God is Good
By Randy Cook
As with my first two visits to Cambodia, I find it difficult to have enough time to write thoughtful and hopefully interesting updates to all of you, as we are always on the go. We are alive and well!
I included a small group of photos representative of the past week. Beginning in Phnom Penh, we see a city that continues to grow, with dozens of new building towers under construction. While commerce thrives in countless mirco-enterprises along the streets providing day to day incremental income for families, there are still more NGO’s supporting the needs of people in Cambodia than any other country in the world. We visited several NGO’s and Fair Trade businesses that Chapel Hill has maintained relationships and partnerships with, and which I had also visited on previous trips. I was encouraged to hear of genuine progress in the area of anti-sex trafficking, at least in the Phnom Penh area, where local government is stepping up its response and perpetrators are being prosecuted more frequently as a direct result of the faithful work of NGO’s like International Justice Mission (IJM), and Medical Teams International (MTI). However, trafficking, especially of young girls, remains a national problem. (and sadly, all over the world).
The images include the colorful and vibrant Central Market, a Cyclo driver and his passenger (one or two dollars will get you just about anywhere in the city with no gas burned); a typical active street full of scooters, cars, and people; and a grim image of Khmer Rouge shackle bars used to contain prisoners at the Tuol Sleng prison before their execution. The team uses this time in Phnom Penh as a sort of immersion into Cambodian culture and history before our time in Poipet with CHO.
As this is my third trip, I found a pleasant familiarity with Phnom Penh. The core of the city is very beautiful with its tree lined streets, river front promenade, and large public gathering spaces; but I also discovered a particularly increased awareness of people. Being directly confronted again by the horrific descriptions and images from the brutal Khmer Rouge genocide (1975-1979) is numbing. Seeing hundreds of black and white photographs taken by the Khmer Rouge of each prisoner at Tuol Sleng, with despair and fear in their eyes, followed by a visit to the Choeung Ek Genocidal Center, where more the 30,000 Cambodians (of the more than 1.5 million killed across the country) were violently executed and thrown into pits (men, women, teens, children, babies), demonstrates a level of man’s depravity that cant really be described.
It is now Tuesday morning here in Poipet. The 7 hour drive from Phnom Penh to Poipet on the Thai border is always an adventure. The highway passes through dozens and dozens of villages and the open country-side. Children, cattle, chickens, wander along the edge, just feet from our bus, while cars and trucks turn the 2-lane road into 3 smaller lanes for most of the drive. We arrived on Saturday evening and were greeted as usual by our gracious CHO hosts who had a great meal prepared for us at the Destiny Café. To say they feed us well is an understatement.
Yesterday we began our 5-day actual mission work. Of our 15 member team, 4 are working on technical/architectural projects, 8 are working on health/medical issues, and 3 of us are providing pastoral training for around 70 pastors. The other images I included show one of thousands of small
Buddhist temples that fill Cambodia (95% of Cambodians practice Buddhism), a rural road leading to a small village where we worshipped at one of CHO’s church plants (where the two adorable, grumpy twins live), and a scene from my pastor training class at Safe Haven. It was a very successful day, after learning how best to blend with our interpreters, and that the participants did better sitting on the floor than on chairs or at desks.
I heard such marvelous testimonies from people both young and old, sharing how they have been redeemed by Christ, and how they live each day with the knowledge of God’s love and the promise of His eternal home. I thought of the thousands of skulls I saw piled in the Choeung Ek memorial tower, each with hollow eyes and missing teeth, and the countless
other bones stacked level after level. These are images of man’s depravity, yes, but also stark reminders of the temporary condition of this life and these bodies. I looked out at these groups of pastors who came to my classroom 20 or so at a time, and thought of their countrymen and distant family members who had endured and suffered under the Khmer Rouge, and I see not just a new generation of people striving for a better life, but a mix of young and old who are understanding who they are in Christ, and who live for the promise of life with the God who created them and who loves them.
We understand that our role is to help our Cambodian friends build capacity at each level of society, so that mostly, Cambodians help Cambodians. I was humbled by how little I could really offer yesterday without the power of the Holy Spirit, and the skills and heart of Sophan my interpreter, a young man with a strong heart for the Lord and a keen grasp of English. Perhaps he will simply be leading pastor training in the future himself – as will our other native hosts be doing the same in each area of need. God is good.
I love and miss you all. Please feel free to forward this to others.
Randy Cook is a Go Team member for North End Community Church in Tacoma.