Monday, February 23, 2004

Today was an amazing day. If this keyboard wasn't so lousy, I'd probably type more, but I'm down to a few words per minute. I think someone poured Coke onto the computer or something. Oh, well.

We left Phnom Penh for Battambang this morning. We rented an air-conditioned mini bus for the trip. Good move. Our journey took us 5 hours through the Cambodian countryside past mountains and rice paddies, temples and markets. We saw hundreds of water buffalo, thousands of ducks, dozens of naked brown bottoms attached to gleeful kids splashing in the rivers, and countless beautiful people busy hitting the ground with a stick for a dollar a day.

I have almost returned to full health, and was able to enjoy the trip. We stopped to use the potty at a New Life Church somewhere in Kompong Chnaang province. It was wonderful to see brothers and sisters in Christ smiling and greeting us in Jesus' name out in the middle of nowhere.

We arrived at our hotel and had a delicious lunch at the Cold Night restaurant. Strange name for a restaurant in a country that has never, in my experience, actually had a cold night.

Afterward, we all got into the bus and drove about 10 minutes out of town to the orphanage. We'd have left earlier had we known the children had been standing, arranged by sex and age, in their best clothes, waiting for two hours for our arrival.

When we pulled into the gate, Samouen told me to get out first, as Asia's Hope's representative. The children began to sing and two of my favorite girls, Chanthea and Dina approached with a beautiful garland on a silver platter, and I knelt as they placed it around my neck. I greeted each child, one by one, calling those by name that I could remember. The fragrance of the jasmine wreath and the radiance of the children's smile nearly brought me to my knees.

Everything I have, everything I work for, suddenly came into razor sharp focus. Now I remember why I have a job, why I'm a part of Asia's Hope, why I can't open my mouth to someone in America without mentioning Cambodia. These kids are worth every penny I own, and much more. I love even the ones whose names I've never learned.

We played for nearly two hours -- duck-duck-goose, thumb wrestling, soccer, anything we could think of. We sang songs with them, wrestled with them, picked them up and carried them, hugged them. I couldn't walk a step without three of them grasping to hold my hand, and I couldn't take a seat without having as many on my lap.

When it was time to leave, they hung on to us and followed us out to the bus. "See you tomorrow!" they all shouted as they blew us kisses.

Wow. I can't even begin to describe how different these kids are from the ones at the state-run orphanages. They are so well fed, so well loved, so well adjusted. It's an honor to be a part of their lives. It's humbling beyond words to hear some of them call me 'Daddy.' I can't wait to return tomorrow.

I thank God for all of you who have supported this ministry with prayers and financial support. EVery prayer, every dollar is absolutely worth it. I took a ton of pictures, but i probably won't be able to post them from Battambang. But when you see them, you'll know what I mean.

Well, I have to go. I'm getting eaten alive by mosquitoes and I haven't been taking my malaria pills. Whoops. Too many other health problems to remember.

I love you all, and I can't wait to show you all of my photos when I return.



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