Sunday, July 13, 2008

Live in Phnom Penh!

I've been up since 3am this morning ---I would like to think its the jeg lag but given that we went to sleep at 7pm, I think I have had way more sleep than my body is used to :-). it's almost 6am here and my roommate is asleep so i'm typing this from the bathroom! :-) That's probably TMI (Too much info) for some of you but alas, this is the fun of being flexible on a missions do the most odd things that you would not dream off doing at home.

Yes we are live in Phnom Penh! We arrived in Phnom Penh with all our 12 pieces of luggage including one electronic piano that we offered to take over for Pastor Sok Em who is overseeing the Tahas Bible Institute. Thank you for all your prayers---God has been so faithful and has given us much favor right from the beginning of this journey. The ticket agent at the Cathay Pacific counter in Toronto only charged us a quarter of the cost that we were quoted to bring the electronic piano with us. Then one of our team mates, Charlene got an extra blessing as she was upgraded to business class for the long flight. We never saw her till we landed in our stopover to Hong Kong---she claimed to have passed through the economy cabins to say hi to us but we know she was just relishing and soaking in her business class experience for all it was worth! The 19 hour flight over seemed rather short as time just flew. I am not sure if it is because I am just getting used to these long haul flights or maybe it was the conversations that I was engrossed in with one of my team members.

Arriving at Phnom Penh’s International Airport---Pochentong around 10:45am on Sat morning, we appear to be the only flight in as all was quiet. I have already noticed a change from last year—now there is a formal line to process your visa application versus the typical mad dash that often ensued to get to the counter. Now it is more orderly although I still haven’t quite figured out why there needs to be 10 people behind the counter to process our visa application. Nonetheless, this is Cambodia and this is how things are done! ;-) One of my concerns passing through the customs was what duty we would be charged for bringing in the electronic piano. I have never had to declare anything in the past trips but I was quickly reminded of a prophetic word spoken over me by a friend recently when she said this trip would be like a ‘first visit’ to Cambodia. So here I was---dealing with one of my ‘firsts’---declaring something for duty. Not knowing what kind of duty we would have to pay and being mindful of a hidden fee (ie. A bribe), on the plane over, I had prayed and ask the Lord to go before us and that the custom officials would be reasonable with the duty. Once again God extended His favour over us as I informed the officials that this electronic piano was for a church and they waved me through without even asking me to pay anything. Thank you Jesus for watching over us in all the details! The hotel where we were staying had sent a van to pick us up but with all that we brought we also had to hire a taxi---another new thing---new taxi cars ---Toyota Camerys painted white with a yellow line highlighting the word ‘taxi’. We head out onto the main road finally here after all the training and packing. I am excited for my 4 team members (Brenda, Genie, Hiroko and Jan) for who this trip is a ‘first’ ever missions experience and a first visit to Cambodia.

The hotel is another first for me but it is a place that is a frequent stay for my other Ratanak colleagues. It is located near the Independence monument and a far cry from the suburb of Tuol Kork where I am used to staying. I have a sense that this hotel will be a key place for future ‘Ratanak teams’ to stay as God is raising up people who want to come and serve over here and who He has connected us with. We are in the heart of the city and so it will be another opportunity to learn about my surroundings and become acquainted with life in the city. We didn’t do much our first day as it took a while for everyone to get unpacked and settled in---what would one expect with 6 females!

Thankfully everyone is feeling good and so we went down to the waterfront using one of my favourite modes of transportation---the tuk tuk. I love bargaining with the tuk-tuk drivers as it gives me the opportunity to negotiate with my limited Khmer. For the price of US$2.00 all 6 of us managed to squeeze into this little motorcycle drawn carriage that strained under the excess body mass that it was transporting. We arrived at our destination -- a familiar jaunt that I have frequented with other international workers—the Kiwi restaurant that looks onto the Tonle Sap river and indulged in some typical Cambodian dishes—Morning glory--a sauted leafy garlic vegatable that grows near the sewage---trust me its really tasty! Then there is Lok Lak—yes its that meat dish with a lime, blackpepper sauce that I can never get enough of. After our meal we headed down for a stroll along the waterfront. It was fun observing my teammates cross the motorcycle, SUV laden street of Sisowat Quay as they made their way through the chaotic traffic of this boulevard. The waterfront is a place that is surrounded with lots of activity. Cambodian families sitting around having picnics enjoying the 'sea breeze', young couples or groups of friends just hanging out, little boys and girls panhandling and selling books on Cambodia. But it also is a place that the sex tourists hang out. I wish I had taken a picture of one of the restaurants we walked by---5 single middle aged white males each at separate tables taking in the scenery. I try not to judge them but its a sight that is so common place here.

Anyway its Sunday morning now and we'll be heading to the Sunway Hotel for the International church service and then it is off to Tuol Sleng or S21. More on that later today.

Friday, July 11, 2008

The Countdown Begins!

We leave late this evening at 11:35pm enroute to Hong Kong before we touch down in Phnom Penh on Sat morning. I'm running on a bit of adrenalin at the moment having averaged around 5 hours a sleep for the past few nights. Last night I was down to 4 hours but am not too worried. The way I see it is that I'm preparing myself for the time change. God has been so gracious each night in sustaining me and giving a deep REM sleep so its all good. These past few days have been a bit crazy as we organize ourselves. Despite the ample luggage allowance of 70 lbs per bag and the ability to carry two bags each we have been redistributing all the items we bought. It's been crazy but at the same time worth the effort because of who we are taking it for.

So what are we bringing? Thanks to some very special seniors at my church as well as a group of high school students that go to Char's school, we have over 300 teddy bears to distribute. It is neat to see young and old get involved and I pray that in the years to come God will continue to raise up a generation of people regardless of age to begin to speak up and be involved in seeking justice for the plight of child sex slaves. We are also bringing 80 plus T-shirts with the Canada logo to distribute to kids and adults at Daughters Cambodia, lipsticks for the caregivers at Newsong, 100 hand made necklaces with a cross to give to my little sisters at Newsong, crafts and game equipment for the VBS, care packages for international workers who we will meet, a paino keyboard for one of our pastor friends, chocolates and assorted goodies. I think Walmart made a killing on us! :-) Char was able to get one of her students to paint a mural on a big bedsheet that reflects the scenery in Cambodia. We hope to put this up at Rahab House as it will be part of our VBS Theme of Kingdom Kids.

As I head out on this trip it seems a bit different than the others and in many ways it is. In a sense it is the next step deeper into a journey and a calling that God has placed on my life so many years ago. The opportunity to partner with former child prositutes and to gain a taste of ministering to children at risk is a God given dream come true. I continue to stand in awe of the Lord's faithfulness and His sovereignty in orchestrating connections and events with people and organizations that have fueled this passion in me. This morning I was able to connect via text message with one of my little sisters in Cambodia. She herself a former sex slave is now a spokesperson for an organization that is involved in reintegrating girls back into society. I am excited to see her again. She has offered to come and help teach the kids at Svay Pak the songs that she knows. In her words's 'I want then to know there is hope'. As she herself is on a journey of discovering new hope, my own prayer is that she will know the Source of that Hope---the One who knows her by name, the One who can put a new song in her own heart, the One who has come to give her a hope and a future!