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….!

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