There are many faces to Cambodia. Looking around you see beautiful buildings, landscape, people and weather. It is now the rainy season in Cambodia and it storms almost everyday. When the afternoon storms roll in they usually bring big dark clouds that are very beautiful.
Cambodia reminds me of a storm. Beautiful to look at on the outside but if you take a moment to really examine what is inside the storm it can be pretty fierce. Just like with any storm there are beams of sunlight bursting there way through the darkness. I have had the privilege of meeting many of these beams of sunlight that day in and day out go to the storm to be used by God to shine His light. The two we have had the privilege to work with directly are three people I am honored to call my friends, The Grace and Peace Gals, and Hard Places Community Center.
Let me explain to you a little about the storm. The Grace and Peace Gals are running a school in a smaller community with AIM. This community has a very high rate (up to 90% is a statistic I heard on a video from their director) of parents who will sell their children to men for sex. Since AIM came into the community most of the brothels, which had children as young as 6 or 7, are shut down...which is amazing. The problem is sex selling is now mostly underground. Their are still pimps in this area. The way it works is someone will tell the tuk-tuk driver (motor bike taxi) they are interested in having sex with a child, he calls the pimp, the pimp gets the child from the parents and he takes her to the client for the evening and brings her back in the morning. Some of them will send their children off for weeks at a time. What are ways to try and keep these children safe...have them in school, build relationships with these families and educate them on the worth of a human. Right now kids come to school in the mornings and back in the afternoon for Kid's Club. Often when they go home the parents are at work or just out of the home so a 3, 4 or 5 yr old is on their own for food and protection. The school is hoping to raise enough money to soon offer nutritional lunches to these children, allowing them to be at school all day.
Hard Places serves exploited or at risk boys in the community. Each day boys, completely of their own free will, come to the center for English classes, Kid's club, game time, soccer, counseling and all in all a safe place for them to feel normal/safe love from adults. These boys are so full of life. Just like the storm they are so beautiful on the outside with great turmoil on the inside. Because of the disease spreading around town we had the privilege of going to their homes and meeting their parents. Words can not describe, nor does Google have any pictures, that can paint a picture of their living conditions. Physical and emotional disparity in the darkness.
Hard Places also does Kid's Club in a local park. We walk around the park and gather children and some children also come walking from their home, and some of them are just street children. The park has a huge Buddhist temple in the middle, as most do here. It does not look like your average American park: no play ground equipment for the kids to play on. This park is filled with people selling there food, drinks, things people can bring for sacrifices, pimps and prostitutes. The children love Kid's club and are so excited to be there. It is so great to see their smiles and hear their laughter. They run up to you with big hugs and some of them snuggle so close to you and don't want to let go. This is because Hard Places has gained their trust and love. They are the beam of light in the storm. Each child has a different story, but similar. We saw a little 6 yr old completely taking care of her 1 yr old sister. The 6 yr old was exhausted but the 1 yr old only wanted her. She ended up falling asleep in the middle of the pavilion on the concrete. We also found out the six yr old is being sold at night. When dropping off another family in the park, the grandmother kept pushing her 8 yr old granddaughter on a pimp who was grabbing her wrist and they struggled for a while. Just unimaginable. Another little girl begged us to not walk her home for fear of being beaten when she arrived.
Many people think where is God and how can He let this happen. I assure you He is right here. He is working through these beams of light. As I was debriefing yesterday the question that came to me is, how long will the Cambodians continue to prostitute themselves to each other and to other gods. How bad are they going to let it get before they turn their hearts back to God, who is eagerly waiting with open arms to receive them. The question to myself is how is this experience going to change my life.
Note: you will not see any pictured of children because it gives them greater risk for exploitation.