I never had a desire to go to Southeast Asia. I don’t think I could tell you where Cambodia was on a map – somewhere near Vietnam – but I don’t think I knew exactly where that was either. Up until four years ago, I had never heard of the Khmer Rouge and Pol Pot and had only vaguely heard of The Killing Fields. It was the part of our world’s history that when brought up in conversation I might nod mumbling, “yeah, terrible,” playing it off like I had a clue what people were talking about. I didn’t. Four years ago at a meeting I met a Cambodian diplomat who loss all of his family during the time of Pol Pot’s horrific reign of terror. Although my heart went out to this man and his family, I still didn’t have any curiosity or desire to visit his homeland.
Some comical and ironic God-orchastrated details brought me to Cambodia late January of 2012 with some amazing women from World Relief, but without Shayne.
From 1975-1979 Pol Pot and his regime with detailed documentation, systematically killed every educated person and child including those who wore glasses or who had the appearance of an education. He and his regime killed two million of their own people. No foreign aid came into this country for another 10 years after. This is a country trying desperately to build itself back up from years of genocide and war. It is a country trying to educate its people, build up its judicial system, and create new businesses. It’s finding its way, but it will take time.
40% of the population of Cambodia lives on less than $1 a day making it one of the poorest countries in Southeast Asia.
This is what living on a $1 a day looks like. This community of people were displaced because the land they formerly were living was needed by the government. They were relocated to the outskirts of Phnom Penh to this area. It was here I had the privilege of meeting a group of women at a HIV/AIDS support group. This group was started and facilitated by a local World Relief staff member.
The women in the center is the amazing women who began this support group and who graciously invited us to meet these women. You can see a few husbands joined us as well.
World Relief has a comprehensive strategy in standing with the most vulnerable in our world and working in their communities. This is one group that has grown organically from their presence here.
In this picture you see me smiling and looking quite comfortable in my surroundings. What you don’t see is my panic just an hour before this picture was taken as I looked out the window of our bus as it pulled to a stop in this community. I didn’t want to get out of the bus for this is what I feared before I came – poverty and disease and the knowing that I couldn’t do anything to help. I didn’t want to be just an observer of another’s tragedy.
In an hour this fear was turned to joy and hope, not because I could do anything to help, but because I experienced God’s incredible presence in the midst. I met God’s favorite. I experienced the apple of God’s eye – the poor, the widow, the children. What I needed to do was simply to show up. A lesson I would learn again and again on this trip.