Director's Blog

Relaxation — but not necessarily rest — in Darjeeling

Kori and I are are relaxing — though not really resting — in chilly Darjeeling before heading to Delhi and then home. Our time in Kalimpong was brief, but lovely. We enjoyed spending time at all five of our children's homes, and felt encouraged not only by our staff, but also by the leaders who joined us on the trip. 

I already miss the kids in Kalimpong, but I'm enjoying a couple of days with Kori. This is a great opportunity to regroup before heading back into what is sure to be a very busy year at the Asia's Hope office.

It really is cold here in Darjeeling, much more than I had imagined. As no hotels here enjoy the benefits of central heating, I may have erred in reserving one of the cheaper ones in town. When we checked into our room, we could see our breath. The tiny, portable heater is doing its best, but it's never quite enough to keep us warm. 

I'm certain that this hotel lacks even the most basic insulation, and the large windows that dominate the main wall in our room do not close completely. They do however provide hot water bags for the bed upon request, and we've requested them a number of times already. We also bought ourselves some long-johns last night. I'm not sure we would have been able to sleep without them.

This morning we got up to find the entire town shuttered. A beloved local politician has apparently died, and nearly every restaurant and shop has closed for the day to honor his passing. We were lucky enough to find found one small place that consented to make breakfast for us, although they made us walk through the kitchen, and they kept their front doors blocked and locked so no one would think they were dishonoring the dead.

After a decent breakfast of toast, eggs and hashbrowns, we decided to walk the town. We traipsed about the neighborhood for around two hours. Despite the cold, this would not be particularly strenuous at home. But at 7,000 feet above sea level in Darjeeling, where every road is a hill, it was pretty exhausting. Thank God I'm not suffering from altitude sickness (I had it last year and it was not fun at all), but I still feel like my lungs are wrapped tightly in an ACE bandage.

We did find one other place that was open for business, the bakery at Glenarry's. We shared a pot of tea and a couple of cookies before returning for a rest to our hotel. The hotel is still very cold, but we've cuddled up together with some hot water bottles, and we're trying to decide if and when we should search for some place to serve us lunch.

Despite the fact that the mountains are shrouded in clouds and we are a bit cold, Kori and I are having a really nice time. This is an amazing country — every dish is delicious, and every street is filled with sights, sounds and smells that we can't find at home. 

I find that I'm not taking many photos on this leg of the trip, so you'll have to take my word for it: India is beautiful, it's people are amazing, and Darjeeling is a place you really want to visit. You may, however, want to find a warmer time of year to do so.

I really enjoyed the Leadership Conference. It was a real joy to meet new friends and colleagues from around the region. But I have to admit that there were times during the sessions — especially those sessions given entirely in Nepali — that I couldn't help thinking, "I'd sure love to be playing with the kids right now."

Over the last couple of days, we've made up for lost time and jumped into the playing, the dancing and the laughing — with gusto. Monday was Republic Day, a celebration of the country's full independence from British rule, which was finally achieved 66 years ago when India's first constitution took effect. We spent a couple of hours in the morning attending a parade at the town's stadium.

School children join in a parade to celebrate India's Republic Day.

Later, we capped a full afternoon and evening of home visits and playing by attending a concert given in our honor by our kids. We gathered in the upper room at one of our houses, and enjoyed a full two hours (maybe more!) of songs, skits and dances, prepared by our kids for our enjoyment. 

You would not believe the beauty, the skill, the joy — but you'll have to, because my camera battery died right before the concert, and I had somehow failed to charge my backup. I took some iPhone video, but the room was dimly lit and the footage looks like it was smuggled out of cold war East Berlin, shot with a 70s-era CIA-issue potato-camera. So, about an hour or so into the concert, I committed to not stressing out about the lack of a decent camera, and I just threw myself into enjoying the evening.

After the concert, we ate a delicious dinner prepared by our staff. Our team assumed that we would leave for our hotel shortly after dinner. We had no idea that the staff had prepared a bonfire in the front yard — perfect for the chilly mountain evening — and had set up speakers for a dance party.

And so we danced. From the oldest — Dr. John Campbell — to the youngest — tiny two-year-old Sabina — we all twisted and shouted, boogied and bopped. After more than two hours, with our hearts full and our strength emptied, the moms and dads turned off the music and sent us stumbling back to our hotel.

I regret not having good pictures and video from the evening, but I wonder if I would have had as much fun if I'd been trying to capture it all for posterity. Some moments are best lived only once. Perhaps this was one of them.

Yesterday was more relaxed. We walked around the town and did a little shopping in the morning and then headed out to visit home 2 in the afternoon. We played cricket, carem and badminton and shared tea and prayers with Pastor Sunil, his wife Punam, their wonderful daughters, the staff and kids.

Today will be more of the same. I have a little bit of work work to do — new headshot photos of each of the kids, some strategy discussion with our national director — but I expect to have plenty of time for fun and games with the kids.

Surrounded by beauty

We're surrounded by beauty here in Kalimpong.

Our team woke up early this morning and took a short drive up to the Tharpa Choling monastery for a spectactular view of the snow-capped Himalayas. I have neither the photographic equipment nor the skills to adequately capture the majesty of the view, but the pics I snapped give an approximation — a thumbnail sketch — of the amazing scenery.

After a delicious lunch at the King Thai Multicuisine Restaurant (it's not Thai, so the name remains a mystery to me), we headed out to visit Kalimpong 3, and experienced true beauty of a different kind. 

Pastor Brad Isch and his congregation, Narrow Road Church in Heath, Ohio, have been working hard to raise the funds to fully support the Kalimpong 3 children's home for more than a year. Until today, no one from the church has had the chance to actually visit the home. Today, Brad's faith and faithfulness were rewarded with sparkling smiles, tender hugs and some intense games of steal-the-bacon, tug-of-war and red-light-green-light.

The kids were a little bewildered that Brad, a man they'd never met, seemed to know each of their names. "Hello, Wangden. Hi, Susmita!" he'd say. They had no idea that he had spent hours poring over a tiny flip-book with each of their pictures, working hard to memorize the names and faces so he could greet them personally.

After a couple of hours at Kalimpong 3, we reluctantly pulled ourselves away; this was not our only new begining to celebrate today. We drove a short distance down the road and arrived at our Kalimpong43 home. Tonight was the first visit as sponsors by representatives from Vista Church in Dublin, Ohio and Scarlet City Church in Columbus. Scarlet City's pastor, Jay O'Brien, visited Asia's Hope India last summer, but his church had not yet entered into a long-term partnership with Asia's Hope. Greg Smith, a representative from Vista, which co-sponsors  this project with Scarlet City, visited a couple of years ago, and has been working hard ever since to raise support and awareness for our ministry in Kalimpong. He's joined on this trip by his wife Linda. It's her very first visit to India.

It was a real treat for me to watch the kids and staff of KP4 introduce themselves one-by-one to Jay, Greg and Linda. I was especially touched to see that one of the girls who at the time of admission into the home had been extremely malnourished, depressed and psychologically fragile was now smiling confidently and playing with the other children. The transformation was striking — when I saw her, I did a double take and had to confirm with Pastor Nandu that this was indeed the same child. 

The beauty of the Himalayan mountains is often described as unmatched. But I know I speak for our entire team when I say that the smiles and the laughter we experienced today are more memorable, more beautiful by far.

A day full of Delhi

January 19, 2015

Our plane...

January 21, 2015

Two words: "Our plane..." That was all I wrote for my blog post on the day we traveled from the U.S. to India. I think I fell asleep, drooling on the keyboard after penning that scintillating travelogue masterpiece.

Yeah. We were tired.

Our original flight plan had us leaving Columbus, flying to DC, crossing the pond to Vienna and swinging down to Delhi on Austrian Airlines. Unfortunately, our Delhi connection was cancelled, and we had to scramble. The airline booked us on a flight that took us from Vienna to London (hours in the wrong direction) and then from London to Delhi — on Air India.

Ah, Air India. How I hope to never see you again.

I'm an intrepid traveler, and I have a relatively high threshold for personal discomfort. But our trip had already been a bit stressful, and we were entering the zombification stage of world travel, the only cure for which is a long sleep in a reasonably comfortable chair. The seats on our newly-booked flights were standard-issue Guantanamo-transfer surplus, wooden deck chairs wrapped in Band Aids and covered with a burlap sack. My back is still killing me; I could have gotten better sleep in one of the overhead luggage compartments.

I'm sure it wasn't as bad as I'm making it sound, but after a day of missed flights, long layovers and little-to-no sleep, it sure seemed like it. And our new schedule deposited us in Delhi at 6am, rather than 1am, robbing us of the few hours of sleep we'd been counting on to get us ready for a day of sightseeing.

Thankfully, the cab ride was uneventful and we found ourselves at a lovely little hotel staffed by angels of mercy who checked us in quickly and didn't disturb us for 10 or 12 hours. We skipped breakfast, stayed in bed most of the day, grabbed a quick and unsatisfying lunch and returned to bed. After a nap, we had a nice dinner in the hotel and went immediately back to our extraordinarily comfortable bed.

Yesterday morning, we were born anew. We woke, showered, had an excellent breakfast at the hotel and headed out by autorickshaw to the nearest Metro station. The Delhi Metro is a wonder of modern technology and an indication that this city of 23 million isn't messing around. The metro is clean, comfortable, safe and efficient. And they're building new stations everywhere. It cost us $3 bucks for a day pass, and took us everywhere we wanted to go.

And we wanted to go to the Red Fort, one of Delhi's most iconic structures. Built in 1696 by Shah Jahan (who also built the Taj Mahal, the Jama Masjid mosque and dozens of other world-class joints), the former palace and the seat of the Mughal empire occupies about 300 acres in the heart of Old Delhi. 

Our short walk from the Metro station was a shocking reminder that much of Delhi has been left behind by the technological and urban-planning revolution underway. Hundreds of people were living on the streets, huddled together under light blankets unlikely to provide much protection from the cold; a few were up and about, staggering from exhaustion or intoxication, burning plastic bags and garbage for a little extra warmth. Some had scraped together enough money to buy a chapati and a spoonful of dal from the back of a truck. Others just stared, hollow-cheeked and empty hearted.

Despite its metal detectors, friskers, snipers, guards and machine gun nests, the Red Fort is an oasis of calm. We wandered its tree-lined avenues and marveled at its sandstone and marble construction bedecked with carvings and inset with semi-precious stones. We strolled through its museums and exhibitions and left with a deeper understanding of India's rich history of conquest and resistance.

After the Red Fort, we walked to Jama Masjid, the largest mosque in India. It can reportedly accommodate more than 30,000 worshippers, all of whom we encountered on our previous visit to the place. (Travel Pro Tip: don't visit a gigantic mosque at noon on the first day of Ramadam in 116F weather in pouring rain and with small children.) This visit was much, much nicer, the weather in the 50s andno crowds in sight.

We took a pedicab to through the ancient Chandni Chowk bazaar to our next metro stop, and had a relaxing lunch and afternoon stroll in Hauz Khaz, a lake-side shopping district packed with pubs, bistros and boutiques.

If it sounds like all we've been doing is sightseeing, well, that's all we've been doing. And we're having a grand time, just Kori and me. It's almost like a second honeymoon, one that will be ending in 3...2...1...

After a day of riding the rails, racing around in autorickshaws and leisurely rolling about in pedicabs, we made it back to our hotel, checked out and took a taxi to the Classic Diplomat, a tidy but downmarket transit hotel near the airport. We had dinner and then met up with the rest of our team: John Campbell, Jay O'Brien, Brad Isch and Greg and Linda Smith. We hung out for a while in the hotel pub and then stumbled back to our beds.

It's almost time for breakfast, after which we'll check out, pop over to the airport and board a plane for Siliguri. We'll be picked up by Pastor Nandu and enjoy a harrowing yet gorgeous drive through the foothills of the Himalayas, and will — Lord willin' and the road don't collapse — be in Kalimpong by nightfall.

Keep praying for us. We're all healthy and happy and ready to see what God has in store.

Talk to you again soon!

A festival of "firsts."

Jai Mashi (victory in Christ)!

On Saturday, Kori and I will kiss our kids goodbye and leave for a two-and-a-half-week trip to India. This is the first time we've traveled overseas without the kids, so there's a bit of anxiety all 'round. The boys are 16 and 17, so they'll barely notice our absence. But Xiu Dan is only 9; being without mom and dad for so long is likely to hit her a little harder.

We've covered all of the bases — our dear friends Peter and Keilah will be staying at our house with the kids, and we've updated our wills (assets divided between the children; debts go to the cat) — so I think we'll be fine. Though I'll miss the my kids, I'm looking forward to some quality time with Kori. In just a few years, we'll be empty nesters. We'll consider this a dry run.

Some of the beautiful kids from Asia's Hope India. I can't wait to see them next week!

Some of the beautiful kids from Asia's Hope India. I can't wait to see them next week!

This trip represents a number of other "firsts," too. 

First ever Himalayan Leaders Conference

Our time in India will be dedicated to hosting Asia's Hope's first ever Himalayan Leaders Conference. We're bringing in hundreds of pastors from all over the region — paying for everything from their transportation to their food and lodging — for a few days of leadership training, networking and encouragement. Many of the leaders in attendance will be coming from countries where it's simply too dangerous to gather in the name of Jesus. 

These pastors comprise the front line of defense against human trafficking of children: many are caring for orphaned children in their homes and churches. All share their table with the needy. Most of the children in the care of Asia's Hope India have come from the villages in which these pastors minister.

We depend heavily on a wide network of indigenous churches, and I'm praying that this conference will build valuable connections and will increase the Himalayan church's capacity to care for orphaned children at high risk of sexual and economic exploitation.

Cambodia director's first visit to Asia's Hope India

Our conference is not only hosting guests from India, Nepal, Bhutan and Bangladesh: we're also honored to welcome Asia's Hope Cambodia's national director, Pastor Savorn Ou, who will be visiting Asia's Hope India for the very first time. 

The "cross-pollination" of leaders is a real priority for Asia's Hope. I can provide our national directors with funds, structure and philosophical guidance, but I can't fully appreciate the challenges they face on the ground. I can't give nuanced advice based on first-hand experience in the same way that one of their directly-analagous colleagues can. When Asia's Hope first began work in India in 2010 and 2011 we sent our director, Pastor Nandu, and his family to Cambodia to spend a few weeks with Savorn and his staff. I'm so pleased that Nandu and the staff of Asia's Hope India will be able to reciprocate the warm welcome Savorn gave them while in Cambodia, and I expect long-term benefits for Asia's Hope as our senior leaders share their wisdom, their vision and their passion for the work.

Savorn will be speaking at the conference. His topic is "Renewing Our Vision." I can't think of a better person to bring this message than Savorn, a man who has built one of the finest residential orphan care systems anywhere. As Savorn says, "Vision is hope with a blueprint." I believe in our blueprint. I also believe that we have the leadership framework and support network in India to see those plans come to life on a grand scale. And I know that Pastor Savorn's presence at this conference will be catalytic. I believe that we'll be looking back on this conference as a transformative moment in Asia's Hope's history.

First time visits from new sponsoring churches

We'll be joined on this trip by Brad Isch, Greg and Linda Smith and Jay O'Brien. Brad is the pastor of Narrow Road Church in Heath, Ohio, new sponsors of our Kalimpong 3 home. This will be his first trip to India, and the first person from his church to visit the kids at KP3. Greg and Linda are from Vista Church in Dublin, Ohio. Vista is co-sponsoring our Kalimpong 4 home with Jay's church, Scarlet City, in Columbus, Ohio. Greg  visited Asia's Hope India once before on a vision trip in 2012; this is Linda's first time. Jay has visited twice, but this is the first trip as a sponsoring pastor. 

This is going to be a wonderful time of celebration, something like a cross between an inauguration gala and an adoption party. The relationships that will be formed on this trip will transform countless lives in India and in America. Again, a historic day for Asia's Hope.

Anticipating new firsts

As you can probably tell, I have high expectations for this trip. Lord-willin'-an-the-internet-don't-fail, I'll be posting lots of stories and photos. Please follow along. Bookmark my blog, follow Asia's Hope on Twitter or like us on Facebook. And invite your friends to do the same. I could use the prayers, and I'm sure you can use the encouragement.

Until next week, Jai Mashi!

Looking back, looking forward...

Kori and I spent a few hours this week looking through old pictures. We marvelled at the faces that smiled back at us — baby versions of my nearly-adult sons and barely-adult versions of middle-aged us. 

As parents, we're moving into a stage where we're looking at our boys' childhood in retrospect. And we find ourselves asking, "How'd we do? Did we make the right investments? Did our sacrifices pay off? Did we fight the right battles?"

I took this picture more than a decade ago. It shows the very first Asia's Hope children from our first home in Battambang, Cambodia. Many of children are now young adults heading to university and to their first jobs! 

I took this picture more than a decade ago. It shows the very first Asia's Hope children from our first home in Battambang, Cambodia. Many of children are now young adults heading to university and to their first jobs! 

It's sobering at times, but it is also exciting. My boys somehow survived middle school, and they're becoming intelligent, articulate adults that I can actually imagine moving out of my house at some point in the future. They're thinking about college and starting to conceive of an independent future that might someday include marriages and careers. And I can see it. Sure, I'm not ready to push them out the nest tomorrow, but their futures are bright. 

At Asia's Hope, we're experiencing this kind of transition, but on a much larger scale. Many of our high-school aged kids are excelling in their studies, taking top marks in their schools. Others, like our world-class cricketers in Thailand, are representing their country in international competition! Others have had the chance to travel abroad perform music together.

We now have more than 50 kids in university and dozens of others pursuing technical or vocational training. We have students studying to be teachers, doctors, lawyers, mechanics, barbers, pastors, interior designers, engineers and bankers. Some of our graduates have gone on to start their own businesses, others have gotten married and started families. Some have returned to work as Asia's Hope staff!

Asia's Hope has also added more than 50 new orphaned kids; we've rescued them from neglect and exploitation, and we've given them new, permanent, loving families. I can't wait to watch them heal, grow and succeed.

And while we can never ensure success for any of our children — our own or Asia's Hope's — we have high expectations for each of the nearly 800 kids at Asia's Hope based on the successes of our older kids. And we can answer those weighty questions with confidence. "Yes. We're doing it right. We're making the right investments, we're fighting the right battles. Our sacrifices are paying off."

2015 promises to be another amazing year. Dozens more of our kids will be graduating from high school and moving on to university, to vocational training and to first jobs. And we'll be adding more homes, more staff and more kids. We'll be starting some exciting new capital campaigns, and completing construction on a number of projects currently in the works.

Will you continue to pray for us? And will you consider making a year-end gift or scheduling a meeting with me in the next few weeks to discuss how you can help us accomplish the mission God has given us in 2015?

As always, you can give directly at http://www.asiashope.org/support. You can also call me at 614.804.6233 or email me john@asiashope.org.

I believe that God is building something of eternal signficance, and I know that you'll be blessed as you continue to partner with us financially and with your prayers and advocacy.

May God give you his peace as look forward to a wonderful 2015.

John

Spending quality time with some of the beautiful kids at our homes in Battambang, Cambodia this summer

Spending quality time with some of the beautiful kids at our homes in Battambang, Cambodia this summer

Thailand mega-photo-post!

Our time in Thailand has been a blast. But it's been super busy. I'm here with my family (minus Kori who had to return to the U.S. for work), and with Carol Richardson, her daughter Emily, son Aaron, Emily's fiancee Zeb and their friend Joel. It's been great to see not only Tutu, the kids and staff, but also Tutu's sons Daniel and David.

I'll post more stories soon, but I'm sure you'll enjoy these pictures just as much or more!

"The rains came down and the floods came up..."

We are safe and sound in Phnom Penh, though you wouldn't know it from my blog posts, which have been non-existent over the last few days.

It's not that there's nothing to say, it's just that I've been going pretty much non-stop for 14 hours a day. Whereas it's usually just my family with me, this year I've also had staff from Asia's Hope in the U.S., a video team from Scarlet City Church and supporters from Columbus, Ohio to lead, guide and chauffer. It's been tiring, but also really exciting; I love introducing Asia's Hope and the countries in which we serve to "newbies." I helps keep my love for the people and places fresh.

Yesterday was an especially exhausting one. We got up, packed 9 of us in the 15-passenger mini-bus I've been driving around Cambodia and picked up the Biehn family from their hotel a few blocks away. 

I should stop here and point out that, even in the best of traffic conditions, conveying such a vehicle around Phnom Penh is stressful. It's enormous. The steering is imprecise. The shifter feels like a plunger in a bowl full of rocks. And the other people on the road -- drivers, cyclist, kamikaze motorbikers, pedestrians, stray animals and food carts -- don't really care that you don't know exactly what you're doing or where you're going. They dart in and out on all sides, swarming like a school of fish in a reef.

Yesterday, we didn't experience anything like "the best of traffic conditions." The neighborhood between our hotel and the Biehns' is apparently the site of some week-long royal birthday celebration, so most of the streets are closed, clogged with revelers or both. What should be an easy drive -- straight down this street, turn left on that one -- is always an adventure. But we made it. 

We picked the Biehn's up, and brought them to breakfast, after which they returned to their hotel on foot (rational choice on their part), my boys and one Scarlet City guy headed to the market via tuk-tuk, my wife and daughter returned to their hotel by some means unknown to me. I took the Scarlet City guys -- Danny and Janelle Jackson, Pastor Gabe DeGarneaux and his daughter Lilly -- to the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum.

I've been to Tuol Sleng many times. I don't have the mental or emotional energy to process it again here on this blog, but it's a terrible place. 30 years ago, it was quite literally hell on earth: what the entire planet would look like if Satan was given free rein to twist the planet into his hateful image. Torture, dismemberment, murder, lies, violence, injustice -- all at a level that, even after hearing the testimonies, looking at the photos and reading the stories, is unfathomable.

I spent the morning trying to explain it all to 8-year-old Lilly. 

Explain it to an 8 year old? I can't even understand it myself. But I did my best. 

I talked about the American bombings that killed more than 100,000 Cambodian civilians, the U.S.-Soviet proxy war that used Southeast Asia as its gory chessboard and its government and peoples as its hapless, doomed pawns, the various internal power factions scrambling to take advantage of the chaos. And the evil. Behind it all was capital-E-Evil, Satan's greasy maw and bloody claws tearing, killing and consuming men women and children by the thousands.

We saw the actual instruments of torture -- whips, knives, ropes, flails, shackles, bedframes, buckets, pliers, wires -- all used to beat, maim, rip, shock, crush, drown and hang. We saw the skulls, the bones, the teeth, the clothes the hair. We stared into the eyes of the victims, meticulously photogrpahed and matched to forced, false confessions before being murdered.

And then we left. 

We grabbed a quick lunch at the cafe near our hotel, picked up the Biehn's and headed out of the city, over the Mekong to our beautiful new campus at Prek Eng. When we arrived, school was just letting out. The Asia's Hope School hosts about 140 kids, Kindergarten through 6th grade. Because many of our kids now attend public middle and high schools, about 90 of the Asia's Hope School students are "community kids" from the surrounding area. The rest are children who live at our five Prek Eng homes.

Shortly after we arrived, the rain started, scuppering our video shoot agenda for the afternoon. It came down in sheets. In buckets. In torrents. It rained so hard that our homes' front yards became ponds, our sidewalks turned into rivers. I think we may have actually had white water rapids in our school parking lot for a few minutes. It was beautiful; the rain knocked about 20 degrees farenheit off the scorching afternoon heat. It was also loud. Our homes all have metal roofs, so for a while there, it was like being inside a Tom Grosset drum solo. When it was all over and the water receded, the kids ran outside and picked up the fish that had failed to retreat to the safety of the nearby lakes, and the rest of us continued playing with the kids, transitioning from inside to out as the water drained.

At dusk, we piled into the van, exhausted, and headed back to the city. Once we got over the Mekong bridge, we saw that the city hadn't drained very well at all. Major intersections were flooded, and traffic was grinding itself into a maddening knot: thousands of vehicles honking, lurching, stopping and stalling at each crossroads, people driving on sidewalks, through yards, into around and over one another. What should have taken 10 minutes too more than two hours. When we finally got within walking distance of a restaurant, I gave up on driving entirely. Although it took me ten minutes to move 20 feet across two lanes of traffic (one 'official,' the other on the sidewalk), I forced my way onto the front lot of a store, gave the parking lot guard a handful of dollars, went to the counter, bought a moderately priced bottle of hooch that I didn't really want and asked the proprietress if I could park there for a couple of hours. She scowled at me. And then she smiled, shook her head in something like amusement and said, "okay."

We fought our way across the road on foot and collapsed into a Chinese restaurant where we proceeded to order way too much food. After two hours of eating, laughing, talking and drinking tea, we saw that the traffic had subsided, and we made our way back to our respective hotels.

This morning, we're taking it easy. For me that means that I actually get a shower, and don't have to meet anyone for any reason before 9:00am. We will probably take a walk this morning, maybe visit a couple of shops. After lunch, we're heading back out to the campus, hopefully to get some video interviews with Savorn, some of the kids and with me.

Please pray for our productivity and health. So far, none of us has prolapsed a colon, and I haven't hit anyone with my ungainly land yacht. Despite the challenges, we're having a great time. I can't wait to share some of the video with you. If it captures even half of the goodness that is Asia's Hope, my job of funding this beast should become a whole lot easier.

Back home in Cambodia

Over the last 48 hours, we've driven through mountains, walked in the pouring rain, flown across both the Bay of Bengal and the Gulf of Thailand, ridden in buses, vans and tuk-tuks -- and we're finally unpacked and rested at our hotel in Phnom Penh, Cambodia.

All of us are tired, most of us have flirted with some kind of sickness, and two of us are on the powerful antibiotic Cipro. We miss our friends and family in India, but we're thrilled to be back in Cambodia, which has become a real home-away-from-home for my family over the past few years.

We were greeted at the modest but tidy Pochentong Airport by Savorn, our National Director, his wife Sony and all of our Phnom Penh house parents. The Asia's Hope kids were all in school when we arrived, so our reunion with them will have to wait until tomorrow, but it was great to be hugged warmly and welcomed heartily by these people we've grown to love so much.

It's Addison and Jared's first time here, and I think they're just taking everything in: Cambodia can be a bit overwhelming to first time visitors, but heck, we just came from India. This place actually feels a bit serene compared to Mumbai, Kolkata and some of the other places we've passed through. 

By the time we got to our hotel, we were all ready for a nap, but I had promised Addison and Jared we'd go out to a tailor to get measured for some shirts (about 1/6th of the price we'd pay in the U.S.), so we left the girls behind and headed out via tuk-tuk to the Khmer Independent Tailor on Sihanouk Boulevard. We placed our orders, grabbed a SIM card for my phone and picked up some necessities (and a couple ice-cream bars) at Lucky Market.

Tonight we're going to have dinner with the staff, get a good night sleep and then spend the morning intoducing Addison and Jared to Phnom Penh. We'll grab a bowl of noodle soup, visit a tea shop and then spend some time at the ever-sobering Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum. After lunch, I think we're heading out to Prek Eng to see the kids and visit the new campus for the first time since its completion!

The only things that could put a damper on our great times would be sickness...and traffic. I'm driving a huge van -- a mini-bus, really -- to accommodate our family, the guys and the team from Scarlet City that will be joining us next week. I've never driven anything this big anywhere, and driving in Cambodia can be zooey even in a small vehicle. Oh, and I don't have a Cambodia license. So, I'm praying for traveling mercies, and would invite you to do so as well.

I'll be keeping a few loose dollars on hand in case the coppers pull us over and trying to concentrate on the road and remembering how to drive stick. Here goes nothing!

Poised for success

We arrived at the Kalimpong Home 2 early yesterday, and got to see the kids eating their breakfast and getting ready for school. We're shooting a lot of video this year, and one of the four videos we're producing is focused on education, so we wanted to capture some of the "day in the life" kinds of images we'll need for that project.

For a home with 25 kids, two parents and "aunties," things went really quite smoothly. The children all enjoyed their breakfast together in the main living area, and then the aunties and parents helped the girls comb their hair, braiding it or putting it in ponytails. The aunties and mom, Punam, slicked back the boys' hair, and helped them straighten their ties Dad, Sunil, touched up all of the shoes with polish and a brush. The kids then piled into vans and headed off to school.

We then went with Nandu and Kumal, a driver from the church, and visited Jubilee High School, where 16 of our kids, mostly from the Kalimpong 1 home, attend. I was impressed by the school -- it's semi-public, and all of the courses are taught in English. The headmaster and the teachers seem highly qualified and treat the children firmly, but with respect. 

After hanging at Jubilee and taking videos and photos in our kids' classes, we headed to the Asia's Hope school for more footage, but also some fun and games. The school is in a rented building (we'd love to have our own building some day -- more on that later...), but is very well suited to the needs of the nearly 100 Asia's Hope elementary-age students who study there. 

We have a large concrete playground, about the size of a basketball court. This is extremely unusual in this part of India, where everything is built into the side of a mountain, and flat land is at a premium. We enter the campus as road-level, and then descend along a steep, curving driveway. The property consists of the playground, two wooden outbuildings and a large, three-story brick building. The school occupies the ground floor of the large building and one of the smaller wooden structures. Our Kalimpong 2 home occupies the second story, and the landlord's family lives on the top floor. (Whereas all of our homes in Cambodia and Thailand are single-family structures, I think that in Kalimpong's land-scarce and expensive real estate mountainside real estate market, building in this town will mean stacking our homes in the fashion of the locals.)

Even though Asia's Hope is primarily dedicated  to providing family-style homes for orphaned children, I really love this school. Our headmistress, Mrs. Wang Lamu, is an experienced educational administrator whose firm, yet grandmotherly bearing earns the respect and affection of our kids and staff alike. Our teachers are young and energetic, and so patient with our kids. 

And patience is definitely required in this job. As Mrs. Wang Lamu told us yesterday, when these kids first come to Asia's Hope, they come in as orphans. Some have lived on the street, some have been abused. Some have lived in bus stations, others have lived in brothels. Many of the children have no idea how to sit in a chair on their first day of school, some have only received their first-ever pair of shoes only days before. At first, reading, writing and 'rithmatic are simply out of the question. In some cases, they don't even know how to use a toilet -- they'll just wander outside to go potty; sometimes they'll even do it in the classroom.

But in a matter of months, the new kids learn from their peers, and from loving teachers and parents, and before long, they're actually learning. Our kids stay at the Asia's Hope school until they're ready to transition into local schools. And when they do, they're poised for success. Some of our kids at Jubilee High School are among the top in their class! It's amazing what progress a child can make when they're in a school and a home that is designed around their needs. 

So while politicians in the States claim to leave no child behind, that's a reality at Asia's Hope. Rather than forcing our kids into a learning environment in which they cannot succeed, we work hard to create and maintain one that ensures each child gets the care they need to learn and grow and thrive.

Like our elementary school in Prek Eng, Cambodia -- and unlike each of our children's home -- the Asia's Hope school in Kalimpong, India has no permanent sponsorships. We fund this school out of our general budget, the same budget we rely on for medical emergencies, home repairs, staff salaries and other recurring needs. Please pray for our two schools. And if you want to participate financially in the operation of these schools on a one-time or long-time basis, I'd love to hear from you!