Merry Christmas!!

As I’m wrapping presents, celebrating with friends and family, and once again struggling with a cold; I think a ton about “our” kids in Cambodia.  They are doing the same thing we are.  They have decorated the school house, have a tree up, exchanging gifts, and celebrating the birth of our Lord and Savior.

I was at Church last Sunday and a thought came across my mind… Jesus is celebrated 24 hours a day!  I know it sounds like such an obvious concept but it really hit me… Cambodia is 12 hours away.  So when I’m sleeping here in Atlanta someone over there is celebrating my Savior.  And when they are asleep we are.  How amazing is that??? Huge, big!!

Merry Christmas!!! Kristie

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Videos!!!

I’ve uploaded some videos to my You Tube account.  Check them out if you would like.  They are awesome!!

Merry Christmas!! Kristie

Reflection…

I’ve come and gone from Cambodia.  I can’t believe it. Sometimes I think about it and wonder if it was just a dream.  I can’t relay (very well) how great it was.  I couldn’t have asked for a better team or better leaders.  I couldn’t have asked for a better group of children to visit.
It’s funny how different this trip was for me personally than the trip last year.  I was much more open and receptive to the children.  Last year I was more scared.  This year I ran up and grabbed the children, hugged them, held their hands, swung them around, played, built, and decorated with them.  They are more amazing than I had remember (and I remembered them as being very amazing).
As we each walked into the orphanage there were children who naturally drifted towards each teammate.  It was amazing to watch each of my teammate interact with each of the children individually and in a group.  Without a common verbal language (the children can say a select few English phrases and we could poorly count to 10 in Khmer) the common language became love.  And the unconditional love of the children and the adults at the orphanage struck me to my core.
The children that gravitated towards me (or I towards them) and some of the (million) memories I have are…
Arriving at the airport.  Polin was there.
She was the girl I bonded with last year.  She stuck around me a lot.  She is in middle school and helps with the cooking and cleaning around the orphanage.  She is amazingly beautiful.  When we arrive the children have no clue who is coming, when she saw me she lit up and said “Kristie.  I miss you.”  All I could say back was I missed her too!
Sunday service.  It’s amazing to hear God praised in other languages.  I absolutely love it as it reminds me of how big He really is.  There isn’t anything that separates us from him.  No language barrier.  He knows them all.  It was at Sunday service that I first saw Heing again.  He is the child at the orphanage that I sponsor.
This child has more personality in his little finger than I have period.  He just lights up a room when he walks into it.  His smile melts hearts.  He once said that when he grows up he wants to be Prime Minister and I think he would be perfect for that role.  It was great to see him wink at me in church and later point at me in a way that he and I had done the year before.
The first drive up to the orphanage.  There were no children waiting. It was crazy, they weren’t expecting us.  When the first few arrived and greeted us with hugs and ‘hellos’ one of the boys ran off only to come back a few minutes later holding the hand of Narin.  The boy surveyed the group and then said something in Khmer, pointing straight at me.  Narin’s face lit up.  And so did mine.  I jumped up and down, he remembered me!  I screamed Narin as he ran towards me.  I ran towards him and gave him a huge hug and spun him in circles.
He also was the one on the last day who decided, for the group, it was time to stop saying goodbye when he shoved me into the bus.  Someone said later he was crying but didn’t want me to see.
Pechhing repeating what we would say.
He is an absolutely brilliant kid.  Literally.
Mike taught him how to play checkers.  After one game no one could beat him.  He can think strategically like no other.
And Rathanak.
He was sick the entire time we were there.  My nickname for him became my ‘Cambodian Space Heater.’  I’m the only person I know who would need a space heater in 90 degree weather.  He is another amazing boy.  He is in the same grade as Polin and he is give the responsibility to hold keys for some of the rooms. This is a big deal as the grownups don’t even have the key!  We asked one of the translators to let us into a locked room and they had to call Rathanak to unlock it for us.
I miss them all…
And, to end the trip my team headed to Siem Reap.  It’s the most westernized place in all of Cambodia and is a fun place to shop and just hang out.  On the last day, the team went on an ELEPHANT RIDE.  I know, what kind of mission trip was this??!!?! Ha!  But I have to say, it was pretty cool!
After the ride I got to feed the elephant bananas. Bonus!!
A quick reflection and plug to finish the post…
Reflection 1.  When I think of the trip, this song comes to mind.
Reflection 2.  When I think of the trip, Joshua 1:9 and James 1:27 come to mind.
Plug.  Fallen Sparrow is a non-profit built from people who have gone on the same mission trip and continue to have a heart for the children at the New Life Orphanages.  They are trying to raise about $12,000 for rice (for 3 orphanages – about 90 children) for the next year and to provide a few computers.  If you would like to contribute please do so by going to their site and clicking on Give.
For greater things are yet to come…
Lots of Love,
Kristie

What an amazing trip! (A LONG recap from the Wigglestons’ perspective)

We’re back! I could write on an on about the myriad observations we made about Cambodian culture and the differences between their way of life and ours. From the dark wooden shacks that line the streets to the traffic lights & divider lines that are merely suggestions amid the dusty roads surrounding Phnom Penh. From seeing the history of genocide at S21 & the Khmer Rouge killing fields, to the majestic beauty of Angkor Wat. From the constant offers for “tuk tuks” (moto-taxis) to the haggling at the markets and aggressive soliciting. From the inflated exchange rates, to the tap water that nobody drinks, to the poverty that overwhelms the majority of its populace, Cambodia is a sight to be seen that in itself would be enough to drastically shake an American’s heart. But that’s not what this post is about–because just in the outskirts of Phnom Penh was something more beautiful than I could have ever imagined.

Early in our trip, we visited New Life Church for Sunday services and sat next to some of the older kids who would eventually melt our hearts in the coming week. The service was led by Rev. Vek Huong, the man responsible for starting multiple New Life orphanages, New Life Church, a thriving radio ministry, and many other compassion-related outreaches throughout Cambodia under the organization he & his wife Samoeun started called New Life Missions. The church building was very ample & modern–in fact, it was huge in comparison to many American churches I’ve seen–and we were given headphones for live English translation of Pastor Vek’s message. It was about remembering our priorities during the hustle-and-bustle of Christmas time–who would have thought it would be this universal? The highlight for me was hearing “Hark the Herald Angels Sing” sung in Khmer. Same melody, same holiday, same God. And then it was time for our first day with the kids.

As we approached the orphanage, I had no idea what to expect. Even with the experience of a few seasoned second-time visitors on our team (Mike, Elloa, Kristie, & Dominick) and the advice of our resident “Khmerican” Alex from Atlanta (who now lives in Cambodia full-time working with the orphanage), it was hard to picture what the kids’ reactions would be to a bunch of pasty white adults from 8,000 miles away coming to contribute who knows what. But it became clear within seconds of stepping out of our van that we were welcome here. VERY welcome. The kids flocked around us like we were long-lost relatives, clutching our hands, hugging our waists, picking up our heavy backpacks and carrying them inside for us. It was at once one of the strangest things I’d seen and one of the most beautiful things I’d seen. It was heart-warming and confusing all at the same time. What was the hidden agenda? What did these kids really want?

Then it hit me. They’re not hugging me because I’ve done anything to deserve it, nor because I have anything to offer. They’re not holding my hand because someone told them to. They’re not winning my affection to manipulate me into buying them an Xbox. As I looked them in the eyes I could tell that all of this clutching, hand holding, hugging, leaning on us–it’s all because they want nothing more than to be loved. This is a place where a hug is more valuable to a child than anything money can buy. Physical affection crosses all language barriers and is the easiest way to communicate “I love you”. When we walked out of that van, all of the conditions for love that we’d become accustomed to in the States instantly flew out the window. There are no prerequisites for love here. Just open arms and open hands. Love isn’t a word that I use loosely, but after just a few short days, I can honestly say that I LOVE these kids.

We spent the week doing sports, making crafts, sharing Bible stories, playing board games–we even had a movie night, a fast food night, and put on a nativity play for dozens of neighborhood children as the orphanage kids passed out free cupcakes & Christmas gift bags to them.
Thanks to the generosity of our supporters, we were able to bring all kinds of toys, medicines, shoes, shirts, and other practical supplies to donate to the orphanage as well. All the while, we found ourselves bombarded by a never ending parade of gifts from the kids. In spite of their various backgrounds & needs, the kids at Pastor Vek’s orphanage are some of the most grateful and generous children I’ve ever met.
Every opportunity to create a little craft trinket or to pluck a flower from the yard turned into a chance for the kids to show their love for our team.
My backpack is now FULL of custom made bead necklaces & sand bracelets, flower leis, drawings, ornaments, and other random gifts from the kids, all of which mean the world to me because of what they symbolize. Of all the contributions I came here hoping to make to these kids, I least expected to end up on the receiving end of THEIR generosity. I have never felt more loved. Perhaps most moving were the handful of spontaneous, handwritten letters we were given by many of our closest kids which our translators Phillip & Sam were so gracious to translate for us. I will cherish those letters for a very long time.

The hardest part of the week, of course, was saying goodbye. At the end of each day, we got into a routine of saying “See you tomorrow!”, which many of the kids were able to repeat back in English knowing exactly what it meant. We would be back the next day. And the next. And the next. We had nearly a whole week with the kids where we were there all day, every day. For a short time, it became a new routine for all of us. But during the last couple of days we could sense an emotional shift in some of the older kids, particularly the girls. They knew it was coming. None of them were quite sure when, but they knew that soon we’d be leaving, just like last year’s team did, and the previous year’s team, and so on. They braced themselves, sometimes crying, sometimes appearing detached, because they knew it was coming to an end. Mustering up all the joy that we could and struggling to keep from crying, we said goodbye to each other on Friday. It felt so strange on Friday that we couldn’t say “See you tomorrow!” anymore. What replaced it was the second most hopeful possibility, “See you next year, I hope?”. After this year’s moving experience, it’s certainly not out of the question for Miranda and I. As I wrote earlier, I can say unequivocally–as strange as it sounds–that I truly LOVE these kids even after having known them for only a week. I miss them greatly and I hope to see them again one day.

As we’d been told might happen, certain kids latched on to each of us immediately and formed close bonds early on that lasted throughout the week. Below are some of the kids that Miranda and I connected with the most and, consequently, had the hardest time saying goodbye to:

Meet Srey Mom. She was attached to Miranda’s hip from Day 1 and never let go. Of all the bonds we made, Miranda and Srey Mom’s was probably the closest. Srey Mom’s parents are divorced and her father and mother abandoned her after they separated. She was exposed to some traumatic circumstances before her aunt brought her to the orphanage so that she could be properly cared for. Miranda and Srey Mom hit it off immediately and were inseparable throughout our trip. They did each other’s hair, held hands, and didn’t leave each other’s side once. Watching them say bye to one another, especially given what Srey Mom has been through in her life, was one of the hardest parts of the trip for me.

Meet Davan. His parents are deceased and he and his brother both live at the orphanage. My nickname for him is Davan Copperfield. I showed the kids a few basic magic tricks (of course), but Davan took a particularly curious interest in learning the secrets to the tricks so that he could do them himself. Quickly he was calling me “teacher” and himself “student” with the tiny bit of English he picked up. I taught him a total of 6 tricks, all by motioning as best I could because of our language barrier. He picked them up beautifully and has quickly developed a reputation as a magician with his buddies. He is REALLY GOOD at sleight of hand and he practices his technique like crazy. I can’t wait to send him more tricks.

Meet Srey Nang. She had a not-so-secret crush on me throughout our visit, giving me homemade bouquets of flowers & homemade leis, giggling whenever I came around, and asking the translator to help her write “I Love Joe” on ALL of the various crafts that she made throughout our entire time there. 🙂 Her and her older sister Srey Nath were brought to the orphanage after their father died and their mother was unable to find work to support their family. Srey Nath is a brilliant young lady who is picking up English very fast and spends much of her time cleaning up & taking care of the younger ones at the orphanage.

Meet Srey Chea. This pretty little girl was attached to my hip throughout our time there. Though we didn’t exchange so much as a word most of the time, we made crafts together, smiled and made goofy faces at each other, and she never let go of my hand once. Srey Chea and her sister were brought here after their father died and their mother was unable to make enough income to support them. She is a bubble of positive energy and her smile never ceased to warm our hearts.

Meet Paly. This little dude has the most infectious smile I’ve ever seen in my life. He and I became buddies pretty quick, playing ball together, sitting next to each other whenever possible, and sharing lots of laughs. Both of his parents are deceased, and Pastor Vek’s orphanage gives him a chance at a much better life than he would have otherwise. Also, this poor little guy just had a massive ear surgery a couple months back, which makes his bright smile even more inspiring.

The list goes on and on for the 30 or so kids that we met at the orphanage, and each of them unexpectedly bonded with somebody on our team. We plan to stay in touch and keep encouraging them as the months roll on through letters and sponsorship. For all the people who supported Miranda and I on our journey to Cambodia with Global X, thank you. To Mike & Elloa for being incredible team leaders, thank you. To our amazing team of 9 from Atlanta who made every minute a blast, thank you! To Alex for helping us understand all the intricacies of Cambodian culture from an American perspective, thank you! To Pastor Vek, Madame Samoeun, Vannak, Phillip, Sam, and everyone else involved at New Life Missions, thank you for the amazing work that you are doing in Phnom Penh and beyond. You are transforming Cambodia from the inside out, and our team is privileged to have been involved in a small way in the BIG work that you are doing in Cambodia. God is so much broader than we could ever comprehend, and the second chance that these kids have at New Life orphanage is evidence of his handiwork in Phnom Penh:

“Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world. “
-James 1:27

New Life Missions is doing just that. I can’t wait to see what these kids grow up to do and to become!

If you feel compelled to sponsor any of these kids, or to just find out what the needs are, please visit the Fallen Sparrow Foundation at: http://www.fallensparrow.org/

Picture Slam!

Whirlwind

That’s the only way to describe these past 2 days. Yesterday we hung out w/ the kids most of the day. We taught them a Bible story and did skits to drive home the purpose; we decorated pillowcases, began our “Olympic” tournament, and gave (and received) TONS of hugs. The best part, for me at least, was at the end of the day, when one of the kids asked, in English, if we were coming back later. Vannak, the orphanage director said, “Yes!” and the kids all went wild. They always say, “See you tomorrow” REPEATEDLY as we leave each day; but as soon as they found out we were coming back, they started saying, “See you tonight.” What a cool moment.
So after dinner and showers, we came back to the orphanage and set up “movie night.” The kids all got cracker jacks, glow necklaces & bracelets, and glow-in-the-dark “Kanye” shutter shades. They had an absolute blast. We watched “The Incredibles,” sitting on the floor together in a big pile. The kids laughed hysterically at all the right parts. They really seemed to enjoy the movie even while not understanding the slower dialogue parts. The funniest part of the night was all of us adults falling asleep. The kids kept bringing us pillows, and once when Joe tried to sit up, the kids around him pushed him back down and told him to sleep.
Today we did more Bible stories, more Olympic relays, made LOTS of jewelry, and did LOTS of playing. At the orphanage, no one really makes jewelry for themselves, but everyone ends the day weighted down by beads and lanyards. The kids rarely wear something they’ve made themselves. Pretty much everything they make is given to one of us. So we try as best we can to return the favor so they have gifts to remember us by.
Right now everyone’s enjoying a bit of free time in the city. Tomorrow we’ll spend literally the entire day w/ the kids. We’re taking them to dinner at “Lucky Seven,” a fast food place in the city. They have no idea; we’re going to make it a surprise! I can’t wait to see their reaction when, instead of leaving at the end of the day, they get in the vans w/ us to go to dinner! I hope we can do it justice when we tell those stories later. 

We’re having a blast!

We have had SUCH a great time these past two days. Yesterday (Saturday) the team had the opportunity to pay respect to those who lost their lives during a very dark period in Cambodian history. We visited the killing fields and S-21, which is a school that was taken over by the Khmer Rouge and turned into a concentration camp. Needless to say, that was quite an emotional experience. But amazing still to witness it all in light of God’s grace and all of the wonderful things that have come as a result of those 5 horrific years of genocide.
Our day took a lighter turn when we headed to the “Russian” market to do a little shopping. We relaxed for a bit before heading to dinner and then planning our Sunday.
Today we went to church bright and early at 7 am. A few of the kids, the ones who aren’t sick or getting over a sickness, met us there and we sat w/ them in balcony. Three of the kids (Hieng, Kim, and Picching) sang in the children’s choir. Little Kim spotted Dominick in the balcony, and the smile on her face lit up the room. She kept glancing up at him during the entire song. After the Hieng, Kim and Picching sang, they joined us in the balcony just in time for communion. What an amazing experience, getting to take communion w/ those kids. Alex graciously gave up his seat so Hieng could sit next to Mike and me. He was so fascinated by our sermon notes and got excited every time he saw a word he recognized.
After pictures at the church and breakfast back at the hotel, we headed straight to the orphanage. The campus was a lot quieter than usual, as most of the kids are getting over a cold and stomach bug that was passed around last week. The highlight of my day was when someone came and got me and told me Samnang (big) was inside and wanted to see me. I hadn’t seen him yet since he’s still sick and had been in bed when we arrived. A little back story on Samnang: about a month and a half ago, Samnang ran away from the orphanage. I’ve always thought there were internal emotional battles going on inside Samnang’s heart, but the language barrier and pre-teen boyhood have prevented me from knowing what exactly is troubling him. Long story short, he was found after a day and half of being gone, and needless to say, relieved doesn’t begin to describe how we felt. (If you want the long story, Alex does a great job of chronicling it here: http://riskandthenarrowlittleroad.wordpress.com/2010/10/22/we-found-him/)
Anyway, as soon as I walked into the room and made eye contact w/ Samnang, he burst into tears and came running at me w/ his arms stretched out. Of course, I too burst into tears and just grabbed him as best I could. We didn’t let go for a good couple of minutes, and then quickly went outside to find Mike. Words can’t describe our love for this particular kid. Of course we love all the kids deeply, but there is a special connection b/t us and a few of them, Samnang being one.
Thanks for reading, and thank you so much for supporting our team on this journey. More updates and lots more pictures to come!