Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Slums-Part 2

Alright, I’m feeling bad about leaving everyone hanging on that last story. Things got really busy, and I finally have time to catch up….

So, Andy had just told me to keep the kids where they were, and he had taken off running. Meanwhile, I had about 11 children (most of them half naked and barefoot) begging for my last piece of candy. I racked my brain with how to share Jesus with these kids…there had to be some story about sharing I could tell them. So as these small, dirty hands grabbed at my last piece of candy, I scrambled to tell the children that God expects us to share. I told them that God gives us so many things—the least we can do is share with each other. The irony of my situation cannot be overstated. Here I stood, a middle-class American with enough money to buy as much candy as I could want, telling these poor kids who did not even had shoes or clothes, that they needed to share the last piece of candy that I had brought (as a side note, we had brought at least a dozen bags of candy for these children). I told them that God had given them so much…like the sunshine (which was unbearably hot that day), the water (which was disgusting and should never have been drunk), and a place to live (where most of us would rather die than live there). I’ll admit, in that moment, I ran out of things to tell them that God had given them just from looking around. I prayed for a second that my whole story would not be ruined right here.

Thankfully, we had picked up one of the boys that lives in NHO’s Pursat orphanage a few days before. His dream is to become a translator. Without hesitating at all, Sophea jumped right in to translate and explain my story to the children. As I nervously waited for their reaction while they heard the words in Khmer, a boy suddenly pointed to another girl. Sophea quietly told me that the boy, although he did want the last piece of candy, believed that this young girl should have the last piece; she was the only person that had not received any candy. Sophea explained that the last piece of candy would go to the small girl, and I breathed a sigh of relief. Sometimes, despite our mistakes and failures to relay the Gospel, God still performs miracles…

As I waited for Andy to return, I noticed Sothea introducing our team to his “cell group.” This is the group of people that he ministers to every week in the slums. I’m not sure why, but every time I have talked to Sothea about his cell group meetings, I pictured at least a small building that they would meet in. Instead, I see several beautiful ladies, living right in the heart of the slums with dirty kids clinging to them, pull out a worn and tattered mat for our team to sit on. They laid the mat right on that dirty, trash-filled path, giving our team the only real place to sit. Then, I watched as my team had church right there. Pastor Dee shared the salvation story, and we prayed for the people right there on this dirty old mat. We cried, we hugged, and we loved on them. Folks, that is what Christianity is all about…reaching people where they are at and simply loving on them. You can have church like this anywhere, at any time, with anyone. You won’t regret it.

As we began to walk back, the kids were still swarming us. Despite the prayers and time together, I felt so bad. I kept wishing there was more we could do. These naked, dirty kids deserved better than this. And that’s when I saw Andy. He was walking quickly back to towards the children carrying this little gym bag with him that I’d seen him carry for the last few days. Up to this point, I thought the gym bag just contained his clothes or whatever he needed during the day. Little did I know, this gym bag contained just a glimpse into Andy’s heart.

As Andy walked up, he pulled a pair of small Old Navy flip flops out of his gym bag. Then he pulled another pair out. And another. And another. And still another. All different sizes. He begin to take the tags off these shoes, and hand them out to each team member. I was overwhelmed with emotion as I saw my team members kneel down in the dirt and sewage, pull a naked child close to them, pick up their filthy bare feet, and fit the child with the appropriate sandal. I have never seen such incredibly loving acts of service in all my life.

Andy’s gift to these children is hard to describe. We had no idea he even brought flip flops with him to Cambodia (especially so many pairs with so many different sizes). No one told him he should do that, and no one told him the slums would be the perfect location to give the sandals out. Rather, Andy just let God lead him. And in the most dirty and ugly place imaginable, there was simply nothing more beautiful than seeing a naked child, running around with a brand new pair of sandals—now protected from the trash and sewage all around them.

After, we walked to where Sothea lives (which is also where a church service is led for people in the slums and where several other volunteers live). I’d love to tell you it was a huge place where people from all over the slums could come and worship. , In reality, however, it was no bigger than a townhouse. The church service is held on the first floor in the only room on that floor, which is no bigger than most of your living rooms. As we walked in, the service was just starting. It was packed. With every chair pulled out, there were still not enough seats to hold everyone.

Within just a few minutes, Andy and I noticed all these children hanging out right outside the service. Because the volunteers can only afford to rent this small location, the children have nowhere to go while their parents are in the service. When we asked what the children should do, we were told the children have a program on the following day; they had to wait in the streets until their parents were done on this day. This news, although I completely understand the financial restraint on these volunteers, really made me sad. All I could think of was the verse in the Bible that said, “Let the little children come to Me.” Lined up right next to the building were all these children, but they literally had nowhere to go while they waited for their parents. I just couldn’t sit in worship while I knew the kids were out there. Apparently, neither could Andy. Almost immediately, we both asked if we could have our own program for the children. Without a moment’s hesitation, one of the volunteers at the church, Nehemiah, said, “of course” and agreed to translate for us. 

I feel like I need to specify how great I think Nehemiah was in this situation. Our whole team was supposed to be going to church. Technically, Andy and I were disrupting the service, although quietly, by asking this request. In addition, we were messing with this church’s schedule of events (they are only able to do one service at a time given the size of the room). In addition, we were volunteering just for that day; they are there working in the slums every day. I know many churches that would have reacted differently. They would have been hesitant about having two random people come in and mess their whole schedule up. At a minimum, they would have asked us 10,000 questions before letting us proceed. However, Nehemiah never missed a beat. He jumped out of his chair, walked out onto the street, and begin to minister to these children out on the streets with us.

Andy and I literally taught these kids about Jesus out in the street. See, the church has just a small sidewalk in front of it. We lined all of the kids up on the sidewalk, but the only place for us to stand was in the street (where we had to continually try to stay away from the cars and mopeds speeding down road). Andy explained the salvation story to the children using the colored bracelets we brought. We then gave them each a bracelet. This attracted a lot of attention out on the streets and several kids that were passing by decided to stop and listen to our program. After the bracelets, I told the story of David and Goliath, where Andy played Goliath, and one of the children played David. I wish you could have seen how far Andy was willing to go to share the Gospel with those kids. When the child (David) threw a rock at him, Andy fell down in the middle of the street (where he could have gotten run over!) just to keep the kids interested in the story. He then allowed this dirty child to stand on top of him to show that David conquered Goliath…it really was incredible to see his heart for the kids. Afterwards, Rachael came out and shared some more stories with the kids, and Pastor Dee led them in praying for salvation.

All in all, this turned out to be a very good day for our team. We were so blessed that Sothea gave us the opportunity to come and work with his ministry for the day. It is so encouraging to know that Sothea and other volunteers are out working the slums daily to minister and to encourage those people.

Alright, that’s all for now! Thanks for checking in! 

Friday, July 26, 2013

Phnom Penh 2 and the Slums

I’m a little behind on sharing our stories with you. However, rather than going back to where I left off, I want to first share with you our most recent adventure. In the past few days, we have been to several provinces in Cambodia, but we are back in Phnom Penh right now.

Yesterday, we began our day at NHO’s Phnom Penh 2 orphanage. I was really excited to finally see this place, because NHO has only had this orphanage for about a year. See, another organization had been running this orphanage and taking care of all of the kids. At some point last year, the organization was unable to continue to support them; the kids were going to be turned out onto the streets with nowhere to go and no one to take care of them. NHO, on a complete leap of faith and without having the money to do this, decided to take over this orphanage. As a result of their faith, not a single child was sent to live on the streets. Instead, the children have been kept together, given food and shelter, and are now being taught about the hope that is found in Jesus Christ.

When we arrived at Phnom Penh 2, we were surprised to see mostly older kids at this orphanage. The youngest child was 12 years old, while the oldest was 20. The space that has been rented for these children is so small, and we were unable to do a big program for the kids like we usually did. We basically just had one small room to sit on the floor with the children. This ended up being perfect. Instead of playing games or singing songs, Stephan challenged these older children by quietly telling them his own story. He told the kids about how his career in the military; how he became obsessed with getting power and money; and how he rose all the way to the rank of colonel in the US Army. Just like all humans, no matter how much power and money he had, he continued to want more. When Stephan retired from the military, he told the kids that he felt so empty; he no longer had so much power or money. During this difficult time, some of his friends shared Jesus with him. After reading through much of the Bible, Stephan finally realized that life was not about power and money. You can never have enough power and money to satisfy yourself, and at some point in your life, you will lose that power and money anyway. After deciding to follow Jesus, Stephan told the children how he no longer felt empty. God showed him the important things in life—like traveling to Cambodia to help kids that many people have forgotten.
When Stephan was finished with his message, he asked for the oldest boy and girl of the orphanage to come forward. He then proceeded to give them each an eagle pin from the US military. When Stephan was a colonel, he had to wear that pin on his uniform to show his high rank. He challenged the older kids to not make the mistakes that he had made. Rather, they needed to focus on what is really important in this life. He told them they are to lead the younger children by example, to make sure the younger kids stay out of trouble, and to care for each one of them. Watching Stephan place his Eagle pin (something that he had worked so hard for), onto the shirts of two orphans all the way in Cambodia is probably one of the most awesome things I have ever seen.

After leaving the Phnom Penh 2 orphanage, we were given the incredible opportunity of going to minister in the slums for a couple of hours. Remember I told you that some of the Cambodians have been travelling with us? Sothea, one of the orphans that had grown up in an NHO orphanage and is now in his last year of college, has devoted almost all of his free time to working in the slums of Phnom Penh. He has helped to start a huge ministry there, and he invited us to come and speak with the people there.

Although we were very excited to finally see Sothea’s ministry, nothing could prepare us for the level of poverty we saw. Cambodia, as a whole, is so much poorer than almost everywhere in the USA. Our poorest are probably among Cambodia’s middle/upper class. So there is probably no way, in words or pictures, for me to explain to you the level of poverty we just saw, but I’ll try to give you at least a glimpse into where were yesterday. And as a disclosure, I have been to over 30 countries in my life, and I have seen poverty in many third world countries. Believe me when I say, this was the worst thing I have ever seen.

When we walked down the street, a wave of nausea washed over me. The smell of trash, sewage, and filth surrounded me on all sides. If you have ever been to a landfill/dump, the smell was far worse and far heavier than that. It literally was hard to breathe. As I looked around, I became overwhelmed. I had to keep closing my eyes and opening them again. This couldn’t be real. Hundreds of people and many, many children were living in the worst shacks or tents I have ever seen. Because there was almost no land available to these people, the shacks/tents were situated over the most disgusting water I have ever seen.  I can only imagine the sheer volume of diseases that must exist in this place. There’s just no way to describe how bad this was.

The road, which was basically just a mud path, was filled with sewage and all types of trash. As I looked down at my feet, I couldn’t help but wish for sneakers…why had I chosen to wear flip-flops? There was no safe place to walk. Trash and sewage were literally everywhere.

God always has a way of banging me in the head with perspective. While I was fearing what disease I was going to get walking through the slums in my flip-flops, all around us, naked, starving children stood barefoot in the mud and trash-filled path. My next feeling was just panic. How could people really be living this way?? We have to get them out of here. We have to do something. There’s literally dozens of children running barefoot through this…place…this…hell…
I didn’t know what to do. Sothea had encouraged us to bring candy for the children. I had been passing it out…but I was down to my last piece. I didn’t have anything else to give anyone. I just stood there. I wanted to be able to do something—anything—but I just stood there. Frozen. Surrounded by a group of kids fighting for the last piece of candy I had.

As I looked to my left, I’m relieved to say that not all of my team members reacted to the panic we all felt in the same way. Julius and Stephan never missed a beat. Through Sothea and Oudum translating, they shared Jesus and encouraged the people and children to continue to hope in the Lord. Pastor Dee (one of the only pastors I know that would willing walk into a place like this) stood right there in the sewage and filth and explained to everyone how to follow Jesus. He never even hesitated.

For me, I was still frozen with a group of kids begging for my last piece of candy, when Andy quickly told me, “keep these kids right here” and took off running. Keep them here? What…wait! I only have one piece of candy left! How am I supposed to keep them here?

To Be Continued….!

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Siem Reap-edited!!!!

I tried to post this yesterday, but all of the text got scrambled and none of my pictures posted. So now that we have better Internet access, I'm reposting it! If you have a chance, please re-read this post! 

A trip to Cambodia would not be complete without a visit to Spider Town, so on our way to Siem Reap, we had to stop by for a few minutes. I feel the need to specify that I HATE spiders. I often question why God had to create such a disgusting, ugly thing, and Cambodia makes me question this even more. The spiders in Cambodia are like something from my worst nightmare. They are HUGE; I’m talking about like the size of a Big Mac. They are like tarantulas—only bigger and much more gross. So with my healthy fear of spiders, you can only imagine how much I love walking around Spider Town, a place devoted to eating and playing with those disgusting creatures. For some reason, the Khmer people always feel the need to take us by this horrible place. At Spider Town, people walk around with these

tarantula-like spiders crawling all over them. This is supposed to be fun. For about a dollar, you can have that disgusting creature (which supposedly has had its fangs removed) crawl on you too. For the record, I would rather die; just merely walking around this place gives me the chills. And by the way, you can eat these things too. They basically barbecue the spiders whole, and you can simply take a bite out of the spider (legs and all). Completely gross experience.

Anyway, after that nightmare finally ended, we made our way to Siem Reap, where we always stay at our favorite guest house, “Smiley’s.” That night, we picked up the remainder of our team: Pastor Dee, Andy, and Stephan from the airport. The three of them were so tired when they arrived, but we were so excited to have them finally in Cambodia!

The very next morning, we went to the new NHO orphanage in Siem Reap. Seeing this orphanage finally become a reality really made me happy. See, Siem Reap has historically been one of the largest human trafficking areas in the world. Many children in this province have become tragic victims of the sex slave trade as a result of living on the streets with nowhere else to go. Having a Christian orphanage that is actively picking orphans off the street and bringing them to a safe and loving environment really is an answer to so many prayers I have prayed on our previous trips to Cambodia.
Andy sharing John 3:16 using a yo-yo

When we first arrived at this orphanage, I was overwhelmed with how sweet the children were. Small kids, as young as two years old, were waiting for us as we drove up. As soon as we exited the vans, the children ran up to us, introducing themselves, and hugging us tightly. It is always so hard for me to understand how, children who have been through so much pain, can continue be so loving. Their attitude in life encourages me greatly. They are a true testimony of the joy and healing that God can bring to us—even when we have lost everything.

At the Siem Reap orphanage, we finally began to assemble our first series of beds. We had to build 30 bunk beds for this location—15 bunks for the girls and 15 bunks for the boys. It took us awhile to really get into a good system of assembling the beds quickly. We had to learn how each person worked and how exactly the beds needed to go together. Plus, the humidity made many of the boards swell, which made us have to adjust how we assembled the beds. As we struggled to get started and really find a groove, Andy stopped us all and suggested we pray. He encouraged us to not get frustrated but to remember why we were putting these beds together. This gentle reminder was exactly what we needed, and we ended up getting most of the bunk beds completed that first day at Siem Reap.
Despite our diligence and renewed perspective, we did end up having a couple problems that day. First, thirty bunk beds had to be split between only two different rooms. These rooms were not very big, and it ended up being quite challenging to get fifteen beds in each room. Thankfully, Andy and Stephan seemed to like puzzles, and they were able to carefully place the beds in a specific manner-so as to maximize the most use of each room. Somehow, they managed to get all thirty beds between the two bedrooms. Our second issue was that two pieces of the bunk beds had broken during the shipping process. Because the wood had broken into two pieces, it would be impossible to build a normal bunk bed. However, our team ended up being very creative. Through some careful measuring and rearranging, they were able to lower the bunk bed several inches, cutting out the broken pieces, and thereby still preserving a whole bunk bed for two of the children. We really have a great team!
I wish you could have seen the children walk into their bedroom and see their new beds. Their faces burst into the biggest smiles! They immediately ran in and claimed their bed. You would have thought that had just been to Disney World…that’s how happy they were! Sothea later told me that the children looked around and said, “WOW! A bed just for me! We do not have to sleep on the floor anymore!!” For those of you that helped us with this project and could not be in Cambodia, I just want you to know…You did this for those children! You cannot imagine how much they appreciate your gift! Thank you! 

The next day we went back to the Siem Reap orphanage to finish up the bunk beds and play with the children. We only had a few beds left, so we planned a lot of great activities for the kids. We started with an interactive skit on the story of Joseph. Stephan played the part of Joseph, while many of the children played his brothers. Nikita played Joseph’s father. Nikita and Stephan really hammed up Joseph being the father’s favorite. For the “coat of many colors,” we used a tie-dye shirt that we had made ahead of a time. We explained that parents often have a favorite child, just like Joseph was his father’s favorite. However, God loves each one of them, and they are each His favorite. After that, the whole team helped the children each tie-dye their own shirt, so they could remember how much God loves them and how special they are to Him. It was so awesome to see my Pastor down on the floor with the kids, helping them to put different color dyes on their shirts—what an incredible example of love.
Nikita as Joseph's father and Stephan playing Joseph

After that, Jen and Rachael led the children in some worship. Then, Stephan shared his own story with the older children and gave them a challenge to help their younger brothers and sisters. Meanwhile, we had another interactive skit of David and Goliath. Andy played Goliath, and it was hilarious! We picked the smallest girl (only about 2 years old) to play David. Before Andy came out, she said she was definitely ready to fight the mean giant…then, she saw Andy and she ran away screaming…haha! It was probably the funniest thing I have ever seen. In order to preserve the story, we discussed how sometimes God asks us to do difficult things, and we get scared. We only need to pray to Him, and He will protect us. Holding the little girl by the hand, she was finally able to get the courage to throw the “stone” (plastic bowling pin) at Goliath!
Afterwards, Kayla shared the salvation story with the kids and Pastor Dee lead the children in a prayer.  We told them that Jesus washes our sins away, so we are “white as snow.” Then, we threw our snow mix on them, and allowed them to have a huge snowball fight. It was adorable. Before we left, we gave each child a Teddy Bear, a pair of flip flops, and an incredibly colorful pillowcase (made by the wonderful ladies at Fairview Baptist Church). We were also able to give enough mosquito netting so that each child would be able to sleep at night without worrying about getting bitten by mosquitos or other bugs. See, in Cambodia, there are mosquitos everywhere! Because there is no air conditioning and most of the rooms just have open windows and doors, bugs can come in and out of the rooms at night. Without mosquito netting, you will wake up with painful and itchy bug bites all over you! It was important to us that the kids have enough mosquito netting to allow them to sleep peacefully in their new beds.

Saying goodbye that night was difficult. The children gave us each a beautiful, colorful bracelet that they made themselves. Then, with a lot of tears shed by all, we had to leave these gorgeous kids behind. It was so tough to say goodbye.

Alright, that’s all for now. Please continue to pray for us—for our safety and that we may glorify God and bless these children in all that we do. Thank you so much for your support and for sharing this journey with us. We love you all!