You could touch it but your heart would break.

I’m back.

I took a few days off from blogging – I even left my camera in its bag. I wanted to enjoy my family’s last few days in Asia without having to worry about documenting the journey. 

Kori, Chien, Pak and Xiu Dan left late, late on the first. Thanks to layovers and delays, it took them more than 40 hours to get home. They’re exhausted, but they’re glad to be back in Ohio. After a very short period of intense sadness -- followed by periodic twinges of melancholy that will probably linger until I rejoin them in five weeks – I jumped back into my job with renewed enthusiasm.

Within hours of my family’s departure, I was driving around town with Canadian board member John Dewit and his family, trying to help them wring the most out of their two days in Phnom Penh. They’ve now headed to Battambang, where they will spend most of their two week trip.

Board member John Dewit at the Asia's Hope Christian School

Now I’m spending nearly all of my time with my pastor and best friend, Jeff Cannell, and his son Ian. It’s Jeff’s second visit to Cambodia and Ian’s first. What an amazing blessing to have them here. I’ve missed my church  so much over the past few months, so I’m especially glad to have these guys traveling with me.

I concede that I am one who is often given to hyperbole. It is, however, no exaggeration to describe yesterday as a visit to both Heaven and Hell.

After breakfast, we drove to the Tuol Sleng genocide museum. I don’t really have the emotional energy to describe the impact this place has on me – it’s really awful. Tens of thousands of photos line the walls: men, women, children, babies -- all of them tortured and exterminated by the Khmer Rouge regime. Just a drop in the bloody bucket when you consider the millions who died during the brutal reign of terror that was known euphemistically as “Democratic Kampuchea.”

A few of the 20,000 people tortured at Tuol Sleng in the mid 70s. All but 7 were killed.

Classrooms at a local high school were converted into holding cells.

Waterboarding to extract "confessions."

People considered enemies of the state were mutilated and tortured in the most cruel, degrading ways imaginable.

Jeff and Ian

In contrast, our time at the Prek Eng 2 children’s home was like a visit to Heaven. The kids have been eagerly anticipating Jeff’s arrival for months. In fact, all of the older kids stayed up way past their bedtimes and came with Narun and Sophal to welcome Jeff and Ian at the airport at 11pm the night before. They were so excited, they simply couldn’t sleep.

We drove from Phnom Penh to Prek Eng through a hot, heavy rain that flooded the road and made me thankful for our car’s 4-wheel drive. When we arrived at 3:45 most of the kids were still at school. A handful of our older kids were at home, so we were able to spend about a half hour just hanging out and chatting with them. When the rest of the kids arrived home, they squealed in excitement when they saw our car, and rushed into the house to give us hugs. It was the first time many of them had seen Jeff since 2007.

The kids quickly changed out of their school uniforms and came back into the living room with puzzles, Uno cards and Twister. Jeff and I wisely opted out of the latter. After about an hour, the rains subsided and Narun swept as much water as he could off of the tiled area that serves as a front yard. The kids pulled out the takraw nets, and I joined Soktoun and Narun on a team that -- despite my presence – won five matches in a row as we listened to Beastie Boys on a pair of old computer speakers.

Narun and the kids arrive home from school

Around six o’clock we joined the kids and staff for dinner. We sat at the adults’ table and enjoyed a really nice home-cooked meal. Jeff asked Narun and Sophal about their life stories, and heard about Sophal’s childhood as an orphan. Her parents were killed by the Khmer Rouge, and she spent much of her childhood in an orphanage. She truly understands what her kids have gone through.

At about seven, an English tutor arrived and all of the older kids began their evening lessons. Jeff, Ian and I said good-bye and left for Phnom Penh exhilarated, but exhausted. It was an emotionally complex day. So much to see. So much to think about. Reminds me of a song by Rich Mullins:


Sometimes the night was beautiful

Sometimes the sky was so far away

Sometimes it seemed to stoop so close

You could touch it but your heart would break

Sometimes the morning came too soon

Sometimes the day could be so hot

There was so much work left to do

But so much You'd already done


Tonight, our church is throwing the kids a party. There will be cake, ice cream, dinner and – I hope – dancing.



John McCollum2 Comments