Thursday, May 08, 2008

squatters village

The last leg of our trip to Cambodia took us to Siem Reap. We stayed in a little retreat amongst all the pain and devastation of the "squatters village". Journey's within our community has been developed to allow folks to vacation while seeing and helping the needs of the surrounding community. As we journeyed outside the four walls of our safe haven, our eyes and hearts got more than they bargained for. The poverty and living conditions were almost too unbearable to see. I walked down the bumpy dirt roads constantly wanting to shut my eyes, only to open them and be in a different place. A happier place perhaps... a place of hope.

The first child i encountered seemed a bit separated from reality as he sat on the ground playing with broken glass. Not a mother in site. As we walked down the streets further i began to see a pattern develop. The next child had an aerosol can in one hand and some type of knife thing in the other... and a few other children were laughing and giggling as they played with plastic bags in their mouths. Are these children alone? Does anyone care about them? Ones heart could not help but leap out for them. Something has to be done, i thought, but what???

I discovered, through many questions to our guide, that these villages are all over. Basically, these people have absolutely nothing... so they squat in a place that has no value, the trash dumps or sewage areas. They use sticks, mud, trash... whatever they can find... to build a shelter. They're water is dirty and food scarce, so many of the people become sick ... some even die. The parents don't care too much about the children, for they have problems of their own to worry about.

What would be our hell on earth... is there only choice.

Thank God there are people trying to do something about it. This non- profit has actually started to raise money and has begun building wells for the people in this area. I know their efforts seem small in the grand scheme of things, but it does make a difference. Every little thing makes a difference, even if it's only one person... it matters. I enjoyed getting to know this crew and hope to work with them some in the future.

Here's the thing... this is injustice. And they are living without hope for a better tomorrow. There are millions of people in this same position and I could not write this blog without defending every single one of them, vowing that i spend my life fighting for their lives! That there is a true story of rescue, hope and love... and a Savior who fights for us and who longs to make His love known to all.

Spiritually speaking, many of us may be in the same boat...
are we playing with the very things that could be destroying us? Like the child with the broken glass or the bags or the knife. What if that child were to tell me that the broken glass hasn't hurt him yet and won't hurt him unless he falls on it. What if the kid with the knife said the same? I know in my own life there are things that i've waisted time justifying because I enjoyed it.. when all along i was playing with fire just waiting to get burned. There is always gonna be a time when those things are gonna hurt us... or others... because they were never intended to be used that way in the first place. Let us trust that God knows what he's doing when he asks us to stay away from certain things. It crushes Him to see His children hurt.

the door.

One of the most time sensitive things God revealed to me while in Cambodia was the open door opportunity we have right now. As you must know by now, this country has not always taken kindly to strangers.. especially strangers with a purpose... especially a purpose of providing hope and freedom to a country whose leaders would rather them be oppressed and lowly. Just in case you are not familiar with Cambodia's past, several events occurred in the late 70's that not only killed hundreds of thousands, but murdered the moral...and devastated the economy. Very similar to the holocast, Pol Pot's regime led many to kill for meaningless reason leaving the country and it's people in total devestation.

Present day Cambodia... Although they've tried very hard to overcome this genocide, they've sought endless things that continue to let them down. Like most 3rd world and developing countries.. the rich continue to get richer and the poor... well, the poor are just out of luck. Spiritually speaking, Buddhism is still the number one religion... but as the older are dying, so is the buddhist faith. So where does that leave a country in great need? Where do they turn? Who do they look to for strength, for motivation, for help?

Now this brings me to that door i was talking about... the people of Cambodia are searching. The younger generation is seeking something to hold on to... right now, many are finding false acceptance and love through sex, drugs and alcohol. Many people are at a loss what to do, and would hold on to anything that provides any type of security at all. Just so you know ... many other countries (i.e. religions) are stepping in this door right now and offering a bit of truth or lots of money to join their "group" promising love, acceptance and truth. What is happening here? Well, as soon as they "join" they begin to twist that truth... add things to it, and take away from it.. until it is not even close to the truth. Many are walking through this door and feeding the innocent lies... many are being led astray... many will follow... and many will live a life of false hope. Where are we?

And he said to them, "the harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few.Therefore, pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest." Luke 10:10

Every time i think about this country, i hear this verse in my head. There is a door wide open right now. Who knows how long it will be open... how long we'll be able to get in to this country or speak about a God who is real and alive... who loves them for who he made them to be, not strings attached. He just desires their love in return.

Who will enter through this door with me? Who will enter, not knowing exactly what is on the other side, but being confident that you have a God who will never leave you or forsake you... and confident that through your faith in a living God... you will see mountains move.

Side note: This door may not be Cambodia for you, but could be an unknown in your own life, a door you've hesitated to walk through. If you feel a pull, a calling... i pray you have the faith to walk through with confidence in Him. Once you get to the other side, your eyes are opened and you wonder why you hesitated for so long... Time is short, let's not waist it! Begin your adventure today... whatever that looks like!! Just like in Indiana Jones... even though we can't see that rock bridge across the ravine, we must take that first step and trust that some way, some how... it will be there. God is good, all the time.


So far, in our time here in Phnom Penh, we have found many models of safe homes for young women and children from the sex slave trade industry… but none quite like this one. After a long tuk tuk drive to the slums, we arrived at this peaceful place run by a lady named Ruth from the Daughters organization. Very quiet in nature, this humble women led us through her place of refuge. There are several things we found interesting about her after care program.

Ruth is very intentional of not only providing a place of hope, but also a place to learn skills as well. Her idea is to start several micro businesses with the young women allowing them to have something creative to do as well as providing an alternative income for their family (since most of them were sold into the brothels by their families for money). So far, their after care program consists of a school, a gourmet cake making business, a seamstress business and a soon to be silk screen company. The benefits of having these learned trades are outstanding. Eventually, they hope every girl can be re-integrated into society, able to make a living on her own and minister to other girls caught up in human trafficking.

A big difference in the Daughters model is that there are no forced escapes or sting operations. Daughters is known for their good relationships with the brothel owners. Although this can be quiet controversial I see how giving the girls a choice to leave actually follows biblical principals. Think for a second about the truth of God if you are familiar with Him. Did He force you to believe in Him? Of course not, or everyone would. Did he force you to love Him? No, although that would probably be His first choice. God is a gentleman and will not force someone to love him, even though He’s done everything in the world for them. So many times I’m sure he sees the mess we are in and shows us the love that is available. He offers all hope and freedom if we desire to take it. But just like most of these women, we fear what we do not know. We stay in the slavery of pain and suffering, because we just cannot bear the let down once again. Do we not know that the result must be far better than what we are enduring?? Don’t the girls realize there is something more to life? No. Most of them don’t. Not until people like Ruth step in and tell each one that they are worthy of living a good life.

You see, the root of lies goes deep within the hearts of most girls. From a very young age they are told that if they leave or are “rescued” that they will surely be taken to prison. For what they are doing is wrong. They are also taught to run away and come back if ever taken away. So, in a matter of speaking, these young girls are brainwashed and numbed to a place of no return. In this case, Daughters gives them the choice to gain their respect. If they force them to leave, they might not be trusted. But if they choose to leave, there is a better chance they will stay and desire to change.

I wish you could have seen the life that has been renewed in these girls’ faces. Their eyes were filled with joy, and the air filled with laughter as they lived a life of freedom and purpose. Most of them have left their chains behind, but still have to visit the darkness of that place every night. We are so encouraged to see Daughters bringing hope to a world of destitution by living among the need. We hope to be able to partner with their efforts somehow in the future. As you can see there are many ways in which one person can be a tremendous help and make a powerful impact in this industry. Help us make Human Trafficking and Sex Slaves quickly something of the past and provide freedom for the innocent now!

SVAY PAK- brothel town

After leaving The Rahab House, we took an eerie stroll around the dusty streets of Svay Pak. Quietly, Don (of Agape) informed us of the many families involved in this sex slave trade industry. There are many problems to be dealt with on many levels. We will try and explain a few so you can be more familiar with this industry. First of all, we’ve found that children in this country have little or no value placed on them. This would resolve why so many of them are sold into this slavery at such a young age. Many of the homes we walked past were empty shells housing brothels. Not only do they grow up in sight and sound of brothels, but they are also exposed to porn played at night on local shop televisions run on car batteries.

The narrow dirty streets were so symbolic of the foundation being laid for the rest of their lives. Some research is already showing that many of these innocent young boys are going to grow up to be the perpetrators and pimps. And nearly 100% of the girls in this particular brothel area will undeniably be involved in the sex industry … and at an appallingly young age.

Creepy men with empty stares glared at us through the windows. Sensual women with daunting walks breezed past with wrong intention. Little girls with brave ambition, but helpless eyes flirt with little boys. Little boys with a smirky grin and a hidden agenda push limits with little regret. All of which have seen things your eyes will never know… they have been exposed to a world of guilt, sham and desires that have come as a result of unfortunate circumstances. There are many preventative measures… we are working on some now. Our hope is that this journey we have taken will provide you with real evidence of this hell on earth… and that you might wish to join us in our efforts of saving young girls from despair, and introducing them to a world of hope and freedom… one person at a time.

the rahab house.

Amber and I first heard of this developing project a few days ago while chatting with Don and Bridget of Agape International. Immediately our interest peaked. About two years ago, you might recall, Dateline did a piece on human trafficking called “Children for Sale”. Unbeknownst to us, we’d be visiting the very same brothel as the one shut down through their sting operation. What Agape has done is go into this brothel area and create a safe place for children at risk to come by turning a building full of hate, lust, and evil into a home of hope, freedom and love. This very much resonated with our soul and what Freedom’s promise is all about.

During the short, but very intense, tour… we saw and heard things that have been burned into our minds forever. Our intent by voicing these things is not to arouse feelings of anger and bitterness, but to allow a love deep within to surface for these young children and victims involved. Ok, take a deep breath… here we go.

As you walk through the metal gate of this building you can almost feel the battle that took place just a few short years ago… one that continues all over the region... and many parts of the world. This unjust behavior will continue until we bind ourselves together, step out on faith… and do something about it! Where the chairs and tables now rest peacefully with the intent on educating, the swapping of young girls and children for money was so common. As we walked along the dark narrow hallway, evidence of fear and hopelessness was all around. “I love you” was found written in red on one of the doors… presumably being a cry for acceptance and true unconditional love. Inside were painted crosses with sad faces on them and poems written posing the question, “God, why has this happened to me?” and “If you are real please save me”.

My heart began pounding harder with each story they told of how the girls were locked in the rooms during sex so that they could not escape. Can you even imagine a fear of this magnitude? Does hell exist on earth?? I’m sure these children thought at the time that it does… and most thought they may never escape. Only the older children were allowed to leave these rooms, for the pimps presumed the small children might run off if released. This is slavery my friends. This is inhumane. No one…EVER… should have to go through what these precious innocent children are dealing with every single day in this neighborhood and many many others just like it. As if this wasn’t bad enough, viper snakes, rats, and many other rodents were found in this building before the cleaning process began. The living conditions and mal nutrition is horrifying to think of on top of the pain and fear of giving ones body over forcefully time and time again at such a very young age. Seeing this made it real, but I could never imagine myself or loved ones ever having to go through something like that. I am certain the despair and pain will torture them the rest of their days. Even more so if we do nothing to help.

Just when we thought we were finished with the unspeakably heinous images, we were led upstairs to our final but most horrifying place. At the top of the stairs was a bright pink room. Much like one we’d see in the Western world, with pink flowers and such. Yet, instead of it being a safe comfortable room for a child to play and learn… it was being used for a place in which children would have all of their innocence stolen from them for the first time being introduced to a new world of pain, fear and sorrow. This my friends, was called the “virgin room”. Later we found out that virgin children are becoming a high commodity and are being sold for up to $4,000 these days. Unfortunately, in some cultures businessmen find it lucky to sleep with a virgin… even if it costs the child everything. There are actually some cases in which the mothers will sow the child back up, only to be sold again for a high price. Oh, the inhumaneness of it all breaks my heart and brings tears to my eyes. If only those tears could bring just a drop of peace to a victimized child’s life… but they are scared forever.

Right now, Amber and I are working with this organization as well as many others to find ways in which we can be most beneficial… and fast. Time is of the essence here, this gruesome door of hopelessness is opening daily for children being forced to enter in this world of endless pain and suffering.

Fortunately, in the midst of this animalistic behavior, we can do something about this. There are several NGO’s like Agape in which we can partner with and support. Financially, there are many needs to be met and physically there are hands on things that we can do. Start thinking about what this may look like to you. Don and Bridget are doing a great job of providing care for the young children and women who have been rescued as well as providing this place of refuge (soon to be church) right in the center of this intense brothel area called Svay Pak.