it’s currently 5 am here on Monday morning in…wait for it…Cambodia! yaaa! we finally arrived and have been here for 4 days so far. last night i went to bed at 5:30…so although it seems like i’m up early right now, i actually got 12 hours of sleep. not that shocking for people who know me well. so i got up to do homework (i’m taking an online class while i’m here) but i opened up the reading and just couldn’t make myself do it, so here i am, blogging in the pitch dark, and eating a yummy Luna bar, instead.
the first few days here have been great. i can say honestly that i have absolutely loved it. something about being thrown into a new culture just thrills me. meeting new people, riding on tuk tuck’s, going to the market, eating a serious amount of rice, and just taking in a million new sights ever second of the day. even the 97 degree weather and constant smell of exhaust and trash, i even like that somehow. it’s just a constant reminder that i am somewhere so far from home and how lucky i am to be able to experience it.
Asian Hope likes to use the first couple days volunteers are here as a cultural background and Asian Hope tour. we first learned about the genocide that occurred here not even 40 years ago. Google “Pol Pot regime” or “Khmer Rouge” to really learn about it, please. but basically this military group tried to wipe out the Cambodian people and almost succeeded. They killed about half the population over the course of ten years (starting around 7 million and ending under 4 million people), with the goal of killing all the educated people and their families.
the first place we visited was one of the “killing fields” which are now mass graves, and the place they took khmer (Cambodian) people to slay them. after the genocide the bodies were washed up and now the place serves as a memorial and grave sight. it’s recent enough that they warn you that if you stumble upon bones or clothes of the victims on the paths to leave them and the staff will collect them. i think the most disturbing part of this place was “the killing tree”, which was a huge tree they used to bash babies heads against to kill them. it was mind blowing. inconceivable.
the next place we went was Tuol Sleng and this was an old high school in the middle of the city that they turned into their prison and torture chamber. this was by far the most awful thing i have ever seen. i think it was so hard because it was so recent and raw. we walked through the cells where beds and chains still sit, blood stains all over the tile, and then there were rooms and rooms filled with the pictures of tortured bodies and faces of children before they were sent into the prison. i felt like i could throw up the entire time we were there. as horrible as it was, it was good that we saw it before working here. now we know what these people have been through, what lies in the history of their families and personal lives.
now on to the happy part. Dan, the volunteer coordinator and father of the missionary family here who has hosted us, took us on a tour of Asian Hope. I think they have 6 schools total here in Phnom Penh and it was so encouraging to see happy little faces singing and counting and loving life, after we had seen such devastation earlier. the schools were really nice and the teachers were awesome, and it’s obvious Asian Hope is doing something amazing here in Cambodia through the grace of God.
i really tried to shorten all of that, but it’s hard to put into few words what an entire country has suffered through. as i walked through some of the darkest places, i think, on this earth, i kept having this reoccurring thought. could God really be in such darkness? can the Holy Spirit really dwell in a place so evil? it felt like a void of all things perfect and good and i just felt empty. it was really cool to remember God’s faithfulness in it all though. yesterday we sang “Great is Thy Faithfullness” in church and these lines are so powerful…
Great is Thy faithfulness, O God my Father;
There is no shadow of turning with thee,
Thou changest not, Thy compassions they fail not,
As thou has been, thou forever will be.
my God is the same God now that He was in that prison, the same God here that He is in the States, He is the same now and for all time. that is hard for me to wrap my head around, but I think after experiencing this it puts more meaning behind what God’s faithfulness really means.
well it’s almost 6 am here and in exactly 2 and a half hours we will be walking into the orphanage, Haley’s House, for our first day there. i am beyond excited. i have the same feeling in my chest that i get on Christmas morning. the house holds 50 children. 50 children that have grown up with no family. no mom. no dad. i literally cannot fathom what that would be like. i hope i get to kiss the little faces of each and every one of them : )
here are two pictures to leave you with, one of a Cambodian house by the village school and the other from the Russian market in the city : )