Why can’t Cambodia and Mexico trade places?

I sit here in Cambodia, a mere 12 hours from departure, and all these moments from the week keep wandering through me mind. 

Yesterday we took the kids to Angkor Wat. I don’t know why in my head they were going to stop and ponder and study and meander the way we grown-ups do.  They are, after all kids. It was actually kind of funny and precious to see the same glance-and-go reaction to monuments as I had as a kid. I kept pointing out features I found really neat, like all the faces sculpted on every surface of the face temple, and Sieng Hai, in his sweet quiet way, gave me that, “Yeah, its another face that looks just like the last one,” eyebrow raise.
I think they enjoyed it, they just did it a lot faster than I anticipated. But I’m really glad that they’re kids, and they get to be kids.  They are so mature in some ways, so giving, so good (at least while we’re here–they are kids after all) that in some ways I forget they’re still children. 
The worst part was coming to the end of the third temple. Not because I really wanted more time out in the Cambodian sun, but because I knew we were only one meal away from goodbye. We all felt it. The smiles were still there, but more hands were held, and hugs lasted a bit longer.  
After lunch, it was time. For me it is easier to be left than to leave, so watching Pichhing, Sieng Hai, Mom, Rathanak, Ry, Kim, Davan, Pony and all the others climb up  and wave from the windows wasn’t nearly as hard as last time, when it was us driving away from them. Don’t get me wrong, I was a teary mess. It’s so hard to say goodbye to people you love, especially when you don’t really know when you’ll see them again. They’ve grown so much over the last two years, and I pray I can come back, but I don’t know that for sure.
What I do know is that I will love them wherever I am, wherever I go.  I will keep writing to Pichhing and Sieng Hai and probably a few more. I will pray for them and feel so lucky to be prayed for by them. I will follow the blogs of other trips to see pictures. I will print my own pictures and make everyone I know look at some of them, at least. I will tuck the little bead bracelets I got into my jewelry shelf and see them and know that the pieces of my heart that are here in Cambodia have blossomed.
That Shakespearean line, “Parting is such sweet sorrow,” makes sense right now.  I love them and they love me. I can leave with only the sweetest grief because I know they are loved, by God and Vanak (the orphanage director) and his wife Hanna, by each other, and by so many other brothers and sisters in Christ in the States.  I know they will be okay.  I came to tell them God loves them completely and perfectly, and I got to do that. I came to show them, to be His hands in theirs, His hugs, and His smiles, and I was. And, they were the same to me as well.   Since the kids are so spiritually rich, I might ask them to pray that Cambodia and the US can be closer together so I can see them more often. For them, God just might do it.  For now, I will dwell on some of the bright moments that continue to float in my heart and mind.
Getting to look Rathanak, Samnang big, and the others in their eyes and tell them how much God loves them.
Ry poking me in the arm to wake me up on the 10.5 hour bus trip, so I wouldn’t miss anything.
Srey Mom’s big smile when I gave her a bead bracelet
Seeing Jim rock out as the chief at the cultural center while our whole team and 30 kids whooped and laughed and applauded.
Pichhing patting and holding the hand I had draped over his shoulder.
Pony, who was timid at first running up for a hug with her shy smile.
Playing who-can-poke-who-in-the-side with Rathanak, a 16 year old boy who is just the definition of sweet with the world’s biggest smile (even though he probably wouldn’t love hearing that)
Devotional time with my team
Getting to know Kristie, who has moved here, and is the older sister the boys have longed for and now finally have.
Sieng Hai grinning as I took his hand and we walked hand in hand through the ruins. And then telling a tourist, when asked, that no he is not my son, but he is the son of my heart. And knowing it is true.

Busloads of fun!

It takes five hours of bus travel on a pretty even mix of paved roads and bumpy dirt roads to get from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap. Unless your bus hits a ginormous pothole and you get a flat. Then you wait a while, miss your chance to get into town before lunch and have to stop for food, stop again to switch the bald front tire with the less bald back tire, and 10.5 hours later pull into Siem Reap. 

I can now say I’ve had flat tires on four continents.  Thankfully we had a stack of movies to watch. They were all in English but the kids didn’t care, and it helped me out. I sat with Ry, a teenage boy who speaks about as much English as I do Khmer.  We pointed at things outside the window, shared snacks and I made him a friendship bracelet.

When we arrived at four, we went straight to the Khmer Cultural Center.  The kids had requested we go and were so excited. I was eager just to see them enjoy the experience. As we started to walk around, we heard loud music and walked up a hill to a little stage nestled in the hill. It was designed to look like a village from some point in Cambodia’s past, but again the Khmer language thing got in my way, so I don’t know when.  The show was a hoot. They did a dance and pulled a guy up from the audience to take part in a wedding ceremony and dance. The actors hammed it up and made it super fun. The kids loved it and were glued to the performance (or so I hear, I was too.)  We went straight from that show to another one depicting a similar course of events in a different era.  In the third show, which seemed to be the most historical, they picked Jim from our team to be the audience participant and we all cheered. He did great, yelling Cambodian things he didn’t understand, wearing a big headdress and sitting in a bamboo throne. It was a great end to the cultural center.

I got to spend a little more time with Sieng Hai and Pichhing, I just love that these 14 year-olds–who wear skinny jeans and style their hair–will hold my hand. It makes me go all gooey. All the teen boys seem to really value attention, which makes total sense since they probably don’t get a ton of it. But the sincerity of emotion and the willingness to express affection move me. I love it. As much as it means to me, who is not an orphan and was not raised with 30 other kids, I just am grateful and eager to show that same affection to them. I made a handful of yarn bracelets and gave most to the older boys. Rathanak, one of the older boys, is quiet but has this killer smile. We started goofing off today, and I made him a bracelet too. Srey Mom, a sweet girl, attached to my left hand for most of the day and saved me a spot at dinner, and I hugged on her a lot, I just love her smile.

Tomorrow we will meet the kids and go to Angkor Watt. It is one of the coolest things I’ve ever seen, and none of them have ever been.  I can’t wait to share that with them!  We’ve divided the group into teams by color and as a proud member of the green team I’m happy to say our group is stacked. We get Pichiing AND Sieng Hai and even Rathanak. It’s going to be a fun day.

As enthralling as the cultural center was and Angkor Watt is to me, it’s so much greater to these kids whose heritage is represented. They get to see a new part of their own country and some amazing things built by their ancestors. I’m so glad for them to have this experience.  But for me, I’m mostly glad I get an extra day to hug their necks, hold their hands and take a bazillion pictures to hold me over until next time.

OH, I almost forgot. While we were walking through the cultural center to the show, we saw a Cambodian music video being filmed!  HOW COOL IS THAT!

Okay, photos are taking eons to upload, so I’ll add some later.

Big thoughts, eggs, giant shoes, and s’mores

You know how sometimes you get your hopes really high, ask God to do something really big and then hold your breath to see what he does?
Today was that day for me, and he totally blew me away.
It was a big talking day for me. I got to share a devotional with my team and that was special, and then we prayed for the talk I would give to the kiddos.  Our topic is that God is in the small things. I have prayed for months on how to present this, how to communicate to the kids how even when they feel lost, even when they feel invisible, God sees, knows, and LOVES them.  He gave me the words and verses, and I just hoped I wouldn’t get in his way.
Even if no one else had been blessed, being reminded of how awesome the love of my God is for me was awesome. I am always stunned when I really, for a moment, get that. I will never get used to it.  I want so badly for these kids who have been abandoned, hurt, or handed over to know that.  To hear and believe that to God, there is no one just like them and he loves them to pieces. I think he told them.
At the end I talked about how we are God’s workmanship, or masterpiece.  I pointed at each person in the room, adults and kids, one at a time and told them they were God’s masterpiece, and had them stand. To see the shy smiles, the eagerness to be called out as a beloved of the Most High, it was…there aren’t good enough words but it was the stuff that joy is built of.
I just continue to praise God for moving in such a big, real, intimate way. Praise Him!
After that we did an Easter Egg hunt so they had to find “small things” and that was a hoot. They loved it as much as I did at that age. And then we took pictures with a backdrop of a giant shoe (so we’d look small) and all these fun props and man, there are oodles of killer photos, some of which I will post when my computer charges (I’m borrowing my roommate’s.)
All afternoon was crafts and puzzles and games, and for me an energy drink, and I praise God again for the fact that all of us over 20 managed to stay conscious…well, mostly at least.  Tonight was our late night with the kids and we did s’mores and capture the flag. The rules never really did get sorted out, but we ran around wearing glow sticks and squealing, so it all worked in the end.
Today was one of those days that starts out so high, you’re kind of worried it’s bound to go down hill at some point. But it never did. We went from glory to glory. I’m a sweaty mess from all the running around, sticky from bug spray, a little tummy-sore from laughing, and I couldn’t be happier.
To all of you who have so generously prayed for me and for this trip, I thank you. God has heard you and has moved his big, glorious self in an orphanage in Phnom Penh. He has swamped these kids with his love and I am glad I got caught up in it.

Singin’ in the Sun

You know its going to be a good day when you start out by singing Christmas carols.  We went to church this morning, and first these adorable kids in great big neck bows sang songs with motions, then the adults came out dressed in matching outfits and sang Hark, The Harold Angels’ Sing in Khmer.

It was strangely exciting. I mean, when you think about it, the angels didn’t sing over Jesus in English. If they sang in any language of Earth, it was probably Aramaic, or possibly Greek. But to hear a carol I know and love in a foreign tongue was very unifying.  We sing to the same Christ, born for all of us in a manger in Bethlehem.  It brought to mind what it will be like when we all get to Heaven, and all our voices in a thousand languages will unite and intertwine to form a single grand hymn.

All that was just the warm up, though.  After lunch we went out to the orphanage to play with the kids and, in my case, get my butt handed to me in Connect Four by a number of teens.  We had about an hour of touring the orphanage/hugging/holding hands/learning names, then the kids had church so we went in and sat with them.  They sang a capella, with the orphanage director tapping out the beat with his knuckle on the desk up front.  It was very simple, very routine, and unbelievably beautiful.  Not just because their voices are high and pure. It was the way they sang. They were uninhibited. They sang with all of the breath in their bodies and with a conviction that can best be described as gusto.  
As lovely as their little voices are, that’s not what it was about. Not for them, not for us, and not for the God who reveled in their praise.  I just soaked it up, and longed for that kind of abandon in my own worship and in that of my church.  How free and rich and how much more joyous would it be, if we could stop worrying about the poor parishioners who had the bad fortune to be sitting in front of us (or me, at least) as we belt it, and just glorify God?
I love that they have this.  I pray they never lose it.
After church we played games and puzzles, and as I said earlier, lost soundly in Connect Four over and over again.  Picching had no mercy and it was great to see him laugh every time he dropped the fourth disc in place.  Sieng Hai didn’t play against me, but I did get some quality hugs in.  I wanted to show how fast they’ve grown, so here you go. 
These pictures are from May 2010
This is Picching…and me.
This is Sieng Hai

This is from today!!!
Picching, me, and Sieng Hai.  They’re so grown up!

I’m thrilled that it’s only Sunday and we have so much time still here with the kids.  It’s been great to see how quickly the new people have fallen in love and how quickly the kids have loved them too.  While I’ll probably never try to sing Hark, The Herald Angels’ Sing in Khmer, I will always remember this time when I hear it.

First Day a Success!

Hey everyone! Welcome to the inaugural post for the 2012 Phnom Penh team! Below is the picture we took just before checking into our flights. It just so happened that I was due to take my official “24 weeks pregnant” picture, so I figured, “what better way to do it than with this team of awesome people?!”

We have had a wonderful trip so far. We landed late last night (about 11 am EST on Friday) and were greeted by a lot of sleepy kids. I love that they want to and are allowed to come see us arrive, even though it’s WAAAY past their bedtime when our flight lands. It was great to see them again, wonderful to see them connect w/ the newcomers and hug the returners as if no time has passed at all between visits.

We hit the hay as soon as we got to our hotel and were up and at it a few hours later. Pastor Vek gave us a tour of the church, which has had many cool additions since the last time a lot of us were here. Then we headed to S21, the school-turned-concentration camp during the Khmer Rouge genocide, which is now a genocide museum dedicated to telling the tragic stories of the people who suffered there. Two of the survivors were at the museum, and the team was able to meet them and take a picture with them. It was touching to see their sweet and kind spirits, especially in the face of everything they went through.

From there we headed to lunch and then to the markets to do some shopping and sight-seeing. We hired a few tuk tuks to drive us around the city so we could see the monuments, palace, and temples better. By the time we arrived back at the hotel to freshen up for dinner, most of us were pretty beat and a little jet-lagged. It made for some interesting conversations about dinner.

Kimberly became a fun topic of conversation at dinner.

We have a full day tomorrow! It’ll start w/ a few of us getting up early to attempt to watch Georgia beat Alabama in the SEC championship…wishful thinking, both on the outcome of the game and being able to watch more than just the scores 🙂 Then we have church and orphanage play time! Thank you to everyone for your ongoing support, both prayerfully and financially. We absolutely could not do what we do w/o you!