Then the ones who pleased the Lord will ask, "When did we give you something to eat or drink? When did we welcome you as a stranger or give you clothes to wear or visit you while you were sick or in jail?"
The King will answer, "Whenever you did it for any of my people, no matter how unimportant they seemed, you did it for me." .......Matthew 25

Monday, November 9, 2009

Looking back

We first entered Cambodia in April 1999. This was the year after the Khmer Rouge surrendered, and after the coup, so some semblance of peace had settled in.

Eight of us - William Chooi, Teo Chee Khiang, Chua Boon Chye, Chua Sock Hoon, Alice Khoong, Lim Kim Thia (from Galilee BP Church), Chua Phek Hoon and myself)- led by William Chooi wandered into Phnom Penh, blur like sotongs, looking for some way to make a difference to the war ravaged land. Our first contacts there were Baptist missionaries Jim and Shirlie Moore. I must confess we understood little about Cambodia at that time, other than it was devastatingly poor. I remember feeling like my guts had been wrenched out as we walked through the Tuol Sleng holocaust museum, and then fighting through the masses of child beggars and destitute children.

Hearts broken, we resolved to do something for those kids. Calling ourselves the Overseas Outreach for Street Kids (OOSK), we talked about setting up an orphanage. About 6 months later, we made a follow-up recce mission to study the existing orphanage. Harvest International Services (Worldwide Evangelization for Christ) had one running, and so had Malaysian missionaries Col Tan Hock Chye and his wife Mabel of Full Gospel Assembly who were just starting off in Kampong Speu. Incidentally, this was also when we first met Esther Ding who eventually became our main collaborator in Cambodia.

Esther Ding in her earlier village handicraft project, SongKhem
But it turned out too big a task for us at that time. We looked for a missionary couple who could be stationed there and who could provide full time oversight of the orphanage, but none was available. Plus it was also clear that Carmel wasn't really ready for such a heavy commitment.

Meanwhile we started doing medical-dental missions just to remain engaged in Cambodia. We worked with Sharon Lim (now at WEC) at HIS, Lau Pak Soon and Cambodia Methodist Services (CMS) up in Baray.

These were important formative years. We got to know the people there, got to understand the culture, and most importantly I believe, got to develop an insight into the myriad problems besetting the country.

Gradually I grew increasingly skeptical of the medical dental missions and eventually gave them up. Too expensive to run and too logistically heavy to put up each year. Plus because they tend to operate near urban centres they didn't readily get to the people who really needed the help. I began to see the building of schools as a far more important mission with more substantive longer term outcomes. During the medical missions we had already adopted a strategy of moving away from large urban centres, and pushing deeper and deeper into unsupported rural Cambodia, especially in the Baray district, where the local pastors under CMS were also game to go. These were the regions where few church short term mission groups were ready to enter. Here we had a ready partner in Esther Ding and her band of local pastors. OOSK had been disbanded as it gradually defaulted to the organized activities of the Church Missions Committee, but our engagement in Cambodia could not stop. The burden was just far too compelling.

These latter missions have been surprising successful, and to date we have completed 5 schools with a total of 14 classrooms in remote villages in the Baray district (actually one village is in Kampong Chham). God has been faithful. Very faithful.

As this year draws to a close, I am so conscious of how God has led me over the last 10 years (yes, a full decade since we entered Cambodia). I just counted 16 Cambodian stamps in my passport over the last 10 years. At least one trip every year. It has been a truly amazing journey, and each time I feel the work is drawing to a close, He challenges with new possibilities.

What next? More about this later......

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