Transition to Thailand

Long gone are the days when I could come to Cambodia, Thailand or India and just spend endless hours with each home, returning day after day and forging deep connections with each of the kids and staff.

With 32 homes, 200+ staff and more than 800 kids, I'm lucky if I can get a whole evening in one place, and I spend the majority of my energy encouraging and strategizing with our senior staff and collecting stories to tell throughout the next year.

But we have had some really sweet times the last few days, times that have felt intimate, though fleeting.

We arrived on Saturday, and had a really nice time worshipping with some of the kids and staff on Sunday morning. Our church building is being renovated, so we gathered only about 1/3 of the kids living at our seven Doi Saket-area homes. It's so nice to see kids realizing and exercising their leadership potential. They're singing, teaching, writing songs; as I've told them so many times before, they're not the church of tomorrow. They're leaders today.

We enjoyed a delicious lunch of Khao Soi (pictures of that at some later date) at my favorite little restaurant in the world. I ate two bowls — about half a bowl too many — and earned a short nap to sleep off my culinary conquest.

In the late afternoon, we visited our Doi Saket 1 campus, where we have four homes, our church and — thanks to the generosity of some donors from Florida — a beautiful new soccer field that our kids have been waiting to enjoy for almost a year and a half. The grass is now strong enough to survive the rigors of play, and my sons joined a group of the older boys and staff for about three hours of vigorous competition.

After watching them play for about a half hour or so, I joined the rest of our team in volleyball, takraw, monkey-in-the-middle and various other leisure pursuits. We laughed, we sang songs, we ran around, we ate mangos and finally as dusk settled in and the kids returned to their houses to get ready for bed, we reluctantly said goodbye and returned home ourselves.

On Monday, we headed up to Wiang Pa Pao, the site of two existing homes and, God willing, seven or eight new homes over the next five to ten years. I can't wait to share those plans when I get back. It's going to take a lot of work, but it's going to be absolutely transformational, not just for the lives of the individual kids we rescue, but for the entire local community.

Today our Indian directors will be heading home. On Friday, our son Chien will be on his way as well. It's been great having them here, and our trip will definitely feel different without them. We're game, though, and will enjoy every stage of this journey.

Today we're headed into Chiang Mai for a little shopping and some tourist activities. Tonight we're hoping to visit our Doi Saket 2 home — we wanted to go last night, but torrential rains prevented it. Here's hoping for a dry evening and more family time.

Beautiful church service in Doi Saket.

A relaxing evening — mangos, tea, soccer and laughter — at the Doi Saket 1 homes.

Barbecue and family fun at Wiang Pa Pao

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Wrapping up our Cambodia trip

Well, our time in Cambodia is complete. My family and I will be leaving our hotel in Siem Reap and heading for the airport in just under a half hour. We're bringing Amber and Sunil — our Indian co-directors — and their wives with us to Thailand, where we'll spend time with our Thai staff and kids before heading back to the States.

I've been doing a decent job of keeping current with emails and in-person meetings, and I've kept our Instagram feed populated, but my blog posts have been few and far between. It seems that every day is packed full from stem to stern, and I usually have three or four hours of work to do after everyone else has gone to bed. Unfortunately, that means that there are a lot of pictures and stories I'd love to share that I may not get around to, at least not in this forum.

I wish I'd had more time to focus on communicating the needs at our secondary school in Battambang, Cambodia. That's something I'll be hitting on repeatedly between now and the end of the year. We urgently need to find long-term supporters for that project. It is essential to our work, but it's expensive for our little organization to keep the doors open. Please join me in prayers for that initiative. 

I do hope that if you've been reading my posts here or following on one of our other social media platforms you have gotten a sense of use what kind of ministry we are and what joining with us could mean for you. Please continue to pray for our time in Thailand. God is moving in and through Asia's Hope. 

If the admittedly marginal internet connection here will allow it, I'll post a few albums of pics from my Cambodia trip. Some of them I've posted before, some are new...

Our trip to Cambodia and arrival in Siem Reap.

Our amazing day exploring the temples of Angkor.

Family time with the kids and staff in Prek Eng.

An evening at the fights in Phnom Penh.

Wonderful times in Battambang.

John McCollumComment
Dancing in the streets

Sundays are always fun at Asia's Hope. This one had us dancing in the streets. 

The morning started at Hope Fellowship, our church in Battambang. With more than 400 attenders, this counts as something of a megachurch in Cambodia. We kicked off the service with a few congregational worship songs, and followed them with performances from three different groups of our kids. I sang one song, and then I preached a message from Romans.

I love worshipping with the Asia's Hope staff and kids, and this time was extra special, because I was joined by my family, Carol's family (Carol is the administrator for Asia's Hope's main office in Ohio), Addison (our project manager) and the co-directors of Asia's Hope India, Amber and Sunil and their wives. It's probably unwise for us all to be in the same place at the same time; if a meteor struck, Asia's Hope would be set back significantly by the loss of executive personnel.

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After the service, we stopped to take a group picture at each of our 13 homes. Even at a quick pace, it took us more than an hour. We had a delicious lunch together with Savorn at a local Indian restaurant, and returned to our hotel for a brief rest.

Late afternoon, we headed out for a dedication party at the brand new University Student Center, home to 25 young scholars who grew up at Asia's Hope in Battambang. I've known most of these kids since they were quite young, so it's a real kick to see them living more independently and thriving in their studies. We've been blessed with a beautiful — and affordable — facility for these kids, and they all seem to love it there. Next year, we're adding 10 more students to the center, and will probably have to open a second one within the next couple of years.

This center — and the one like it in Phnom Penh — are key elements of our strategy to transition our kids to independent adulthood and to raise up a new generation of educated, hardworking and responsible leaders for Asia's Hope's and Cambodia's future. We're working now to develop funding and operational strategies that I'll be talking a lot about in the coming weeks and months.

We hired caterers for the party, and enjoyed a dinner of beef (roasted whole on a spit), noodles, Cambodian sour soup, and fresh fruits. After the meal, we danced. For hours, it seems. And I know I've said this before, but I'm always so impressed with the difference between Asia's Hope dances and the ones I've attended (or chaperoned) in the States. These parties are wholesome, inclusive and joyful. It's so much fun to join our kids in cutting loose, laughing and dancing without judgment or self-consciousness.

Our day was not completely without its sorrows. Addison had to cancel his trip and leave suddenly — just a day after arriving in Cambodia — due to an unexpected and serious illness in his family. And Punam, the wife of Pastor Sunil, found out that her sister had died quite quickly after a short battle with cancer. As always, around here, tragedy and celebration are mixed together, drunk often in the same cup. So please pray for Addison's and Punam's families. Punam has decided to stay on and finish her trip. I hope that spending time with these kids and staff who have themselves lost parents, siblings and children will be deeply comforting.

John McCollumComment