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!