After another long morning of driving we arrived back in Phnom Penh. It seems hard to believe that our time in Cambodia is almost over. Last year, I stayed in Asia for more than three months at one stretch, most of it with my family. This year, it’s just been my son Pak and my colleague Seth, and we’re only here for 4 weeks. No wonder I’m feeling rushed.
But that’s not all. This trip so far has been jam packed with activities and responsibilities. We’ve had multiple teams from the States coming over to visit the kids, and I’ve been meeting with a group of businessmen from Ohio, casting vision for the proposed campus in Prek Eng. In the past week, I’ve driven the 10 hour round trip journey between Battambang and Phnom Penh twice, and the 8 hour Phnom Penh-to-Siem Reap-to-Battambang route once.
I’m tired. Sunday was probably the craziest day of all. But it was one of the best days I’ve had in Cambodia in years.
We got up bright and early and headed to the Asia’s Hope Battambang campus to join hundreds of kids and staff and dozens of visitors in a couple of hours of raucus worship – songs, dances, and a great message from Pastor Tim Armstrong from the Crossroads Church in Mansfield, Ohio.
After the service, we walked to our beautiful new learning center, which was just completed at the end of last week. The Crossroads team outfitted it with computers and software they brought from the States, and it’s ready for use. Its two classrooms and computer lab will provide real and immediate benefit to our kids, who will need computing skills to compete in Cambodia’s competitive and rapidly growing employment marketplace.
Pastor Tim, Pastor Deering and I were asked to cut the ribbon. Until the sign on the side of the building was unveiled, Deering did not know that the building had been named “The Jean Dyer Memorial Learning Center” in honor of his wife who died suddenly last year. The cost of construction was subsidized by donations given in her memory. It was a beautiful and touching event that left very few dry-eyed. After the dedication ceremony, we all walked over to the nearly-completed Battambang 8 home and prayed a special blessing on the kids and upon the building.
We grabbed a quick bite to eat and headed out to a nearby waterpark where we expended recklessly all of our remaining energy, baking in the hot Cambodian sun and serving as jungle-gyms for hordes of excited young kids. After a few hours of horseplay, we took a break and baptized more than a dozen kids and a handful of visiting team members.
We shambled back to Battambang for dinner and then returned to the campus for a dance party and fireworks.
Despite our exhaustion, all of us danced – at least for a while. The party lasted for only about two hours, but it seemed much, much longer. It was physically draining, but emotionally and spiritually exhilarating. I’ve chaperoned dances in the U.S., and they’re nothing like our Asia’s Hope dance parties. At our bashes, no one is picked on, no one is left out, no one is harassed, and no one gets even close to first base. It’s truly a wonderful experience.
As I said to one of our amazed and delighted visitors, “If you don’t like this, you’re going to be miserable in heaven.”
Seeing these kids dance and laugh and play, you’d be hard pressed to perceive the depth of suffering that each of these children has experienced. You’d never know that Mariya’s father had hanged himself, and that one year ago, none of us could tell if she even knew how to smile. And although she is still a bit shy, you might never know that Srey Oun’s dad was a child rapist serving a long sentence, or that her mother was a destitute day laborer who could neither feed nor educate any of her five children. You certainly wouldn’t pick Usa as an child whose father died in a landmine explosion and whose mother died of a fever before he could even learn their names.
But that’s the beauty of a loving family; that’s the transforming power of hope. Each of our children has suffered tremendous loss. A random sampling of our kids’ bios reads like an encyclopedia of misery: landmines, AIDS, abuse, alcoholism, addiction, abandonment – you name it, we’ve got it. But God is changing these kids, restoring their childhood and giving them not only strength for today, but a real, tangible hope for tomorrow.
Yesterday we visited a village not far from Battambang, where we joined a local pastor providing prayers and some financial assistance to widows and orphans and poor families just barely scraping by in conditions that would have to be improved significantly to qualify for appalling. Spending time in communities like the ones into which our kids were born is sobering, but also inspiring. We all left with an even greater commitment to continuing our hard work to provide the best possible care for as many kids as God blesses us with, not just in Cambodia, but also in Thailand and India.
Will you continue to pray with me? We need more churches to come alongside Asia’s Hope to bless orphans with high-quality, loving Christian homes. Our need in India – our newest ministry field – is especially great. I believe that God wants more from any of us than we can possibly imagine. Please join me in begging God for three, four – even five – new partnering churches in the next six months.
Tomorrow we head off to Thailand. I promise more pics and stories after we hit the ground.