It’s hot in Battambang, somewhere in the low 90s. I’m lying in bed at the TeO Hotel, which finally has Wi-Fi. After about a dozen visits to this hotel, let me just say, “It’s about time” for this place to be blessed with wireless access to this here internet.
I had planned on hanging out at our main campus – home to three of our five Battambang orphan homes – but Savorn, our national director, wisely suggested that I take a nap. He’s right, you know. I didn’t sleep well last night or the night before, and I wore myself out this morning at the Battambang 2 and 3 homes playing tag, ‘Simon says,’ ‘Steal the bacon,’ coin hockey, paper football and something sort of like rugby.
I’ll be in town for the next few days; I can afford to pace myself.
On my “visits to the troops,” I’m more Bob Hope than Douglas MacArthur; I take my role as designated merrymaker very seriously. Prior to coming to live at Asia’s Hope, each of these kids had a hell of a life -- in a very full sense of the expression – and I think they deserve to have as much fun as I can give them.
Read with me a few excerpts from some of these kids’ bios, and you’ll see why it’s so important to me that they have a chance to smile and play and laugh:
… Her father was a farmer, but he was killed by a land mine when she was 10 years old. Her mother abandoned her when she was 11 years old…Her grandmother made her taken care of pigs in order to earn some money to buy food. Sometimes the pigs died by disease and she could not take them to sell at market, so she had no money to buy food or clothes. She tried to find morning glory to get it to sell, but in the dry season she could not find it anymore, and she did not have enough food or other basic necessities…
… His father was a fisherman. In 1996 his father died of a liver disease. His mother was a housewife, but in 2001 she died of high blood pressure…After his parents died, he lived with an elderly grandmother. He took care of pigs and planted vegetables. However, because he did not have enough strength to do this work, he become sick and had no money to buy medicine. He could not go to school and his grandmother did not have a sufficient income to take care of him. He had no hope…
…Her father was a farmer. He was always drunk, and in 2006 he hung himself during the night from a mango tree and died. After her father died, her mother washed her neighbor’s clothes and dishes in order to earn some money to feed her children. Unfortunately, her mother contracted HIV, so no one wanted her to work for them anymore. Because of this, her mother abandoned her daughter to live with the neighbor…but the neighbor’s family was poor, and they had many of their own children to care for. As a result, they did not really like to feed her. The neighbor required her to go and collect morning glory and simple shellfish that she could sell, and then give the money to them. They did not let her go to school. She never had enough food or good clothes…
These aren’t the “worst-of-the-worst” stories, selected for dramatic effect. I have hundreds of stories just like these. Each one of our kids has had some sort of trauma or abandonment that brought them to us, and each one was at high risk of being trafficked -- sold or tricked into slavery or prostitution.
This is why I never feel like I’m wasting my time here, even when it might like I am. I’m not just playing ‘freeze tag,’ I’m helping reclaim some little boy’s stolen childhood. ‘Simon says?’ I’m helping to reformat a little girl’s self-image by telling her, “You’re important. You’re part of a family.”
Certainly, the most important work is done by the staff and the orphan home parents. They work tirelessly to provide everything that this world had stolen from these kids. But I will -- unashamedly and with a strong sense of a truly sacred calling -- run around with funny things on my head, make silly faces and play silly games as long as God gives me breath.
Tomorrow, we’re having a party. We’ll have special food and music, and we’ll laugh and dance and play more silly games. And with each laugh, each song, each round of coin hockey, we’ll write another happy line in these kids’ admittedly complex life story, and see the kingdom of darkness pushed back just a little bit more as God’s kingdom comes on earth – in Battambang, Cambodia – as it is in heaven.