been released. One of her challenges here is to stay focus on what the Lord has called her to do as the needs are so many in this place that it is easy to want to jump into too many things. We plan to visit BLue Gate tomorrow afternoon to pray over her and also the counsellors. So I'll have more insights on that ministry later on. But I realize from talking with her that Cambodia indeed can pose a challenge for those of us who have a tendency to have that 'Messiah complex' of wanting to rescue all who are suffering. It is very easy to fall into compassion fatigue here and in talking with other international workers here it is not surprising that burn out especially is common. We all need to be mindful that Jesus is our safety net and as one of my mentors once told me a 'need'is not a call.' Abiding in the Vine becomes of utmost important in this environment when you are constantly bombarded with needs that are so in your face.

Later that evening, my 'personal translator'and good friend Cathy who is serving here with OMF invited us to a sumptious dinner at her place. She and another friend used to run the OMF home in Toronto. SHe is gifted in the culinary arts and an amazing chef. We ate home made Pad Thai, her Filipino version of Lok Lak--a Cambodian dish of meat and french fries---Char you would have died for this, and my favorite Asian vegetable Morning Glory which for those of you not familiar with this veggie it is very leafy and flavorful which perhaps can be attributed to the fact that it grows rampantly around the sewage areas!!!! It really does taste good though and this is coming from one who is a meat eater!

This afternoon we will go to TLC --the Transitional Living Centre. I hope this will be the first of many visits there. I'm looking forward to seeing these young 'friends' and giving them the gifts we brought. We will spend our first hour praying with the team of counsellors there before the girls arrive as they spend most of their days at school at the Newsong centre.

More to come on my next update.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Live in Cambodia

Crossing over the dateline and losing 1 day can be tiring at best but I am thankful to all who have been praying. I took a different flying route using Cathay Pacific and we went over Anchorage to Hong Kong before touching down in Phnom Penh. The flight over was fairly quick and thankfully I had a good sleep on the plane despite the fact the seats seem smaller in size and the leg room much limited. Maybe I've expanded horizontally since my last trip but I know I haven't expanded vertically so what gives! :-) Oh well, not too much to complain about. Arriving in Hong Kong and seeing the sea of Asian faces always seems to bring about feelings of 'home coming'--- a feeling of belonging that I think is tied into so much of my cultural identity. Even though I am not born in this part of the world, my affinity for it never wearies. Perhaps it has to do with my Asian roots as our ancestors were originally from Canton, China and as the story goes one of our ancestors was kidnapped and brought to work as indentured slave labor in the sugar cane fields of South America. I couldn't help but wonder if my own passion and heart for justice perhaps emanates from this family hertiage of once being a slave. Yet today as I think of many in this country that I visit, they are enslaved by the sufferings they have endured during the Khmer Rouge era. We come offering up prayers to the One who can set us all free from our pasts and things that imprison our souls.

While I was sitting in the Hong Kong airport waiting to board our next flight, I looked around and heard the familiar sounds of Khmer being spoken. The Khmer langauge is so gentle and as I look at the older crowd of people waiting to get on the flight, I wonder what is their story. How did they survive the Killing fields? But as I look at them, my eyes catch a glimpse of the darkness that I expect to see within the country---an older American gentleman with a young Khmer boy. They are sitting behind us and as my friend strikes up a conversation with them we discover that he has ádopted this young boy 7 years ago and this is their first trip back. I look around but do not see a 'wife'and there is no wedding ban on his hand so once again my suspicious mind begins to go into overdrive. I remember the comments some of the people who work on the frontlines here in Cambodia often say---anytime they see a single white man travelling to Cambodia or they see a man with a young kid they can't help but think the worse. I find myself thinking the same. THis is reality that is hard not to judge. The man tells my friend he is coming to Cambodia to look for opportunities in education and I am reminded from stories I have read that many pedophiles come here as teachers. IT is easy to be suspicious and so I ask the Lord to just give me discernment as I enter into this country.

Our flight on Dragon Air provides a different flavor to this country and God again reminds me that He is in control and that His light is shining. I strike up a conversation with an older Khmer women sitting in the ailse seat opposite me. It turns out she is a believer and even more interesting she attends a C&MA church in L.A. Ironically she is travelling here with 25 others from her church seeking to bless her homeland. But what is even more interesting is that she happens to be the aunt of one of our Ratanak partners in Poipet. As we continue to talk, I discover she knows a few more workers here that I am planning to see. It is just as if I am talking to an old friend as we share stories about our interactions with the international workers we know here. We exchange emails and I hope to follow up with her. The family of God is so amazing and it is so encouraging to see these older Khmer brothers and sisters in Christ returning to the land that has been both a place of joy and suffering for them and yet I am once again reminded ábout God's redemptive purposes in our lives. He indeed does make something beautiful out of all our brokenness and suffering and then sends us out to minister in His name. Surely what HE has started in each of us, He will complete despite the many roads and paths we have taken. HOw freeing it is to know that despite where we go and what happens to us, His plan and His purposes don't change for His desire is to prosper us and not to harm us. (Jeremiah 29:11)

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Blessed To Be A Blessing

Tonight I leave for Cambodia with a friend for just over a 2 1/2 week stay. This morning I got a surprise email that a good friend from Singapore will join us for the latter part of the trip. I'm excited that she can come as she has and her husband are such prayer warriors and their home has often been a place of refuge and refreshment for me after my time in Cambodia. I am grateful to God as He is raising up reinforcements for us as we go so that we can prayer walk the land together.

One of the joys of going each year are the many gifts that people give me to take to bless the missionaries who are on the front line. This year is no different as a few retired ladies from my church continued to make little teddy bears that we will deliver to the kids in Cambodia. They have been doing it for 3 years and continue to invite others to join their group. We joke that we want to see every child in Cambodia have a teddy bear and who knows. God can take our 5 loaves and 2 fish and mutliply them. These older ladies inspire me as they make these teddy bears with such joy and not only are the kids who receive them blessed but they themselves are blessed as two of them use knitting to help them with their arthritic pain.

Last night I finally finished the last of my packing and was thrilled by another sister in Christ who dropped by with special gifts for the 9 precious girls that we will be visiting at the Transitional Living Centre (TLC). These little gold purses with white straps were filled with 'girlie' stuff: lipgloss, hairbands, a pearl bracelet and hairclips and as I looked at the colour of the purses---the white symbolizing purity and the gold symbolizing royalty, I couldn't help but think of the fact that despite all the traumatic past of these young girls, the Lord Jesus is the one who makes them as white as snow by His shed blood and He will raise them up to be daugthers of the Most High God. For He is their King and they are His princesses!

These are just some of the many gifts that we are taking over but there is such a joy in blessing others this way. I look forward to seeing all the smiling faces and the reactions as we hand out the precious cargo entrusted to us! May these small gifts be glorifying to God as each person receives them, may they become aware of the One who gave us the most precious gift we have and that is the gift of His Son that we might have eternal life and experience the abundant life in Him as we receive the love He offers to each of us.

My next post will be in Cambodia! Till then thanks so much to all of you who are praying. We appreciate your love and support and the many ways you have encouraged us on this journey.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Cambodia Newletter August 2007

This year marks my 6th trip to Cambodia on what will continue to be an annual journey until the Lord says ‘no’ or until He says ‘go permanently.’ Last year, some of you may recall, I traveled with a team of 7 others to visit various projects that the Ratanak Foundation supports. This year, I am excited to have a young friend from church, Shannon Fitzsimmons who will be accompanying me as the Lord has laid on her heart a desire to learn more about Cambodia. So with my ‘old familiar eyes’ and her ‘fresh new eyes’, we depart for Cambodia on August 16th to September 3rd to see how the Lord is at work in various settings.

One of the blessings of last year’s trip was the opportunity to pray with so many missionaries. It made me realize that while we are limited in speaking the local language, we are not limited in the language of our God--- and so this trip will be one in which we hope to spend much time prayer walking and using prayer ministry where ever we go. As my pastor once said, prayer is the most subversive weapon we have and as 2 Corinthians 10 reminds me: the weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. One place in particular where significant strongholds exist is in the Vietnamese communities that live along the Tonle Sap and Mekong rivers. Many of you may know that the Vietnamese have no legal rights or citizenship in Cambodia and as such, this vulnerable community is subject to sexual predators who prey on the poorest of the poor. We plan on prayer walking through these areas as we spend time with our fellow sister in Christ Kim Bui, who God has placed in this challenging environment to bring His hope and love to those who live oppressed by the impoverish surroundings that encourages them to sell their daughters into prostitution.

But the journey to Cambodia also leads us to places of hope as we will participate at the monthly birthday party at Place of Rescue AIDS Centre & Orphanage praising and worshipping the Lord with 106 orphans and playing with my sponsored AIDS daughter Theary. As well, we will be meeting with one of Ratanak’s partners --- Helen Sworn who oversees Chab Dai – an umbrella organization representing 20 Christian NGOs that are seeking to end child sex trafficking in Cambodia. One of the places I look forward to re-visiting is the NewSong Centre, a rehabilitation centre that currently cares for 30 young girls who were rescued from the brothels and the Transitional Living Center where 9 of the older girls live and are being equipped with skills that will enable them to be reintegrated back into society. The Lord has used the pain and suffering of these precious little girls to feed what I have come to now know as the ‘holy discontent’ within my heart. Bill Hybels describes Holy Discontent this way: if you expose yourself to all that’s broken in our world but neglect to view the brokenness from heaven’s perspective (which promises that everything is in the process of being restored), then you’ll get sucked into an impossible downward spiral of aggravation, frustration and anger. Once that frustration and anger is understood as being your ‘holy discontent’ through your spiritual connection to the God who’s working to fix everything, it’s as if an enormous wave of positive energy gets released. This energy causes you to act on the dissatisfaction that’s been brewing deep within your soul and compels you to say ‘yes’ to joining forces with God so that the darkness and depravity around you gets pushed back. Your perspective shifts from that which your eyes can see to that which God tells you is true and it is in this reality that what is enslaved can still be set free, what is broken can still be mended, what is diseased can still be restored, what is hated can still be loved, what is dirty can still be made clean and what is wrong can still be made right. It is that one cause or purpose or problem that grabs you by the throat and just won’t let you go. It is that “one thing” in your heart that God is stirring a passion for. Your ‘one thing’ brings you to a place where you feel you simply must do something. Your ‘one thing’ births a burning bush experience in your soul where you sense God Himself inviting you into an intentional and personalized partnership with Him to renovate reality. When you have a deep desire to see things change, you are compelled to show up. Your soul doesn’t give you a choice in the matter. Ultimately you have no idea what the end results of your labor will be; all you know is that it is critical that you engage.

So these annual visits to Cambodia provide an ongoing opportunity to once again engage with our Lord whose redemptive hand is at work as He repairs, restores and rebuilds broken lives through the ministries of various missionary friends who are on the frontlines. This engagement doesn’t end overseas though, as God has fueled this holy discontent not only within me but also a wonderful team of people here in Toronto by leading us to organize a conference entitled: Slaying The Giant: Ending Child Sexual Exploitation on Sat. September 29th. We hope that many of you will join us on that day as we seek to follow our Lord by increasing awareness, encouraging advocacy and action on behalf of the voiceless. For like Abraham, we are fully persuaded and convinced that God has the power to do what He has promised and that is, to see these precious little girls be a planting of the Lord for the display of His splendor as His glory in each of their young lives shines brighter and become greater than the anguish within their hearts.