Thursday, October 13, 2005

The other side of the coin

Yesterday I talked a lot about the horrors of Tuol Sleng, a truly vile, yet sacred place. I’m glad I took the team there; it’s nearly impossible to understand the Cambodia of today with an inadequate understanding of the Cambodia of 1975. The American bombings, the civil war, the Khmer Rouge regime all made the country what it is today. Victims of both ‘Godless Communism’ and ‘Imperialist decadence,’ this country’s been kicked around for decades by foreign powers -- centuries, if you count the perennial internecine conflicts with the neighbors.

And it’s the neighbors who are causing a lot of the problems now, too. The Thais and Vietnamese are laying waste to the country’s natural resources, buying up land for mining and development and ravaging forests for timber. They pay pennies on the dollar to corrupt government officials, and the people from whom the land has been stolen get nothing but disease, famine and heartache.

Still, the country -- or at least the capital city -- appears to be making significant progress. On my second trip here, I noted that city appeared to be awaking from a long slumber; roads were being paved, trees were being planted along the streets and light industry popping up on every corner. Today, the city is up and moving. Nearly all the secondary and tertiary streets have been paved, and there are actually traffic lights at almost every major intersection. What’s even more amazing is that, thanks to aggressvie police enforcement, about 95% of the people actually stop when the lights are red. Traffic is, relatively speaking, more organized. Okay, that’s like saying that Shaq is ‘more short’ than Yao Ming, but it’s something, right?

Even with all of the ostensible progress, Cambodia would be a really depressing place if it wasn’t for the hope we see in the faces of our Christian brothers and sisters who are sacrificing their time, talents and posessions to make a difference for the sake of the Kingdom of God and the Kingdom of Cambodia.

Places like the Phnom Penh Asia’s Hope Orphanage stands in such stark contrast to places like Tuol Sleng, that to visit them both in one day is emotionally exhausting. We arrived at the orphanage, a beautifully manicured facility that sits off a narrow, dusty road in Prek Eng district, past the Bassac river, just outside of the city limits. When we arrived, only about a third of the children were there, the others were still at school. (The local school is too small to accommodate all of the kids, so they attend in two shifts.)

We were greeted by Pastor Vek Huong and his wife Samouen, and by Sopang, the orphanage director. When the kids saw our truck, they ran out to greet us as well. With squeals of delight and calls of “Hello, John! Hello, Daddy! Chum reab soor!” the children surrounded us. Within seconds, each of us had three or four children hanging from each of our arms. One little girl, Srey Vet, latched onto my dad and didn’t let him go for about two hours.

Many of the kids were still in school, but we sure played the heck out of the ones that were there. We played duck-duck-goose, red rover, and a very unorganized game of basketball. We threw the frisbee, and chased the kids around the yard. We took pictures of all of the kids, and took a couple of them aside to do video profiles. We stayed for about three and a half hours until, exhausted, we had to leave for dinner. As we left, the kids chased after our truck, waving and shouting, “See you tomorrow! God bless you! We love you!”


It really doesn’t get much better than this. The place feels like heaven on earth. Unlike most of the hundreds of thousands of other orphan kids in Cambodia, our kids are happy. They’re healthy. They’re well fed and well adjusted, and they know that God loves them. It’s such a blessing to see them play together; It’s easy to forget that all of these kids have already seen more tragedy than most of us will experience in a lifetime. Many have parents who died of AIDS. Many have parents who killed themselves. Others have been abused, abandoned and left to fend for themselves. A few had parents who loved them, but were too poor or too sick to care for them, and so they relinquished custody of them to the state.

My team’s having a great time, too. Each of them has joked that they would like to fit a couple kids in their suitcase before leaving for America. Each of them understands the value of the ministry they’re here to support. It’s really, really cool.

I could -- and probably will -- write more about our experiences at the orphanage, but we’ve got to head back to the guest house. We’re all completely beat. It’s hot here, and very humid. We’re trying to conserve energy. I know I lifted about 1,500 pounds of orphan today, and I’m exhausted. Plus, we’ve got a late night gig at the student centers, so we should try to get a little rest.

Thanks for your prayers. Please keep praying for our kids here in Cambodia.

Much love.


dee said...

JOhn, I read your message and I miss you, we are leaving in an half an hour, hopefully mom won't get sick on the plane!

Note from MOM, I do not plan on getting sick just nervous....

Love to keep up with you and dad, am praying all the time.

erica said...

John, I was praying this morning that you ALL have the wisdom and discernment to get the rest you need, even though you are trying to cram so much into such a short time. Rest! Eat safe food! Don't get sick!
Dear God,You'll have to make sure they do, please please please in Jesus' name,