Wednesday, January 26, 2005

It's a muggy, warm morning in Phnom Penh. I woke up bright and early (or at least early) thanks to the jet lag after a somewhat fitful night of sleep. Had a nice hot shower, shave and cup of coffee, and headed out to a small internet cafe just down the street from our guest house near Psar Toul Tompoung, often called the Russian Market.

Lest you get the picture of some Southeast Asian Starbucks type affair, this "cafe" is basically a room on the first floor of an anonymous three-story building on a busy urban street. The front of the room opens onto a sidewalk crowded with motos, old air conditioners, pedestrians and the occasional chicken.

The computers are old and the keyboard feels strangely homemade, but the web access is decently fast, and it's cheap -- about 50 cents an hour. I don't have an hour to write, so I'll get out of here for about a quarter.

Well, we went to the orphanage yesterday. Wow. It's beautiful. You wouldn't know it driving out to it; it's almost literally in the middle of nowhere, relative to the rest of the city. You have to travel down Monivong Boulevard, out of the city, over the bridge, down the road that leads to Vietnam, turn left at the Tiger Beer Brewery, and look carefully for the tiny entrance that leads to the path which takes you to one of the most beautiful places I've ever been.

Its beauty comes not from the neatness of the yellow stucco buildings or the delicacy of the unfamiliar species of flowers and fruit that decorate the brick-lined dirt paths, but from the children who, at the sound of the car's engine, come pouring out of the house, from behind the dining hall, and from under the trees to greet us. When they catch sight of our team, the littlest ones begin jumping up and down, and before we can get our vehicle's doors closed, they're hugging and leaping and tugging at our arms, legs and shirts.

Last year, the place was a construction site. This year, it's a technicolor parable about the kingdom of God. These kids, who for the first few years of their lives saw nothing but pain and suffering and rejection, are loved and fed and taught thanks to the grace of God and the love of his people. It really is a fantastic place.

We could only stay for a couple of hours, but we played basketball (sort of) on the beautiful playground until the ball ran flat and the little ones lost interest. I taught them duck-duck-goose, and we laughed and ran and ran and laughed. Then they taught me a game which consisted of them trying to hold onto each other's hips with me, the 'mother bird' at the front of the line protecting them from the 'predator,' one of the older kids. It was every bit as tiring as it sounds.

After we said our goodbyes and made our promises to return, we headed off to dinner -- pizza, to ease us into the cuisine. As John Campbell said, ''Our first mistake was sitting down." I almost fell asleep on my plate. But we still had a long night ahead of us. After our meal, we headed off to one of the student centers for a time of what church people call 'fellowship.' We hung out, sang a few songs, introduced ourselves to the new students, smiling weakly and apologizing for our fatigue.

We finally made it back to the guest house at what felt like the middle of the night, and crashed.

And thats how we get to here and now. It's almost 8am, and I've got to sign off. We have another long day ahead. I'll tell you about it later. Keep us in your prayers.




karey said...

Karen and I are praying for your trip John. Don't drink too much coffee and take your vitamins. If I don't tell you, no one will. =)

John McCollum said...


Thanks for the prayers and for the tip on the vitamins. I almost forgot.

As for the coffee, we'll see.

brian estabrook said...

I love the phrase 'technicolor parable about the Kingdom of God'.. Thanks for the beautiful and stirring pictures you give us through your words.. I know that someday I will be able to cast my gaze upon the beautiful sights that you are now seeing.. I'm praying for you John! Give one of those precious kids a hug and/or kiss for me at the orphanage - tell them some tall redhead guy in America loves them..

John McCollum said...


Will do. Can't wait to see you over here some day.