Thursday, March 31, 2011

BB2 kids Power of Your Love


Sunday, May 03, 2009

No longer blogging here...

Hey, guys. I leave tomorrow for Asia, and I'll be blogging on an almost-daily basis at the Asia's Hope web page. Please follow my journeys so you can pray for me. Also feel free to pass the link around to as many people as you think would be interested. Thanks!

Monday, February 16, 2009

Sony's Medical Expenses

Thanks to all of you who prayed this week for Sony, the wife of Asia's Hope Cambodia's national director, Savorn.

As you might know, Sony was injured in an explosion during my last day in Cambodia, and was burned on her face, arms and chest. She is still recovering, and may require more extensive medical care, perhaps even in a country other than Cambodia.

Asia's Hope has set up a fund to collect funds for Sony's ongoing medical expenses.

You may donate to this fund by sending a check to:

Asia's Hope
PMB 185
343 W. Milltown Road
Wooster, Ohio
44691

Make sure you put "Sony Medical" in the memo line of the check.

Thank you, and God bless you.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

I'm back

I'm back, and I'm beat. The jetlag is killlliiing me.

I will post an update and a wrapup after a while. For now, however, I'm going to go to bed...

Saturday, February 07, 2009

Update on Sony

The explosion, it turns out, was caused by a large bouquet of hydrogen-filled party balloons (Until tonight, I never knew that Cambodians didn't use helium!).

Sony's at the hospital -- Sherrod and Savorn spent the night with her, tending her burns. I haven't heard any news since last night, but first indications are that the worst burns are on her arms, and that while she might have some scarring, she's going to make an otherwise-complete recovery.

Please keep praying for total healing, for comfort, and for management of the pain.

Please pray now.

Hey, guys. Greetings from Cambodia.

I need prayer for Sony, who is the wife of our national director, Savorn.

I just left a wedding reception for one of our Cambodian friends, and while I was on the phone with a friend still at the reception, there was an electrical explosion, and Sony was injured. Apparently she has burns to her face, arms and chest. I don't know how bad it is.

Please, please join me in praying for her. Thanks.

Thursday, February 05, 2009

the tipping point

Well, it's arrived -- right on schedule.

It happens every time I travel, and it happens just a few days before I leave.

I suppose it's a tipping point of some sort; it's the time when I realize that, despite the fact that the kids at the orphan homes are fantastic, I need to be home with my wife and kids.

Sure, I've missed them from day one, but as day 20-something rolls around, the dull ache has become a stabbing pain (and I'm not talking about my colon -- that's a different tipping point...). I'm dreaming about them, I long for them while I'm driving or as I'm eating dinner. I miss them when I wake up, and when I go to sleep. You get the idea.

Another sign that I've reached the tipping point is that I become more concerned about things at the office. I woke up at 3:30 this morning, thoughts of proposals and presentations, of logos and letterheads stampeding through my brain.

Further evidence that the time has come is that I've run out of things to blog about. It's not that I've run out of exciting activities or valuable interactions. It's not as if the kids here are any less adorable or our staff less amazing, it's just that I can't seem to put my words together in any sort of cogent order. (Or is it order cogent?)

We have had a great week. On Wednesday, we closed the school and took all of the kids to a "water park" (Unofficial slogan: We put the 'Yum' in Bacterium!) And yes, when I say "water park" I bracket the words with those little finger-air-quote things. Unlike the one in Phnom Penh -- which, in comparison, looks like Schlitterbahn -- the Prek Eng water park is an algae-infested death trap. But boy, do the kids and staff love it.

My pictures of the park do it a great service; it's actually way grimier than the photos imply. Health and safety concerns aside, we had a blast. No one got hung by the loose rope dangling across the zip line, none of the kids were launched into orbit by the maliciously steep waterslide. And as far as I can tell, no one is suffering from burning, explosive diarrhea from accidental ingestion of the rancid water.

We baptized about 50 kids, and then we partied all day long. We danced, we grilled eggs and we roasted marshmallows, celebrating our friendship and God's goodness until dark.

So, it's not like I don't have anything to write about.

But I am ready to come home. I leave Monday night (our time) and arrive Tuesday morning (Ohio time). I have a major client meeting 10am Wednesday. By then, I may wish I was back in Cambodia.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Battambang in the morning

I'm posting this and about 100 other photos on Flickr. Check them out...

Monday, February 02, 2009

Battambang bang bang

Well, it’s Monday at 8:30 in the morning. The rest of the team is already on the bus returning to Phnom Penh, but I have some work left to do in Battambang. I haven’t yet photographed all the facilities, and I haven’t given quite enough hugs.

Whooboy. Yesterday was a full day.

I woke up at 4:30am to caterwauling monks from the local Wat. Every 7 days, starting on the first of the month, they engage in some sort of monk-y business that includes a high volume recital of some of the world’s worst music. Imagine Paula Abdul singing in Khmer, backed by an orchestra filled with first-year clarinetists. Play it backwards, turn the volume up past ’11,’ shift the pitch up half an octave, and add a chorus of angry, cymbal-banging bonobos in estrus. Play this ‘music’ about 40 yards from your hotel room window from 4:30am to 8:30am. This, my friend, has to be some violation of the Geneva Convention, right? I’m as liberal as the next guy, but I would consider advocating the admission of these monks to Guantanamo. Prisoners? Fine. Interrogators, even better. Trust me, they won’t need to break out the water boards.

Unable to drown out track 9 from the “Welcome to Hell” orientation CD, I showered, got dressed and hit the town at about 5:40. It was still dark, but I decided to see what I could capture on my camera. I did a little “Waking up in Battambang” series, and I actually think that some of the pics are pretty cool.

I returned to the Te.O Hotel at about 7am, and met the rest of the team for breakfast, poached eggs and French toast, for those keeping track.

At about 8am we arrived for church at our main campus, which is currently home to the Battambang 1 orphan home. BB3 and BB4’s buildings are under construction on that property, and there’s room for another one at some time in the future. (We’re also hoping to raise about $14k to build an outdoor shelter large enough to accommodate all of the kids, all of the staff, neighbor, visitors and passers-through – a church building that could serve 300 people in one service.)

Stepping into the main hall of BB1, our sanctuary for the morning, I was mobbed by about 30 kids, some of whom I recognized, some entirely new to me. “Hello, John! Hello, daddy John! How are you daddy? I miss you! Come sit with me! I miss you! I love you daddy!” The service itself was wonderful. Each of the five orphan homes performed songs and dances.

As the kids from Battambang 1 danced to “That My Soul Knows Very Well,” ripples of emotions began to form in my feet and wash up through my body. At the line “When mountains fall, I’ll stand by the power of your hand, and in your heart of heart I’ll dwell, that my soul knows very well,” I almost broke loose into an audible sob; I just barely kept my composure.

It won’t make sense to all of you, but a few years ago, many of those kids were taken from us in a scandalous abuse of power. We fought for them, our staff and directors risking imprisonment – and maybe worse – because of the promise we had made to those children when we first admitted them into our home: “You will always be safe, well fed and loved.” To see Visal, Uddom, Chanthea, Lihour, Pisey, Chhem, Samneang, Dina, Soktheuon and the rest of the kids from that group we rescued was too much. Too much joy, too much sorrow. It’s almost too much to write about…

After church, we piled into cars, vans and rented flatbed trucks and headed about 40 miles out of town to the baptism site. I had to choose between an air-conditioned van filled with our team members and some staff and the bed of a truck lined with 2x4s and stuffed-to-overflowing with sweating, squirming kids. I chose the kids. I began to regret my decision only when we left the paved road. Yep, the last 30 or so miles were over dirt roads that had apparently been used at some time for bombing practice. And since it’s the dry season, we traveled – like some cut-rate analogue of the children of Israel’s journey out of Egypt – in a cloud of dust by day.

As you can imagine, I arrived in a state that would not reach “sheveled” without a significant personal hygiene intervention. Remote, yet beautiful, we reached our site and disembarked. There were a series of hammock-strung cabanas along a brackish lake, whose far shore abutted a small range of lush, green mountains. My backbreaking transit aside, it was a very cool location.

Dave, Savorn and I waded into the water as the children sang the Khmer version of “I Have Decided to Follow Jesus.” One by one the children stepped into the water, each one joined by their orphan home father, who performed their baptism. After being dipped, each child received hands-on prayer from Dave and I. The process went pretty quickly, and before long, all 28 baptisms had been performed. We sang a couple of songs as we returned to the cabanas to eat lunch.

After lunch, the kids changed into their swimming clothes and walked down to a manmade creek that drains water off the lake. There was a fair amount of debris – mostly paper and plastic – but the water seemed pretty clean. I did not intend to get in, but the kids convinced me to do so.

After swimming, I fell asleep in one of the hammocks. When it was time to head for the seat I’d reserved for myself in the van, the kids from Battambang 1 pleaded with me to ride with them. Sigh. Ooookay. The trip back was, for some reason, even worse than the trip there. I am so not built for that kind of travel. I weigh 3 times as much as those kids, and I’m certainly not as flexible or resilient as I used to be. But I made it.

After dinner, I treated myself to a therapeutic back massage at “Seeing Hands Massage by Blind,” and I also underwent a rather uncomfortable, but effective fire cupping session. This morning, I feel – and look -- like I was beaten by a gang of cymbal-weilding buddhist bonobos. Good thing I’m staying an extra day. I can afford to sleep in. I may actually get out of bed in a few minutes and get this, along with about 100 pictures I’ve taken since arriving in Battambang, up on the internet.

Well, wouldn’t you know it. The internet is broken in Battambang. Should be up by the afternoon. No big deal. I’ve got a lot to do today – I have some research projects for our microenterprise work and I’ve got some orphanages to visit. Peace.

Saturday, January 31, 2009

Battambang

It’s Saturday, about 11:00 in the morning. We’ve been on the road since about 8am, and our bus is careening down a road somewhere between Phnom Penh and Battambang Cambodia. The road is much better than last year, and it’s in a completely different category – that of a road – than when I first started coming to this country.

Back then, the road was unpaved, and more of a dirt trail than anything else. The trip between Cambodia’s two largest cities was nearly unnavigable, cratered and cracked like the surface of some other planet. The journey that will today take about five hours would, in those days, have taken closer to 20. So, instead of driving, we’d fly on an old Russian propjet and take a moto into the city.

It’s dry season in Cambodia, and the difference between today’s sights and those of a rainy season trip are striking. The fields that stretch to the horizon on either side of the road aren’t flooded; you can see all ten feet of the stilts upon which the Khmer style houses are built. The cows are grazing aimlessly in the fields, not tied up by the roadside on a narrow, dry berm. The countryside is arid and dusty, not lush and verdant, but it’s still beautiful.

Every time we pass a village, I see dozens of young students in uniform – blue shorts or skirts and white oxford-style shirts. It’s lunch hour, so the kids are heading home to grab a bite to eat. They walk, run and ride bikes. The lucky ones live close to the school, they’ll probably get lunch and a nap during their two-hour break.

I also see a lot of kids working in the fields, working at construction sites, hauling debris, tending animals. For these kids, school is an impossible dream. Even if they could afford the books and the uniform, their families couldn’t afford to lose the meager income the kids produce.

Perhaps some of these kids are orphans. Many of the kids in our orphan homes were forced by an uncle or grandparent to work from dawn to dusk at menial labor before they were finally determined to be unaffordable despite the dollar a day they generated. Those kids faced a double deficit: no parents and no education. A hard-knock life, indeed.

At any rate, I’m happy to be heading to Battambang. Battambang is the site of our very first orphanage, and I’ll be seeing some our “original” Asia’s Hope kids. I’ll also be visiting a number of new orphan homes that have been completed since my October trip. I’ll also get to participate in the baptism of more than 50 of our kids and a handful of our staff. Savorn has been teaching baptism classes for the last couple of months, and has determined that they’re ready to take the plunge, so to speak.

I’ll also be doing some work with the jewelry co-ops, delivering not only money to the women, but also supplies for the next order. I’m excited about this project, and interested in seeing where it leads. We certainly need to be developing jobs and markets for our kids as they graduate, and our partnership with Trade Justice Mission seems to be a great first step.

Well, I’m getting sick of typing on the bus. I’ll post more when I get to Battambang.

Okay. It’s 3:15, and I’ve been in Battambang for about an hour. I took a quick nap, and now I’m sitting in the restaurant on the ground floor of the Te.O Hotel, waiting for Savorn to arrive to discuss microenterprise plans with me. The restaurant, like everything else at the hotel, is simple, yet clean. I’m sitting near the entrance; the doors and windows are always open during business hours. The ceiling fans are providing a nice breeze.

Okay. Savorn has arrived. We’ll chat for a while and then go to visit the orphan homes.

Oh my. It’s 8:00pm. We’ve exhausted ourselves and probably the kids, and we had a great dinner at the Cold Night restaurant, so now it’s time for ice cream back at the Te.O. It’s been a long, but good day. Tomorrow we join all the kids for worship. I can’t wait…

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Heaven and Hell

Yes. I know. It's 3am, a ridiculous time to be blogging. But I just woke up from a very intense and very disturbing dream, wherein an American friend was shot by a Cambodian police officer in a case of mistaken identity. So I'm a bit rattled anyway.

I'm not sure how to contextualize what I did yesterday, other than to say that I visited hell on earth. We were invited by a Cambodian friend to visit the type of place that none of us likes to imagine exists and meet the children the Cambodia has tried very hard to forget.

I've been a lot of bad places in my life, and I've seen a lot of bad things, but the Stung Meanchey garbage dump has to be one of the worst. This gigantic, festering landfill is filled with spoiled food, medical waste, tattered clothing and filthy paper, and is home to hundreds of kids, who eke out a living in an environment so fetid the dogs won't even visit.

Our tour of this modern-day Gehenna was facilitated by a French NGO that serves these destitute children in whichever way it can at its feeding center and school on the outskirts of the dump. There, early yesterday morning, we saw untold dozens of kids who, at first glance looked pretty much like every other Cambodian child, perhaps just a little squirrelier than average. The kids were relatively clean, having just bathed, and many were dressed in matching smocks or t-shirts.

Upon closer inspection, though, these kids were covered with cuts and scratches, bruises and bumps, and their eyes were either wild with fear, or deadened by misery. After a shower and hot breakfast, most of these kids would change back into their own clothes and head out to the dump, where they would scavenge for hours under the hot Khmer sun, looking for anything of value that could be sold to the junk merchants who set up shop around the dump.

Friends, Stung Meanchey dump is what the world looks like when Satan has his way, when the Devil himself is allowed to force God's image bearers to drink full strength the malevolent distillation of all of his contempt for the Creator. The NGO's compound -- founded and funded by a couple of French tourists who were shocked by what they saw -- is the front line in an epic battle between the Kingdom of God and the Kingdom of Evil, between Heaven and Hell.

Inside the compound, I watched a pair of doctors examine and treat a couple dozen children, most of whom were no older than my daughter. Many of these kids had injuries for which I would hospitalize my child, horrid rashes and deep, open wounds which will almost certainly lead to permanent disfigurement -- or worse.

One little girl sobbed inconsolably as the doctor changed the bandages on a cut on one of her toes, a gash that appeared to me to extend to the bone. In fact, this poor child's toe was nearly severed. After her morning with the NGO, she will return -- barefoot -- to a noxious landfill that I wouldn't have entered without the tall rubber boots lent to me by the aid workers.

These kids' stories are so shocking that both Dave and I (who have pretty much heard some of the worst stuff there is to hear) were astonished. Nearly 100% of the children at the dump are severely abused by their parents on a daily basis. One girl reported having been stabbed by her father. Another's virginity -- and that of her three sisters -- was sold by her dad for 2,000 riel, less than fifty cents. Nearly every child had seen one of their friends killed by one of the dump's garbage trucks or bulldozers, and every one of them knew of a child who disappeared under the refuse, only to be found dead, bloated, dismembered days later.

Despite my years of studying theology and missiology, I can't summon a satisfying answer as to why God's kingdom seems to be so far away in places like Stung Meanchey, but as Elie Weisel said after witnessing the incineration of bodies in a mass grave at a Nazi concentration camp, "Whatever you say about God, you should be able to say standing over a pit of burning babies."

Standing ankle deep in filth, and in way over my head in human suffering, Jesus' words from the cross resonated more deeply than ever before, "My God. Why have you forsaken me?"

Yet in the midst of all of this evil and injustice, there is at least a glimmer of hope. The Holy Spirit is moving, and is calling people -- some of who are not yet believers in Him -- to do his work among the "least of these." The kingdom of God is encroaching upon this hell on earth, and is taking a little bit of ground.

The burning question I'm facing is, "What are we supposed to do about these kids?" Dave and John and Sherrod and I are praying about what role if any Asia's Hope should have in the lives of these children. The future is uncertain for the children of Stung Meanchey -- the government has announced that it will close the dump, and replace it with a modern, gated and guarded facility about 20 kilometers away. On one hand, I'm glad to hear that these kids will not be able to work in such deplorable conditions. On the other hand, I can't imagine what they will do to survive. Please join me in prayer.

Last night, I visited our Prek Eng 1 and Prek Eng 4 orphan homes. I played basketball, I ate dinner, I taught songs. I hugged the kids a little tighter than before, and I lingered a while longer before leaving.

I thank God for our kids and staff, and I thank God for all of you who make this ministry possible with your prayers and contributions. God bless you all.

I think I'm going to try to go to sleep.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Lots of new photos


Songs at Prek Eng 2
Originally uploaded by John McCollum
Lots of new photos. Click on the picture of Metha to see more!

New photos!

Check out new photos. And spread the word about this blog!

I love this country

As is pretty typical, I was the first one out of bed this morning. I got up shortly after dawn – about 6am – and headed out into the city.

My first stop was soup restaurant across from a mosque not far from our guest house. The shop is run by a Cham family who escaped Cambodia for France in the early 70s just as things were getting dicey with the Khmer Rouge. They got out just in time, as the Cham – Muslim minorities who live in Vietnam and Cambodia – received special “attention” by the murderous Cambodian Communist regime.

The restaurant serves a mean bowl of pho bo, or Vietnamese beef noodle soup. The version I had this morning differs slightly from what one would find on the streets of Hanoi, but it was just as delicious. Clearly the cook took time to do it right, simmering the beef bones for hours and hours to evince the subtly round meatiness that can’t be rushed and can’t be faked with MSG. I also ordered two cups of dense and sweet cafĂ© sua, or Vietnamese coffee.

At breakfast, I shared one of the long, communal tables with a bunch of Cham Muslim men, and struck up a conversation with a guy named (go figure) Muhammed. His English was nearly perfect, and he told me that he had lived in Sacramento for a time. He complimented me on my Khmer (again, Cambodians love to exaggerate when making kind comments), and we chatted. He invited me to visit the mosque some day, and I promised I would.

Can I say it again? I love this country. After breakfast, I hailed a mototaxi and rode down to Psar Tuol Tom Poung (also called Russian Market), and I bought some fresh dragon fruit and pineapple. As my motodop weaved in and out of traffic, my affection for this country swelled. The people. The food. The life.

I’m heading off now to get some shirts made and then to the school. I’ll also go to the orphan homes. I hope to spend the rest of the evening out there, and post this along with any photos I took later today.

Peace.

...I’m back. It’s 3:18 in the afternoon. The tailor shop was closed for Chinese New Year, and will reopen tomorrow. The school was great. When I arrived, the kids went nuts. I could barely get out of the truck, and when I did finally get out, I couldn’t move for the throngs of children. Many were kids I’ve known and loved for years. But there were also many, many new faces, mostly from Prek Eng 4, which has opened since my last trip here.

I worked with some 5th graders on their English pronunciation – X, SH and F sounds are very difficult for Cambodians to say. I also taught a couple of songs, and then ate lunch with the staff. After the kids went down for their post-lunch nap, I went with Savorn to Prek Eng 1, where I ate another lunch with his wife and with Sopang and his wife.

Both lunches were great. I found especially intriguing the quails, which were pregnant when they were killed. They grilled the birds with the eggs inside intact – we broke open the eggsac and ate the (thankfully unfertilized) eggs. A bit odd, but tasty.

Now I’m heading back to visit all four of the orphan homes in rapid succession, and this time I’m bringing the team. I’ll try to post photos soon.

Did I mention that I love this country?

Monday, January 26, 2009

"Home"

It's good to be "home."

I love Thailand. I love the kids there. I love our staff. But there's something about Cambodia that feels like home.

I left Chiang Mai at about 3pm, flew to Bangkok, and arrived in Phnom Penh at about 8pm. After deplaning, I trudged through immigration, customs and the visa counter. I picked up my luggage and headed out the front door of the airport.

I didn't know if anyone would be there to meet me -- I had told John Campbell, whose arrival had preceded mine by about an hour, to go on to the guest house without me, and that I could take a taxi. Nevertheless, I was greeted warmly by Savorn, Sony, Narin, Daniel, Ravi, Sopang, Narun and Savong.

"Oh, brother John! So good to see you. We miss you and all the kids are very excited to see you tomorrow! You are still so very handsome (Cambodians are renowned for their exaggeration in compliments...)"

After hugs and handshakes the men quickly took my bags and loaded them into the back of the truck. Savorn drove me back to the guest house with Sony, Savong and Ravi. The rest followed us back in the van. As we drove through the streets, I rolled down the window to breathe in the signature smell of the city at night -- roasting chickens, diesel fuel, dust, burning debris -- and I smiled.

"Ah, I really feel like Phnom Penh is a home for me."

"Oh, thank you very much. We are so glad to have you back."

When we arrived at the guest house, my friends came in, helped me with my bags and left. They had taken time away from their families and some of them had driven a good 45 minutes. Just to make me feel welcome. Just to drive me home from the airport.

I love these guys. I love this place, and I can't want to see the kids I love. I'll send pictures as soon as I can, probably by this time tomorrow.

Peace to all of you. Thanks for making this ministry possible.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Sunday school at DS1


Sunday school at DS1
Originally uploaded by John McCollum
I've posted two new photo sets. Check them out!

Set one<br />Set two

Saturday, January 24, 2009

One week in

It's Sunday morning, and I'm getting ready for church. I miss my home church, but there's nothing quite like having church with the orphans. This Sunday, I'm back at Doi Saket 1 orphan home. The kids there will be joined by the children from Doi Saket 2 and 3.

There's nothing quite like hearing these kids sing. Dozens of kids, representing a multitude of ethnicities -- all singing joyfully to God at the tops of their voices. The experience transcends language and cultural barriers. It's very good for my soul, and it's exactly what I need today.

As you can probably infer from my infrequent posts, I haven't had as much time on this trip to just hang out with the kids. Moving an organization from 4 orphanages to 14 in a year necessitates a lot of planning, a lot of policy introduction and review and a lot of meetings. The work we've been doing is essential, but I'd always rather be out kicking a soccer ball with a bunch of kids than kicking around the finer points of policy with a bunch of staff. This having been said, all of the hard work we do on the "policy and practice" end makes live better for our staff and kids, so I'm happy to do it.

Tomorrow I leave for Cambodia. I will be busy in Cambodia, but not as busy as I was in Cambodia. I hope.

I also hope to post more photos and stories. We'll see. Don't go away quite yet...

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Work, work, work.

Sorry I haven't been blogging much. Over the last two days, I've had 19 hours of meetings. Tomorrow? At least 8 more hours. So much for the life of glamor and leisure you might have assumed from my previous posts.

Going to bed now.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Armed attackers at Doi Saket 2

I've posted some more photos. Another blog post will come soon, but for now, enjoy these.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

A new day

It's 6:50am and the sun is working its way up over the hills of Chiang Mai. Thanks to what seems to be a global cold snap, it's actually a chilly 55 degrees. The houses here aren't equipped with heaters, so I had to put on another blanket last night.

I'm sitting at the dining room table of a well appointed house that, from a glance out the window, could be in a subdivision somewhere in Florida. There are palm trees, flowers and a couple dozen moderately-upscale-yet-nondescript tan and white stucco houses with spanish tile roofs. I've just chatted with my wife via Skype video, and I'm uploading digital photos while blogging.

I'm not exactly roughing it.

The guesthouse was pretty much a necessity. it's conveniently located, about half way between Chiang Mai city and our three orphan homes in Doi Saket. We bring sufficient numbers of guests to visit that we needed a place to house them all, and this is cheaper and less complicated logistically than getting hotel rooms for everyone in the city. It's all very nice.

I do, however, miss the hustle and the bustle of Chiang Mai itself. Sure, I'll get down there a number of times over the next week or so, but home base is basically in a suburb that could pass for Southern California.

This all having been said, it's not like I'm going to be spending much time here. Drive 10 minutes to the north, and the conditions become quite rural. Drive 30 minutes to the north, and you're entering the hill tribe areas. Some villages operate pretty much like they did 200 -- maybe even 500 -- years ago: handmade tools, handwoven clothes and subsistence agriculture. All of our kids come from these hill tribes.

Lisu, Lahu, Akha, Hmong, Karen, Poh Karen -- these transnational tribal groups have lived for hundreds of years in the hills of Thailand, Vietnam, Burma, Laos and Cambodia. They've always been viewed as "suspect" by the national governments, and have been oppressed and exploited by whomever happened to be in power. Their orphan children have no access to decent education or healthcare, and are often tricked into working as slaves in factories or brothels.

At our five orphan homes in Thailand, hill tribe orphans are given loving homes and are encouraged to maintain their tribal heritage, language and village contacts. At the same time, they're given the advantage of learning Thai and English, as well as the life skills they'll need to succeed as minority kids in a country wracked with social inequalities, class warfare, racism and xenophobia.

I love these kids. I love this ministry. And I love all of you for making this possible.

Check out some of the new pics. I'll post more as often as I can. The next few days are going to be very busy -- I have lots of staff meetings, training and strategy sessions -- but I will try to keep in touch.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Cool and comfy

It's a beautiful Sunday morning at the Doi Saket 1 orphan home 30 miles north of Chiang Mai, Thailand.

The weather here is beautiful -- I'd guess around 75 degrees -- and it's good to be back. To be honest, I wasn't really looking forward to this trip. I have so much to do at home and at work, it seemed very inconvenient timing. But now that I'm here, I know I'm in the right place at the right time.

When I arrived at the orphan home this morning, I was greeted by Atapa, Witawat and Bui, three boys with whom I have become close throughout the years. They grabbed onto my hands and wouldn't let me go. Shortly after arriving, the bell rang, summoning all the kids to church. Bui made a space for me next to him in the chapel, and the singing and praying began.

We were joined by the kids from Doi Saket 2 and 3, and though there are dozens of kids I've never met, I feel the same responsibility and love for each of them -- even the ones I frighten with my horrific white visage.

Many of the kids dress in outfits representing their tribal and ethnic origin -- Hmong, Lisu, Lahu, Karen and more. Right now, a little boy in a red Karen blouse is trying hard to get my attention with silly faces and winks.

Now I've taken a seat on the porch of our learning center, where the young elementary age students are having Sunday school. My presence here with a computer is causing a bit of distraction, so I should probably go...

I miss you all, but I'm glad I'm here. I'll try to blog and post pictures, and I'll try to be available via Skype. john_mccollum is my Skype name -- look me up and you may catch me.

Peace

The Lord's Day

Well, yesterday -- and much of the day before -- was spent on planes or in airports, Mechanically, the flights were uneventful. In fact, I was able to sleep quite a bit, thanks to the wonders of modern pharmaceuticals.

My traveling companion, Dr. John Campbell, had a much more memorable journey. On both of our long haul portions of the site, thee was a medical emergency call to which he responded. The first guy had gone into insulin shock and the second guy had some kind of cardiac arrest. According to John, commercial airlines are not at all well equipped for medical emergencies. It seems he managed in spite of the equipment shortages and language barriers, and both men survived.

Me? I feel kind of satisfied that I got a couple of hours of sleep. Our team arrived here at the guest house around 1:30am. It's 7am, and I need to leave for church at 8ish. I sure hope I'm not preaching.

Anyway, I think I'm doing pretty well. I'm probably going to be worn out by noon. I begin working in earnest on the projects that brought me here on Monday morning.

Peace to you all. Pray for me and be kind to my family.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

T-minus 21 hours

Well, by this time tomorrow, my journey will be underway. I fly from Cbus to Atlanta, from Atlanta to Seoul (a mind- and bum-numbing 15 hour flight) and from Seoul to Chiang Mai.

If you add this blog to your RSS feeds, your feed reader will notify you when I've posted.

As always, pray for me and for my family who will be left dad-less for a few weeks.

Peace.

Friday, August 01, 2008

Wrap up

Well, we finally made it home. I'm jetlagged and a little overwhelmed, but I'm grateful for both my life here in Columbus and my life in Asia.

I've been doing mostly family stuff, and I've only stopped in the office briefly to sign papers and greet my co-workers. They've done a great job in my absence, and make all of this possible.

My traveling companions were also fantastic. No drama, no ingratitude, no major freakouts. They demonstrated their love for the kids and staff, for each other and for me. Planning and executing these trips is hard work, but it's much easier and much more fun with teams like the one I took this year. Thanks, guys!

I know I didn't blog much from Thailand; I hope you have been keeping track of my photoblog -- it gives a better picture of what's going on in Thailand than I was able to manage.

In short, our work in Thailand is amazing. It's incredible to think that over just a couple of years, our property at Doi Saket 1 has gone from a few bamboo huts to a modern campus serving 90 kids. I'm also amazed that God has given us the responsibility for two new orphan homes and a farm that serves widows.

It's so clear to me that all of this is due to God's grace and our staff's hard work. Sure, Asia's Hope's board in North America provides funds and logistical structure, but what you see on the ground is a direct result of indigenous efforts and indigenous leadership.

The same, of course, can be said of our ministries in Cambodia. I suppose Satan could take all of this success and tempt us to stand, like Nebuchadnezzar and say, "Look at all my hands have created." But right now, the craziness of that notion is pretty evident to me. My current reaction is, "Wow, God. You're amazing. Are you sure we're the right guys to steward this stuff? I mean, we're not complaining, but, wow. You're really too good to us. Really!"

In fact, each time I return from one of these trips, I'm less proud and more intimidated. There's so much work ahead. There are so many potential pitfalls. So many unanswered questions. So many empty accounts and unpayable bills. If I thought that the success of Asia's Hope depended on me, I'd be one seriously depressed dude. I thank God that he is in charge of this thing, guiding our paths as we acknowledge his kingship and his goodness.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

If I lived here, I'd be home now

Well, our 3 hour layover in LA is turning in to a 13 hour layover. Which means that we're missing our connection in Chicago by about 7 hours, and we'll be arriving home in Columbus at around 5:30pm, not 10am.

I'm thankful that my team members were among the most patient and gracious in the terminal. Not everyone on our flight treated the airline employees with dignity. I considered throwing a hissy fit -- rolling around the floor wailing and gnashing, and then turning to the irate passengers and saying, "You see, that didn't do ME any good EITHER," but I figured my contribution was unnecessary.

To be sure, I'm exhausted and disappointed and probably a little stinky, but like my team members, I'm working to get a little sleep and chalk this portion of the trip up to 'another crazy experience.'

My patience in this situation, however, just BARELY covers the loudspeaker announcements that remind us (every two minutes in English and Spanish at 110 decibels) to not leave any luggage unaccompanied, and to take note of the TSA's new regulations about taking certain items on airplanes. THAT I could do without.

Checking out at 3:30am LA time. Peace.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

LAX

Well, find myself at 1:34 am Columbus time in the LA airport. We’ve already flown the 4 hours from Chiang Mai and the 13 hours from Taipei. We have another six or so hours left, but it seems like we should be home by now.

I realize that I haven’t done a very good job of keeping the blog updated recently. I was sick for most of our week in Thailand, which diminished my will to do much of anything but poop and sleep.

I think that my infirmity was a big blow to the team. There were so many things I would have liked to do, but I was unable. Most significantly, I was unable to take the kind of hands-on, proactive care of our schedule, so there were quite a few days where people kind of wandered around and said, “So, what are we doing today?” I’m sorry, guys.

This having been said, my team has been amazingly gracious and flexible. And our time in Thailand was very nice. God is doing amazing things among our precious kids, and our ministry is flourishing under Tutu’s leadership.

I hope to spend more time in the near future just hanging out with the kids; perhaps I will schedule a trip when the kids are on vacation so I can take them swimming and have lost of rec time with them.

It was nice, of course, but it’s definitely time to be home. I miss my family so much. I ache for my wife’s touch, and I’m dying to hug my children. Some decent coffee and a glass of scotch sounds good, too. All of the comforts of home are calling, and I have only to wait another 6 or 7 hours to experience them.

I will post some more pictures from the last few days of the trip soon. Expect to hear a lot more about Asia’s Hope if you go to Central Vineyard, our people are on fire and in love.

I’m so grateful that God has allowed us to be a part of something so great. All that has been done belongs to Him, and none of us deserve any credit. Thank you all for your prayers and your support. Get ready to do even more!

John

Saturday, July 26, 2008

TMI

Don't want to hear about my bowels? Skip along, then.

I'm feeling better, but only from the top of the large intestine up. I have more energy, and I'm not feeling barfy, but my lower plumbing valve is stuck in the "on" position.

I've kind of reached some sort of grim acceptance, so I've gone back to eating whatever sounds good to my mouth, knowing it's all gonna come rushing out with equal force whether I eat bland rice or delicious beef satay with chilis.

I warned you, right?

At any rate, I think I have a parasite, since I've been on Cipro for days and I'm taking the max dose of Immodium, and nothing is touching the rushing waters in my colon.

I did warn you, right?

Okay. No more bowel talk. For now.

I spent a fair amount of time resting today, but I also got a chance to preach at a worship service at the Hot Springs orphan home, and I did a little shopping at a handicraft village.

Tomorrow, I'm preaching at our big Doi Saket 1 orphan home, doing some shopping and spending some time at our student center in Chiang Mai. I'll also probably spend a fair amount of time looking for decent, Western-style potties.

I'm going to start the de-worming meds tomorrow. Please pray that I recover quickly. This is getting old. My stamina is flagging, and I think I'm losing weight precipitously. Fun, eh?

Well, I'll try to post some more pics soon. Peace!

Friday, July 25, 2008

Eric's new friend


Eric's new friend
Originally uploaded by John McCollum
Lots more photos at http://www.flickr.com/photos/80053800@N00/

Thanks for your prayers and support!

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Tropical Depression

It's a beautiful day in Chiang Mai, Thailand. The clouds hang low over the greening mountains; birds sing and geckos cackle lightly.

I have the guest house to myself, I have a stable internet connection, I have nothing on my schedule for another four or five hours -- finally some time to just relax -- I should be thrilled.

But I'm not. In fact, I'm miserable. I'm sick -- the throw up and squirt kind. I haven't eaten for hours, but it feels like I've gorged myself on over-rich, over-spicy food (which, surprisingly, I haven't). Every time I stand up I feel like I'm going to pass out, and I have to visit the potty so often I can't get any decent sleep.

Waaahh.

Eric's off making jewelry and the rest of the team is seeing the local sights since the kids are busy with school. Tonight is the big picnic bash, and it looks like there's a 50/50 chance that I might miss it, along with a fair portion of my time with the kids.

So, I'm a little depressed. Nothing a few hours of sleep and a long, long shower won't fix, but right now I feel lousy. I have a lot of responsibilities here, and I may not be able to fulfill them. Please pray that I recover quickly. I have a long list of things I want to do with my team before leaving Chiang Mai.

Okay. I'm going to stop now. Nature is calling once again.

Peace.

Goodbye to Cambodia

Well, it's now time to say goodbye to Cambodia. For me, it's not that big of a deal -- I know I'll be back soon. For the other team members, the reality of leaving is a bit sobering.

Everyone I spoke to is anxious to return, but no one knows when that will happen. Last night, we drove to each of our three Phnom Penh-area orphan homes, saving Prek Eng 2 -- the Central Vineyard home -- for last.

We spent about an hour and a half playing with our kids. Bethany showed them how to make silly putty with Borax and glue. I played a long game of "Simon Says," and then we started the long process of leaving. As we had at each of the other homes, we gathered together to pray a blessing on the kids, the staff and the home. Then we hugged all of the kids, and said our 'goodbyes' and 'I love yous.'

I did fine until, as we walked out of the gate toward our truck, Vilaiy grabbed me. He buried his head in my chest and began to sob. I expected this level of emotion from the little kids, but Vilaiy is the oldest -- almost a man, with his deep voice and lanky frame. I just held on tight and told him "I love you, and I will always come back to see you again and again." After a few moments, we pried ourselves from our kids and drove away.

The rest of the team is taking it by faith that they'll enjoy Thailand, but I'm sure it won't be the same. Or, as they say in Thailand, "Same same, but different."

Well, my time is about to expire, and my flight is about to board. I love you all, and I'll write more from Thailand.

Peace.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

So sorry

Yeah. So sorry I haven't posted -- things are fine. We're in Phnom Penh. Teddy, Toby and Dan left this morning for the U.S.; Eric left for Thailand. We're leaving for Thailand on Thursday morning.

Things have been zooey, and we've had intermittent power at the guest house. I'll try to update everyone on everything soon, though.

One thing that's making my life difficult is a strange error that has popped up in Aperture (the program I use to edit my photos). I've lost access to nearly everything I took on this trip. It's making it hard for me to feel motivated to shoot any more.

Anyway, I'm out with the girls. We had dinner at Savorn's house this evening, and we had a wonderful time. I love our staff here.

Thanks to all of you for your support. Make sure you track down Teddy and Dan and get the firsthand scoop about our trip.

Peace!

Friday, July 18, 2008

Battambang to Siem Reap

Well, so much for emails and internet. I got about 4 pictures uploaded, and the internet died. Pretty much par for the course in Cambodia, but frustrating nonetheless.

It’s been another busy, but productive day. As much as I would like to give you all the details, I simply can’t I’m completely spent.

I’ll try to write some in the van tomorrow on our way to Siem Reap. Remind me to tell you about the moto accident, the jewelry co-ops, the video shoot and the eels. G’night.

(a day or so passes)

Well, hey there from Siem Reap. The internet access in Battambang was not so good. By the time I post this, I will have taken the team to Angkor Wat, and I should have some more good pics to post. Anyway, I’ll take a little time to review.

Battambang seems to have grown considerably in the last year – there’s quite a bit of new construction and the streets are more crowded – but it’s still the same place that I grew to love so many years ago. It’s the second largest city in Cambodia, but it’s much, much smaller than Phnom Penh. If PP is New York City, BB is Peoria.

With its decaying French-built provincial city center that hugs the north bank of the Sangker River, Battambang is shabby and decrepit, but beautiful in its own way. Just outside of town in the middle of a busy roundabout kneels the largest and most famous of the city’s many statues. Mr. Battambang, a giant, creepy dude in a loincloth who carries a baton is ringed by traffic and venerated by incense-bearing townsfolk who, in the words of my friend Savorn, “will worship just about anything.”

About 300 meters down the road lies the Asia’s Hope “Battambang 1” orphan home. It was there that we established our organization’s first two co-ops with Trade Justice Mission, a new Christian non-profit dedicated to providing jobs and income for women and girls at risk of economic or sexual exploitation. For a day and a half, three of our team members joined TJM director Eric Rosenberg who led two groups of five girls who now, thanks to this initiative, own their own jewelry making businesses.

The girls had a great time, made some money for themselves personally, for Asia’s Hope Cambodia and for their co-op. The co-op will make a bigger chunk of change when the jewelry sells in America. It’s beautiful stuff, and all of the proceeds go back to the girls and to our efforts to provide them with sustainable skills and income. I’ll give more info later so you can know what you’re buying the women in your lives for birthdays, anniversaries and Christmas.

Our time in Battambang was short, but productive. Toby and I filmed a biographical segment on Chanthea and Davin, a brother and sister from our Battambang 1 home whose father died of AIDS and whose mother is currently dying of the disease and is unable to care for them. Their story is very sad, but I was encouraged to hear their new father, orphanage director That Seng You, say, “When Chanthea lived in the village, it was very difficult for her because she had to do everything for her little brother. She had to protect him, cook for him, do his laundry and try to find a way to pay for his schooling. Now that she is in the orphanage, they are both provided for, and Chanthea can be a child once again.”

We also got to spend some time with the kids from our brand new orphan home. Battambang 2 has been accepting kids for just over a month, and the difference between the kids there and the other orphan homes is striking. The BB2 kids are wonderful and sweet, but they’re not as confident, not as healthy and not as mature. It’s amazing what a year of living in a real family can do for a kid, so I’m really looking forward to seeing them again next time.

Yesterday, when the rest of the team was down the road at BB1 doing work with the TJM co-ops, Teddy, Dan and I took a load of toys to BB2. Whereas the kids at our other orphan homes can play together all day without tiring of the games or the company, these kids just don’t have the social skills or the group cohesion to keep it going for that long.

After a couple of hours, it was time to leave. Vando, the orphan home director, asked the kids to “introduce themselves first.” I think he wanted to give them each a chance to practice the English he had taught them. We sat on the floor inside the orphanage lobby and each child said in halting and heavily-assisted English, “My name is..” and “I am … years old.” We applauded them and introduced ourselves. Vando then asked us to join him in praying for some of the kids individually and then all of the kids together.

A couple of the kids were sick – headaches, sore throat, nothing that appeared to be too serious – and we laid hands on them and prayed that God would heal them. Vando then asked us to pray for the character and emotional health of a few children who are having a hard time adjusting to life with a family. One twelve year old boy, whose parents had died years ago, had already been taught by the street, and was struggling strange urges to run away, even though the boy himself identified those urges as irrational.

“My life is better here. I have enough food, I’m safe, I’m treated well, and I have free time,” he told Vando. But many times, the call of the street is loud, persistent and nearly irresistible. “He took heroin before,” Vando explained. We prayed for the boy, and he promised that he would be there when I return on my next trip. God have mercy.

We left BB2 and visited our beautiful new plot of land that will one day be the site of BB1, BB2 and if God provides, a new school. Yeah, the land’s that big. It’s more than a hectare, and it’s a fertile plot of land with mature banana, mango, lychee and jackfruit trees. We’ve already dug a fish pond, and have started construction on the new BB1 house, which is going to be much bigger and much better than the kids’ existing home, which is, admittedly, much too small.

We need to raise some more money to raise and grade the rest of the property to prevent flooding during the yearly monsoon season, and to add the second house. I don’t have the number on hand, but I think 50 or 60k would do the trick. Please pray.

We then returned to BB1, packed up and said goodbye. It was not easy. While each of the team members has expressed a desire to return, I’m really the only one who could promise the kids “I’ll see you again soon.” We’ve reached the point of the trip where the sad goodbyes will outnumber the happy introductions.

We then set off for Siem Reap. The five hour journey from Battambang to Siem Reap was another one of those distinctly Cambodian experiences: remarkably beautiful scenery, remarkably bad roads. This morning’s headache is surely a direct result of yesterday’s rodeo ride. We had a nice time in Siem Reap last night, and are heading off to the temples in just a few minutes.

I am running out of time and energy for this post, so I’ll wait until tonight to tell you more. Thanks for following along on this weird and wonderful adventure. Please keep praying for us and for our ministry. Peace.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

New photos

New photos here. More tomorrow...

Battambang, day one

It’s a beautiful day in Cambodia. The sun is shining, in a blue sky dappled with clouds. We’re about an hour outside of Battambang at a bustling truck stop off National Road 5. My family called a couple of hours ago, and I asked Chien if he remembered this bus ride. “The long, tedious one?” “Yeah. That one.”

Actually the trip is quite beautiful. We’ve passed green mountains studded with temple spires, rice paddies endless and emerald, scored with tiny footpaths traversed by glistening, brown children clad in checkered kromahs. If it wasn’t for the stabbing pain in my gut and the churning of my intestines, I’d be having a heck of a time.

Right now, I need about two hours of sleep and an hour of potty time. I doubt I’ll get the former, but the latter will come upon me whether I like it or not. I’m avoiding using the roadside rest squatty potties thanks to a large dose of Immodium – or Quickcrete as I call it.

Nothing, however, will keep me from tonight’s dance performance at the Battambang 1 orphan home. Due to political complexities I can’t currently talk about or even adequately explain, there are a number of kids there whom I haven’t seen for years; these are kids I’d promised to support, but was prevented from doing so for a long, long time. I love these kids, and I can’t wait to hug them and to tell them, “I’m sorry it took so long, but we never forgot about you…” I’m already emotional – I’m probably going to lose it big time tonight.

I’m back on the bus, and it’s nearly impossible to type. I’ll continue later.

Okay. We’ve arrived in Battambang which, despite its recent growth spurt is significantly sleepier than Phnom Penh. We’ve checked into the Te O Hotel, and we’re meeting for lunch in a few minutes. After that we’re heading off to one of our orphan homes for a festive welcome for my team and a joyful reunion for me personally. Some of the team members know a little of the backstory. The rest will just credit my infirmed condition when I begin to blubber and sob.

Who knows. Maybe I’ll hold it together. I’ll let you know when I get back.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Sunday and Monday

I think it’s safe to say that this has been my busiest trip ever. So many good things are happening, but I’m about to lose my mind. I’ve already lost my voice, so what’s one more faculty?

I guess the best way to do this is to organize things chronologically:

Church
On Sunday morning, we drove out to the Savong’s orphanage, where all of the kids and staff from our three local orphan homes gathered for church. We squeezed about 80 people into the upper floor meeting room and the adjacent balcony. The kids sang songs in English and Khmer, and I preached.

Considering I had less than a day’s notice and no time to prepare, I think it went well. I had some help – I stole the passage Jeff preached on last week at Central Vineyard. I took it a slightly different direction, but it was good to have a head start.

Strangely, on Saturday night after I agreed to teach, I found myself wondering two things: Was this the right passage? And did I even know where to find it? I picked up a Bible from the shelf and it literally fell open to the exact passage. I took it as some sort of a confirmation that God did indeed want me to preach on the rather obscure Bible story of the four lepers who delivered the good news to their nation about God’s victory over the enemy.

At the close of the service, we did a good old-fashioned Vineyard ministry time. I invited any children who had not yet fully dealt with the emotional effects of their early childhood pain to receive prayer for healing. Our team and the staff laid hands on dozens of kids. Many tears, many smiles. Very, very good.

Kickboxing
In another of these bizarre contrasts, we spent the afternoon at a televised kickboxing match. We took a couple staff members and all of our boys older than 14. It was a heck of a good time, a real cultural experience.

Dancing
After the kickboxing, our team visited Sopang’s orphan home (Prek Eng 1) and watched a couple of dance numbers the kids had prepared for us. The performance was greatly enhanced by the beautiful traditional costumes the orphanage moms had made for them. The kids really can dance very well, and they love to show their love for us while showing off a bit. Some day, I want to bring a troupe to the States. I think we could sell out a couple of venues with a good concert promoter.

I’m serious. Start praying about it!

Rrrrruff!
Actually, “tough” is more like it. At the kickboxing match, I mentioned to Sopang something about eating dog meat. “You like dog?” he asked. “Sure” I said, “but I’ve only had it in soup.” He then called his wife and asked her to prepare some dog meat for us. I was relieved to hear that she would buy the meat at the market, and that there would be no canine slaughtering at the orphan home.

The meat was grilled and served with a delicious herb garnish and lemony dipping sauce. All but two of our team members partook. Again, I must say that I’m really proud of this team. They are up for absolutely everything I’ve thrown at them.

FCC
We left the orphanage and returned to the city for dinner on the balcony of Foreign Correspondent’s Club. We had pizzas – pretty good, but I was disappointed to see that the best view in Phnom Penh has been tarnished by massive construction projects on the adjacent streets and along the riverfront.

Video
This morning, Teddy, Toby and I rose at 5am and headed out to Central Vineyard (Prek Eng 2) orphan home to conduct interviews and take footage. We focused today on two siblings, Brunh and Meerlia. We filmed them getting ready and we followed them back to the school.

We interviewed orphanage mom Sophal, who told us with tears about the first time she met Brunh and Meerlia. She brought pictures of the two at their old home. Meerlia was shabby, Brunh was naked. Their mother had recently died, and the shack they lived in with their 20 year old sister was being sold out from under them to pay for mom’s funeral debt.

Their older sister dug through the trash all day and night for recyclables to scrabble together enough money to feed them. Much of the time she failed. The two young kids huddled at night, alone and afraid, going for days at a time without a bite to eat.

We brought the children to visit their sister who now lives in a tiny rented room in a shabby Phnom Penh slum tucked away in the alleys off the main road out of town. We then returned to the orphanage to interview them at their new home.

We heard about how, at first, they cried every time they were fed; they had never tasted ‘real’ food. They cried at night out of sadness for their tragic losses, but also out of joy for having their first pillow, blanket and sleeping mat.

We then took the kids out for a fancy lunch at a fancy restaurant. It was a beautiful experience. I’ve seen some of the footage – Toby is very good at what he does – and I think this will be an amazing video. I can’t wait to share it with you all.

Seeing Hands
I made an appointment for our entire team to visit the masseuses at Seeing Hands, where blind adults are trained to perform therapeutic Shiatsu and Anma massage. I asked for the “klang” or “strong” massage. And that’s exactly what I got. I am certain that Mr. Wattana could crush walnuts with his bare hands. I winced often and whimpered once or twice, but it was really very nice.

More video
Tomorrow morning we get up at 5am again to profile another child. I’m already exhausted. I have no idea how I’ll keep up this pace. Eric from Trade Justice Mission arrives tomorrow as well to kick off our jewelry co-op projects.

As I said, I’m exhausted. I need to go to bed now. I hope I get a chance to post this report on my blog pretty soon. I also hope I can put some pictures up as well.

Peace to you all.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Orphanage picnic


Orphanage picnic
Originally uploaded by John McCollum
About 60 new photos on my flickr site! Click on this one to go there!

Picnic and Tuol Sleng

I must say, I’m loving this team of mine. Every one of these guys is energetic, positive and adventure-ready. No whining, no kvetching, no moaning.

Not yet, that is.

If I keep up this pace, they might just rebel against me and kill me in my sleep. For Toby, Teddy and I, the day started at a jetlaggy 5am. None of us could sleep, so we decided to hop in the truck, head into the city and forage for food. We hit a bakery and a alleyway market and came back with pastries (croissants, flossy pork buns, pot pies, danishes) and fruit (rambutans, lychee, dragonfruit and a couple of things I couldn’t identify).

We brought the stuff back to the guesthouse, woke up the rest of the crew, had breakfast and headed off to Central Vineyard’s orphan home to play with the kids before the picnic,

Our trip out of the city, over the bridge, into the countryside, past the temple and to our orphan home was aided greatly by my wonderful GPS unit (which had not worked for the first day or so, but sprung to life immediately after Teddy and I laid hands on it and prayed for its recovery) and by the spirit of the living God who protected the Cambodians from my less-than-perfect driving.

Okay, I’ve learned to drive Khmer-style, but I’m a bit rusty, and this morning I borrowed the school’s minibus which, in addition to be huge, has a transmission that feels something like a toilet plunger in a box of mashed potatoes. Really not the easiest thing in the world, thanks to the nutty traffic which must be experienced to be believed.

We played and hugged and chased and sang for a couple of hours, and then we ate. Actually, we watched the staff prepare the food and then we ate. It was truly a feast – beefsteak, grilled chicken, shrimp, fruits, veggies, stir fries, rice – a sight and a taste to behold, made all the better by the wonderful company and the shade of our orphan home’s front porch.

We returned to the city after another couple hours of playing. We visited the horrific yet essential Tuol Sleng prison, where 20,000 political prisoners were tortured and interrogated before being executed at the nearby Cheoung Ek killing fields.

(insert full night of sleep here – I would finish the description, but I’m about to fall off the bed I’m so tired…)

Okay. Not sleepy any more. It’s 5:30am, and we have no power. The a/c is off, so it’s warm and muggy in here, and my laptop battery is where I was when I left off writing last night – about to die.

More about Tuol Sleng: the place is really awful, but seems somehow sacred.A sign at the entrance warning against laughing and roughhousing reads, “Prepare yourselves physically and spiritually to honor the souls of those who died unjustly.” Good advice.

The high school campus, which the Khmer Rouge turned into a torture center, now stands as a museum and a memorial to those who died after being forced to give false confessions to fuel the ‘moral authority’ of the regime as it cleared the country of its undesirables and dangerous counterrevolutionaries. And their elderly parents. And their children. Even babies.

The Khmer Rouge starved their prisoners. They beat them. They pulled out their nails, tore off their nipples, chained their ankles, burned their skin, broke their jaws, shocked them with electrical wires and forced them to confess to imaginary crimes. Oh, and they waterboarded them as well. And then they killed them. One after another. They even killed the babies. They crushed their skulls with rocks, swung them by their ankles and smashed them against trees, threw them up in the air and caught them on bayonets; it really wasn’t too difficult; by the time they left Tuol Sleng, they were mostly dead anyway.

Sobered, we retired to a restaurant across the street, sunk into our seats and just sat. As Toby said, “It’s not that I’m never going to process this, it’s just that I don’t have anything to say right now.”

More later

We've been running non-stop, and will continue to do so for the rest of the day. I do hope, however, to spend some time writing a longer post on my laptop tonight; I'll upload it soon.

Short story? Today we had a huge picnic with all of the kids. To my disappointment, they decided to forgo the actual butchering of the cow. The kids, when asked, decided they wanted beef, but they also wanted shrimp, chicken and a bunch of other things. Cow or no cow, we all had a first-class feast.

Tonight we're going to visit the genocide museum (no fun, but necessary to understand Cambodia) and then I'm preaching at church tomorrow.

I'll have lots of pictures very soon.

Our team is having an amazing experience. They're all truly engaged, and have been blown away by God's goodness. More stories later.

I love you all.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Eyes heavy, bellies full

Well, we're here. I don't have a lot of time to write at this point, but I just wanted to let you know we all made it safely and happily to our destination.

We were greeted at the Phnom Penh airport by a number of staff members and by three girls from the Prek Eng 2 orphan home, Meerlia, Srey Poa and Soriya. They were dressed in their nice school clothes, and bore fragrant jasmine blossom garlands, which they gave to us as we stumbled out of the airport into the Phnom Penh heat.

It was quite an incongruous reception, and quite humbling. We were smelly and tired barangs (gringos), yet we were received like honored guests. I was surprised; the other members of the team were astonished.

Anyway, I've got to go -- we're headed off to the school to see the kids. We're not going to the orphan homes tonight due to our exhaustion. Tomorrow, however, we're going to have an orphanpalooza: dead cow + 100 children + 100 degree weather = big fun!

Thank you for your prayers.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Part-way there

Well, we made it to L.A. a mere 11 hours after arriving at Port Columbus. Lots and lots of waiting around interrupted only briefly by spurts of frantic activity. In another 22 hours or so, we'll be in Phnom Penh. So, good times.

Thus far, no one has lost anything, and no one has been lost. So that's a positive sign.

It's just about 1am. Our plane leaves here around 4am. So, more good times.

I'm looking forward to getting there. I'm not looking forward to 13 hours over the ocean, regardless of how much I'm enjoying the company.

I'll keep you posted...

Meet me in St. Louie

The St. Louis airport is exactly as exciting as the Columbus airport.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

There will be mud

I've been to Cambodia something like 11 or 12 times, and I've never actually traveled in July. What do I know about July? It's hot -- like 90+ -- and it rains every day. So, we're trading the dust for mud.

I've actually traveled in rainy season, but it was near the end. We'll see how this goes. One of our first in-country purchases? Ponchos.

I'm praying that we don't get stuck in the mud. Been there, done that, soiled the t-shirt. No fun. Better make sure I don't just rely on the GPS; I'll need some common sense, too.

Monday, July 07, 2008

There will be blood

This trip promises to be the bloodiest ever.

With any luck, none of that blood will be human.

We usually kill a pig. And oh, yeah. A pig will be killed. But this year, we're also killing a cow.* Okay, okay. I shouldn't sound so gleeful. I don't really delight in the suffering of innocent animals, but this is for the kids.

Explain? Okay. Every time I go on one of these trips, I try to do something special for the kids. In Cambodia, I usually take a bunch of the orphans to a water park. In Thailand, we throw a big barbecue party, wherein a large sow invariably meets her delicious, bacony demise.

When Savorn was in town earlier this year, I asked him if the kids wanted to go back to the pool, and he said, "This time, I think they would like to have a big party. Could you buy them a cow for a cookout?"

So, we're going to kill a cow. I don't know how it's going to go down. Either does Savorn, but he knows a guy who knows a guy. Lots of pictures to follow.

Grisly? A bit, but when you think about it, it's really beautiful. We get to throw a feast for a bunch of kids who, a year or so back, went for days without as much as a morsel of rice. In fact, this is probably as close to heaven as I'll get until, well, I get to heaven. In God's kingdom, the homeless are given homes, the hungry are feted with choice meats and the finest Fresca soft drinks.

So, if you happen to be of the vegetarian persuasion, pretend we're killing a giant tofurkey and rejoice with us, at least in theory. And if you check this blog later this week, do so with your eyes half-covered. Because there will be blood. Don't say I didn't warn you.


*and not like this

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Trouble


Trouble
Originally uploaded by John McCollum

Widow's home/farm under construction


Vocational school


Vocational school
Originally uploaded by John McCollum
This is where our widows will learn to sew.

Pastor Steve MacDonald


Pastor Steve MacDonald
Originally uploaded by John McCollum
His church sponsors our Battambang orphan home. I like him. He is a very silly man.

Mountain vista


Mountain vista
Originally uploaded by John McCollum

Witawat's house


Witawat's house
Originally uploaded by John McCollum

Sticks


Sticks
Originally uploaded by John McCollum