The Children Do Not Smile

Cambodia was not what I expected. Did I know it was third world, devastated by the Pol Pot regime, recovering from the loss of much of its population? Yes, I knew those things. I knew that child prostitution was a significant problem and that the educational system was in disarray. That corruption was the rule of the day. That Buddhism would have a heavy influence, although it would not be strictly adhered to. I expected all of that.

But I did not know that the smiles of the children would be few. That aggression would be common, spitting and hitting and pushing and shoving. Stealing books from the hands of a classmate. I did not know that the mark of this nation’s past would be displayed in the eyes of its children.

Cambodia is a broken nation and it was a great experience to see children receive their own copy of God’s Word. I was there 3 days, we spent one day in a school where about 500 children received the Book of Hope. The next day we traveled into rural Cambodia with a humanitarian agency. The villages we visited had no electricity and were separated from the more ‘developed’ part of Cambodia by the Mekong River, reached only by a rickety ferry. The group from the humanitarian agency are Christians. They go into the village every two weeks, teaching basic hygiene. We were allowed to do a Book of Hope presentation and the humanitarian team will continue to follow up with the children and their families.

My last day I visited Toul Sleng, the Khmer Rouge S-21 prison that used to be a school before it was turned into an interrogation center. Thousands of Cambodia people, including women & children, were tortured and killed in the facility. Before they were killed they were photographed, and their photographs are on display today . . . rows and rows of photos, lives lost at the hands of a brutal dictator.

The nation bears these scars, but there is healing as well. When the nation opened in the early 90’s, there were an estimated 200-1000 believers in the country – – now, there are over 100,000!

I left Cambodia for Thailand on Sunday. Since then, I’ve been in a hotel meeting room. Although I am not ‘seeing’ Thailand, the meetings have been informative and challenging and have given me insight that will be valuable as I return to work. This evening I leave for my trip home, it will take 4 planes – 5 airports – 36 hours. I’m glad Jon will be waiting for me when I arrive!

I’ll post photos when I return.

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