Full-on sprint in Thailand

I’ve been in Thailand for about five days, and this is my first opportunity to blog. All of my computer time has been split between messages with my co-workers and my family (in that order of frequency) , photo editing and updating various personal and work social media accounts.

I’ve been running full-tilt about 15 hours a day hosting a team from Chet’s Creek Church in Jacksonville,  Florida and the Perkins Family from Columbus. Today is going to be another busy one — water park with the kids, city tour and and night bazaar. It’s 7:30am, and I’m certain I’m not going to rest until my head hits the pillow after 10pm. This is not a sustainable pace, but next week offers a few opportunities to relax after both teams depart.

As much as I’d love to regale you with stories, I’m going to have to settle for posting a few photos. My bodyguard and tour photography (mostly joking about the former, not joking much at all about the latter) Dylan Menges has taken a ton of pics that I don’t yet have access to; we’re both behind on our edits.

 

Tea at the house of this dear brother in a Lahu tribal village. 

Tea at the house of this dear brother in a Lahu tribal village. 

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Daniel and Pream-Pream, son and grandson of Thailand director Tutu Abourmad. 

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These ubiquitous condiments are essential to Thai food. 

 

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Some of the sweetest boys in the world. The one on the left is especially fond of my wife Kori and was disappointed that she couldn’t join me this time around. 

 

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Pelajoh grew up at Asia’s Hope. When he was paralyzed in a motorcycle accident, his Asia’s Hope family committed to a lifetime of care. 

 

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Stunned by a sledge to the noggin and finished off with a stab to the heart, this pig had a pretty good life until his final moments. I’m thankful for his delicious albeit unwilling sacrifice.  

 

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Pig guts. This is a snout-to-spout kind of operation: nothing is wasted. 

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Like I said, nothing is wasted.

 

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The team from Chet’s Creek brought lots of fun things for the kids. 


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This little guy knows what to do with these bamboo tea cups. 

 

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Smart girls are best!

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Delicious cold salad with pork so fresh it still had the oink in it. 

 

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Marigold (foreground) and Jamie (background) Perkins. 

 

Ransom Perkins gets his first taste of Khao Soi. Mine = Blone.    

Ransom Perkins gets his first taste of Khao Soi. Mine = Blone. 

 

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Geoff and Kay are enjoying their time in Thailand. 

 

The Chet’s Creek team encourages our returning university students. 

The Chet’s Creek team encourages our returning university students. 

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This week we celebrated high school and university graduations. 

 

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For a man of his age, Dylan is remarkably well preserved. 

 

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Khao Soi at Auntie Cat’s. Probably the best single dish on the planet. 

 

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These guys broke down this pig from kill to cook in 45 minutes. 

 

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Ham. And cheese. 

 

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Sunburned white kids learn the healing power of real aloe. 

 

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It’s really nice to watch the Asia’s Hope kids welcome new friends. No snark, no posturing, no exclusion. If we in America were this kind, our country would be in a much better place.

John McCollumComment
“I saw a hand outstretched toward me...”

The two hours I spent under a thatched-roof bamboo cabana in Battambang, Cambodia after church this Sunday will remain with me to my last day as a priceless treasure. And not that I have any sort of death wish, nor have I been experiencing an unusually high number of fatal premonitions, but yeah. I could die now, having seen and accomplished more than any dude from Columbus, Ohio has a right to expect.

With my friend Dylan along for the ride to listen in and take photos, I met with Sengyou, the father of our Battambang 1 Children’s Home, his daughter Chhem and Chhem’s husband and baby girl. I’ve known Chhem since she was about 13 years old when, in 2004, she came to Asia’s Hope with her older sister, Samneang. Their father had abandoned them and their mother struggled with debilitating substance abuse. 

When she was a child, I only knew Chhem’s story from her biographical file and from what our staff had told me throughout the years. On Sunday, I heard it from her own mouth. There are some parts too sensitive to share, but I wanted give you just enough to understand what it meant to Chhem to be adopted into the Asia’s Hope family when she was the age of my daughter, Xiudan.

 “When my dad left us, I hated my life. I wanted to die.”

“How would I live? What would I eat? Who would protect me? My mom could not care for us because of her addiction. She didn’t provide anything at all for us. We were always hungry. We had to look after our mom, our grandmom and ourselves. At school, the other kids bullied me and called me bad names; they said I am an orphan and no one loves me. The teachers didn’t care because they knew the children were right.”

“At night, I would cry for hours because I was worried about my future.  I hated myself and I was terrified. I did not know Jesus yet, but I prayed to ‘god’ to help me. And then I began to have the same dream again and again.”

 “I saw a hand outstretched toward me. I felt it pick me up and hold me in its palm. A voice told me, ‘Don’t worry — I am holding you. Come with me.’ And after that I could fall asleep in peace. Not long after, we heard that a man had come to see us. He said, ‘We have a home for children whose parents can’t care for them. Your grandmother recommended we come and see you. Would you like to come? It’s your decision.’ Immediately I knew that this was the help promised by the voice I had heard.”

“When I met daddy, I was so happy. His face was so kind. And mommy was so nice. And the food at my new home was delicious. When I returned to school, I was so proud. When the kids picked on me, I stood up tall and said, ‘No! I am not an orphan. That is my daddy. You saw him bring me to school. I have a nice house and a mom too. You can’t talk like that to me.’

“Throughout my life, daddy and mommy have given me everything I need. Daddy guides me and taught me how to make good decisions. He and mommy have their own birth children, but I have never felt like I am second place. He really is my daddy and I really am his daughter. Every time I can, I come home to Battambang 1 and I walk with my daddy and mommy. They give me advice, they tell me encouragements. I try to encourage my younger brothers and sisters and I tell them, ‘You have to work hard. If you do, you can succeed like me.’” 

“All through my life, people have tried to tell me I’m too young, my skin is too dark, I don’t have enough experience, I don’t have the right kind of family. But my life experience has given me the skills I need to succeed in every situation. Even at my current job at a local school, I have gotten promotions faster than everyone else. At first my co-workers were angry and resented me. But now that I am leaving to work for Asia’s Hope, they beg me to stay. My boss has asked, ‘Don’t you get paid enough money? You have your own house now. You are a team leader. What can I do to make you stay?’ But I know that the hand of God has guided me my whole life and that this is his will.” 

In April, Chhem and Da will be moving their little family across the country to Phnom Penh where they will take a leadership role on our Prek Eng campus. I’ll share more later about the specifics of their role, but we’re still moving around some pieces and parts to effect the transition. 

Guys, this woman is strong. She’s confident. She, like so many other Asia’s Hope graduates, is ready to lead. As she spoke, tears ran down my face and my heart beat almost visibly through my church. I may have actually swooned. I am so proud. I am so thankful. I am beyond confident that the next generation of leaders at Asia’s Hope will be even better than the current one — and that is saying a lot. 

Please pray for Chhem and Da. Her narrative arc: tragedy > rescue > redemption > leadership is extraordinary. But it’s not unique, at least not at Asia’s Hope. I can point to dozens of young people in our care who are on the same path. God is doing something amazing here. He’s taking the lowest, most despised members of society — kids at the highest risk of being sexually and economically exploited of any demographic in the world — and he’s revoking their status as orphans and transforming them into kings and queens. I get it. That sounds super melodramatic. But you just have to see it, to spend an hour or two with Chhem. You’ll get it then.

I hope to get Chhem’s story on video some day. You’d be forgiven for suspecting that I’ve been highly selective in my editing to make her words fit our strategic communications agenda. But you’d be wrong.  “This is my family” isn’t just a slogan. It’s something our kids know and feel to the depths of their being. It’s our promise, and it’s the hope that sustains and propels them. Thank you for making it possible. We have a lot of work left to do and we need your help. God bless you.

 

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Walking together to church on Sunday morning. 

 

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The worship team praying before the service. 

 

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The band was really rocking.  [photo credit: Dylan Menges]

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The kids prepared songs and choreography for the service. [photo credit: Dylan Menges] 

 

Sharing memories with Chhem and her family. [photo credit: Dylan Menges] 

Sharing memories with Chhem and her family. [photo credit: Dylan Menges] 

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Chhem remembers her dream. 

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Sengyou, Chhem’s dad (Battambang 1 home parent) listens happily as Chhem shares her story.

 

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Chhem’s family. 

With translating help from Samuth, I preached on Psalm 23: “God sees you. He takes care of you. He always has and he always will.” 

With translating help from Samuth, I preached on Psalm 23: “God sees you. He takes care of you. He always has and he always will.” 

Making time for the “big kids”

If you’re only following me here on the blog — and not on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter — you wouldn’t know that we’ve made it to Battambang. Actually, we’ve been here for a couple of days, and we’ll be leaving for Thailand early Monday morning.

The drive from Phnom Penh is getting faster and less dramatic each year. A decade and a half ago, we the roads were so bad that no one who could afford the $30 plane ticket would dare suffer the 14 hour overland ordeal. Now it takes about five hours by car, and given the pace of infrastructure expansion, I’d expect to be able to cover it in 3 hours before 2021. 

We’ve had a great time here, although I know I’m not going to have enough time to enjoy any kind of meaningful visit at all of our 13 homes. With so many kids to see and such limited capacity, we’re doing our best to encourage the staff, honor the teachers at our school and interact with the kids on a scattershot basis. 

Today we set aside the entire day to visit with our university students. This morning we toured the University of Management and Economics where 20 of our graduates attend. I dropped in on a number of classes and chatted for a few minutes with the school’s Vice President. I’m thankful for UME; they’ve given us preferred admission status and discounted tuition. According to the faculty there, our kids are uniformly polite, studious and ambitious. 

Fifteen years ago Battambang’s best students wanted to study in Phnom Penh or abroad. Today there are plenty of good colleges our kids can attend, and most choose to stay in town. With a university degree and a well-established network of Asia’s Hope friends, family and alumni, our grads face strong employment prospects in a country that is often acknowledged to face a drastic shortage of decent jobs. 

After spending a couple of hours at the university, we visited a local elementary school where two of our upperclassmen have already secured full-time administrative jobs. They’re so proud of their accomplishments and are already looking forward to being able to buy plots of land to build their future homes. 

Tonight we plan to hang out with the Battambang Student Center, home to more than 50 of our college kids. This is a special joy for me; the student center is sponsored by my own church, Central Vineyard. These kids have grown up alongside my own boys, Chien and Pak. They’re sweet, sophisticated and sharp. They work so hard and are all the endorsement Asia’s Hope will ever need. As I’ve told them and our staff, I have no worries about the future of Asia’s Hope; our second generation is ready to lead.

If I really told you how much I admire them, you’d think I was just spinning for PR or fundraising purposes. But if you ask anyone who’s met them, they’ll tell you the same. 

[But speaking of money, if you are looking a 100% sure-bet investment in God’s Kingdom, we really need to talk. Our ranks of college students grow every year, and will for the foreseeable future. College here is cheap, but not when you’re buying it for a couple hundred kids at a time. Together, though, we absolutely will change the world. Hit me up, yo: john@asiashope.org]

 

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Eager Asia’s Hope scholars at Battambang, Cambodia’s University of Management and Economics. 

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Dylan gets the shot. 

These Asia’s Hope grads are now not just great friends but proud co-workers. 

These Asia’s Hope grads are now not just great friends but proud co-workers. 

Aw. And they also like me! (Photo credit: Dylan Menges)

Aw. And they also like me! (Photo credit: Dylan Menges)

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Samuth, our Battambang 7 home dad is a graduate of UME and a mentor for all of our Battambang university students. (Photo credit: Dylan Menges)

John McCollumComment