Ultimately, the team has been patiently waiting for this day since before we even boarded the plane to Phnom Penh—Kid’s Club day one! This Monday morning we began first thing on the rooftop hotel buffet breakfast at 7, leaving the hotel at 7:30am. We started the working day off back with our favorite driver, Mr. Thy (pronounced Mr. Tee), and he stopped on the way to AIM at a restaurant where his wife works; we were excited to meet his wife since the whole team is now very invested in Mr. Thy’s life. Over the weekend we found out that Mr. Thy travelled with some others from AIM to the Cambodian provinces to hand out food with a charity for people with no legs. Mr. Thy dropped us off at AIM, about a thirty minute wild drive from our hotel, and we prepared our Bible studies for their two groups of disciples, students in the AIM discipleship program.
While leading the Bible studies here, AIM’s goal for us is to build relationships and to come alongside these students to build them up focusing on two areas of study: one is the first few chapters of Proverbs and the other topic is qualities of servant leadership. We conducted two sessions of each topic, totaling in four sessions of Bible studies. The team mentioned as a whole in our daily end-of-the-day debrief that one of the best things about leading the Bible studies is getting the privilege to make connections with the disciples and hearing about their lives here and some of their stories. They are amazing people. It’s also been a privilege to work with such wonderful staff translators who help us facilitate the studies by engaging the students and going over and above their job of just translating.
In between these Bible studies and lunch, the team hopped in a van to tour the brick factories with no intention other than seeing them. This was one of the hardest things for the team today as the brick factory workers are in lifelong debt slavery, and they live in abject poverty. Some of their houses are just scraps of tin propped into a shelter with rags covering the bare ground. We drove past all of them, and it was a sad sight. Some of the factories burn rags as fuel to create heat to make the bricks. Burning rags is an illegal source of fuel in Cambodia because of its negative effects on the workers’ health and working conditions, but these people use it anyway since they are so poor. Because of the rag fumes, many of them are in very bad health. It is heartbreaking to see something so clearly wrong and so devastating, and to be totally unable to do anything to fix the problem. What makes it harder is working with many of these children during Kid’s Club at AIM and knowing that these joyful kids will likely never be able to escape this generational debt slavery. Most of the families are too poor to send the kids to school, so the kids will have no opportunities to get out of the brick factories. They grow up and live their lives here. These people have been in debt from their parents and grandparents and great grandparents, and the cycle is devastating to witness. Combined with the two genocide museums we visited on Saturday, this was a heavy moment for the team. Touring the brick factories definitely opened our eyes to yet another sad reality here, and just like the genocide museums demonstrated life in our parents’ generation, the brick factory tour gave us a clear understanding of the lives of the kids with whom we are sharing the love of God.
A local coffee shop owner next door to AIM welcomed us into her shop today, and some of the team were able to make further connections with the field workers and expats here. The father of one of the field workers told us part of his life story about how he was in the war in Vietnam and his wife wrote him letters for nine months without ever meeting him, and he knew that she was the one he was going to marry. He pointed out many instances in his life where God was at work, and this peaceful afternoon moment was encouraging to the team. The shop owner told us that she would teach us more Khmer (pronounced k’my rhyming with ‘high’) if we are willing. We are slowly learning some words in Khmer, the language spoken in Cambodia. One thing we discovered today was that it’s very difficult to work directly with the children when we speak almost no Khmer. The past few days we have been learning a Khmer word of the day to help with this.
Working with the kids was definitely a highlight. We had a lesson prepared for them, and the staff here led the kids in worship before the lesson. Once our team’s lesson about Cain and Abel was taught, the kids created a craft with doilies, crayons, and cut-out hearts, and they played a game like bowling with empty water bottles and bouncy balls. The openness of the kids was unexpected; the instant we walked in the door the kids rushed at us and gave us hugs and high fives and wanted to play games immediately. They braided our hair, climbed on us, played clapping games with us, taught us their names in Khmer, showed us their drawings, smiled at us, held our hands, asked us to teach them English, allowed us to play games with them, sang with us, and filled us with understanding. They are full of energy, and the team felt that they were simultaneously exhausted and filled up to overflowing when Kid’s Club was over. All of us are a little saddened that we only have four more days with them.
One thing that has been amazing has been watching the team grow closer together in community every day and closer to God through everything we go through together. I watched the team interacting with the children today, and God’s love was so obvious in everything about them. The students on this trip are truly incredible students with huge hearts wanting to serve God in everything they do, whether it’s scrubbing suffocating bathrooms with no airflow in 95° heat and full humidity, or teaching a child how to write “I love you” in English, this team has the best attitude and continues to amaze me every day.
We ended the day by going to the restaurant where Mr. Thy’s wife is a chef, and we found out that the owner is also his friend. It was a bakery serving amazing French food. When we returned to our hotel, we did our daily team devotional, focusing on making sure our hearts are in the right place to serve, and we debriefed the day with our individual high and low points. We also went over the next day’s Bible studies and Kid’s Club. Overall, the team was overwhelmed with joy and heartbreak at times when working with the kids here today, and we can’t wait for tomorrow.
Until next time,