I'm tired, hot and sweaty and I'm covered in dust. I have been travelling all day just to get to the "Armpit of Cambodia" - Poi Pet. To be honest the only thing I want to do is have a cold shower and put my feet up. But what I am going to do is hop into the back of pick up truck with my three travel mates and go to "home church" somewhere out in the Cambodian countryside. I don't really want to but it is expected, we are, after all, missionaries.
We have just pulled off the one and only paved road in Poi Pet and are driving into the countryside on a deeply rutted road that is really only suitable to ATV's and dirt bikes. It's a blast and we are all hanging on to the truck and our cameras as we laugh out loud and snap crooked and unfocused pictures. For a moment I had forgotten, but this is missions and I love it!
Out of nowhere there is a trail, two tire tracks wide veering off to the right of the "road" we are on and this is where we turn. We can only go about a hundred yards before the trail turns into a foot path where we are instantly greeted by the children in this small, hidden community.
It has been awhile since I have had an opportunity to experience ministry in this capacity but I fall back in, just like I never left the village. We all gather closely together and sit on the woven grass mat that is laid out for us. I wink and smile at all the little children gathered around us and they smile and giggle back. After the songs are sung we take the little ones and teach them all about Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego where they laugh and giggle as they watch us act it all out.
Amidst the giggles and the colouring, I take in my surroundings. What I see saddens me. These beautiful people, struggling for each meal; living in raised shanties consisting of three walls and a roof. Chickens, geese and pigs rooting around and sleeping where children live and play. And what jumps out at me is the incredibly misdirected priorities. Each home I look in has a TV and stereo equipment.
How do they afford such luxuries when they can't afford a kilo of rice and a few small fish to sustain themselves? What concerns me the most is the stories I know to be true. Did some small child lose their innocence for these things? Are they now, at this very moment crying and scared in room with grown men they don't know and can't trust?
Too many times this is the case. Parents struggling to survive the day, offered a solution for the moment; and unable to see past the problems of the day they are living, jump at the opportunity to lighten the burden and earn six months of income at the same time - selling their own child for the amount of a small colour TV. The stories are shocking and all too frequent. The missionaries that we are working with regularly discover that children go missing.
I know that the work being done in Cambodia is relevant and necessary. Without the love, hope and forgiveness of Christ how can these trends be brought to an end? Families need to be drawn and bound together and how better to do that than with Christ as the foundation?
I see Christian leaders who themselves live impoverished lives in the slums of Poi Pet stepping up to shepherd and teach their fellow citizens. Men and woman who love the Lord first and recognize the difference in their own lives and want nothing more than to see their neighbours and countrymen find that same peace and reliance.
I leave the village ashamed of my selfishness but so grateful for the opportunity to be part of such an incredibly necessary and worthwhile effort. So much so, that during the rutted ride in the back of the truck, it is decided that our trip will be extended and we will stay in Cambodia longer than planned. We want to return to the village.
Aside from the awesome time we had in the villages in Poi Pet we spent numerous hours at the AIDS clinic. We did simple things there, we prayed and handed out water and food. We held cold cloths on fevered heads and helped women remain modest while relieving themselves on buckets in the middle of the room. But I think what mattered most was that we came, and we held hands and rubbed swollen feet. We brushed hair and hugged the lonely and kissed the sad. We became the family that they lost when the results came back. The stories out of this ramshackle clinic are all the same and all sad. Unfaithful husbands contracting and passing along to unsuspecting wives. Young woman forced into prostitution either by parents or husbands to earn a meager living. All abandoned upon diagnosis and left to die alone.
We were at the AIDS clinic 5 of the 6 days we were in Poi Pet, we were family at the clinic and it hurt to leave. They smiled so big when the saw through the doorway, our small team walk into the courtyard. They cleared spots on their beds so that we could just sit next to them and hold their hands. And though all of our communication happened through love and charades as we rarely had interpreters, there was never frustration even though we never even got to learn names. It was simply pure, undefiled love we got to pour out on these women, and I thank God for sharing with me His heart on the matter.
I learned a lot while I was in Cambodia, a lot that left me once again scratching my head wondering "where do we fit into this Lord and what exactly is it that you want us to do?" What He placed in our hearts in Canada, to reach families trapped by poverty and to share all that a life filled and focused on Christ can afford them can be done right here in our back yard, in SriRacha.
There are the same stories here, the same kinds of love needing to be poured out on the same kinds of hurting people. The same poverty, the same helplessness, and the same children at risk. Dean and I now look to our own backyard. It isn't necessary to only focus on the border towns and mountain villages. It is all right here, it has been the whole time and this is where we start.
Please pray that as we venture out in starting new outreaches of ministry here in SriRacha we will be warmly embraced by those we seek to serve.
We love and appreciate you all so much, thank you for your prayers and financial support of our family!
Dean, Kathy, Baylee & Julia