I grew up in a working-class neighborhood in a family with limited financial means. In addition to their day jobs, my parents took on extra work at times -- my dad as a janitor at the church, my mom selling AVON. As a result, we always had enough. But we were never anything close to wealthy.
We lived in a small house -- two adults, three kids in a three bedroom house with one bathroom. When I was 13, my maternal grandmother died, and left my parents a significant but not extravagant sum of money. I remember well three major purchases: a new but sensible Toyota Corolla, a trip for our family to Disneyworld and most significantly, a new house.
I remember feeling as if we had somehow won the lottery. My parents picked out a floor plan, selected a builder and began to make modifications to suit our family's needs -- two and a half bathrooms, a living room with a wood-burning stove, a workshop for my dad in the basement and of most interest to this teenager, a room of my own that seemed huge: I mean, I could open the door without hitting my bed!
I remember vividly our visits to the construction site and our excitement as the house took shape -- first the foundation and cinder blocks, then the framing. When the second floor was finally roughed out, I could actually stand in my new bedroom. I paced out measurements on the dusty plywood floors, and figured out exactly where my bed would sit. I remember lying down on the floor before there was even a roof, closing my eyes and imagining what it would be like to shut my door, turn on some music and tune out the rest of the world in my own private space.
I'm sure my parents were stressed about the money and about the logistics of the project, but I loved everything about the building process. I loved the smells, the sounds, the sights. Most of all, I loved what the new house seemed to represent -- we certainly weren't rich, but we didn't feel poor anymore. I'm sure that our overall financial situation didn't change much at all with the purchase of the home, but as a kid, my stress about our family's fortunes was allayed -- unlike our old place, where everything seemed to be broken, everything was new, and in good condition.
How much more exciting it must be for the kids of Asia's Hope to watch the construction of their beautiful new homes at our Prek Eng campus! Most of these kids can still remember lives of real, not just imagined, destitution. They remember the death of their parents, their subsequent dislocation and the terror of being alone in a big, scary world. Some of our children were themselves heads-of-household facing the impossible task of providing food and shelter for younger siblings after their parents were killed, deported, imprisoned or ravaged by disease.
We've worked hard to provide each of these children everything they need, and thanks to our generous supporters and the hard work of our staff, they've recovered miraculously from the trauma of their youth. The homes they currently live in really are just fine. No one has to sleep outside, and there are gates we can close and lock at night. Mothers and Fathers now tuck them in at night and kiss them gently when they're sick or scared. But for years, I've wanted to do better for them.
The unstable property rental market in Phnom Penh has meant that some of these new families have had to move three, four, even five times over the last decade. And every time we outgrow or break something, we have to decide if it's worth investing in a property we're likely to lose at the end of the year.
By 2011, our long-held plans for a permanent neighborhood-style campus in Phnom Penh started to take shape: the board approved a capital campaign, and we began gauging key donors' interest in the project. In July 2012, my son and I stood sizzling under the Cambodian sun with a couple of pastors from partnering churches, a few potential supporters and a handful of staff looking out over a nondescript plot of land, completely undeveloped except for a copse or two of tropical fruit trees and some untended and unruly chili plants wilting in the summer heat. We made a bold request of God: "Would you give us this land as an inheritance for our orphan children, and bless us with the resources we need to build permanent, high-quality homes, playgrounds and a school?"
For the sake of the kids and to His Glory, God has answered our prayers! Not only have we purchased the land, but we've finished construction on the school, nearly completed three of the five homes and have started building the fourth! And the homes aren't just adequate, they're beautiful. Each home has separate levels for boys and girls, apartments for staff, generous multipurpose living spaces and lots and lots of bathrooms. There's room for a soccer field and for playgrounds, and there's even adjacent land available that we could purchase if God provides the funds.
Yesterday, my family visited the site with the children from Prek Eng 2. As we pulled up to the gate of our property, the kids let out a cheer. As we spilled out of our cars, they grabbed us by our hands and dragged us, running toward their new house. "Come see! Come see!" they squealed as they led us around. "This is my bedroom, and this is mom and dad's. And this is the kitchen. And here is where we will study!"
"No swimming pool?" I joked. "No, but we can use this," one of the boys laughed, pointing toward the half-submerged septic tanks out back. Soriya, one of the teenage girls hugged me and said, "We can't wait to move in! It will be so nice to have all five homes on the same land -- we can improve our friendships, have lots of fun and feel very good."
In less than two weeks, we'll be dedicating the new campus with a ribbon-cutting ceremony that will be attended by some of the people who helped fund the project. God willing, the campus will be finished and furnished by the end of the year.
But we still have work to do. We've raised more than $600,000 for this project in just over a year, and we haven't even really gone "public" with our needs. But we've seen before, the last dollars are often harder to raise than the first. And we still have about $170,000 to go before we can build Prek Eng 5, outfit the homes, church and school and get the campus ready for full occupancy.
To be honest, I don't know where that money is going to come from. But I do know a couple of things.
- God will provide these funds; and
- God will bless everyone who helps with this project.
I really believe this. I've already seen God work miraculously on behalf of these kids. He's used rich people, and he's used people of very, very modest means.
The stories of generosity will be told for generations on earth and in heaven. One of these homes was built with funds that came from a family who, along with their children, decided that their house was bigger than they needed. They sold it, moved to a smaller one and gave us the money we needed to provide a permanent home for 25 once-orphaned kids!
Churches have taken special offerings. Kids have done bake sales. Businesses have tithed profits. Families have given tax refunds. Young couples have given money they were saving for downpayments on first homes.
As Proverbs 19:17 says, "He who is kind to the poor lends to God." Matthew 19:29 says, "Everyone who has left houses...or fields for my sake will receive a hundred times as much and will inherit eternal life."
At the risk of sounding like one of those crazy guys on TV, will you talk to your spouse, your kids, your boss and your pastor? Will you ask them to pray about joining us and finishing up this project for the sake of these wonderful children?
We've set up a giving page on our web site. If you click on "Capital Project in Prek Eng," you can give via credit card. You can also send checks through the mail. And, of course, you can email me directly if you have any questions about this project.
Join with those who have already been blessed by their participation. Together and with God's help, we can do this! I look forward to celebrating with you as God continues to provide for the kids and staff of Asia's Hope.