Monday, August 25, 2008

Update on Cambodia Trip 2008

It has been a few weeks since we have returned from our trip to Cambodia and on behalf of the team thank you for all your prayer support and the many ways you have encouraged us. When I reflect upon our experiences and think of all the prayers that were offered up on our behalf the words from 1 Thessalonians 5:24 come to mind: The One who calls you is faithful and he will do it. Our team indeed experienced God’s faithfulness and His provision for every need and request that was asked of Him ---whether it was peace for a nation during an election campaign, to unity within the team and between our Cambodian partners, to resolving ministry challenges in Svay Pak, to helping us to connect with the kids, to keeping us healthy and sustaining us as we endured the heat, to providing electricity for the VBS when we needed it the most, to protecting us from any unseen dangers ---God was gracious and good to us---all the time!

A Typical scene outside Rahab House
These past few weeks as I have been thinking about our time in Cambodia, the theme that has been emerging is seeing beauty in brokenness. Before entering into the Svay Pak community—I could only see the darkness, the brokenness, and the depravity of this community. It was and is very easy to judge those who reside here and all that it represents. After all, Svay Pak is renown for the sex trafficking of underage girls. Its external appearances provide an eerie reflection of the hidden darkness that under girds this community. The streets are lined with filth, garbage is a common sight where ever you turn, the buildings are in disrepair and the smells are intoxicating as you walk through the alley ways. Yet the words of Mother Theresa remind me that if we judge people, we have no time to love them. It is in these very places, God longs to pour His holy love and to bring forth luminous light so that even the dark is illuminated into a community that is often viewed with scorn and disgust. In many ways, the outreach ministry that AIM4Asia begun at Rahab house last October reflects the first strands of beauty that God has been weaving in this place. The two week VBS that our team did as we partnered with AIM workers Joseph and Ratanak, CEF workers and the girls from the Newsong centre, enabled us to see a different side of Svay Pak---the beauty of His precious little ones and the potential that lies in them, amidst the brokenness in this community. Each day when our van would enter into the main street and head towards Rahab house, we would be escorted by a small but boisterous entourage of kids smiling, waving and chasing along side our van. When we arrived at our destination and stepped out into the morning heat, we were like local celebrities, as the kids gathered around to touch us, call us by name or hug us. For all the challenges these young lives have known –whether it be verbal, physical or sexual abuse, feeling marginalized, forsaken and mistreated, their actions towards us were welcoming as they sought to express their joy, love and excitement to us.

Sharing a Meal at the VBS

The boys leading worship

What started our as a VBS for 55 kids grew to 165 kids by the end of our two weeks-- so many faces, so many smiles, so many longing to be acknowledged, so many to feed, so many desiring to be held or touched, so many names to remember. Where does one begin without feeling overwhelmed? When Jesus saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. (Matthew 9:36) To be like Jesus in this environment meant to sow His seeds of love and compassion and to see the one child in the midst of the multitude as we interacted with them through the bible lessons, the songs, the games, the crafts and the lunches we provided. Other times it was walking hand in hand with our little tour guides leading the way, singing in Khmer ‘Thank you, thank you Jesus’ as we meandered our way through the alley ways to the surrounding wooden shacks in the neighbourhood that represent home for so many. The kids would stop and proudly introduce us to their families or advise us who to give the food packets to. In the visible reality, it is hard to see what kind of impact these small gestures have on a community that is suspicious of outsiders and yet the words of Mother Teresa has serve to encourage me: Do not think that love, in order to be genuine, has to be extraordinary. What we need is to love without getting tired. It is the intensity of love we put into our gestures that makes them something beautiful for God. Intense love does not measure, it just gives.

Kingdom Kids Celebration at the end of the VBS

Christ’s intense love continues to be poured out as our partners at AIM4 Asia are in the midst of preparing to open a school for the kids at Rahab house within the next month. In the meantime, a weekly church service that begun over the past month has seen a steady flow of participation from the local residents and just last week 150 adults attended the service. Through all these ministry efforts in Svay Pak, we have heard that some families are no longer willing to send their daughters when a pimp comes to get them. This is a small ray of light that is shinning in the midst of the darkness. This is the invisible reality in which God is building His kingdom in the most unusual place and the gates of hell will not prevail. Only He can take a former brothel and transform it into a place of worship where His name is exalted! Only He can take a place that was once a place of death and destruction and transform it into a place of life and hope. Only He can chip away and breakdown the ancient walls and gates that have imprisoned this community, so that the King of Glory can enter in, in all His fullness.
After our time in Svay Pak, we had the opportunity to spend a day at Daughters Cambodia which ministers in Stung Meanchey---a slum that is a brothel area for local Cambodians. Daughters now supports 100 former prostitutes by providing them employment opportunities and a variety of services to empower them to make life style changes. Someone once said that people may not remember exactly what you did, or what you said, but they will always remember how you made them feel. This statement could not be more true when I think of the children of these former prostitutes. We had the opportunity to play some games and teach them some crafts yet the greatest pleasure came in presenting each of them with a t-shirt that had the Canadian logo and a teddy bear made by the Evergreens from our church. I have never seen so much joy and delight in the faces of kids as I saw in these, when they squealed with excitement as they discovered they were each going to get these gifts. For children who have nothing and are treated as nothing, their laughter and joy reminds me that as humans we long to be valued, to know that someone cares, to feel loved, to feel special and to be treated with dignity and worth. It is through these opportunities as mundane and simple as they seem that God revealed His beauty to us in these broken communities.

Beauty in Restoration – a wounded healer!
But God’s beauty is also being restored and emerging in those whose lives have endured suffering beyond comprehension. I had the opportunity to reconnect with Srey Neth, my spiritual daughter who lived through months of hell being raped daily by 10 to 20 men and being beaten and tortured. As I listen to her talk about the horrors she endured, I felt so blessed and privileged that she would share her pain with me. She is still on a journey of restoration and while she is not yet a believer, her wounds are no longer a source of shame. They have become a source of healing and a source of hope for other young women who have gone through a similar ordeal as our Lord (who gives strength to the weak) is the one who ultimately is giving her the courage and the voice to speak up and tell her story. Indeed, we have a God who is mighty to deliver us from the darkest pits of our lives and make something beautiful out of our pain that we in turn can become wounded healers.

Returning Home---what next?
As we returned home, the real challenge is to keep moving forward and asking God to integrate into our lives what we have each learned and the practical ways He desires us to respond. It is a called to live intentionally and to wait on Him for the next steps. To wait open-endedly as Henry Nouwen once said is to be actively present to the moment, trusting that something will happen to us that is far beyond our imaginings. It is giving up control over our future and letting God define our life, trusting that He moulds us according to His love and not according to our fear. It is my prayer that each of us will look to the Lover of our souls as the One who ultimately will give us courage and faith to live out the dreams He has placed in our hearts and to walk fearlessly with Him as we seek first His kingdom. Thank you again for being a part of our journey.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Home is where your heart is?

It’s been just over 2 days since we arrived back ‘home’ but I’m reminded of a comment one of my missionary friends said to me many years ago. “We can leave a place physically but we have not left it emotionally.” I am here in Canada but my heart is not here. I am not ready to talk to anyone except those who have been on the trip. It is normal to feel this way---to want to re-live the ups and downs, the challenges, the joys, the laughter, the tears and heartaches, to reminisce about the kids we met and the stories that touched our hearts. All of this is part of that mountain top experience of a short term experience but we are also called to come down from the mountain. It is easy to stay there to relish in those divine moments. These are the classic symptoms of re-entry culture shock that I and a few of my teammates are encountering. It will take some time for the heart and soul to realign with the head. I am not surprised that I am feeling this way but it’s been a long time since I had this kind of emotional response. I just have to be still and allow the Lord to do what He needs to do --- to speak to my heart according to His timeline and not to rush the process. It takes strength to wait but it is in the waiting that I often discover new life and new inspirations. So now the hardest part of this journey begins. Waiting and resting in His faithfulness to encounter another divine moment of His choosing and timing that will ultimately lead to a deeper transformation within each of us.

Today as I return to work and walk down a familiar street in the financial district, I am once again faced with the realities of working in an environment that affords me the opportunities to go to Asia annually to encourage, refresh and bless others. I love what I do here but I face this ongoing tension of two passions---one that enables me to work in a dynamic marketplace and the other which pulls at me to be in Cambodia. At times like this, these passions seem so far apart and yet God has shown me that they can be integrated. I head to my desk on the trading floor, research reports strewn over the desk and chair. I turn on my computer and am greeted with 758 emails….methodically I delete about 100 of them in an hour. It’s easy to go through the motions but I know that too will pass. So for now, the words of Jim Elliot are my solace: “Wherever you are, be all there,” not living in the past and not fantasizing about the future. God wants you in the present because that’s where His grace will flow. God meant it for good also means you can look expectantly toward the future. Come Lord Jesus, let your grace flow down as we look to you with anticipation. Teach us to walk in your ways regardless of circumstance or mindset.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Bye Phnom Penh, Hello Toronto!

I started writing this comment before we left Phnom Penh on Saturday morning but there was so much going on that there was no time to finish it. Five of us arrived back home safely tonight except for our luggage as 7 of our 8 bags missed the flight connection. Nonetheless, there were some unexpected blessings as two of the team members got upgraded to business class. For future reference we are discovering that if you are the last to board the plane, ask for the upgrade and it might just be that you will get upgraded! ha,ha. My dear team mate Char got upgraded to business class coming and going!

Our last week in Cambodia was more of a down time as we spent a few days in Kep which is about 3 hours in the southern part of Cambodia. It was a nice time to just relax and enjoy God's creation. How 3 weeks have flown so quickly and now one of the hardest parts is returning and processing all the memories from all our experiences in Cambodia. As Char recently said 'she's not ready to board the plane for home as yet.' I think we all share that sentiment. For Brenda she will be staying back and spending time with some of our missionary friends in Cambodia as she considers serving here long term. For Hiroko away from her husband and two kids, it was a time where she experienced God's favor and blessing on both her and her family, for Jan there is much to reflect on in terms of her role in missions, for Genie--she remains open to returning here again and for me, there are many questions to think about, many needs to evaluate and many thoughts to review.

All in all as I look back on these past 3 weeks, I see God's faithfulness in the many ways He has answered our prayers and watched over us. Now, the challenge is to be intentional on how to live counter culturally here based on what we have all experienced and how to translate His revelations to each of us in ways that will continue to bear much fruit for Him. Short term mission trips are great teasers to give us a glimpse of life overseas but the true test of their impact is the re-entry back into our home country. I look forward to seeing the permanent transformation that God does in each of our lives as we seek to live for Him in light of of all the blessings He has bestowed upon us on this trip.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Daughters Cambodia

We came back from Kep a couple of days ago and yesterday we spent the whole day at Daughters Cambodia. Daughters is located in Stung Meanchey the slum area in Phnom Penh. As of July 2008, 70 girls have left the sex industry to join Daughters’ full time. Typically they are uneducated and come from poor and dysfunctional families who live off their earnings, and who have usually been instrumental in selling them in the first place.

Each morning Daughters provides a drop in center for kids whose mothers work in the local brothel areas. Many of these kids live in the brothels with their mothers and are subject to abuse and see things that no child should see nor experience. I can't even imagine what it must be like for them to live in such an environment. The kids range in age from 9 months to about 12 years old and yesterday we had about 17 kids at the centre. We spent time making puppets with them and then performed little skits with the puppets. We also managed to use a few of the games that we did at Rahab house which brought a lot of laughter and smiles to their little faces. For me one of the greatest highlights of the morning was handing out t-shirts with a Canada logo that we had bought from home and also giving a teddy bear made by the seniors from our church. I wish I could have taken a photo to show you all (unfortunately no photos are allowed) the pure joy that came upon these little faces as they discovered that they would be each getting their own t-shirt and teddy bear. Their faces lit up with excitement and squeals of laughter as they each came forward to receive their gifts. In North America it is so easy to take for granted the gifts we give to others but here, these small gifts carry so much more meaning to children who are not used to receiving anything but who often find themselves begging or being beaten. Their reactions serve to remind me that we all long to feel special, to be valued, to be loved and to be treasured. So often God uses little children like these to teach us some of the most important lessons of life.

In the afternoon session, I was asked to prepare a 30 minute talk about budgetting to the young women who are former prostitutes,I was quite excited when Ruth the director asked if I could do this but when she commented that these women have no concept of what it means to add, subtract, divide and multiply, I realize that this was going to be no easy task. Most of these women have received no education so their level of understanding and comprehending any concepts is quite limited. So how does someone like me who is totally left brain and who is used to dealing with stock investments prepare for such a presentation! You pray desperate prayers! Thankfully, God answered through one of teacher teammates Genie who came to my rescue as God inspired her to use a drama skit related to sowing and reaping. Overnight, He also gave me some impressions related to the parable of talents and so we created a skit about two sisters ---one who was a wise planner and the other who lived for today. We have learned from our two young friends at AIM4Asia, that in the Cambodian context, dramas and skits work well as the visuals have a way of conveying messages that words cannot especially if one has limited language skills.

Thankfully the skit seem to speak to the young womens hearts as the responses and questions we got from them afterwards were quite interesting. One young woman mentioned that God had given her a dream that was similar to the skit that we did to help her to understand what it means to save money. Another girl commented that the skit taught her the importance of thinking about her future and not just for today. We are grateful for this little feedback as we trust that God will continue to use the images from this skit to impact the lives of these young women so that they will discover that God has a plan and purpose for their lives that is beyond just being a survivor from the day to day challenges of living under such difficult conditions to one that involves a hope and a future. Our time ended with us handing out more Canadian t-shirts, a teddy bear and a food packet for each girl.

I am grateful for this brief glimpse of what the Lord is doing through this organization. As I looked at the faces of the many young women who have chosen to leave a life of prostitution, I am reminded afresh that it is for these whom Jesus came to make something beautiful out of their broken lives. No matter what each has done, where they have been, He has come to cleanse them and make them whole again, white as snow. I look forward to seeing how He will bestow a crown of beauty for the ashes in each of them as their future enfolds.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Place of Rescue

There are some places in Cambodia that never change as God’s presence and peace reigns continuously in those locations. Place of Rescue an AIDS orphanage is one such place. In 2003 when I went on my first visit to Place of Rescue, construction of 10 new orphan homes were just being completed. With each passing year when I return, I continually am amazed at how the Lord continues to enlarge His vision that He gave Marie Ens, a retired 75 year old widow who oversees Rescue. This year a school is being built on the grounds and another 10 new homes are being added.

Mat Yei (Grandmother) Marie Ens with Srey Nich

The Volleyball and basketball court

10 New orphan homes

The new school building

Genie and her kids
Sopheak and Srey Nih

In attending Place of Rescue’s monthly birthday party, it feels like an oasis in the midst of a desert. This is the one place where God’s light shines so brightly amidst the darkness. It is a place of hope for the grannies who survived the Pol Pot era, the factory girls who are pregnant and who have a choice to give birth to their babies rather than abort them; to the kids whose parents are dying of AIDS and those whose parents have abandoned them---each of these represent different stratas of society and yet God has a plan and purpose for their lives to redeem them, restore their dignity and repay the years the locust have eaten from them. He has not forgotten them.
Coming here after our two weeks in in Svay Pak, I am struck by the stark difference between the kids at Svay Pak and the kids at Rescue. It is like night and day. The kids at Rescue reflect a calmness in their spirit and despite the fact that they are orphans, they radiate God’s peace and love. They are not rowdy but are polite. Watching the older teens lead worship and hearing all the kids pray blessings on those whose birthdays were this month I can’t help but think how God must be so delighted with these young hearts who are worshipping Him in Spirit and in truth. As the evening progressed the teenagers began to dance to Christian worship music. Indeed they were dancing for Jesus and having so much fun in such a pure way. It was share joy just watching them. Some of our team participated in the festivities as the orphans taught them some khmer dancing.

It is a breadth of fresh air being here. The Spirit roams freely unlike the oppressive spirit that seems to hover over Svay Pak. Yet God does not discriminate. He is at work in Svay Pak through the ministries at Rahab house and so one day I look forward to hearing and seeing Him transform broken and vulnerable lives in that community into people who will follow hard after Him. People who will worship Him with the same freedom and joy as those we see at Place of Rescue.
On Sunday we travel south to Kep for a 3 day mini rest stop. I don't think we'll be having any internet access so for now its time to just chill and allow the Lord to minister to each of us from the experiences He has given to us.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Svay Pak - The Last Day

Saying our final goodbyes!
Kimsin from CEF

Cakes from Daughters Cambodia

Our last day at Svay Pak began with 15 of us piled into our van filled with all the backpacks, the decorations and crafts. We had a late start as our van got stuck in traffic as two different convoys of people representing two of the political parties were parading down the street as the Cambodian national elections are on this Sunday. When we finally arrived at Svay Pak the kids were already waiting for us. We were greeted with a large bunch of kids screaming with excitement as they swarmed around the van. We felt like celebrities with kids calling out our names and wanting to touch us as we made a way towards the entrance of Rahab. The challenge was getting all our stuff from the van into the building. Thankfully Clay from AIM along with some of CEF staff cleared a path for us as we formed a small assembly line to get all the gifts into Rahab house. We were not quite sure how the logistics would work given the fact that each day brought more and more kids and unexpected surprises. Organizing all the activities requires flexibility as each day we would take stock of what worked and what didn’t. Today however, the program was going to be different as our CEF partners would do a puppet show and the ‘plan’ was to have all the kids decorate their ‘crowns’ for our Kingdom Kids party. We would then hand out cake made by one of Ratanak’s partners Daughters Cambodia. Following that, the kids would line up to receive a backpack which contained a teddy bear made by Char’s student, a t-shirt with our logo ‘Kingdom Kids’ and a verse from Psalm 45:11 translated in Khmer which said: The King is enthralled by your beauty, honour Him for He is your Lord.” We also included a note pad, pen and pencil.

We were running late frantically putting up all the decorations and arranging the room in such a way to avoid any chaos for our ‘plans.’ Outside we would hear the kids chattering and knocking at the doors. When the doors finally opened up the kids came piling in and we had them arranged in circles but like everything else, the circles got larger, kids were wanting to move to another circle some didn’t want to sit down. I suppose one would call this ‘organized chaos’! It is easy to feel overwhelmed in this kind of setting as the noise and chatter of the kids adds to the frenzy. At some point the crowns were being handed out to decorate, pandemonium ensued…little hands grabbing and reaching out, wanting to make sure they were not left out or forgotten. Some getting up and coming to the front. I think I used the words ‘ah tay’ (which means ‘no’), somtoh (sorry) and ‘chop chop’ (stop) way more than I had for the entire week! Nonetheless, in the midst of that chaotic fun, it was neat to just watch each of these youngsters with the crowns on their head. I can’t help but wonder how many of them are wearing the crown of thorns right now and will one day wear the crown of glory.

We did a headcount of the kids and realized that 150 food packets would not be enough. The numbers appear to be around 170 but that was easy to solve as it was easy to just ask the restaurant vendor to make more food packets and so we requested an increase to 180. The harder problem was how to decide who would get the 130 backpacks that we had. Another call for creative thinking of how to make our 5 loaves and 2 fish multiply --- help God! We took out some of the teddy bears from the teenage kid knapsacks and decided that the younger kids would get the bears. We had also bought extra note pads and pencils to give out as prizes and those became handy to give to the younger ones who didn’t receive a knapsack. Unlike previous times when we have handed out stuff, the kids didn’t complain or grumble. They accepted what we had to offer and seemed contented with the gifts they received. I am thankful to God for that in itself was a small miracle.

Saying goodbye to them was not easy as we gathered up in the front I found myself quite emotional and all I could utter out of my mouth in Khmer was that Jesus loved them and that we loved them too. At that point, my mind went blank as I was overcome by emotion. I am thankful to Char who God used at that very moment as she stepped up and spoke to them while Kimsin translated. She told them that we were here in Svay Pak because Jesus had sent us to show them His love. We had come in His name because we love Him and we hope that they will love Him as we do.

It is still too early to process all that transpired in Svay Pak but as I did my final walk around with the food packets that were left over from the Kingdom Kids party, some of the kids followed along still wearing their little crowns. They were the ones directing me on who to give the food to. Each time we do this we tell the person in Khmer that Jesus loves them. We trust that the Lord will take whatever seeds we have planted here and water them that they will ultimately know the One who wore the crown of thorns and who now wears the crown of glory. For now, our time here has ended but God’s presence remains there as AIM4Asia plans to start a school at the end of this month at Rahab House. While it is never easy to say goodbye, I am reminded of a quote I once heard from my favourite bible teacher Beth Moore---when we love in Jesus’ name it never fails. I trust that as we have sought to love these precious ones in His name that the aroma and fragrance of Christ has touched them in such a way that they will never be the same. And so we entrust them into His care and as I think of them, the song from Tommy Walker called ‘He knows my name’ is my prayer and my hope for them.

I have a Maker
He formed my heart
Before even time began
My life was in his hands
He knows my name
He knows my every thought
He sees each tear that falls
and He hears me when I call
I have a Father
He calls me His own
He’ll never leave me
No matter where I go

He knows my name
He knows my every thought
He sees each tear that falls
and He hears me when I call
On Saturday we will be visiting another set of kids at Place of Rescue. This is such a far cry from Svay Pak and I look forward to seeing Theary my 'little daughter'. More to come as we prepare to leave the city to head to Kep for a 3 day rest.

We need power!

Friday July 25th

I find it hard to believe that today was the last day - even though I have worked at many camps and I knew that the time would fly by! This camp was like no other experience for me. On a daily basis we didn't know how many kids would come, or if there would be electricity to run the fans and lights. We didn't know which CEF workers would join us, or what the day would bring. What I did know was that God would be faithful to supply all our needs and I can honestly say that I did not worry about the details. Today was a perfect example of that. As I mentioned the power has been less than reliable. With no fans running , limited airflow and no lights it has been very arduous to keep the attention of the children through no fault of their own! I found it hard to sit still in the dim light and 35 + degree heat. On Wednesday night we prayed that God would give us power for the morning and sure enough, the power stayed on for the morning - only! I thought to myself why didn't I ask specifically for the whole day?!!

So we prayed last night for God to give us power for Friday until we had to leave! As a special treat on our Last Day Celebration CEF brought a puppet display with sound and lights (I think you know where this is going!). It was more important for us to have power on the last day as we wanted it to be a great party. Our plan was to decorate the room with balloons and streamers before the children arrived, and then we would make the craft - paper crowns- that went along with our theme of Kingdom Kids Day Camp. CEF would preform their puppet show and then we would serve cake, say our goodbyes, and give them a lunch and a backpack filled with a t-shirt, a teddy bear, a pen and pencil and a notebook! This day had so much packed into it, and it depended in part on the power! When we entered the building the moment of anticipation ended when Joseph and Ratanak attempted to switch on the power - NO ELECTRICITY!

I called a couple of people to pray and we cried out to God who has all power to come and give us some! We had to begin and could not wait any longer so the children excitedly entered the room. There were so many of them! I was stationed in a corner to make crowns with them and the circle kept growing and growing and growing! In the end I had 40 + children circled around me all wanting me to staple their crown to fit their head and wanting more stickers to put on it! All the leaders were overwhelmed with the sheer numbers and what we would do under the circumstances.
Not 10 minutes into their arrival and the lights came on and the fans started to whirl! The room erupted with praise but I think my praise to God was the loudest! Why was I so amazed that God came through? He has shown me His faithfulness time and time again. What a great God we serve!

I am amazed that the entire day went seamlessly. There were so many details to attend to, but in the end all that needed to be done occurred. The room looked festive, we had enough food, we had electricity (praise God!), we had enough presents for all the children, and they knew that we came in Jesus' Name.

There is one more thing I would like to share with you. It was a gift to me from God. There is one boy that captured my heart. He is a ragtag vivacious, outspoken, somewhat ADHD kid that serenaded us on our lunch sometimes to our displeasure! He would sit on top of a ledge as we tried to rest in the heat of the day and would belt out this Khmer song about a girl that left a boy!!!! Oh my! I won't soon forget his voice! This boy only came to camp in the afternoons and while I don't know what he does in the mornings, he usually showed up around noon. I started looking for him today because I wanted to give him the present but there was no sign of him. I even put one aside for him but in the end it was needed to give to another deserving young girl. As we were cleaning up Cathy found a backpack that had fallen aside so I grabbed it and said this must be for him!!!! Still, he did not come and we were almost ready to leave. There was some food left over so Lisa and I decided to walk around Svay Pak to distribute the food to people in need. As we walked down a side street Lisa called out and said, " here he is!!!" I screamed his name which was slightly inappropriate but I couldn't contain my enthusiasm and joy in seeing him! He seemed to know that I had something for him and he left what he was doing and followed me back to Rahab's House. We talked the whole way back and I couldn't understand his Vietnamese, and he couldn't understand my English but somehow our hearts were speaking. It was so amazing to give him this little token of our love and I am thankful to God for not letting him be left out. My prayer is that he will one day sit on the rooftops and sing praises to the most High God who he knows as His personal Saviour. I pray that he will be saved from the "normal" of Svay Pak and be transformed into the wonderful young man God has made him to be. I am not naive to think that this will be an easy thing given all that we have seen and experienced, but if my God will come down and turn on the lights I believe that He will come down and make a way for this one.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

The Men & Boys in Svay Pak

Each day as our van entered into Svay Pak there is a local hangout at the top part of the main street corner where groups of men from the community tend to gather. Their daily ritual appears to be sitting around, smoking and playing cards or billards all day long or sleeping. I have been told that the men and young teenagers in Svay Pak often act as pimps. It is hard not to judge these men and at times keep an open mind that they too are in need of a Savior. Initially when we first drove by the local area, we received a bunch of stares from them. It’s almost as if Satan had parked his own bodyguards at the entrance of his territory and was trying to intimidate us. But in recent days we started getting waves or smiles from these very men when we drove by. Yesterday I went with one of the AIM helpers Ratanak and walked over to where they were---the main reason really was that I wanted to get a photo of them so we decided to ask them directly if it was okay. Their reaction was positive and not what I would expect. But then again, the darkness disguises itself as light.

On a second street corner we have also observed another set of men who daily stand around and appear to take note of all who walk up and down the street. Each day I have passed them by enroute to pick up the food packets for the kids at the VBS. Both Ratanak and I usually smile at them and greet them in Khmer. I took a photo of them as well and they chuckled when I showed it to them. Interestingly enough there is one guy who deliberately avoided having his face taken. I can only imagine why.

Around Rahab House we have noticed that whenever the Newsong girls come by on Tuesdays and Thursdays there is a group of young men---probably around 18 years who are trying to get the girls attention. They usually play with a hackey sack just outside Rahab house but yesterday they peered into see what we were doing. At one point, some of them appeared to be taunting a couple of the Newsong girls through their comments. Fortunately Clay a young American guy who works with AIM was also around. He was acting as bodyguard outside the building and would act as a barrier between them and the girls. At one point I found myself quite irritated with these boys as they seem to be jeering the girls on---perhaps they were just trying to get noticed and obviously were not having too much success but something in my spirit told me otherwise so I took the liberty of also speaking a few words to them in Khmer. They laughed at me and said a few words. In this environment, there is a mocking mentality---we see that with some of the kids as they pretend to say ‘sorry’ but don’t really mean it as a few minutes later they will hit another kid. These young men act the same way. It is not surprising, and so one learns not to personalize their reactions to us. I figure the best way to respond to this attitude is to give them a dose from heaven---ie: pray for transformation of their hearts. After all, God is the One who knows their hearts and it is ultimately the only One who can change them.

Friday is our final day at Rahab house...we are already having mixed feelings of leaving as our time with the kids here have been very meaningful. We see their joy and enthusiasm each day whenever we arrive as they run after our van on the main street screaming and waving and then crowd around us when the van's doors open. Each of them wanting us to notice them as they call out our names and touch us. It will be difficult to leave here as we have grown attached to them and they to us.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Physical and Spiritual Food

In the past few days I have been thinking how often we come to God with our own agendas. We think we know what we need and we come asking Him to meet that need. Yet God knows far better what we really need versus what we want. With each new day we continue to see an increase in kids as well as their mothers coming for the morning program. Yesterday we provided 125 lunches and we believe many of them are coming perhaps for the physical food. In the eyes of the kids and their families in this community, this is the immediate need…to satisfy the physical hunger. This is their agenda. But God is using that medium to draw them in for something better---the spiritual food that only He can provide. His plans for us are so much bigger and larger than what we envision for ourselves. We are seeing the unfolding of the holistic aspects of the gospel to provide an environment where both the physical and spiritual components work hand in hand. Jesus said that He is the Bread of Life and it is our prayer that as much as the children and adults are coming for physical nourishment, that God is feeding their souls with His spiritual food that will satisfy the deepest longings within their own hearts. Indeed may each of these who come taste and see that the Lord is good.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Partnerships in the Gospel

Our AIM Friends Ratanak and Yosef
A picture of Kimsin and Gannaya from CEF Cambodia teaching the morning VBS lesson.

One of the many blessings we have experienced on this trip is the local Cambodian partnerships that God has given us as a team. We could not accomplish much if it were not for these different partnerships. We are grateful for the two young men: Ratanak (yes what a name) and Yosef who are currently in a discipleship training program for pastors by AIM4Asia Founder Moses Seth. Both Ratanak and Yosef are sons of pastors and they were assigned to help us out at Svay Pak since they have spent a lot of time ministering in that community. They both have different gifts yet work so well together. Yosef helps us with the bible story time and leads the kids in worship in our afternoon sessions. He is very talented and has a natural ability to connect with the kids. Ratanak stands at the door and welcomes the kids and monitors the kids behaviour while we are doing our activities. He also ensures that Rahab House is kept clean and each afternoon any one of us on the team will follow his lead as he will go outside of the centre and pick up the garbage that is littered all around the front of the building. The kids also notice his servant heart and some of them will offer to pick up the garbage as well.

Yesterday Ratanak, Yosef and I along with three little tour guides who were no more than 3 feet tall led us along the narrow alley ways in Svay Pak to deliver a little lunch packet to one of the little girls who had attended the VBS in the morning session but left early as she had a bruise on her head. I had taken her home with some of the other little ones earlier that morning which gave me the perfect opportunity to pray for her and the two other girls who directed my path to her home. When we all got to the little shack where the family lived Ratanak took the opportunity to pray for the family and also to let them know about the VBS at Rahab House and to invite them to the church service that has started there. It was such a precious moment for me as God was using all of us in different ways to be His salt and light.

Our other partners have been the team from Child Evangelism Fellowship (CEF) in Cambodia. The teams from CEF have had an amazing ability to engage the kids and to manage their unruly behaviour in such a way that the kids calm down and participate in all the praise and worship and listen to the bible lesson. We have also noticed what a blessing that CEF is for Josef and Ratanak as there has been indirect mentoring going on as both young men observe how the CEF workers lead the kids in the morning activities. IN some sense I cannot help but wonder that our main purpose for this VBS is really to connect the AIM workers with our CEF friends. God has used that particular partnership to enhance the program and allowed all of us to gain a greater understanding of how to minster to kids in this context.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Svay Pak - Pastor Lap?

There are some kids who stand out in their kindness and their leadership skills. Over the past few days we have observed Lap and one thing that stands out about him is his thoughtfulness and the way he looks after the other kids. One morning when he arrived he took the initiative to arrange the slippers of all the kids so that they lined up properly. Most of the kids would tossed their slippers aside but not Lap. He has a very sweet and gentle spirit and each day we see him listening to the bible stories. He is the one who lines up the kids for us when we are playing games. Other times he is helping the little ones as seen in this photo. One day he and a few boys led my teammate Genie to the Catholic church which is down the street in Svay Pak and showed her a statute of Jesus. He wanted his photo taken with that statue.
Following that, the Lord spoke to Genie about some of the boys who had displayed leadership tendicies. As Genie and I were praying one night for the boys and particularly ones that we had connected with him, the Spirit seem to give an impression to me to pray for Lap as the Pastor of Rahab House. Since that day as we watched him, he seemed to exhibit those shepherding qualities. We don't know what the future is for these kids in Svay Pak but God knows and we have felt the need to pray into what we see. For Lap, we see the attributes of a servant heart, a tender spirit and leadership qualities.

Church and Old Friends

On Sunday we attended the International Church and were all blessed by a sermon we heard on Genesis 15 which talked about God’s covenant with Abraham. We were reminded that that submission and faithfulness are the roots of obedience. As we continue to submit to God’s agenda and trust in His faithfulness here, it has been such a blessing to see Him work through our feeble efforts.

Today 4 of our team members ---Brenda, Genie, Hiroko and Janice went off to visit the Killing Fields, while Char and I connected with our missionary friends Cathy and Kim as we were busy buying backpacks among other gifts that we plan to give to the kids at the end of the VBS this week. This coming Friday on our last day in Svay Pak we are having a Kingdom Banquet that will be our final celebration and end to the VBS. We can’t wait to see their faces as we hand out our little kingdom packages to them.

Our team got a bit of a taste of shopping in Cambodian markets as we spent the afternoon in Psar Tuol Tompong otherwise known as the Russian market. It is here that I get to hone my bargaining skills as we haggle with them. Often the vendors will say to us ‘cannot, I give you good price’ to which I reply ‘yes you can, you are my friend’! And so the banter goes back and forth. Some people find bargaining draining but I get energized by it.

In the evening we went to Soriya the one and only mall in Phnom Penh and probably Cambodia. Soriya has a lot of stores and eating places but you would not necessarily find your average Cambodian here as the prices are quite expensive than if one went to a local market. Our purpose for going there was to go to the Pizza restaurant to meet up with some old friends from Transitions Cambodia (TCI). Jaya who is the director of TCI along with Srey Neth who is a spokesperson for TCI and Sochea (not her real name). It was so good to see them all and to hear how they are doing. Srey Neth is about 21 now and God is using her to speak up and give a voice to many who have experienced the horrific atrocities of being sold into a brothel. I am so proud of her and as she spoke about her life in the brothel which consisted of servicing 10 to 20 men a day, being beaten or tortured with electric shock if she didn’t cooperate, I just smiled at her and put my hand over hers. She is a testimony that He who is in us is greater than he that is in this world. I cannot even fathom what it must have been like for her but as I listen to her speak, I can see that God is giving her strength ---that the horrible ordeal that she went through does not debilitate her. Instead her desire is to tell other girls who are at risk of being sold into prostitution about her journey so that they are aware of the darkness that so envelops a girl who enters that environment. What man intended for harm, God is using for good. One of the unexpected blessings of this dinner was that both Srey Neth and Sochea are now planning to join us for an afternoon to help with the VBS in Svay Pak later this week. I am looking forward to having them there with us and am excited to see what God will do in their lives as they offer themselves in service for His purposes

Saturday, July 19, 2008

VBS Photos in Svay Pak

Uploading photos take a long time here but I hope this one gives you all a little glimpse of what is happening on this corner of the earth.

Svay Pak - Day 4 (Lisa)

I’m writing this blog on Saturday as we have all been quite tired after spending time with the kids. Day 4 started out with great enthusiasm from the kids and with each passing day we are seeing an increase in attendance. Our first day we had about 55 kids but as the week went by the numbers increased and we are now having a VBS for 85 kids. One of the highlights has been providing lunch to them after they have sat through the bible lesson done by our CEF partners. Trying to organize a lunch for 85 kids is not as complicated as it seems as we have been ordering little food packets from a local Vietnamese family restaurant in Svay Pak. God has given us much favour with this particular family that runs that restaurant as with each passing day, they have been giving us discounts on the food so that we are paying less and less per head.

With each lunch box that we hand out it is a privilege to just say to each child ‘Jesus loves you’. I pray that these small acts of kindness will be remembered by them long after we have gone. That they will know that He is the One who ultimately is their daily bread who will provide for their every need. It has been a real joy in serving the kids despite the fact that they make a mess often spilling the fish sauce on the floor. In a strange way I look forward to cleaning up after them. This is truly a gift from God given that I am not inclined to domesticity! In many ways, I am reminded that the God of the universe who created the heavens and earth humbled Himself and stooped down to lift us up and in a similar way when we clean up all the dirt and mess made by these kids, we are hopefully demonstrating to them that there are worthy to be loved and served.

One of the unexpected benefits of feeding the kids is that we have had the opportunity to also connect with some of the vendors along the street where Rahab house is located. On Thursday myself and one of the AIM helpers who ironically is named Ratanak had the privilege of praying for one of these street vendors who was selling us pop. It turned out she was a Christian but goes to a church outside Svay Pak so we took the opportunity to invite her to the church service that AIM recently started about 3 weeks ago on Sunday at Rahab House. In all of these activities we are able to see God connecting the dots as He is the one orchestrating all these different interactions.

While these were some of the good things that have been happening, we had an incident on Friday afternoon that made us mindful that we have to be on guard and be alert. One of the kids had become angry with us for not allowing him to participate in the afternoon activities after he had received 3 warnings for creating disruption in the classrooms. As a result he decided to lock the outside gate of Rahab house with some type of rope at the end of the afternoon session so that we were locked inside Rahab house and could not get out.. Fortunately we were able to get some other kids to untie the rope so that we could open the gate and let ourselves out. This incident was a sharp reminder how easy these kids can turn on you if they feel rejected and more importantly, how Satan can use them to attempt to harass or intimidate us. It is times like this when I am so thankful that Christ has won the victory for us on Calvary and we need not be afraid but simply stand firm in Him. For this is His battle and not ours.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Svay Pak - Day 3 (Lisa)

We have been so busy the past few days that I have not had much time to blog so am trying to play catch up on this end. Thursday we had an exhausting day but not because of the heat. Rather my exhaustion comes from playing with the kids especially the boys who I have been arm wrestling with. Some of them give off this image of being tough but as my school teacher teammate Genie said ‘you just have to play a bit rough with them and they actually soften.’ This is turning out to be true as I had a few playful shoving matches with them---and sure enough they all joined in trying to see if they were stronger than me. On Thursday, five of them: Hoa, Lap, Jahn, Chee and Dat helped us clean up after we had served lunch to the kids. They wanted to mop and sweep the floors for us so it worked out well as we sat back and just watched them clean. These rowdy group of young boys who range in age from 12 to 15 years old are the leaders in this group of kids. They eagerly want to help and so we are looking for ways to empower them. For now, we think we’ve found some helpers for our daily chores.

We had a second visit by the girls from the Newsong Centre in the afternoon. They spent the time teaching the kids in Svay Pak how to make bracelets and necklaces. One would think that boys would not be interested in this kind of jewellery making but they are. It was interesting observing the interactions between the kids and the girls. It was like watching an extended family gathering as they spent time playing various games together and teasing one another with a playful shove or push. While all this activity was happening inside Rahab House, a group of older teenage boys formed a circle outside playing with a hackey sack which kind of looks like a shuttlecock. One particular teenager’s face looked so familiar as he reminded me of one of the young pimps on the Dateline NBC documentary Children for Sale. In watching these young men play knowing what their alleged evening jobs were, I saw a glimpse of their playful side. God seems to be unifying the team’s heart for these young men. We have all felt a need to pray for teenage boys in this community knowing the impact they could have to influence others if their lives were transformed.

All this to say that Rahab House is in many ways a beachhead. It certainly appears to draw a buzz of activity both inside and outside when ever there is any event going on there. Indeed God is building His kingdom in this place in a rather subversive way using the weak and vulnerable in this community.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Svay Pak - Day 2 (Lisa)

We have just completed Day 2 at Svay Pak and God continues to give us an amazing level of energy despite the heat.

Once again as our van turned into the main road heading towards Rahab House we were greeted with smiles from the kids who were running along side the van. The numbers increased as we got closer and some of the kids who had remembered our names from the day before starting calling out to us. As the morning progress more and more kids started to come. We have been trying to establish rules of behavior as the kids here don't find anything wrong with punching or hitting each other whether it be boy against boy or boy against girl. They are quite a rowdy bunch and yet it seems with each passing hour, our hearts are warmed by them. It has been a real blessing just seeing them all enjoying the program thus far and the excitment with which they come. There really is not much for the kids in this community to do as later in the afternoon we took a stroll around the alley ways in the Svay Pak area with our little tour guides leading us. This place is like a dump with garbage strewn all over the place. Old men playing cards and young men hanging out watching TV. As we walk by them, they often give us these glares but I am determined to not be intimidated by them. Should I make eye contact, I smile and say hello in Khmer. The women seem to be the ones who are doing all the work (sorry guys) and the children seem to have more joy and life in them than the adults.

When one sees people living in squalor as this I am reminded of how easy it is in this environment to feel useless or worthless and give into resignation. The external appearances of this neighborhood I think reflects much about the common place attitude that ensares a people held in captivity. The darkness is here and the spirit in this neighborhood is quite oppressive. One can only wonder if any good can come out of this place and yet my mind wonders back to over 2000 years ago when the same thought was made---can anything good come out of Nazareth?

I hope to upload some of my photos tomorrow as its late here and I'm pooped. Tonight we met up with Kim Bui who is a Canadian Vietnamese missionary with the C&MA. She mentioned to us about another village near Svay Pak in which 100% of the daugthers were sold into the sex trade. It still boggles my mind but for now, I find myself focusing on the children of Svay Pak. In all these situations, I continue to be reminded that it is one child at a time. What God can do with one child in Svay Pak who is totally yielded to Him. When I think of this, it is my hope that these kids who are coming to the VBS will have the seed planted deep within them. That this seed of God would fall on good soil and bear much fruit. I am already excited for next week as Kim is hoping to join us in our outreach.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Unexpected Surprises - Svay Pak

How does one describe doing a VBS for kids in Svay Pak. It is simply to expect the unexpected and to be flexible at all times. Yesterday afternoon our team along with two staff from CEF Cambodia went to Svay Pak to visit Rahab House along with two young men who are with Aim4Asia. As we approached Rahab house some of the kids in the community began to run along and wave at us. They could hardly wait for the door of our van to open--their faces full of smiles and their eyes peering into the van. Their little wirey hands reaching out to grab amything that was available to the hand. If there is one Khmer word that I have had to use repeatedly over these last two days it is 'Ah Tay' which means 'no' in Cambodia.

Our initial interactions with the kids of Svay Pak was quite shocking as we watch kids punching each other. My colleague Brian Mcconaghy had warned me that the kids in Svay Pak are very different from the kids elsewhere in Cambodia. He could not have been more accurate in his assessment as we watched how rough they played without any kind of regard of whether they hurt their friends. Needless to say, all of what we observed at Svay Pak had us all feeling a bit overwhelmed as we looked at the daunting tasks of trying to run a VBS program for the next 10 days.

Fast forward and its a day later, after much prayer we were reminded through our morning devotionals that nothing is impossible with God. That we need to keep choosing to trust Him despite the visible reality. So here we are at the end of our first day and what a day it has been. Our morning began with picking up my OMF friend Cathy, then 3 CEF works and the two young men from Aim4Asia---here we were 12 of us in a van headed to Svay Pak. As the van turned into the main street of Svay Pak, the kids started to run along side us. Like the day before they swarmed the van wanting to see what we had inside and so as we began to unload all our things for that day, there seem to be a certain excitment in both them and us. As our team of 12 entered into Rahab house that morning we closed the doors, formed a circle and began to pray both in English and Khmer for God's power and might and His Spirit to take control and fill every corner of this place. I get the sense we are just another part of a new foundation that is being built in this place as I think of the role that different teams have played in this place---our fellow Canadian brothers and sisters from Fairview Presbyterian who had the ardous task of breaking down the walls of this ex-brothel, to the Newsong girls who come here every week with their teachers to reach out with God's love to the kids and now us who have the awesome privilege of just planting another stone of truth in this place as we partner with local Cambodian Christians. Indeed like David vs. Goliath, I feel as though we have all began to plant stones of truth in this community that will ultimately lead to Jesus being the chief cornerstone not only of Rahab house but to this entire place.

The VBS in the morning began full of energy as the kids came in, some of them slowly peering in and others being drawn in by their friends while others stood at the entrance not sure whether to come or to go...wanting it seem to be apart of what was going on but cautious in their approach. Two parents sat in with their young kids. As the time went by more and more kids came, but one thing I did notice was that there were not many 10 to 12 year old girls. There was a group of raucous young boys who seem to bond so well with my teammate Genie. God had given her the ability to engage with them in such a way that at one point during the day they kept on calling her name while we were on break. God had used her to make a heart to heart connection with them despite the language limitation. As the day progress, our fellow partners in ministry CEF did an awesome job in leading the kids in worship and praise. As I walked out of Rahab House at one point to organize the lunch that we were providing for the kids, I could hear the kids singing so loud. It was this joyful noise of praise that followed me up the street and I could not help but pray ‘Lord let your glory shine in this place as you raise up people in this community who will worship you in spirit and in truth.

By 2pm the girls from Newsong arrived with a few of their teachers and they began to join in and lead the kids in worship. It was such an amazing sight to see---former child prostitutes, ministering and reaching out to children who are at risk of being sold into prostitution. Only God can ordain such plans and purposes that remind me that His ways and thoughts are so much higher than ours. A few minutes later we were greeted with another set of people as Gary Haugen the founder of International Justice Mission stopped by to visit. What an unexpected surprise to meet and talk to a man who has really brought attention to seeking justice for the oppressed around the world. He had not been back to Svay Pak since that infamous raid in 2003 that was featured on Dateline NBC. In the midst of all these visitors, the kids were singing and playing games---there was such a buzz of activity going on but all of it filled with joy and laughter. Despite the heat of the afternoon sun, I could not imagine being anywhere else as I watched these little faces all around me having so much fun.

As our first day in Svay Pak ended I was touched by a special gift from God as a little girl came up to me. She looked the size of a 3 year old but was probably around 6 years old. With her big eyes and a big smile on her face she looked up towards me and opened her hands. I picked her up and she put her head on my shoulder and gave me a big hug. I began to pray for her that God would watch over her and protect her from any attempts that Satan would use to steal her for his purposes. Just then another little girl tugged at my pants leg and extended her hands upwards and so here I was holding two little girls side by side peering into their eyes. One by one they turned to me and gave me a kiss on both my cheeks. If I could freeze that moment in time, I would have. God was showing me again that no matter where we are, no matter what darkness is around us, His love is there. The children of Svay Pak maybe unruly and at times wild, but they long to be loved and to feel love like any other children in any community. I can’t wait to get back to them today.

First impressions of Svay Pak

G'day all,

It's 6:00 am on Monday morning and we've got a full day ahead of us prepping for our Kingdom Kids Daycamp which begins tomorrow. I am looking forward to starting our hands-on ministry!

Our last two days have been spent adjusting to life here and being tourists. Traffic has been a fun experience - both as a passenger in a tuk-tuk and as a pedestrian crossing the street! We've been eating wonderful food and taking it all in. Yesterday we were able to go to Tuol Sleng a former high school turned torture center during the Khmer Rouge era. I'm still trying to process and understand what I saw there.


I think I was a bit distracted when I wrote the last bit - now it's 5:20 pm on Tuesday night and we've finished our first day of Daycamp at Svay Pak and it was amazing! There were many kids and it was dirty and hot but God provided in ways we didn't expect. We are partnering with Child Evangelism Fellowship Cambodia and they are doing an amazing job with the Bible teaching. It's a great example of the importance of working with nationals who understand the culture a lot more than us Westerners. We're also partnering with a couple of young men from Aim for Asia who are preparing to be pastors. Their excitement and rapport with the kids was also amazing. Their organization has started holding church services at Rahab House and there have been quite a few adults becoming familiar with what Rahab House has been transformed into - a community center run by people who love God. There were special visitors there today as well - the founder of International Justice Mission (IJM) came with a few others to see the area. They are the organization that led the raid in 2003 on the brothel that is now Rahab House. There is so much recent history in this place that I am just learning and it's a bit overwhelming to know I'm in a place where children had been victimized and now is a safe and fun place for many at risk kids who love to play and scream and bug each other just like kids all over the world. One difference is their tendency to be violent with each other - there is so much pushing, hitting and yelling at each other - they don't respect one another at all. Please pray for us to know how to best deal with this.

Please pray for the 10 boys (12-15 years old) who have surprised and challenged us with their behavior and interactions with the other kids. It was mentioned they are probably connected with the brothels in the neghborhood but still they come and learn about God and sing the songs - I guess they are still kids at heart. I did see one of these boys leave in the middle of the Bible lesson because he needed to answer his cell phone - another one had quite a nice watch - in such a poverty stricken area, one has to wonder where that money came from. Pray that some Cambodian Christian men will step up and challenge them with boundaries and be an example of what it means to be a godly man.

Some of the girls from Agape Restoration Center (ARC) came this afternoon to hang out with the kids as they do every Tuesday and Thursday afternoon. These girls have been rescued from prostitution so it's interesting to see them in an area that is probably similar to where they had been. A couple of the girls were talking with a boy about 12 years old who had been acting up. They complimented him and encouraged him to grow up and be a good man. It blows my mind that a boy this young may already be on the way to being a part of this business of child prostitution. Only God can help break this cycle...

There's a lot more that could be said but my mind is on overload and it's time for supper.

Thank you for remembering us in prayer!

Brenda :)

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Lisa - How Long O'Lord?

Yesterday morning in my quiet time I was meditating on Habbukuk 1:2-4 --- 'How long O'Lord must I call for help but you do not listen or cry out to you 'violence' but you do not save? Why do you tolerate wrong? Destruction and violence are before me; there is strife and conflict abounds. Therefore the law is paralyzed and justice never prevails. The wicked hem in the righteous so that justice is perverted.

These verses seem so fitting as we visited the Tuol Sleng museum on Sunday. As I looked at the photos of the many faces that were incarcerated and tortured in this place, I could not help but wonder how many of them must have cried out in anguish to God. How many of them saw that the law was paralyzed and felt hemmed in because the wicked hemmed in the righteous.

Today these verses taken on a new meaning for me as I think of the young girls who are held against their will in brothels in Cambodia. How many of them must be crying out 'how long O' Lord.' Indeed it seems that for them the strife and conflict abounds and for those who are seeking justice on their behalf the law is paralyzed and justice seems perverted. Yet what gives me hope is the opportunity to visit places like the New Song centre. Yesterday we dropped by to have lunch with them and handout handmade necklaces with a cross. It has been 3 years since the centre has opened up and I remembered my first visit in 2005 when only 16 girls were there. Today they are 47 girls living there and each time as I have had the opportunity to come and visit, I am just so thankful for this oasis as I look at the smiling faces of the youthful residents. It was such a joy seeing a special little sister who I’ll called Nih---she’s actually 17 now and is studying English and math. But I remember the first time I saw her those 3 years ago, we sat on swings and she began to share her dream of wanting to be a pilot. Today that dream is still alive and I look forward to seeing how the Lord will transform that dream into a reality in her life. When she caught sight of me as we entered into the eating area, I felt so blessed as she ran up to give me a big hug. It was as if we were long lost friends and in some ways we are. It is my prayer and hope that the Lord will continue to nurture this friendship regardless of the distance of our countries.

We spent some time helping the girls make balloon animals although some of the girls found it more fun to burst the balloon. In the end, the staff at Newsong along with the girls took the team on a tour of the building. Some of the girls proudly escorted some of the team members into their rooms showing them pictures and the stuffed animals they had collected. For me, just walking through the bedrooms of the girls gives me such joy as I observe all the bright colours of their bedsheets and the pictures they had drawn that hung on the wall. For here in this place, restoration of a childhood stolen was slowly being redeemed. Teenage girls were finally being able to just be free to laugh and play and do silly things.

Time at Tuol Sleng...(PG13)

After trying to go to a church service this morning (unsuccessful as it moved from Sunway Hotel - last year's info) the team spent some time sharing about what we have been seeing and experiencing.
We then made our way off from there and took tuk-tuk's to Tuol Sleng Museum. It was a former high school but when the Khmer Rouge took over they made it a torture prison. All of the artifacts, buildings and some prisoner's personal belongings are on display. Our purpose for going was to better understand Cambodia's history and the people.
As I entered the gate and walls covered with barbed wire I got a sense of stillness in that place; amazing since the rest of the city is buzzing with noise and activity. I looked around at the palms that stand 30 feet in the air and thought that if they could talk they would wail and cry out of the horrors they have seen.
As we walked into the buildings which were classrooms we saw for the first time what was probably the last view of thousands. At the time the Khmer Rouge took pictures of each person who came into Tuol Sleng. They are on view in some of the rooms and I was grieved to look into their hollow eyes. Only a handful of people walked out of the prison alive. Everyone else was tortured and killed in the most horrific ways.
I tell you this not for shock value or in a voyeristic manner. I tell you this because the genocide of Cambodia left a hole in their society that is still being endured. It ruptured the fabric of the family and tore apart any trust amongst countrymen. I cannot fathom these things in my western mind and from my upbringing because it is far from my experience, but I have a glimpse... and so when I meet the kids at daycamp tomorrow, I want to love them even more.
One of the pictures I looked at in the museum was of a 5 or 6 year old girl. I presume she was tortured and killed with the masses. I was thinking that that could have been me.


Saturday, July 12, 2008

Live in Phnom Penh! - Lisa

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.

A warm welcome in Phnom Penh...

After a wonderful send-off at Pearson Airport (thanks to all who were there), we made it to Phnom Penh fairly easily. There was no lost luggage and one of my teammates was even bumped up into business class for the long flight from Toronto to Hong Kong!

We arrived around noon and headed to our hotel to settle in and nap a bit before heading down to the waterfront for a bite to eat and to purchase some bottled water. We're back at the hotel now and I think I'm the only one still awake - gotta love jet lag! I think it's time to sleep.........zzzzzzzzzzz.........

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Lisa - 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!

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Hiroko's prayer letter

June 25, 2008

Dear Family and Friends,

I want to share with you about my upcoming trip to Cambodia and invite you to be a prayer supporter with me on this journey. I will be part of a team of six people -- Lisa, Charlene, Brenda and and myself from my church, Rexdale Alliance Church, Janice from Upper Room Community Church and Genie from Young Nak Presbyterian Church. We will be going for 3 weeks from July 10 to August 2nd. Our team has been meeting regularly for training since the spring.

Why am I going?

As many of you know, for the past couple of years, I have been quite involved in the ministry of seeking justice on behalf of the vulnerable and the oppressed. I volunteer regularly with International Justice Mission (IJM) (, - a Christian international human rights organization that rescues victims of violence, sexual exploitation, slavery and oppression - assisting IJM with research, advocacy with the federal government, supervising law students and representing IJM at speaking engagements. Through this involvement, I have learned much about the heart-breaking reality of human trafficking – an unthinkable reality of 27 million people around the world suffering from slavery – whole families in debt bondage, forced into back-breaking labour for oppressive owners, and young girls and women forced into sexual slavery, where they routinely face violence and abuse. In the face of this, God has given me a passion for partnering with him in seeking justice for those who are in these situations of oppression. I have been blessed to have met like-minded people and to be part of a prayer group that focuses on countering sex trafficking in Cambodia. As I read about the plight of these girls and women, helped to organize conferences and work to educate others about the extent and horror of this trade in human beings, and pour out my heart to God on behalf of the victims and those who work with them, I felt a need to go deeper. I sensed God calling me to go and see first hand the horrific reality of these terrible abuses, to meet the survivors and to see the transforming power of God in the lives of these people, and to encourage and refresh the front-line workers.

What will we be doing?

1. We will be involved in a Vacation Bible School / Kids Club Outreach in the heart of Svay Pak – a notorious brothel area in Phnom Penh. A mission organization called Aim4Asia ( runs an outreach centre called “Rahab’s House” out of a former brothel building, with the aim of reaching children who are at risk or have already been sold into prostitution but live in that neighbourhood. International Justice Mission actually rescued 37 girls from that very brothel 5 years ago and it was shut down. We will be partnering with Child Evangelism Fellowship Cambodia in running our VBS and we will likely also partner with former child prostitutes who are now believers and live at an aftercare centre called Newsong Centre. I am so excited to be a part of this ministry that seeks to shine the light of Christ into dark places and to witness first-hand God’s transforming power in the lives of the survivors.

2. We will be visiting and meeting with a number of other organizations, including the Cambodian office of International Justice Mission and Daughters Cambodia (, to learn more about their work and how we can partner with them. Each of these organizations is involved in the front-line work of helping the victims of sex slavery. We will also visit one of the aftercare centres to spend time with some of the girls who have been rescued from forced prostitution and to encourage and refresh the staff there.

3. We hope to be involved in some prayer ministry with Pastor Sok & Savy who work with rural pastors and to also spend time with Kim who runs a Vietnamese school for disadvantaged children.

What about my family?

I am blessed to have the full support and blessing of my husband and children as I set out on this journey. Alana and Emma will be taken care of by Steve’s older sister, Ruth, who is coming from Los Angeles for the three weeks that I am away. This is truly an answer to prayer, since I could not have picked a better person to care for my family and manage my home while I am away. Ruth and the girls are planning their own adventures, visiting various relatives in Sault Ste-Marie and the Ottawa area.

Prayer requests

As we continue to prepare for our trip and travel to Cambodia, please join me in prayer:

- Pray that I will find rest in God and be filled with His Spirit as I prepare to go, and that God will redeem my time and enable me to both prepare for the trip and be fully engaged as a mother to my children.

- Pray for God’s protection in our travels and for energy, strength and good health for all of us on the team, especially as we have a demanding schedule.

- Pray that throughout my time in Cambodia, God will fill me daily with His Spirit and open my spiritual eyes to see things from His perspective and to always seek His direction and discernment.

- Pray for spiritual protection over our team, as we enter into places of darkness and oppression, that we would be able to proclaim the freedom, the love and the rule of God.

- Pray for the people we will meet in Cambodia, that God will be preparing their hearts to hear of his love, and that we will be able to show them His love, mercy and compassion.

- Pray for unity within our team and in working with our ministry partners (most of whom we’ve never met), for good communication and that all our interactions will be God-honouring.

- Pray for my family, for God’s protection, sustaining power and provision for my husband, children and sister-in-law, and also that this would be an enriching experience for Steve, Alana and Emma, as well as for myself.

Thank you for partnering with me in this journey. I so appreciate your support and your prayers!

Love and blessings,