It's been a while friends! I've been on a whirlwind adventure of flying through 5 more time zones and through Cambodian countryside and tuk-tuking through Phnom Penh. It's been an amazing adventure seeing the beauty of this country and contrasting it with the devastating history that has crippled the people of this nation for decades.
Leaving Mozambique was difficult but exciting because I knew how amazing this trip to Cambodia would be. When you're certain you're supposed to be in a certain place, you're usually really excited as to why you're there!
When I got to Phnom Penh and drove up to our hostel, I looked around and saw the copious amount of bars around us. I walked up the three flights (yes, 3!) and praised God for the free stairclimber and on the way saw a western man taking a Khmer girl into his room. My heart sank to the bottom of my stomach at the reality of what I was living amongst and then lept with joy at the privilege it was to be in the epicenter of darkness so that myself and our team could be the light these people needed. What an honor to get to intercede and pray for women trapped working in prostitution and for the restoration of the hearts of men who use women as an appeasement to the gaping wound in their heart. I could not have been more excited to be in such a sleazy environment. And to have the absolute assurance of safety I felt the entire time I was there. It was a privilege to come along side the team in Phnom Penh and encourage them and join with them in bar ministry and children's programs. I loved being able to go to areas were children were most vulnerable and play with them right there, seeing the joy on their faces as they got to act like kids; just kids. Being told I was putting on an impromptu bible story and object lesson for children in the slums was challenging and very fun. Getting pointed at because of my white Irish legs and being motioned at like I was pregnant was quite the experience I wasn't planning on having!
We are currently in Sihanouk Ville which is roughly a 5 hour drive from Phnom Penh and we are visiting a newly established Iris base here. As we drove through the countryside, I was struck with the physical beauty of this country with its green grass, tropical trees and forested mountains. What is more prominent though is the extreme poverty that this county is living in.
We had the privilege to visit a soon-to-be-opened boys center in Sihanouk Ville that The Iris team hopes to open soon. A little talked about issue in Cambodia is the fact that girls are victims of child sexual abuse, but it is actually the boys that are treated far worse as they are considered to be invincible and to be able to withstand anything and be perfectly fine. There is also a different mentality towards boys and girls. Girls are considered "white linen" and once they become dirty are to be thrown away and not good for anything. Boys are considered "pure gold" as they can get dirty and be wiped off, still being clean.
We were privileged to get an in depth awareness of what actually happens in Cambodia by an amazing organization called APLE. They investigate suspected predators or if someone is appearing to be grooming or purchasing a child for nefarious purposes. They also work to gather evidence and testimonies against the numerous child predators that have taken up residence in this country. To hear the specific cases in which pedophiles have been convicted and then through corrupt government and bribery talked their way to an almost nonexistent jail sentence was shocking and angering.
It would be easy to see this country completely void of hope, no change in sight. With 3000 NGOs in Phnom Penh and no foreseeable end to the problem it's hard to believe that any children will ever be protected from sexual exploitation.
That's how I felt at multiple points of this trip. Weeping and crying out to God, asking Him to make a way where there seemed to be no way. I felt empty, with nothing to offer these children, no money to set them in school or a way to beg their parents not to sell them to the next foreign man for the night.
I was the hopeless one.
And then... I looked into the eyes of one of the children.
There I saw a radiance, love and hope that I didn't think could come from such a little person. These children emanate joy. I realized again that it doesn't matter how polished my resume is to start a center, taking them all into my protective wings. It doesn't matter that I don't have a stacked bank account to feed and clothe them.
This physical lack reminded me of what I possessed that is worth more to them than gold. In Acts 3, Peter and John were walking past the gate where the beggars sat. A lame beggar called out to them and asked for money. Peter responded:
"Silver and gold I do not have, but what I do have I give to you: In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth rise up and walk." (Verse 6)
We convey hope when we spend time with the poor. I fully believe that I walk in light and when I walk into places where children are being abused, women forced to no other occupation than prostitution that the light drowns out the darkness. The two cannot coexist.
And in that, there is hope.
"Learn to do good; seek justice, rebuke the oppressor; defend the fatherless, plead for the widow."
Ps. You may have notice when I do post pictures from Cambodia that they don't include many of the beautiful families and children we had the honor to serve. We were requested to not take pictures of the children as to protect their identity as even posting pictures with landmarks in the background could make these children vulnerable to predators seeking them out. It was difficult to not be able to show you all their shining faces! I thank you all for understanding the situation so brilliantly!