God’s Beauty in a Dark World
By Pastor Teresa Tong 2013.09
In early 2008, Missionary Janice Lo came to share her Cambodian ministry with the RHCCC staff. The message deeply touched our hearts. As she invited me to lead a short term mission team to her church, Phnom Penh Grace Christian Church (PPGCC), for hosting a children camp, the Holy Spirit prompted me that it would just be the beginning of a fruitful mission, ready to be developed. With God’s grace, in a short period, I have coordinated a team of 7 workers from the Children’s Ministry to launch our first mission trip to Cambodia. To prepare the team, we have researched on the culture and history of Cambodia. It opened our eyes to their tragic history and touched our hearts with their sufferings and needs. The sad story began more than 40 years ago …
Cambodia had been under the French control and her influence since the 19th century. In 1953, Cambodia gained the independence with Prince Sihanouk as its ruler. However, the prince was overturned by his general in 1970. With the support of the Khmer Rouge and its leader, Pol Pot, Prince Sihanoukville returned five years later to reclaim his power. The Cambodians rejoiced for his return, thinking that it was the end to the civil war but indeed, it was only the beginning of a terrible nightmare. The Khmer Rouge craved for a full control of the country, so they implemented a nation-wide cleansing, to remove any small sign of opposition. Since April 1975 when the Khmer Rouge marched into the capital city of Phnom Penh, within 3 years and 8 months, 1/3 of the Cambodian population (around 2.5 million out of 7 million people) were either killed irrationally in a brutal way, at the famous Killing Field or the genocide concentration camps, or else they were starved to death. It led to a long period of civil war. Eventually the UN stepped in to bring peace to the land in the 90’s. A military leader, Hun Sen rose up and has been in power for 28 years till now (2013). Under his dictatorship, Cambodia seems to restore its political stability and economic progress but many problems also spouted out, such as corruption, extreme poverty, idol-worshipping and worst of all – young sex trafficking with children as young as 5-6 years old serve as a prostitute to local and oversea pedophiles.
With a deeper understanding of its tragic past and the crying needs of children and youth of the present, we realize that only God’s love could save this nation from its nightmare and heal its wound. Ever since our first mission trip to Cambodia in 2008, we have developed a deep love for their children and youth, who are so pure at heart and eager to receive the Gospel message. All our team members have witnessed God’s guiding hands and repeated miracles. As I flipped through my mission journals for the past 5 years, it allows me to prepare a briefing for each year’s mission trip that reflects God’s beauty in a dark world.
STM Trip #1 (September, 2008)
During our preparation for the STM trip and planning the PPGCC children overnight camp, we got acquaintance with two significant mission parties. It led to our repeated visitation to their ministries in our subsequent STM trips:
1. Lisa, a dedicated Christian from Rexdale Alliance Church that led annual STM team to Cambodia for serving children, especially those young prostitutes in the country. Her mission is endorsed by a renounced Christian organization, Ratanak Foundation. Lisa gave a mission orientation session to our STM team.
2. Matthew and Rita, a Canadian missionary couple that serves children in a poor village near Phnom Penh. Just before we left for our STM trip, they happened to visit Toronto, so they shared their ministry with our team.
As we started our trip, we faced many challenges, such ad, Typhoon #8 at Hong Kong Airport for transit flight to Phnom Penh, sickness of family and team members, heavy work load in office… But our Lord is the Almighty One, so the team arrived safely at PPGCC as scheduled. The weather was extremely hot in Cambodia. We could not stop sweating but our spirits were high. We led an overnight children camp at PPGCC with their youth as helpers. We also taught English/Mandarin in its affiliated Gospel Centre at Sihanoukville, which was a poor fishing port, 4-hour-drive from Phnom Penh. It was sad to see the poor living condition of children. Our van driver advised us to give out some individually-packed cookies from the windows of the car, in case we might get hurt but it was so sad to feed God’s beloved children like an animal in the Safari Zoo, so I boldly stepped out of the van to pass out the food. May God have mercy on these poor children.
Even though we could not communicate directly with the Cambodian children / youth and required interpreters, we were touched by these young people. Despite the tragic history of the Khmer Rouge Regime, the Cambodian children and youth were cheerful, friendly and pure at heart. Once a child asked our team member, “Are you Jesus?” Since they could not see or touch Jesus physically, when we shared God’s love and the Gospel with them, we were indeed Jesus’ representative on earth. They were very passionate in learning more about Jesus and loved to use their beautiful voices to sing praises to the Lord. When we extended the calling for accepting Christ, 38 little hands out of the group of 40 children shot up in the air. We were deeply touched by their faith.
The church rented a house as their meeting place. Every evening as we returned to our hotel, we saw a few very young girls (around age 8-10) with heavy made-up and sexy dresses sat in front of the church’s neighbouring house. Later on, we learned that they were young prostitutes waiting for their “clients”. We could not imagine how such young girls would receive 8-10 men each night to earn a living. We felt deeply sad for them. As we visited the construction site where PPGCC was building its new church, all the youth and children from the camp prayed and sang hymns joyfully together. We know God still reign in this dark country and will liberate those young sex victims one day.
STM Trip #2 (September, 2009)
The first STM team was deeply attracted by the children and youth in Cambodia so almost the whole team, plus two new members visited the country the following year. Since this was our second trip, we got to know the missionary, youth, children and their culture much better, the partnership among us was just great. The theme of the camp was “Be strong and Courageous” based on the story of Moses: how he received God’s calling and led the Israelites out of Egypt and crossed the Red Sea. The camp was held at the newly-built church of PPGCC. Our STM team led the Sunday worship and preaching. The Gospel Centre we visited in the previous year at Sihanoukville has also developed into a church. Praise the Lord! We visited a new Gospel centre named Noah’s Ark. We did an outreach to the village children there. We prayed that this site would also turn into a church soon, like the miracle we witnessed at Sihanoukville.
Realizing we could only visit Cambodia for a few weeks each year, it would be much more effective if we could train their youth to continue Children’s Ministry in our absence. Therefore, we have decided to include a two-day youth leadership training camp and invite them as our helpers in leading the children overnight camp. This strategy proved to be very effective. We witnessed the growth of these young people in Children’s Ministry throughout these few years. Praise the Lord! I challenged them in the debriefing meeting on the last night, “Are you willing to save your country with the Gospel? Are you willing to shine for Jesus?” They responded in tears positively. The missionary later told us that many of these youth got up every morning at 4:00 a.m. to pray at the front post outside the Sihanoukville church. They lifted up their country in earnest prayer.
We also visited missionary Matthew and Rita and outreached to children at their village. These villagers had a strong feeling against Christians but miracle happened – one day before we arrived, the son of the village chief fell from the tree and got hurt seriously. The STM team went to visit the injured young man at the hospital. Some of our team members were in the health care profession, so they could provide medical advices to the family. That gained their trust and friendship. We lay hands on the chief’s son and comforted the family. Since then, a bonding was built between the missionaries and the villagers. Praise the Lord!
We had the chance to visit the Rahab House which was a community centre converted from a brothel house in Syak Pak, a notorious area for young sex trafficking. We led 160 children in singing hymns and I shared the Gospel with them. They looked so innocent and pretty even though they were in ragged clothing. I could never imagine these children before my very eyes, as young as 5 or 6 years old, would go home and change into sexy dresses after the children program, so as to get ready for their “work” at night – be delivered to the pedophiles in the hotel and served as a young prostitute. While our American children were enjoying McDonald’s fries, with a 12-hour time difference, it is night time in Cambodia and these children are sexually abused and tortured by 3000 men each year. I could not hold my tears when I realized such a tragedy. May God protect and liberate these young victims. This further strengthened my determination to return to this country and witness how God’s work would penetrate into this dark world.
STM Trip #3 (November, 2011)
Since our first visit at Sihanoukville in 2008, the ministry grew extensively. So the children and youth leadership camp was held in this poor fishing village instead of the capital city of Phnom Penh. It was challenging because there were 200 children and 45 youth coming to the camp but we witnessed God’s miracle one after another.
We led a youth leadership camp and delivered 3 Children’s Ministry workshops: Creative Bible Teaching; Music Worship and Creative Ways to Share Gospel with Children. The youth were eager to get prepared as a teacher. At the end of the camp, I extended a calling for full time ministry. To my surprise, all 45 youth came forward in tears while singing the camp’s theme song “Hineni” – mold me, send me, I am here Lord …. They realized Cambodia is a dark country and the only hope for liberating it is education, the Gospel and God’s love. So they were willing to step forward regardless of the challenges and hardships they might face. Witnessing their courageous move, many of our STM team members were brought to tears. May God guard their hearts.
In our children camp. It was hard to imagine how 200 children, 45 youth, 20 STM team members / church staff could cramp in a small hall. It was hot and humid, many children got heat stroke and passed out. We have to put the first day of the children camp to a halt and prayed earnestly. Miraculously, on the second day of the children camp, God has provided us with a new place, much bigger and even with air conditioning. We count God’s blessing and sang praised in one spirit. Many children accepted Christ in the crusade meeting. The Cambodian youth played a significant part in the children camp to practice what they have just learned in the Leadership Camp. They loved the children and did a great job. In the graduation ceremony, we invited the parents to join us. Besides attracting them with their children’s performance, we also offered medical services by two of our team members. For most of these parents, it was their first time joining a church function. While the children were preparing for the music presentation, I shared the Gospel message through the story of Zacchaeus. Upon the calling, almost all the parents shot up their hands to accept Jesus. Praise the Lord!
We visited Matthew and Rita, the missionary couple. They were encouraged by our caring love and prayer support. We repeated the outreach children program at their village and the response was great. A few team members also went to visit Rahab House at Svay Pak to witness how God’s glory penetrated into this dark corner of Cambodia, at which young children were sexually abused. It was amazing to step into its new building, named Sanctuary. It was originally constructed as a resort for the pedophiles to enjoy sex services from young children but International Justice Mission and Ratanak purchased the place and turned it into a Christian community centre, for offering technical/ language classes, medical services, children club. Isn’t it ironic, but I say …. it is God’s miracle!
This year we also had the chance visiting Grace Haven Orphanage at Lashio. It has been supported by ACEM since 20 years ago. It was now developed into 13 children centres. We led the evening children program for 200 orphans in the centre and also divided the team to preach and lead Sunday worship at their various Gospel centres. It has been very fruitful and eye-opening. Thank God for giving us the chance to serve the poor and needy.
STM Trip #4 (November, 2012)
This year we host the youth leadership and children camp at Sihanoukville again. There were more than 200 children and 80 youth came to us. It was quite overwhelming but we knew it was not by might nor by power but by the Spirit of God. We trust that as we did our best, God would do the rest. This year we delivered some other Children’s Ministry workshops to the youth, such as, Large Group Communication Skill; Balloon Twisting in Sharing Gospel; Puppetry; Sharing Gospel message. We prepared them to run the drama session, music worship and crafts. So during the children camp, more than half of the time, it was conducted in their Khmer language. We could not understand a word but we were so very joyful because it indicated that more and more of these youth are ready to take up the Children’s Ministry independently in our absence. I could not understand how these young people within a few days, could learn more than ten songs and related body actions that were not in their native language. It must be the Holy Spirit that was teaching them. Every time we shouted “When we are lonely”, they would respond in one voice loud and clear, “God is with us”!! We were touched by their cheerful smile and courageous spirit.
At the graduation ceremony, we invited their parents to join us for lunch. Before the ceremony began, I shared the Gospel with the parents through the Bible story of the bleeding woman. Some of the mothers were brought to tears. It must be the Spirit that spoke to their hearts directly. Many parents accepted Christ, including a waitress who was serving lunch in the restaurant. It was so encouraging to our team for witnessing God’s miraculous work. As the children and youth presented the Bible story “Daniel in the Lion’s Den” through drama, puppetry and songs, all participants enjoyed the presentation and were deeply touched by the Bible message.
As usual, we visited Matthew and Rita and held outreach program to the village children. We have also visited Daughters Bakery which was run by rescued young prostitutes under the Ratanak Foundation. Thank God for saving these young victims from the evil ones. We visited the Killing Field Memorial, at which thousands of Cambodians were killed brutally by the Khmer Rouge. We were sad to witness the tragic site. It was hard to imagine how cruel mankind could be. We surely need God!
After visiting Cambodia, Myanmar’s Grace Haven invited us to return to conduct Children’s Ministry training workshops to their seminary students and leaders from various Gospel centres of the mountain. With similar strategy as Cambodia, we trained the youth in the workshops and invited them to assist us in the evening children program, so that they could practice what they had learned. We repeated the same training and children program at Pyin Oo Lwin Student Centre. It is always joyful to pass the baton on to the next generation so that they could continue to run this spiritual race on earth!
STM Trip #5 (November, 2013)
We are returning to Cambodia to host the youth leadership and children camp for the 5th year. Since we have taught them over 40 hymns in the past few years, we have decided to have a review on all these songs. We plan to present as many songs from this review list as possible through a musical presentation on the story of Queen Esther. It is going to be a big production with props, costumes, and drama, mixed with 20+ songs. Prayerfully, both children and youth could learn from this story, on how to follow God’s plan and pursue that dream in the Lord. This is going to be the theme of this year’s camp: “God’s Plan in Us, Go For the Dream!” We have prepared a few training workshops for the youth leaders: Creative Ways for Bible Verse Memorization; Learning to Pray;
PPGCC has opened an international Christian school at Phnom Penh. The camps will be hosted at the capital city so that we could invite families of the school students to our graduation ceremony. Hopefully it will build a bonding with the parents, as well as promote the school to its neighbouring families. The Gospel centre “Noah’s Ark” that we have been visiting in the past years have started a school for the poor village children. Within a year, it has an attendance of over 200 children. Praise the Lord! We will also continue visiting and supporting the ministry of Matthew and Rita as well as Ratanak Foundation. May God use our team as a channel of blessing to many more.
Regretfully, there is a political turmoil in Cambodia after its recent election. We need your earnest prayer support. Since the tragic history of Khmer Rouge Regime, Cambodia has been under Hun Sen, a dictator government for the past 28 years. In July 2013, there was a nation-wide election. The opposition party claimed its victory but the ruling government insisted that they were the ultimate winner. The opposition party threatened to host a massive protest against an unfair election and requested an open investigation (involving UN) on the election result. The situation in Cambodia is currently very tense. If a protest breaks out, it is likely to turn into blood-shed violence. It is sad to witness this poor country goes through another potential tragedy and genocide within such a short period of history. Not only do we need to pray for discernment in making the decision of “Go” or “No-Go” in case the situation turns to be unsafe for the team, we also ask for your prayer support for this country, especially for its missionaries and the youth that have such a patriotism for building and evangelizing their country.
We also plan to conduct Children’s Ministry workshops and host children program at Grace Haven (Lashio at Myanmar), leading youth fellowship at Yangon University and running children program at two orphanage of Yangon. May the Lord keep the door of Myanmar and Cambodia open for receiving the Gospel. May God’s beauty continue to shine in this dark world.