If you’re also a reader of the 121 Mission blog, you might feel like you have déjà vu…
Act 1 — Angkor
The day begins as three tuk-tuks roll down the road in the dead of night. Well, 4:30am, which is pretty much the same thing. Several of us were headed to Angkor Wat for sunrise pictures. Angkor is the largest of the temples in a huge complex built in the twelfth century. It was originally a Hindu temple, but is now Buddhist, and is considered the largest single religious monument in the world. It is also the main tourist draw of Cambodia, if not Southeast Asia (over one million visitors a year come to see it).
Once there, we watched the sun come up over the main temple with 2000 or more of our closest friends. Mostly. The sky was full of clouds, so it got lighter and lighter, but the sun never made an appearance. Many pictures were taken, a few monuments were climbed, much sweat was, well, sweated.
Act 2 — Church
After getting back to the hotel, taking a quick shower, and picking up the rest of the team, we all headed out to church. We went to the church of one of Agape International Mission’s church planters. We met Pastor Sakona and his worship pastor during last year’s Cambodia trip, so we were very excited at the opportunity to attend his church. He came to the hotel on his moto so we could follow him to the church. It’s a good thing he did — we drove for a long time, off onto one dirt road, and then onto a smaller dirt road, and then onto an even rougher dirt road. We passed a sign on the way — “Middle of Nowhere” — with a big X and “You are here” next to it.
We eventually pulled up to a small one-room building. As we entered, we saw two empty rows of plastic chairs at the front, reserved for us. The rest of the chairs, probably twenty people total, were at the back, filled with smiling Khmer, mostly teenagers. The worship pastor, who also served as Pastor Sakona’s English translator, asked us to introduce ourselves, and then they introduced their staff to us. The worship pastor led us in several songs, including “How Great Thou Art” and “Amazing Grace” (we sang English, they sang Khmer), drumming the beat with his hands on the metal table he used as a podium.
I gave a message of introduction and encouragement, and then sat down in anticipation of the Pastor Sakona message. After a short discussion in Khmer between the worship pastor and Pastor Sakona, the worship pastor came over and said, “Pastor would like for you to preach the message, since they have the opportunity to hear him every week.” Which brings us full circle.
After the (short) message, we did a little more singing and more praying. In Cambodia, everyone prays out loud at once (they’re not big on singling people out), which is actually very freeing, especially for those that are self-conscious about what they’re praying. And then the service was over.
It was a truly amazing and encouraging thing to be worshiping on the other side of the world with a small village church that loves the same Jesus, spreads the gospel of the same Jesus, and serves the same Jesus. The audio of us singing together, English and Khmer, some of the great songs of the faith, brings chills as we re-listen to them. We have a group shot with them, but it’s stuck in Cambodia on someone else’s camera.
The afternoon was fun time/down time; a few took the opportunity to go four-wheeling in Cambodia, others shopped, the rest just relaxed at the hotel.
Act 3 — World Hope
We then had dinner with a staff member from World Hope’s Siem Reap office. World Hope is the assessment center where IJM places most of the under-age girls they rescue. World Hope performs a 6-12 week assessment on each girl’s mental, physical, emotional, and spiritual condition, and the girl’s family (did they know the girl was trafficked, did they traffic the girl themselves, etc.), to determine the best course of action for the girl. The staff member we met with is from Sarajevo, her family went to Sweden as a refugee, and she’s spent the last several years working as a social worker all over the world. It was clear from our conversation that God chose well.
One of the interesting things she shared is that, in addition to the healing of the girls’ in their care, the Khmer staff, and indeed much of the nation, is also in need of healing. The horrors of the Khmer Rouge are in the distant past, but while almost every person in the country was directly affected (losing spouses, children, parents, grandparents), almost none of them have ever talked about it or dealt with the pain and the loss.
The day was another picture of the light (Angkor) and darkness (aftermath of Khmer Rouge) that live side-by-side in this amazing country.