Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Christmas in Cambodia

It’s hot here. What a change from cold, cold Shaxi where I had an electric blanket, wore my coat constantly, and reheated bottle after bottle of water to stay warm. I am no longer eating wayyyy too much food with my Shaxi family, nor am I washing my face every morning and night (as well as my feet at night).
No, I’m in Cambodia now. And boy am I glad.
This place is amazing in so many ways.
Did you know that in the 1970s half of the population of Cambodia was killed? The communist Khmer Rouge committed a brutal genocide—killing completely innocent men, women, and children. As a result, this country has a very young population and a very poor population, most of whom live in the country on less than a dollar a day.
On Monday we went to the Killing Fields and Tuol Sleng. Tuol Sleng is the high school turned prison that held about 16,000 innocent people. In the classrooms which became prison cells, there are now hundreds of pictures of faces. Beautiful Cambodian faces.
Then there were the Killing Fields. They are just outside of the city of Phnom Penh, not a long tuk-tuk ride. The Killing Fields are the invention of Pol Pot, the Khmer Rouge leader, and they are the site of the memorial which holds 8,000 skulls.
As you walk around the Killing Fields, it’s quiet. People are respectful. After passing the memorial, there are paths which lead you to a few mass graves—one holding 400 bodies, another holding 150. Then you’re led on to an area where there is pit after pit after pit. I stopped counting at 50.
As I walked around, I was horrified to see scraps of clothing lying around. Clothing from the thousands of people who were executed and died there. You see, only 14 people survived Tuol Sleng. 14 out of 16,000. Everyone else was taken by truck to the Killing Fields.
Sorry for the gruesome details, but it’s just such a huge part of history, and I feel like it’s been ignored. People here still suffer from the memory, from the fact that landmines are still a danger, and from poverty.
But in spite of all this, Cambodia is an incredibly beautiful place full of incredibly beautiful people. They have the warmest smiles and genuine hearts.  I have absolutely loved my time here, and I wish I had more time—I think we all do! The food is amazing, the hotels we’re at are really nice,  and we ride tuk-tuks everywhere! (They’re little carts that usually hold 4 people and are pulled by a motorcycle. Favorite form of transportation thus far.)
We also have encountered two amazing NGOs (non-government organizations)—Mith Samlanh in Phnom Penh and Sala Bai here in Siem Reap. Both of these NGOs take either street kids or disadvantaged kids from their respective cities and they train them in hospitality services. So both places have restaurants where the students are waiters—and there’s excellent service and really excellent food! If you are ever in Phnom Penh, you HAVE to go to Friends (the restaurant) or Romdeng (their other restaurant). Friends is near the riverfront, and right next door there is a store called Friends ‘n Stuff—everything in the store is recycled (AWESOME) and made by the students. I got so much stuff from there. The money from the restaurants and the store go directly to the program that helps the street kids. It’s pretty amazing, and the kids are pretty amazing too. I say kids, but they’re really young adults—my age.
Cambodia has been a fantastic experience so far. I have been reminded again and again how completely blessed I am to have a whole and living family, to always have more than enough of what I need, to have friends who love me, support me, pray for me.
So I’d like to ask you to pray for Cambodia. These people are wonderful, but they need the gospel.  Pray also for sweet Alek—I met him in Phnom Penh trying to sell books to Rachel, Connor, Mary, Jon, and Rayn.  He was ten years old, on the streets, trying to make money for his mother he said. He was hilarious and a clever salesman. I bought a bracelet from him, his favorite one (I just couldn’t resist). He said he wants to be a lawyer when he grows up. Please pray for Alek that he would hear the gospel and allow the hope of Christ to fill his heart. Unfortunately I don’t have a picture of him, but he was so precious.
Thanks for all your support and prayer for me—I am so grateful for it! Be praying for my team and all our families as Christmas is going to be difficult for all of us.
Thanks again—love and miss you guys a lot!!