"Well, Maybe I Spoke Too Soon…"

Preface

Even though I wrote this journal entry 14 and a half years ago — before my daughter, who just started high school, was even born — these sentiments deeply resonate with me today. I’m no longer running a small business — I’ve been full-time at Asia’s Hope for more than a decade — and we’ve grown from 80 kids to almost 850, but I still ask myself the same questions:

How do we make it better?

What’s the next step?

How can we raise the money to accomplish the next thing on our agenda?

With whom shall we partner as we grow?

And still identify deeply with this sentiment:

“You see, this country, this ministry, these kids — they're the reason I keep a job that offers me more flexibility than money. I know beyond a doubt that if I died today, my life would have been worth something.”

More than that, this is still my prayer for you:

I pray for all of you my friends that you would follow God's call on your life enthusiastically, even radically. I'm not trying to set myself up as any sort of role model — I'm so far behind the curve on obedience and faith that I wouldn't dare — but I've tasted just a little bit of the goodness that God wants for all of his children. I've had the chance to be an intern in the family business, an opportunity to drink only a sip of the cup, and I can't help myself from going a bit beyond politeness or subtlety. I'm begging you to get involved.


SUNDAY, FEBRUARY 13, 2005

Well, maybe I spoke too soon.

I said I thought I'd licked the bug, but today my tummy's a little ooky. (Dyspeptic, for those of you without kids.) But it's not too bad. Please pray that I continue to regain strength. I have a tough couple of days ahead. More on that later.

When this trip is done, I'll write some sort of retrospective overview. This isn't it. Still, I'm feeling a little reflective today. Indulge me.

This hasn't been the easiest of trips for me. In fact, it's been a lot of work for me and for Dave and Dr. John, the other executive board members who are here. When Asia's Hope started out, it was pretty simple — one or two projects, and we spent our trip encouraging our brothers and sisters and celebrating what God was doing. Lots of time reading to students, conducting clinics and running around with laughing orphans.

We did all of those things this time, but we have spent a lot of energy and time trying to wrap our minds around the complexities that arise with any type of successful endeavor: How do we make it better? What's the next step? How can we raise the money to accomplish the next thing on our agenda? With whom shall we partner as we grow?

We've gotten a lot done that could absolutely not have gotten done if we had stayed in the U.S. and communicated via email. And we've learned A LOT. But it hasn't felt as much like a vacation to me as some of my earlier trips. I feel like I've been at work every single day I've been in Cambodia — even on the days when I've had a relatively free schedule. During my free time, my brain has been in overdrive.

Usually, I return to America feeling refreshed, rejuvenated and 100% ready to jump back into work. I'm not sure that will be my experience this time. I've been sick a lot on this trip, and I've missed a couple of the really fun days with the kids that I had been looking forward to.

Nevertheless, every day in Cambodia is an adventure, and I'm entirely certain that I am in the center of God's will. Last year, after my hospital visit, I said to God and to many of you, "I'd return to Cambodia each year even if I knew I'd get really, really sick." Well, I did get sick again. But I feel the same about my mission to this country. And I'd add to it (Oh, Lord, please don't take me up on this...please!) that I'd return to Cambodia each year even if I had the same kind of financial misfortunes that I had this year.

You see, this country, this ministry, these kids — they're the reason I keep a job that offers me more flexibility than money. I know beyond a doubt that if I died today, my life would have been worth something.

I went to the orphanage this morning. They were having church when we arrived. I put down my bag and sat down at the back of the room. Immediately, three kids scootched over to me, one on each side, one on my lap, and laid their heads on me and sighed. Sophat, a seven year old boy sitting near the front of the room, turned and gave me one of the most genuine, loving smiles I've ever seen.

Last year, Sophat was an orphan. He lived with his aunt, who was destitute. He wasn't in school, he had to work to support himself and his family, and he was hungry every day. Every day. This year, Sophat lives in a beautiful home with a loving staff and an orphanage director who really acts like a father to each of those kids. He has brothers and sisters to play with. He gets a great education. He has plenty of food every day. He's been immunized. He's safe at night. No one shoos him off their footstep or chases him away from their shop. He's not filthy and he's not in danger of succumbing to disease or to sexual abuse or trafficking. Best of all, he knows Jesus loves him, and that he has brothers and sisters in Cambodia and in America who will care for him and send him to college and who are working hard to make a good future for him. He's happy.

I know that God gave me Asia's Hope because He loves me and my family, and wants to use us for His kingdom. I know that if Dave and I (and many others since) hadn't responded to God's invitation in faith, that Sophat and 82 other orphans would have very bleak futures indeed. I believe that there are many other kids like Sophat and Samneang and Soktheun out there in Cambodia and Thailand and who knows where else that God wants to save, and that it won't happen unless you and I don't push into God's will even further and if other Christians don't step up to the plate.

I pray for all of you my friends that you would follow God's call on your life enthusiastically, even radically. I'm not trying to set myself up as any sort of role model — I'm so far behind the curve on obedience and faith that I wouldn't dare — but I've tasted just a little bit of the goodness that God wants for all of his children. I've had the chance to be an intern in the family business, an opportunity to drink only a sip of the cup, and I can't help myself from going a bit beyond politeness or subtlety. I'm begging you to get involved.

Not in Asia's Hope. Or not necessarily. But in something that you can sink your teeth into, that you can invest your time and your talent and your money into. In something that ministers to Jesus by ministering to those he loves. Don't settle for less than all that God wants for you. If you don't have something you feel passionate about, find a passionate, Godly person and get involved in what they're into. It'll rub off on you. I promise!

So, while I might not return relaxed, I think I'll come back recalibrated. And when I begin to drift back into complacency, and when I begin to doubt God's goodness and His plan for my life, I'll log onto this page and read my blog, and I'll look at some of the 2,000 photos I took on this trip, and I'll send another check to Asia's Hope and pray for the day that I can return.

Sorry this has been such a long post. If any of you are still with me at this point, thanks. I really do love you guys.

Tomorrow I leave for the outlying villages. Gary and I will be sitting under a tree, teaching the Bible to new believers for three days. We'll be staying in a nearby town at night, but I don't know if I'll have email access. Please pray for us. We'll need it.

Shalom.

My main main, Sophat, wearing a hat from Element, a company I once owned. Sophat currently lives at our University Student Center in Phnom Penh, Cambodia and is engaged to Rida, a graduate from our Battambang 1 Home.

My main main, Sophat, wearing a hat from Element, a company I once owned. Sophat currently lives at our University Student Center in Phnom Penh, Cambodia and is engaged to Rida, a graduate from our Battambang 1 Home.

26149439406_2784527369_o.jpg
Me in February 2005 with the kids from our first home in Phnom Penh, the one that would eventually be known as  Prek Eng 1.

Me in February 2005 with the kids from our first home in Phnom Penh, the one that would eventually be known as Prek Eng 1.

Me in February 2005, at our very first home in Battambang, Cambodia. Most — if not all — of these kids are now grown.

Me in February 2005, at our very first home in Battambang, Cambodia. Most — if not all — of these kids are now grown.

John McCollumComment
"The Need Is So Vast..." journal entry from May 31, 2001

I’ve been reading through my old journals. This entry was from the very last day of my very first trip to Cambodia, before Asia’s Hope existed. This was the trip that broke my heart and set me on a path that would eventually lead me here, overseeing a ministry caring for 800+ orphaned kids at 34 homes in Cambodia, Thailand and India…

Me, visiting the state-run Kien Klaing Orphanage in Phnom Penh, circa 2002

Me, visiting the state-run Kien Klaing Orphanage in Phnom Penh, circa 2002

May 31, 2001

The Paradise Hotel, Phnom Penh, Cambodia

I thought I had seen enough to make me immune to the sorrows of the street, but as I walked to breakfast, I had to step over the body of a five or six year old boy sleeping on the sidewalk. He was beautiful but filthy — his clothes were literally rags. He looked like a tiny mannequin, a prop from some war movie. He hadn't had a bath in days, weeks, maybe months — probably longer since his last hug.

I wanted to pick him up, cradle him, give him decent meal. But I didn't dare wake him and steal his last moments of peace before he woke to his daily nightmare of begging for a scrap of food or a few hundred riel.

I could feed this boy for a day with the change hidden in my sofa cushions. But then there'd be thousands of others. How could I help them all? The need is so vast and my resources are so limited.

This place is raw. It's very difficult to come here if you have a heart for orphans and the poor. Only God can heal Cambodia. Every day I see children Pak's age: half-naked, clinging to their mothers. Invariably, the mother's eyes are empty and sad, knowing that she may not be able to provide her baby's next meal, and that she will almost certainly go to bed hungry herself.

John McCollumComment
"Into The Storm:" journal entry from March 28, 2001

I’ve been reading through my old journals, notes I took in the very earliest days of Asia’s Hope. I’ll be posting some excerpts over the next few weeks and days. I hope you’ll be encouraged by God’s faithfulness — despite our lack of expertise, experience and financial resources.

This was part of what I wrote during a very bad airplane ride on my first ever trip to Cambodia. Metaphorically, it set the stage for much of what would follow…

Me, disembarking at the Battambang, Cambodia airport, circa 2002

Me, disembarking at the Battambang, Cambodia airport, circa 2002

March 28, 2001

Somewhere above the Philippines Sea

I've been through turbulence before, but this is bad. Looks like we're heading back into the storm. We've endured about 20 minutes of 100+ knots wind, followed by some calm. During the first bout, I actually wondered just how much a plane can take before, you know, going down.

I'm all prayed up though, and know that even in the center of the storm, I'm also right in the middle of God's will.

Actually, we never really know when our time is up. I wish I spent every day as ready to go. I fear, however, that the people around me have no such peace. I've prepared myself for every possibility on this trip. I love my family passionately and I would never want my boys to be orphaned again, but I know that God is the father to the fatherless and that suffering children are safe in his hand.

John McCollumComment
From generation to generation...
L toR: Sengyou (father to Chhem and  all  the kids at our BB1 home), Chhem, Davita, Kda and me on a recent Sunday in Battambang, Cambodia. (photo by Dylan Menges)

L toR: Sengyou (father to Chhem and all the kids at our BB1 home), Chhem, Davita, Kda and me on a recent Sunday in Battambang, Cambodia. (photo by Dylan Menges)

Young Chhem enjoyed a wonderful childhood at our Battambang 1 home. She’s excited to provide a loving family for the next generation of kids at our Prek Eng 2 home.

Young Chhem enjoyed a wonderful childhood at our Battambang 1 home. She’s excited to provide a loving family for the next generation of kids at our Prek Eng 2 home.

When I was in Cambodia a few weeks ago, I wrote a blog post about Chhem, a young woman who grew up at Asia’s Hope. I’ve been waiting until now to tell you what, for me, is the most exciting part of this story.

Chhem and her husband Kda (along with their daughter, Davita) are joining the Asia’s Hope staff as the new home parents of the Prek Eng 2 home in Phnom Penh, Cambodia!

Prek Eng 2 holds a special place in my heart, and this transition is bittersweet, as it also marks the retirement of my dear friends and longtime colleagues, Narun and Sophal, who parented the home for 13 years. It’s always difficult to transition a home to a new set of parents, but the time is right, and all but a small handful of the PE2 children are grown and have gone off to university or the workforce.

With a bit of sadness we wish Narun and Sophal — parents at the Prek Eng 2 home for 13 years —congratulations on their retirement and prayer for the next chapter of their lives.

With a bit of sadness we wish Narun and Sophal — parents at the Prek Eng 2 home for 13 years —congratulations on their retirement and prayer for the next chapter of their lives.

I encourage you to read the story of Chhem’s rescue, promised to her in her dreams by a God she’d never even met. It’s a real-life, miraculous tale that moves me to tears every time I tell it — not just because it’s intrinsically astonishing, but because I’ve known Chhem since she and her sister came to Asia’s Hope, and I’ve been honored by God to have played a bit role in her epic drama.

If you spend any time with Chhem, you’ll recognize that she is a strong woman. But she is also humble and compassionate. And when you hear her talk about her daddy Sengyou and her mommy Sokhean, you’ll truly understand what it is we’re trying to do at Asia’s Hope.

If Chhem and Kda are half the parents Sengyou and Sokhean were to her, we will have succeeded, and the current and soon-to-arrive new kids at PE2 will enjoy a loving home with a bright future. Of course, I believe that Chhem and Kda not only represent the best of our first generation of Asia’s Hope kids, but the future of our organization as well.

Please pray for Chhem and Kda and for the kids they’ll raise at Asia’s Hope.

May God continue to bless you and guide us all into courageous leadership on behalf of these kids.


John McCollumComment
Best in the world.
This young woman, pictured here with her coach, lives at our Doi Saket 1c home in Thailand, and is currently the best female bowler in her age group — in the world!

This young woman, pictured here with her coach, lives at our Doi Saket 1c home in Thailand, and is currently the best female bowler in her age group — in the world!

Well, this trip is officially in the books. Dylan and I are back in Phnom Penh and our plan is take off for Seoul (then Detroit, then Columbus) at about 1130pm. We drove in from Siem Reap early this morning and we’re just killing time before heading home.  We’ll have a brief send off with a couple of our staff at the airport, but we resisted the urge to drive out to our Prek Eng campus — I said goodbye to those kids a couple of weeks ago, and it’d hurt like heck to see them for a half hour just to turn around and leave.

I’m enjoying some good coffee and decent WiFi, and I wanted to share an experience I had a couple of days ago before leaving Chiang Mai. 

Longtime Asia’s Hope followers may remember hearing about our world-class youth cricketers from Asia’s Hope Thailand. Yes, cricket. It’s a bit unexpected, as Thailand isn’t widely known as a cricket powerhouse. And in Thailand, very few people follow the sport. But thanks to the hard work of some innovative and dedicated coaches in Chiang Mai, not to mention the tireless efforts of the players themselves, we’ve produced some extraordinary players through the years.

This year, our the Chiang Mai boys’ U13 (age 13 and under) and girls’ U16 teams are ranked number one in Thailand. The girls’ team is in the world top ten. And, get this, one of our girls is currently the world’s top ranked female bowler (pitcher, for you baseball fans) in her age group.

Top in the world. Best of the best. I can’t help beaming with pride when I think about it! 

Many of us will never even meet a world-champion-anything, so I kind of feel like this is a pretty big deal. More so given our kids’ status as hill-tribe minorities and former orphans. 

If you support Asia’s Hope, you have a stake in these players’ success. Your generosity has allowed us to provide stable families for these kids, giving them the strong foundation they need to thrive, not just survive.

If you haven’t yet supported Asia’s Hope, what’s stopping you? Click on the “give” button and make a recurring donation to help us rescue and raise more kids like these — independent, strong champions ready to take on the world.

Photo credits: Dylan Menges @mengesdesign

Team photos from the recent tournament in Bangkok, Thailand

John McCollumComment
Burma trek and village visit

Yesterday morning Tutu, Dylan and I left our guest house in Doi Saket bright and early and made the drive to Mae Sot, about six hours away on the border with Myanmar, or Burma, as they used to call it. Despite the smog — brought on by the long dry season and the traditional slash-and-burn agriculture — the scenery was beautiful, especially as we headed through he mountains toward the border. 

We arrived in Mae Sot, ditched our bags at the hotel and then drove another hour toward the Karen tribal village that was once home to about 13 of our children. Along the way we passed a massive camp housing more than 60,000 hilltribe refugees forced out of Myanmar due to their tribes’ political and ethnic tensions with the majority Burmese population. 

I’ve been conditioned by CNN to picture refugee camps as an endless grid of white tents in the middle of the desert. But this camp is built onto the mountainside and is composed of bamboo and thatch huts, all paper dry and liable to go up in flames from the slightest stray spark. In fact, this camp was almost leveled a few years ago by a fire that ripped through it in just minutes, killing scores and intensifying the misery of thousands of already-weary and entirely helpless families. No one knows for sure how the fire started but rumors are that local Thais, tired of involuntarily hosting their war-ravaged neighbors, are to blame.

It’s strange to see such abject misery juxtaposed with such extravagant natural beauty, but I suppose life is like that for so many people. 

 

https://www.hrw.org/report/2012/09/12/ad-hoc-and-inadequate/thailands-treatment-refugees-and-asylum-seekers 

A few kilometers past the refugee camp, we turned off the main road onto a dusty path that is impassible by car during the rainy season. We fully utilized the truck’s 4-wheel drive system, carefully climbing and descending steep hills and narrow dirt roads until we reached a small village with houses made by hand out of teak harvested and planed by local tribesmen and huts fashioned from bamboo gleaned from the surrounding jungle. 

Beyond our desire to document village life to demonstrate the kinds of backgrounds our kids have come from, we made this visit to check in on a handful of our children who were spending some of their school break with their relatives in their hometown. Most of our kids speak no Thai when they come into our care. But after a few years, it’s their tribal language fluency that suffers. As an organization staffed by hilltribe adults for the benefit of hilltribe kids, it’s important that these children maintain a knowledge, pride and comfort with their culture of origin. Some of these kids will assimilate into Thai culture as adults, but some will choose to return to their villages to live, and they need to know how to survive.

So, under the careful supervision of our staff and the watchful eye of a village pastor, these kids spend a couple of weeks each year immersing themselves in their original language, foodways and traditional style of living. It was a joy to see them in this context, and to meet the aunts, uncles and grandparents who cared for them after their parents died or abandoned them. 

We walked around with the kids, took pictures and socialized with the villagers. Before leaving, a tribal elder invited us to his house where we chewed betel, a mildly stimulating combination of nut, paste and leaf that, if consumed every day, can lead to addiction — and blood red teeth. With our staff’s assurances, we decided it wouldn’t hurt us to give it a shot in service of cultural bonding. It was...interesting. Mildly astringent and wildly herbaceous, it’s something of an acquired taste. But it did leave our tongues tingling and produced a slight, caffeine-like buzz. I’m glad I tried it, but it’s not a habit I’ll be bringing back to the states.

After a fitful night’s sleep in our hotel’s rock-hard beds, Dylan and I got up in the morning and, accompanied by a local Burmese Chin-Dai tribal pastor, we crossed over into Myanmar where we ate a fantastic breakfast of tea, coffee, Chinese-style steamed buns and what I’d describe as a Burmese empanada. We traipsed through bustling markets selling everything from betel to, well, beetles. It was a sensory assault, but I could really see myself cooking with the fresh produce and proteins on a regular basis.  

After a few hours, we successfully retrieved our passports which the Burmese immigration police had confiscated upon arrival, and we headed back to our hotel. After that, we had some noodles and hit the road. It was a long and tiring couple of days, but boy was it fascinating. 

I hope my pictures convey a little bit of what we experienced. Please join me in praying for the refugees at the camp and for the believers in Burma. They are completely helpless and desperately in need of God’s blessing. 

And thank you for supporting our work.  

We’re just a few days out from our return flights home. We’re going to try to pack as much into those last days as possible. With any luck, I’ll be able to take a lot more pictures. 

IMG_0626.JPG
IMG_0625.JPG
IMG_0613.JPG

Massive refugee camp in along the mountainside dividing Thailand and Myanmar. 

IMG_0620.JPG
IMG_0632.JPG

photo credit: Dylan Menges 

IMG_0635.JPG
IMG_0634.JPG

 photo credit: Dylan Menges

IMG_0633.JPG

photo credit: Dylan Menges

IMG_0615.JPG
IMG_0617.JPG
IMG_0608.JPG
IMG_0606.JPG
IMG_0609.JPG
IMG_0619.JPG
IMG_0639.JPG

 photo credit: Dylan Menges

IMG_0628.JPG
IMG_0618.JPG
IMG_0607.JPG
IMG_0638.JPG

 photo credit: Dylan Menges

A visit to a Karen village near the Burmese border. 

IMG_0622.JPG
IMG_0630.JPG
IMG_0616.JPG
IMG_0623.JPG
IMG_0629.JPG
IMG_0624.JPG
IMG_0621.JPG
IMG_0604.JPG
IMG_0631.JPG
IMG_0627.JPG
IMG_0641.JPG
IMG_0640.JPG
IMG_0642.JPG

A morning in Kayin State’s cafes, shops, streets and markets. 

John McCollumComment
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. 

IMG_0572.JPG

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

IMG_0573.JPG

These ubiquitous condiments are essential to Thai food. 

 

IMG_0574.JPG

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. 

 

IMG_0575.JPG

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. 

 

IMG_0576.JPG

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.  

 

IMG_0577.JPG

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

IMG_0578.JPG

Like I said, nothing is wasted.

 

IMG_0579.JPG

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


IMG_0580.JPG

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

 

IMG_0581.JPG

Smart girls are best!

IMG_0582.JPG

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

 

IMG_0583.JPG

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. 

 

IMG_0585.JPG

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. 

IMG_0587.JPG

This week we celebrated high school and university graduations. 

 

IMG_0588.JPG

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

 

IMG_0589.JPG

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

 

IMG_0590.JPG

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

 

IMG_0591.JPG

Ham. And cheese. 

 

IMG_0592.JPG

Sunburned white kids learn the healing power of real aloe. 

 

IMG_0593.JPG

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.

 

IMG_0558.JPG

Walking together to church on Sunday morning. 

 

IMG_0557.JPG
IMG_0556.JPG

The worship team praying before the service. 

 

IMG_0559.JPG

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

IMG_0560.JPG

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] 

IMG_0552.JPG
IMG_0554.JPG

Chhem remembers her dream. 

IMG_0553.JPG

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

 

IMG_0561.JPG

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.”