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.