I’ll spare you the travel details. Bottom line: it was long and uncomfortable. But after we arrived any whining we wanted to do about travel quickly vanished.
Phnom Penh, Capital City, Cambodia
We were all surprised at the beauty that exists in parts of this city. When most of us think of Cambodia, we think poverty and mud huts. And there are certainly plenty of those. But upon arrival, I was a bit shocked at how modern parts of the city were. Having said that, it didn’t take long at all to see how hard life is for most of the residents here. There is clearly an upper middle class (there are plenty of Lexus and Mercedes vehicles), but most people get around on mopeds. The traffic in Phnom Penh is crazy! Much like India, stop signs are optional! You just sorta go for what you know. Anyhoo, we all said, “We’re not in Kansas anymore are we?”
The city is very populous and most people are VERY poor. Once we ventured off the main roads to get to the orphanage, what was already distressing got worse and brought us to tears.
Poverty. POverty. POVERTY.
Mud and grass houses. Children playing in dirt without clothes. Hunger. Filth and trash. Small structures with little ventilation and even less drainage for sewage. I told Deacon Chuck, “If you ever see me complaining about not having a larger church building again, slap me.”
After we arrived and got settled, we took our first trip to the orphanage. We first had to turn off the main roads onto gravel and dirt roads, and then down another side cut of water-logged bumpy roads to get to the village where the orphanage is. The recent “super Typhoon” really flooded the rural areas. On the way, the living conditions of everyday people deteriorated rapidly. It was very silent in the van except for the occasional gasps of “wow,” “goodness,” “Jesus,” and “my Lord.”
When we pulled up, the wonderful staff and volunteers were waiting, and as we entered the orphanage compound we heard the children singing. My eyes began to water before I even saw them.
The orphanage is made up of 3 buildings (you’ll see all of this on the hundreds of pictures we bring back): an open building where the smaller children sleep, were church services are held and with a very small kitchen; another building with a classroom, storage area, and sleeping for the older children; and a lavatory building with about 5 individual lavatories; there are no raised toilets…they are on the floor. (Oh, and a quick note...based on what the children subsist on, Bro. Randall said he'll never walk into his fully stocked pantry again and declare there's nothing to eat! Amen sir.)
I walked into the open area where the children were singing, with Pastor Komanapalli in front and the rest of the CRCC team behind. And upon seeing those beautiful faces, my heart just about exploded. They are so beautiful. Each and every one of them. There are about 35 children that live at the orphanage, and another 15 or so that are there often for food and ministry. Did I mention they are beautiful? They were singing praise songs in their native language; we could make out the “hallelujahs.” :) Their little hands would lift in worship. They would clap. They would smile. And get this friends….
THEY WERE SO HAPPY TO SEE US! It was so genuine. From the staff to each child…it was as if they were saying through their faces: “They’re really here! They came to see us! They really do love us!”
And you know what? We really do love them! CRCC…if you ever doubted for a moment that the monthly support we send to these children is worth it or not, put those thoughts to rest forever. It is hard to imagine something that is obviously pleasing Christ more than what we are doing with these wonderful children.
After they sang 3 or 4 songs, through an interpreter Pastor Komanapalli introduced me, and I tried to get out a few words. In the supplies we brought for them, we also brought some candy! So we all then gave each child and staff member some, broke out the soccer balls and Frisbees, and went out to play!
The children had a ball. And so did we. For the next 2 hours or so, we just played with children. We got to know them. We tried to pronounce their names! LOL. And some just hung onto us and would not let us go. Almost instantly, they knew we loved them, and they felt safe around us.
The Killing Fields
The next day, we got up early and went to one of the many “Killing Fields” around the country. Google Cambodia and you can read all about what happened to this country in the late 70s. Hundreds of thousands of people were systematically rounded up and slaughtered….many by hand. We visited one such area, and it broke us all.
There were signs on the property describing what happened at each killing station. There were mass graves. There was a big monument with real human skulls in it. It had to be 20 or 30 feet high…filled with skulls. There were tattered clothing from the victims. There was a so-called “magic tree” where music was played to drown out the cries of the suffering. And there was a “killing tree” where the executioners beat and killed children.
Friends, we were speechless at such evil and suffering. Broken and speechless. And ashamed. At what? At how so many little things depress and frustrate us. At how we take so much for granted. At how we could be serving Christ much more fervently, giving more, blessing more. At how we in the West should all have more joy….especially those of us who call ourselves Christians. At how we won’t read our bibles, or share our faith, or be consistent in church. At how so many are slaves to Facebook, XBOX, and TV. At how we lack joy with a nice house with cars and more than enough food.
We didn’t stay long.
Preaching at the Orphanage
We went back to the orphanage later on in the day. 150 or so locals had gathered along with the children. The children and staff sang some praise songs, Pastor White and Minister Wilson gave greetings, and I preached. It was quite an experience and God blessed! There was lots of commotion going on. Animals walking between me and them :), cigarette smoke, somebody in the back of the field lit up a joint (I’m serious!!!), etc. BUT….God still moved. Through an interpreter, the Gospel of Christ was very clearly presented, and in the shadow of a Buddhist temple not very far away, Christ was exalted. We prayed with and laid hands on some who came up for prayer, and Pastor Komanapalli (the trip organizer) closed the service.
We’ll be going back to preach to many more today.