As I reflect on my time in Cambodia, I am struck most significantly by the contrast of light and darkness; hope and despair. I see light in so many wonderful people living and working here to better the lives of others – people who are pushing back the darkness of extreme poverty, sexual exploitation and animism to share true hope. Hope that is not a feeling of expectation, but the certain hope found in Christ. As I think about my time here, there are verses from the first chapter of the gospel of John that frame what I was experiencing.
The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it:
For almost a decade, I have prayed for a notorious red light district in Phnom Penh called. I learned of this area through the International Justice Mission and their undercover work here freeing young girls who were sexually exploited. Over the years I have prayed for the girls who were sold into sexual slavery, the pimps who terrorized them and the people who have come to change the culture of this place. I never imagined I would get to walk through the very same place. It was deeply moving to walk through what was once an infamous red light district and visit the school, factory, gym, halfway house and other establishments that have replaced the brothels.
There came a man sent from God…he came as a witness to testify about the Light so that all might believe through him:
I am humbled by the wonderful people I have met here in Cambodia. People who, because of their love for Jesus live, work and serve others here. I met Chad, Kimberly and Rachel who work the former red light district training teachers, running the school, overseeing a half-way house for abused women and children, and using donations to purchase and repurpose brothels. I learned of the Brazilian doctor who has lived as a volunteer in Cambodia for over 5 years providing free medical care to the residents in this same community. I watched a very famous Cambodian kick boxer volunteering his time teaching and coaching young athletes in a gym that was formerly a brothel. I have eaten dinners with Jesse and Sarah as well as Gregory and Heidi who live in Cambodia with their families where they love, lead and serve through the Church of Christ our Peace in Phnom Penh. I met Danielle, who runs an orphanage; Steve, who works for an aid group; Amy, the professional photographer who is volunteering her craft to provide photographs for aid agencies and literally dozens of others.
There was the true Light, which coming into the world, enlightens every man. He was in the world, and the world was made through Him and the world did not know him:
The main religion in Cambodia is Animism – the belief that all things – animals, plants, rocks and artifacts are alive and have spiritual qualities. While here I have seen people offering sacrifices to the flagpole (Cambodia’s most powerful spirit – see photo); statues in temples; and deceased relatives. I have watched as even extremely poor people set out fruits and meats so the spirits of their dead ancestors could enjoy the essence of the items or burn fake money as an offering of well being to the deceased. As I have observed, I have also prayed for each one of them to turn from praying to inanimate objects and long for God.
But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name:
Almost every morning, I have gone out early to enjoy a run (I don’t have access to a bike here ;-). In the quiet of the morning, amidst the smell of burning trash, I have seen; waved to; smiled at so many Cambodians on my runs. In each of them I see a small pilot light – a deep desire – to know and be known; to love and be loved; to see and be seen. My prayer for each of them has been that bit of light in each of them draw them to God.
I hope you will pray with me for the people of Cambodia.
*Thank you for reading this far. It has been a joy to share a glimpse of my experience. Please contact me if you would like to see photos or learn more about my trip.