Director's Blog

January 31: Asia's Hope Battambang Secondary School dedication

Well, once again the staff of Asia's Hope Cambodia has beat me to the punch. After yesterday's marathon of activities, I returned to my hotel room to find that Savorn and the home parents had already uploaded hundreds of photos of the school dedication service before I'd even taken the memory card out of my camera.

I was determined to get the majority of the day's 750+ photos edited, but in the end, I was too pooped to pop. So I'm doing my darndest to get back on track, but it's already 9:30 a.m., and I'm barely half way through. 

To be fair, however, I'm pretty darn exhausted. My pedometer says that I walked about 4 miles yesterday. But about 3 of those miles came in the form of dancing at last night's afterparty. 

Church with friends and family at Asia's Hope Battambang.

Church with friends and family at Asia's Hope Battambang.

What a day it was. We started with a wonderful church service and ended with the school dedication, a feast — and the aforementioned dance party.

It was an honor to share the evening with my staff, my kids, guests from Crossroads Church, my dear friends John and Bobbi Campbell, and an impressive list of officials, dignitaries and leaders from around Cambodia. The governor of Battambang gave the keynote address, and took the seat of honor in front of the stage. 

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But at the risk of sounding corny, our most honored attendee was God himself. I know, it sounds like a cliche, something a pastor is supposed to say. But I felt his presence throughout the afternoon and evening. And he was smiling. He even graced us with a cool breeze and a big cloud that lingered over the hot Cambodian sun until dusk. And I felt his spirit move among us as we danced joyously under the stars. 

The governor of Battambang Province cuts the ribbon at the Asia's Hope secondary school dedication.

The governor of Battambang Province cuts the ribbon at the Asia's Hope secondary school dedication.

My speech at the event was pretty dry and formal, an update of Asia's Hope's programs, mostly for the benefit of the dignitaries in attendance. But a couple of people have asked me to post the text here. And although it's not the most engaging prose, it does speak powerfully to the mercies of God and the hard work of his people.

Good afternoon, your excellencies, local dignitaries, international and Cambodian guests. My name is John McCollum, and I am the Executive Director of Asia’s Hope International.
On behalf of myself, my staff and the board of Asia’s Hope, I want to thank the honorable Governor of the Province of Battambang and the District Governor for joining us today. I also thank the Police Commander, and the representatives of the Ministry of Education from Phnom Penh, the Department of Education from Battambang, the Department of Social Affairs from Battambang, the commune chief, the village chief, the commune police commander, and pastors from local and international churches. I welcome you all on this joyous occasion, the dedication of the Asia’s Hope secondary school.
Asia’s Hope is a Christian Non Governmental Organization with projects in Cambodia, Thailand and India. We are honored to enjoy warm and longstanding cooperation with the Government of the Kingdom of Cambodia. We first registered with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs on October 12, 2006, with the Ministry of Social Affairs on June 27, 2007 and received our permit from the Ministry of Education on July 2, 2008.
At Asia’s Hope, we provide comprehensive family-style residential care for orphaned and abandoned children. In Cambodia, we operate 16 childrens homes — 6 in Phnom Penh and 10 in Battambang. At these homes, we work hard every day to provide for each child’s physical, intellectual, psychological, social and spiritual needs. More than that, we meet each child’s greatest need — to experience the love of a mother and father in the context of a safe and stable family. Our 78 Cambodian staff currently provide full-time care to 390 children — 212 girls and 178 boys.
Our elementary school in Phnom Penh offers a high-quality primary education to 195 students. We also offer various training and tutoring opportunities to our children in our homes and at our Battambang learning center. And we provide full university fees, expenses and tuition for 53 young scholars from Asia’s Hope Cambodia.
We have invested not only in the children living at Asia’s Hope, but in the local community as well. We have provided more than 3 tons of food — at a cost of more than 4 million riels — for needy families in surrounding towns and villages. We have also donated more than 4 million riels’ worth of assistance to children and families affected by HIV in and around Battambang. We have donated 2 computers and 1 printer to the office of the commune chief, and a printer to the Ministry of Social Affairs in Phnom Penh. And this year we gave gift boxes to 485 HIV-affected children across Cambodia.
And today, I’m pleased to announce the dedication of the beautiful building you see here, the Asia’s Hope Secondary School. At full capacity, this school will ensure a quality education for 250 7–12th grade students from Asia’s Hope Battambang and the surrounding community. This new facility will allow us to expand our existing English and computer classes and offer a wide range of training and educational enrichment opportunities.
With God’s help, in cooperation with local and national authorities and with the generous support of our international donors, we intend to provide the highest possible level of care to this generation of children and to future generations as well, providing every Asia’s Hope child with the skills and confidence they need to fulfill their dreams for themselves, their families and their country.
We believe that — despite the difficulties and disadvantages they have faced in life — the children you see here today will one day soon take their places among Cambodia’s emerging next generation of social, professional and intellectual leaders. They have the vision, the intelligence and the character. And now, thanks to your support of the Asia’s Hope Secondary School, they will also have the education they need to build a prosperous future for all Cambodians.
Thank you and may God bless you.

In the name of the Father

The last couple of days have been a blur, and it's only going to get blurrier... 

Tomorrow is The Big Day, the dedication of the Asia's Hope Secondary School in Battambang. We're hosting a variety of distinguished guests from Cambodia and abroad. 

Last night, Pastor Dave Vance from Crossroads Church (Mansfield, OH) arrived, joining a team from his church already in town. Dave's congregation sponsors our Battambang 3 and Battambang 7 homes, and it was a delight to witness his very first arrival.

I was playing games at home 3 when the team's van pulled into the driveway. The kids squealed in excitement, jumped up and ran to the vehicle. When Dave stepped out, he, Darlene and Greg — who had also arrived just yesterday — were swarmed with hugs. After a delicious homemade dinner, the kids and staff presented each visitor with a gift (even I got one!) and then we enjoyed more than an hour of singing, and dancing and sharing stories. 

Finally I whispered to team leader Jocelyn, "I think Dave is getting tired." Shortly thereafter, the party wrapped up with one more raucous tune, and all of us returned to the hotel — exhausted but thrilled to be part of the joyous occasion.

This morning, we got up bright and early and headed out with almost 200 people in a massive convoy to a mountain retreat about an hour and half outside of town. All of us filed down to the river and there, Dave, Savorn and I had the honor of baptizing 130 people in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit while our staff sang hymns in Khmer.

Of those baptized, forty five were from the towns and villages surrounding our Battambang homes — men, women and children who, through the witness of our staff and kids, have decided to follow Christ. 

What a blessing to be a part of such an amazing move of God here in Cambodia. The church here is small, but vibrant, and Asia's Hope is a  beacon of Jesus' mercy and kindness to the community at large, growing brighter by the day.

Tomorrow we celebrate the next stage of our investment in Cambodia's future. Keep us in your prayers, as some of us — myself included — are running low on energy, skirting sickness. Thank you for supporting this amazing work.

Road trips and reunions

Curtis West and I got up early yesterday morning and checked out of our room at the Queenwood Hotel. Curtis took his breakfast at the hotel restaurant, and I stepped next-door to the Feel Good coffee shop and ordered a flat white. My drink had just arrived when a white Asia's Hope van pulled up to the curb; out spilled Ravy, Savong, Narun, Samnang, Sopheng and Anh, all smiles and laughter. 

I love these guys, and it's clear that they love each other — and me.

I finished my coffee, paid the check, and we walked a block down the street to a bustling breakfast joint whose charm will, if discovered by the hordes of backpackers and sex tourists, be lost forever. As it stands, however, I'm the only white guy I've ever seen there, and I get confused glances and curious stares when I walk in.

We ordered a variety of Cambodian dishes — I had grilled pork over rice and a steamed Chinese-style bun — and each of us ate our fill. The final bill for all seven of us was less than $20; no one can accuse me of overspending my meal budget on this trip. Not yet, at least.

After breakfast, all of us hit the road and headed out toward Battambang. To everyone's relief, I declined driving duties to Narun, and settled for the privilege of picking the soundtrack for the first portion of the road trip. Before long, the conversation turned to our childhood in the 1970s and 80s.

While I was riding my bike to Lawson's to buy candy, my friends were marching barefoot and beleaguered through jungles toward labor camps. While I was competing with my classmates to see who could eat more Jello Pudding Pops in one sitting (my record was 17), my friends were literally starving, subsisting on a daily diet of two tablespoons of porridge, given twice a day. I pouted and slammed doors because my dad made me rake the lawn while my friends cried themselves to sleep at night, keening hopelessly for the parents they had lost to the murderous Khmer Rouge regime.

So, yeah. You can see why I let those guys lead story time.

About an hour outside of Phnom Penh, we found the little Cham village where Curtis will be teaching for the next few months and after some initial navigational difficulties, we dropped him off near enough to his actual destination that he was able to get himself the rest of the way there.

The rest of the ride was enjoyable but uneventful, and we arrived in Battambang mid-afternoon. Most of the dads from our Battambang homes were there to greet us at the hotel — what a blessing to serve with those men and their families. After a few minutes of hugs and greetings, they left me to freshen up, and to greet the folks from Crossroads Church (Mansfield, OH) who are in Cambodia to visit the homes they sponsor and to the school dedication on the 31st.

After an hour of rest, I headed out to our Battambang campus, which I haven't visited since before construction began on the school and athletic fields. 

My goodness.

Words can't really express how wonderful this place is. And, thanks to the unfortunate positioning of the sun directly behind the new building, neither can my pictures. But there will be lots of time for photography over the next few days, and I'm sure that I'll find some way of approximating the sensation of walking hand in hand with some of the world's sweetest kids across our sprawling campus toward our beautiful new school building. Just a few years ago, this was all farmland, home to more cows than kids. Today, it is positively teeming with life, filled to the brim with the smells of dinner and the sounds of children laughing, singing and playing.

Gone are the days when I can know every child's name. Heck, I'm about 50/50 in my guesses of which kids belong with which families. And while that represents something of a minor personal loss — I loved being able to connect with every single child on an individual basis — I watch the team from Crossroads interact with the homes they sponsor, and it's clear our these kids don't lack attention from their overseas aunts and uncles. 

So after a few hours of wandering from home to home (my pedometer says I walked 4.2 miles yesterday afternoon), I anchored myself in the courtyard between homes 4 and 5 and hosted a dozen or so rounds of "Simon Says" and "Guess The Leader." I then shared a delicious homemade meal with my staff under a thatched bamboo cabana and then headed back to my hotel, exhausted.

This morning I'm a bit under the weather, so I'm resting, writing and running errands. With any luck I'll get lunch and a nap and have enough energy for an afternoon with the kids and two days of celebration to follow.

My photography has slowed down as I've struggled to balance shooting pictures of kids with real, meaningful interactions. But here are a few. Enjoy. And thank you for your prayers, your love and your support.

Tiger Eat Cow

What a joy to attend church with the staff and kids from our Prek Eng homes. And what an honor to teach from Luke 15, the Parable of the Lost Son and the Running Father: in a culture where shame was often met with rejection — a turning of the back, a closing of the eyes — Jesus promises a different kind of family, a different kind of kingdom. One where unfaithfulness is met with embrace, not rejection, where the father runs toward you, rather than locks you out of the house...

After church, we ate lunch at Prek Eng 2. Jeff and Peter stayed behind to hang out with the PE2 kids, and Conrad and I spent a couple of hours at our newest home, Prek Eng 6. Even though the kids have only been with their new parents for a couple of months, they already feel like a family. Thank you so much, Vineyard Columbus, for your generosity to these wonderful kids. I can't wait to tell you all about them when I return!

We then headed over to Prek Eng 4 where got thoroughly perplexed by a game called "Tiger Eat Cow." It's something like a mix between tic-tac-toe and Othello. The kids were very gracious, but it was clear from the start that Conrad and I had no idea what was going on.

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