Proverbs 13:12 says,
"Hope deferred makes the heart sick,
but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life."
My first night's sleep was comfortable and deep in our clean hotel, but cut short. My head sprung up from the bed at what I thought was a man's voice singing at 5:15 am. Actually, I thought it was our worship leader in the room next door, and if so, team unity was about to come to a quick halt. ;) Imagine my surprise when I realized it was a man chanting across the street from our hotel (no offense to our worship leader, I was in a reeeally deep sleep). Apparently, a funeral was going on, and the ceremonies in Cambodia are conducted out in the open. Through a loud speaker. At 5:15 and continuing...
My roommate opened the blinds all the way, and it was the first time I had seen Phnom Penh in the daylight. As I looked out the window, I had mixed feelings. Cars, motos, trucks filled with men, people hanging laundry on their balconies, bustle all around. And the honking. So much honking...with chanting and lamenting in the background. The scene was chaotic and orderly at the same time. Surreal really.
After a jolted start to the morning, it was time for our mission to begin. Though our team was in Cambodia to put on a conference/retreat for the leadership of World Relief, we thought it best to see what the organization is doing there. So we hit the ground running. Riding in a shuttle bus, to be exact.
It was one thing to see the traffic out the hotel window, quite another to be in the mix of it. We were so close to the vehicles next to us that I could look the drivers in the eye and exchange a smile. Not kidding. I will never complain about my husband's driving again. ;0 After quite a drive out of the city, we made it to our first destination. Phew.
HOPE not deferred
It was here I saw "Hope" in the form of community. World Relief's HOPE ministry is anything but "hope deferred." As I watched this ministry in action I witnessed "longings fulfilled" (including some of my own). The Lord wasted no time grabbing my heart's strings and playing a new tune.
A group of teenage girls sat in a circle as their volunteer leader discussed choices with them. They learned of biblical sexuality and marriage fidelity, as well as the many myths, lies and superstitions spread throughout their culture about HIV/AIDS. The leader threw out questions that the girls were encouraged to answer. My impression is that this was a whole lot more than an education group. It's a source of accountability and Christ-centered community.
I was impressed with how intentional the planning was...even the games were integrated into the day's theme. And it only continued from there. A teenage boys' group was held down the road just a bit with the same discussion material, though in typical boys' form, a bit more animated.
As the teen discussion groups were coming to a close, the children's programming was beginning. And wow, Wow, WOW. Kids were rushing to catch the best view as the staff set up its puppet screen. Older kids came with younger brothers and sisters in tow by arm or on a hip. They were EXCiiiiiiTED. The teens came running as well, though most of them stood in the back. Moms were off to the side and in the background, but I sensed they were happy and curious to be there too.
I'm ashamed to admit this, but I didn't expect the program to be as excellent as it was. The leaders were extremely enthusiastic and animated. The crowd was completely enthralled as they sang songs about Dengue fever and cleanliness set to familiar kids' tunes. As the puppets came out, the kids learned lessons about washing hands and stopping the spread of germs and disease. Not only were the kids entertained, but they were also engaged...I'm guessing more than they are in any classroom.
At the end of the show, World Relief gave each of our team fingernail clippers, and the kids crowded around us to have their nails trimmed. Then they washed their hands in anti-bacterial soap. What a perfect conclusion to an fabulous show. I'll never forget how the kids' faces beamed with excitement as they showed off their germ-free hands. It was a special moment to be a part of...
During the puppet show, a few of the girls from the teenage group came to stand beside me. Before long, we were arm in arm. Their smiles completely captivated me, and I'm so glad one of my team members grabbed this picture of us.
HOPE through Hardship
We loaded back into the bus and drove down a few roads to a different kind of meeting. It was an HIV/AIDS support group that meets regularly, where those with the disease come to find hope and help. Each person in the picture below is infected, (other than the volunteers), including the young boy in the front.
During our brief time there, several members of the circle were eager to share their stories, how Jesus Christ had given them hope to deal with their hardships. Many had lost husbands, daughters, mothers, fathers and children to AIDS. Though most of these ladies had been cheated on and infected by their husbands and/or worse, they still gave testimony of the Lord's faithfulness and love toward them.
As if my heart had not been stirred enough, a woman who had been coming to the group a few times gave her life to Jesus during this group's meeting. I could NOT hold back the tears. It was one of the most moving salvation experiences I've ever witnessed. At the end of the meeting, we all gathered around one another, praying out loud in our own languages. When I look at this photo, I don't see a group of HIV-infected Cambodians, I see my brother and sisters in Christ infecting each other with the love of Jesus Christ.
It's hard to believe that this was only half of my first day in Cambodia, but it was a HOPE-filled one. These are once in a lifetime, special slices of life that I will savor forever, ones that continue to reach down and leave marks of change on my heart as I ponder them.
And I'm only getting started...
"For it is for this we labor and strive,
because we have fixed our hope on the living God..."
1 Timothy 4:10