Serving Others: A reflection in light of MLK

MLK

It’s been 3 months since I left Cambodia and the experience is slowly moving from feeling like a dream to a reality of my past. Today is a holiday in the US honoring the life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. People are encouraged to give a day of service to honor the work he did, the life he lived and what he stood for. Like many people he has long been an example of what a true servant leader is for me. He lived a powerful, but short, life. He was a great man. And he was a great leader. But he didn’t plan his life with that intention. His goal was to be a servant. I once read he became a minister to serve humanity. He became a leader because he stepped in where he saw a need. He became a leader because his heart grieved for the injustice he saw and he gave all of himself to serve those suffering. The past few days I’ve been reflecting on how I served in Cambodia. To be honest I don’t look back with pride. I was brought to tears thinking of all the things I would have done differently. My deep sense of self preservation and survival caused me to serve selfishly. Too many times I was more concerned about my comfort than really connecting to those I was serving. Too many times I was too self-involved with the problems of my life, the struggles I was feeling, and the hurts of my past to give my heart to those I was serving. I gave my skills. I gave my knowledge. I gave my time. But my heart I reserved for myself. How do you really serve those you don’t give compassion and love to? You don’t. That’s how.

Too often I see people volunteer because it’s part of their social circle; it makes them feel good about themselves; it gives them something to do; it makes other people think they’re good people; it appeases their guilt of “having too much.” I see these people and roll my eyes. I get angry. I judge them for seeing themselves as above the people they’re serving. I resent them for patting themselves on the back more than really wanting to be part of bettering a big picture. But how was I any different? In the end it’s serving from the heart as opposed to anything else that matters.

When I donate clothes and give something old and crummy as opposed to something nice and still wearable that I like, is a perfect and simple example. The choice to give one over the other is wanting someone to have something nice, as opposed to my leftovers. When I donate only when I can get a receipt for my taxes, I’m still concerned with myself first.  When I’m not willing to be inconvenienced or uncomfortable to help someone, then I am still the one I care for more. I am not ok with this. As I reflect on Cambodia and other times I see a lot of things I want to change in the way I serve others and care for people. I may not be a fulltime volunteer in Cambodia anymore, but there are people all around me I can care for and serve. There are plenty of issues I want to help address.

As the holiday comes to an end, I ask if you want to challenge the way you serve and help those around you as well?  After all, in the words of Dr. King “Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, ‘What are you doing for others?’ “

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The Sounds of My Silence

As some of you have noticed I’ve been a bit quiet lately on my blog, emails, and even Facebook. It’s not that I’m not doing anything and it’s definitely not like nothing is going on. I have been learning and processing and reprocessing things for months now. I have a feeling over time things will flow from me better. In an effort to touch base and do a little external processing here are the sounds of my silence…

Corruption:

I’ve been struggling with what corruption really looks like and how deep it goes. I see it in: bribes making cases go away, court clerks demanding payment to do simple tasks to move a case forward, police being bought by the highest bidder, kids barred from classrooms because they didn’t pay the “tutoring fee” to the teacher, broken roads throughout the country because a $10,000 project was done for $1,000, land taken right out from under people, natural resources being wiped out so a handful of people can make even more money, and no one to go to for any of these things because all roads lead to corruption at the highest levels. Is it poverty that breeds corruption? Is it opportunism? Is it impunity? Is it a simple lack of moral ethics? I think it’s all of these to a degree, but what do you do about it? Simply put: I’ve been working on a few corruption cases here and to say it feels like I’m yelling into the wind is an understatement.

Development in the Developing World:

In the year since I moved to Cambodia I’ve seen Phnom Penh explode with new restaurants, fancy imports at the grocery store, the ground break on a Rolls-Royce dealership (interesting considering only about 4 percent of the population has a car) and the opening of a massive brand new modern mall (Aeon). I’m so torn about all this. It’s exciting to see development, but development too fast means an increased divide between rich and poor. I see the cost of many things rising (food/housing), but I don’t see a correlating increase in Cambodian incomes. I walk through the mall and think about the words of excitement from my Cambodian friend that a mall like this opened in her country “I never thought I’d see something like this in my country.” But I also think of all the small mom & pop businesses being affected by these foreign owned stores at the mall. I see the growing desire and obsession with brand names and luxury goods. Development is good. It’s why I and a million other people/organizations are here, but what does good development look like? How is a solid economic structure built when there’s a false economy buoyed on foreign aid and black market incomes? Is this exciting or scary?

My Co-workers:

I’ve said this before several times but I’m continually in awe of my co-workers. I get to know each one a little better with each passing week and every time I want to write a blog about them I learn more…it may be best to come out as an ode later once I’ve left or maybe even a series. I’m generally the kind of person who is fascinated by people’s personal stories. Where they’ve been and where they are and the journey in between is so different for each person and so telling of the person sitting in front of you. I love the connection between the story and the story teller. I love how as different as all our journeys are, there are still common struggles we all share and ways to connect. Everyone has a story. Hearing about one co-worker’s stories of loves lost during times of war and poverty made the story of his current marriage and love all the richer and more powerful. Hearing the story of how a co-worker named her daughter Theresa to remember to serve others the way Mother Theresa did was moving. Hearing how a young female co-worker left her rural home, family, and everything she knew to work in Phnom Penh and help fight for her country, while also financially support her family was inspiring. Seeing the lingering pain in a co-worker’s eyes from a lifetime of witnessing war and brutal exploitation of the vulnerable, while he finds hope in the goodness of God has encouraged my own faith. And these are just a few examples of what I’ve learned. Again I repeat: I stand in awe.

Men:

About 6 months ago this ache in my heart formed and I realized I felt a bit of God’s grief for His sons. The men He created and ordained for such great things have become capable of so much destruction. His young sons are abused, ignored, trained to be soldiers and no one cares for them. They grow and become abusers and they are vilified. They rape, bomb, beat, shoot, oppress, ridicule. When they show love and tenderness they’re mocked. I look around at so many of my fellow sisters and see them wonder where all the good guys went. I can’t help but brush aside this thought when it crosses my mind and feel the deeper grief God has for his fallen sons. For every 100 organizations reaching out to women and girls I see 10 for boys…even less for men. Who will reach out to them? Who will fight for them? Who will meet them in their darkness and show them love? Empowering women is very necessary. Protecting women is a non-negotiable. But what about getting the boys who will one day become abusers before they’re little hands become weapons? What about a movement bold enough to go to these men and revive them instead of revile them?

Confidence:

I’ve been starting to learn to step into what it is God has for me and not be scared that owning it is prideful. I’m a leader and I’m ok with it. It doesn’t make me bossy. It doesn’t make me better than anyone. It’s a skill and natural part of the way I’m made and to shrink back from it does no good for anyone. A friend’s tattoo (oddly enough) keeps flashing before eyes: “you’re playing small does not serve the world.” What or who I’m leading I’ll leave to God. But the first step is accepting the role He wants me to play. Powerful leaders have entered my life and I’ve been learning from them. I’ve also learned I need to develop leadership skills beyond the conventional like: continually seeking God for wisdom, guidance and humility.

Learning my place:

As much as I have enjoyed and learned during my time here with IJM & Hagar working with clients, I’ve realized client focused work is not for me. That’s a weird one for me to wrap my head around since I’m a “people person,” but I realized that is in my personal life. In many ways my personal self and professional self are different. When it comes to work, I’m much more big-picture and systems oriented (good thing I didn’t go to med school as originally planned!). I have to accept the surprise that this revelation is to me (not sure how many of you out there are not surprised by this revelation) and move forward in what I’m good at. We can all do “good” in different ways and in different sectors. I’ve gained a lot of skills and insights during my time in Cambodia. For example this experience has taught me on a deeper level how organizational ideas, structures, and policy making effect employees and clients. I’ve first hand seen how strong management and engaged leadership can be the difference between the success or failure of an entire organization. I’m grateful for this, and have to accept I am not the person holding hands one on one with clients…and that doesn’t make me a bad person.

So there you have it friends. I’ve got more questions than answers, but the conversations have begun. Feel free to enlighten me on anything I’ve shared. Feel free to explore in yourself any of these things. The one nugget I can share with you from all this, is don’t be afraid to dig deeper when these kinds of internal dialogues pop up in you. There aren’t really any answers and it’s definitely a Pandora’s Box of questions and heart pulls, but it’s cultivating for the mind, soul, and spirit. This process creates the fertile ground for something beautiful to grow.

A Year in Cambodia

Today marks one year in Cambodia. My memories of that first day include:

  • Thinking “dang it’s HOT!”
  • The airline had lost my luggage and I thinking “I hope this isn’t a bad sign”
  • I went straight to the office and was so overwhelmed with names and accents I couldn’t understand. I was scared I’d never understand my co-workers or learn their names.
  • Wondering how the heck I would navigate this city since the roads are chaos and there were barely any street signs.
  • I got an iced chai latte from a place that could be Starbucks and a chicken burger that was basically like Chic-Fil-A and I thought “hmmm, this place is kinda western that’s lame. I hope I get the full cultural experience.”
  • I was so grateful for the IJM interns and staff for making me feel like I was an old friend and welcoming me immediately.

My memories of the following days included:

  • I was eaten alive by mosquitos and my ankles were swollen from the bites.
  • Our office had a failed rescue operation and I learned quickly we don’t win every time, but we learn and try again.
  • Everywhere I went there were smells that made me sick to my stomach and I questioned my ability to adapt.
  • There was a thrill to the adventure of learning to live in the grit of Phnom Penh.
  • I was given so many research reports, documents, and information at IJM my head was spinning and I had no idea how I was going to be of any service as a corporate attorney in this fight against sexual exploitation.
  • I felt dirty, sweaty, and ugly every day and wondered if I’d feel like me at the whole year.
  • I felt liberated from my old routine and excited by all the unknown ahead of me.
  • I wasn’t sleeping (and didn’t for the next almost 3 months).

On my one year anniversary this is what I can tell you this year was like: I’ve learned to ride a moto quite well. I was mugged. I’ve eaten durian, snake, tarantula, cricket, cockroach, silk worm, and fire ants, along with a whole host of interesting recipes with fish and other meats. I’ve learned some very basic khmer. I’ve met clients so grateful for our help and seen them gain power through the restoration and legal process. I’ve met women who wanted nothing to do with mine or IJMs help. I’ve encountered the horrific things people can do to each other. I’ve met some of the most giving, selfless, and humble people I’ve ever known. I’ve learned what damage uninformed “do-gooders” can do. I’ve seen brilliant and creative people do revolutionary things to aid people in need. I’ve seen families living in abject poverty on a daily basis. I’ve seen affluence and greed at levels that made the rage shake me from the inside. I’ve cried myself to sleep out of despair from all the need in this dark world and my overwhelming feeling of inadequacy to help. I’ve traveled to absolutely breathtaking places and been overwhelmed by beauty in this world I didn’t think could really exist. I’ve been living in a culture of people who are broken by oppression and war and live on fear and survival. I’ve been living in a culture of people who will not give up and are slowly reclaiming their history, their dignity, their culture, their country and press on each day in hope. I’ve fallen so far away from God I couldn’t bring myself to even pray or talk to God and was filled with nothing but anger. I’ve clung so hard to God and felt His power and love engulf me and I’ve seen Him work miracles in our work. I’ve sat at my desk with no idea what I’m doing or why God called me to Cambodia to serve. I’ve been able to use skills I didn’t realize were needed in the most surprising ways.

So you see, after a year I can tell you this year has been SO many things. I just can’t describe it in a nice little package. I’ve been humbled in so many ways. Moving here stripped away all the comforts and distractions in life that I didn’t realize helped me hide from my own “junk” like pride, greed, idolatry, a need for control (just to name a few).  Being here has been lonely. I left friends and family, and life moves on for them. It’s not that they don’t care, but I’m half a world away and life is busy for all. I’ve made friends, some that have changed me forever, some I will be friends with for life, and some made me realize we just aren’t all meant to be friends. Phnom Penh has changed a lot in this year as well. New import laws have brought in items never before available in Cambodia. A rising middle class of Cambodians and expats has created a bigger demand for restaurants, shops, and other “pleasantries” and the market has responded with a surge of all these options around town.

For those of you who don’t know, I accepted a contract with another organization in Phnom Penh that will keep me here until October (Hagar). Since I’m staying in country, I’ve also extended my time with IJM through August. I’m continually surprised by ways I’m able to help. I’m grateful for the skills I’m gaining as I learn from some truly remarkable leaders. I have to admit, I’m glad it’s not time to go home. For better or worse, this experience has been one I will never regret. As expected I’m changed forever, but time will tell what that actually looks like. I’m nervous and excited by the unknown ahead of me. Do I stay after my contracts are over? Do I go home and back to my old career that I also enjoyed (and was pretty good at)? I don’t know. I haven’t had this life changing “this is what I’m meant to do with my life” moment. But you know what? I’m actually 100% ok with that. At 32 years old I’d rather not know what I’m doing with the rest of my life. I’ve learned to walk through the open door of each opportunity. Do whatever is asked of me as well as I can. Learn what I can. And never settle for comfort, but strive for purpose.

Thank you to everyone who has supported me this year financially, through encouragement, and prayers. Thank you to the people who sent me care packages. Thank you to the people who spoke truth to me when I was filled with fear and doubt. Thank you to the people who kept me a part of their lives by sharing even the silly little things of life, so I never felt fully detached from home. Thank you for the skype dates. Thank you to everyone who read my monthly newsletters and my blog posts and stayed on this journey with me.

Here are the lovely flowers my department gave me today at IJM. I was so humbled and I really do love them.

Here are the lovely flowers my department gave me today at IJM. I love my team 🙂

 

Shame

I’ve struggled with shame for many years. To say I was a wild child for many years may be an understatement.  Now, I could reason away the life I lived and choices I made with a million reasons like: I was just young, rebellious, trying to prove something, vying for acceptance, masking hurt, or just plain self destructive. But none of the excuses I could make for myself, could make the shame go away over the choices I made. It’s a wicked cycle too this “shame” thing.  You’re ashamed of what you’ve done or who you are, then you do things or say things to “fix” it that generally leads back to more shame. As I walked away from that kind of existence and began to find real joy and fulfillment in life, I still found it hard to shake the shame from my past. It didn’t help that I had more than enough people wanting to keep me pigeon holed as that person and not accepting my changes.

Over the past nine months in Cambodia I’ve met many clients and lately I’ve been thinking about the shame they struggle with.  I can see it in the way they try not to make eye contact. Or they’re all smiles and confidence, until we need to talk about their story; then I watch the smiles and confidence wash away in a second.  I see it in women who have been reintegrated back into communities, and cringe at the thought of someone knowing their past.  What happened to all these women wasn’t their choice.  And even if they did “choose” it, their physical exploitation was never really a choice. *side bar: I’ve learned that this concept of “choice” in the sex industry has so much grey, it’s like staring into an abyss of fog. But it’s safe to say it’s almost never really a choice.

We work with these girls to help them heal through finding justice (validating what happened to them was wrong) and restoration (helping them physically and emotionally heal), but what can we do about the shame they feel?  I know from my personal experience, this is not something anyone can really help you with. No one knows like you do what you’ve done and what’s happened to you. The past haunts you, usually when you’re at your weakest. It’s that vision that flashes as you close your eyes to sleep. It’s the memory that makes you step back, when you start to gain confidence or want to go for something “better than you deserve.” It’s the people who never let you be more than your past or remind you of it every time you have a breakthrough.

Having just come from a trial where I looked at many young faces riddled with shame, I was once again reminded of this incredible barrier SO many are trapped behind. I just want to grab them and help them understand the past is exactly that – the past. It is a part of who you are, but it is not WHO you are. It’s what you do with it and the power you give others over you. I may not chose to repeat the things I’ve done, but I also know it’s brought me to be who I am and the same is for them. God has the ability to make everything, good and bad, work together to make us the powerful unique people we are (or are meant to be).  Who is anyone to judge, when God gives grace and forgiveness daily? Why feel shame when God loves each of us more than any person ever can and He knows better than anyone else each and every thing we’ve done or that’s happened to us?

All I can do is hope to show these girls enough love and respect that the looks of shame slowly fade from their eyes. All I can do it do that for anyone who comes across my path for that matter. And the rest I just pray for the release of shame and the strength of being a beautifully created child of God to take the place of it. I pray this continues. I’ve been specifically thinking of the girls, boys, women, and men who have gone through the aftercare “restoration” process and are now trying to move forward.  We all get weak sometimes and get lost in our past. People from the past, or who know it, will always try to keep you trapped in the past if they see you rising up higher than they want to see.  I pray for survivors during these moments when memories, or people, create a weight of shame that blocks these survivors from their victories. I’m asking you to remember them and pray for them as well. Pray for them to stay strong and know they are not their past, and every day is a chance to try again free from shame.  Pray for them during the moments of weakness when they slip or the cycle of shame creates another reason for them to feel ashamed. Pray for them to remember it’s ok, and we all stumble, but to just move forward.

And to my lovely readers: If this is something you struggle with, then I hope you know that nothing in your past matters either. Whether done to you or done by you. God’s mercy, grace, forgiveness and strength cover it and no one else matters in the equation.  Shame and guilt are a lie and trap to keep you from the life you’re meant to live each and every day.

Hit By a Ton of Bricks

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If you haven’t noticed, I’ve been pretty silent the past month. I’m just going to be completely honest: it’s been a rough month. I feel like I’m just climbing out of the rubble of being hit by a ton of bricks. I guess in retrospect it’s been a long time coming since I got here. What exactly hit me? Well, things like this:

  • What am I doing with my life? This is my third career shift in ten years.
  • What do I do next?
  • Seeing poverty all around me all the time and wrapping my head around so much need. Seeing excess at its worst and seeing poverty at its darkest in the very same city.
  • Wondering what it is I can do to help with the million different plaques I see: sex trafficking, labor trafficking, slavery, rape, environmental desecration, malnutrition, lack of education, healthcare, animal abuse, corruption….the list seemingly never ends.
  • Wrestling with all kinds of issues related to sexuality, sex, relationships, in relation to not only my own personal experiences, but now against the backdrop of the field I work in and what I see/hear/read on a regular basis.
  • Feeling guilty that with all the opportunities I’ve been given and the life I have had- what I have done thus far?
  • How do I go back to life as usual in the US, if that’s what I’m meant to do? How do I not judge my own lifestyle and that of those I love around me?
  • I finally went to the genocide museum and the Killing Fields here in Phnom Penh, and it was a sobering reminder of what this country has been through and what all the atrocities currently happening globally look like behind their respective countries’ borders.
  • Since my first month here I’ve seen constant similarities in the struggles of Cambodia with those of Iran (my birthplace). I’ve always felt a love and longing for my birthplace and being here has increased that.  In Cambodia I see a beautiful nation, with so much history, and once called the Pearl of Asia, beginning to develop and move forward after more than 30 lost years. And this is a culture that is new to me. I can’t help but think of the joy I would feel if I could help Iran after more than 30 lost years in its movement towards regaining what was lost and rebuilding for a brighter future. Am I supposed to go there with what I learn here?
  • Why did God call me here? I know I’m doing something day to day, but am I learning what I’m supposed to? Am I really being prepared for a “next step?” Am I wasting this time by missing some big revelation in front of my face?

All this has made me remember the speech one of the SVPs at IJM gave us at orientation before heading out to our respective placements.  He talked to us about knowing “this year isn’t about you” and that we were going to get the stuff kicked out of us. I didn’t really know what he meant by that. I assumed it obviously wasn’t about me, since I was coming to serve and of course I’d get my butt kicked since I was dealing with anti-sex trafficking work and it’d be hard. I’m realizing now, what he really meant though.   Here’s the thing, sex trafficking is a HUGE multifaceted deep rooted problem. It can be fought, and the fight can be won. But not by me, and not in a year. So what am I doing here? I’m just going where God lead me, to serve in any way possible to be a small (miniscule even) part of the whole army fighting this global battle. Do I have a purpose? Yes. From the cop busting down the brothel door, to the lawyer fighting to convict the perpetrator, the social workers helping restore victims, the legislators fighting for better protection laws, the finance manager helping her NGO run ethically, efficiently, and sustainably, the administrator relieving the million little tasks needed for his boss who’s “in the trenches,” to the janitors who keep the offices of all these people functional and habitable…they all have purpose, and as such: so do I.  Now, knowing this in my head and getting it in my heart of two different things. It’s obviously humbling when you have all these skills and accomplishments and think “but I have so much more to offer.” Well guess what? It isn’t about me. That’s what it means. Do what’s needed and do it the best possible way.  And what exactly makes me think I can be so amazing? Pride I guess? Sense of entitlement maybe?  I mean, I’ve never worked in this field and I think I can run things or lead things?  Well whatever it is, it’s just a whole host of crap I don’t need to be bringing to the fight.  I’m now trying to learn to be grateful I get to be part of the fight and do whatever part of it I can and do it the best I can. The same will apply to whatever area God calls me to, if He moves me on after this fellowship is over. Whether I continue in the work I’m doing, move to fighting for ethics and human rights to exist in the private sector, or fighting corruption, or working to develop sound financial markets in developed or developing countries, or chain myself to a tree to stop the deforestation of our world I’ll do it the best I can and be grateful I get to be part of something.

Now about this “getting the stuff kicked out” of me part, well that’s for sure. But again, it’s not solely because of the hard work and being traumatized by seeing the atrocities of man. Yes, I see those things and they do play a part but it’s actually a lot less grandiose than all that. It’s seeing my own crap in a very real, “can’t hide from it” way that’s been kicking my butt the most. At home we all have a million distractions that keep us from dealing with the “stuff’ deep down in us. Busy social lives, traveling, volunteering, over-working, general comforts of the familiar we get lost in.  But when the bulk of my energy goes to trying to normalize a life that is not my “normal” the defenses go down to all the “stuff.”  Here’s the blessing in this: I get to work through this stuff in a way many never do. It’s getting pulled to the surface whether I like it or not and I’m dealing with it. I’m surrounded by some wonderful people who have been helping with great resources and guidance. As much as I felt clobbered for the past few months, especially this past one, I’m coming out even better than before and am grateful for this time. I was speaking to someone who phrased it so well, when I shared my confusion over thinking I’d already dealt with a lot of this “stuff” before. She said it’s like a spiral staircase, not a circle.  I may be going around to where I was before, but it’s on a deeper level. Ya know what? Bring it on! The less garbage, the more freedom I feel and strength I gain.  I won’t get answers to all the stuff that’s been racing through my mind the past month, but I’m finding peace that I don’t need all the answers.

My turning point was when I shared my testimony at the end of the month. A group of women I’ve met here have started meeting once a week to share our testimonies. This has been a WONDERFUL!  Testimony sharing isn’t sharing our “conversion” story, but it’s been sharing our life story because our whole life is the true testimony.  As I sat with my brain spinning one night I realized I wanted to share mine, so I volunteered. This pushed me to sit and prepare with a deadline. I started from birth and thought of everything I’ve done, everything I’ve been through, all the pivotal moments, the successes and failures. WHOA! Talk about cathartic.  I realized the whole journey so far has so firmly been in God’s hands and all my worry isn’t going to do anything. Way before I even believed in God, He was guiding me and protecting me. Every step and misstep in my life God works for the best, once I give it over. I saw the same is true through each of the other ladies’ testimonies as well.  So, I need to be in the moment and find peace in that, because it’s just where He wants me.  I’ll simply keep doing the work I am and do it the best I can and wait for the next step. I’m here for a reason and I’ll miss that if I’m continually looking ahead and trying to figure it out.  Whew. Exhale. The final “hand” that pulled me out of the rubble of January came when I read Psalm 139: 9-10 one morning during my stillness time “If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me.”  So there it is. I’m not alone, and even on the other side of the oceans my worry is like that of a baby fussing even though safely in her mother’s arms.

Hope Is Where The Heart Is

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There are 2 things hanging on the wall of my bedroom at home in the US. One 24 x 36 framed black and white photo of Audrey Hepburn and a small 7.5 x 9.5 plaque that says “Great hope comes from faith in God.”  Today I was thinking about the little one. Yes, I miss waking up and seeing Audrey look back at me. And I miss her little grin telling me to “put your lipstick on and go conquer the world” each morning. But today I kept hearing the words of the smaller, more subtle plaque I walked by everyday in my room for over two years.

This little plaque came into my life quite accidentally. I had just bought my first house, and was at a store buying some odds and ends. While walking by picture frames and small home decorations I noticed the word “hope” boldly written on a little wooden plaque. Those words made me freeze because they were speaking to the fears running through my head. I was scared about having a home to take care of. I was nervous about the responsibility for that big payment every month. Not to mention, this commitment-phobe was scared of being tied to something.  Weighing most heavily on me was the fact that I was in the midst of several years of hurt, struggles, loss and disappointments and it was wearing on my spirit. Regardless of the struggles and regardless of the people who walked away, despair never entered my heart. Sadness- yes. Loneliness- yes. Anger- yes. But somehow God always showed up and reminded me He was in control and with me. I always had HOPE (ridiculous optimism as some have called it) no matter what was happening, because I knew there was a plan bigger and better than the moment I was in. As I stood in the middle of this store, staring at this little plaque, I felt the words leap off the board and remind me “it’ll be ok, because you’re hope is rooted in more than this crazy world.” Needless to say, I bought it to be reminded every day of this fact.

So this plaque hung on my bedroom wall. Most days I didn’t notice it, some days I noticed it and smiled, and a few times I saw it and was moved the way I was the day I bought it. It’s funny, though, how once something becomes part of your everyday life you notice it less. I guess we do that with a lot of things don’t we?

Here I am in Cambodia and haven’t been in my old bedroom in almost 7 months, but the words came flooding into my heart today. I may be personally struggling, but all is not lost for me. The work I’m part of here is a constant uphill battle. I see people who have lost so much faith in the organizations and people meant to protect them, because those very organizations and people are part of the problem. I see people who see no life better than their current circumstance, and see no reason to plan and work for a better future. I see people so guarded and fearful of others, they feel no duty to care for, respect, or love the people around them.  Right here at my job we deal with seemingly hopeless situations all the time. Our investigations group plan for weeks, sometimes months and just before a rescue operation another tip-off to the perpetrators kills the whole operation. We have powerful perpetrators with powerful friends make victims refuse to cooperate. They make cases drag on, close without any resolution, or get convictions overturned. But we press on trying to get a broken justice system to work, as suspected perpetrators are free.

But here’s the thing: there’s more to my story and the world’s story than here and now.  I know from the depth of my soul there is a God that is in control of it all, regardless of how it looks here and now.  My hope is rooted in that faith.  I know that my life is being taken care of and guided, so I can focus on doing my part in the grander scheme of things.  There is hope for all of us, but we need to trust in something bigger than us in order to pull out of our own little world. The greater the hope, the greater the freedom to press for miracles. The bigger the hope, the bolder the life.

“Those who hope in me will not be disappointed” (Isaiah 49:23)

And this is why ‘hope’ is my second favorite word.

(Love is clearly the first, for those of you wondering)

Now I’m gonna go put my lipstick on and conquer the world 😉

audrey

The Fight for Cambodia’s Future Continues

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6 months ago I arrived in Cambodia just in time for the final stretch of campaigning before the national elections. I was able to witness Cambodians taking to the streets and voicing their desire for change and support of a new ruling party. I wrote a blog post shortly after the elections when violence broke out and calls for a recount were made. My post was not the end of the fight for change in the streets of Cambodia, specifically Phnom Penh.

Since then there have been months of rallies, marches, meeting, and campaigns to get the current ruling party to work with the opposition and hear the voices of its citizens. I’ve seen marches filled with the youth, the elderly, the handicap, the poor, the middle class, the rich, the educated, the illiterate all with the same goal. The political protests have been joined with garment worker protests. The garment workers are now being joined by teachers and it’s becoming increasingly apparent the people of Cambodia are ready for big changes in their country. What kind of changes? Changes to end poverty, create democracy, instill hope that people can have a better life, fight back against corruption, create a safer place for children to grow up, and finally break out of the darkness that keeps Cambodia from being the free nation God wants it to be.

The past week things have especially heated in Phnom Penh and the government has responded with violence and fear. They have fired AK-47s at protesters, beaten protesters, barred injured protesters from receiving medical treatment, and summoned opposition leaders to court to answer for charges raised against them for their activities. Through all of this I stand in awe of the thousands of people willing to fight for their country, fight for their rights, and stand side by side for the sake of their homeland. For a good (quick) recap of exactly what is happening here, check out this video. An important thing to also note, is that while the companies responsible for using these factories can pay more for the items, corruption also plays a big part in why the workers are not being paid fair wages. The factories have to pay the government for the right to do business here. Instead of going to higher wages, it goes to the pockets of government official siphoning off the profits. That is why this is very connected to what is happening in the political arena. It’s important to note that in the 2013 Transparency Report Cambodia was ranked the most corrupt country in SE Asia and ranked 160th of 175 total countries.

So why do I care? I’m here fighting human trafficking, not a political activist. It’s simple- all these factors play into each other. When the poor have no voice, when the system doesn’t work as it should, when people have no hope darkness grows and exploitation becomes commonplace.

Having just come from a trip to Burma, I can’t help but compare. Burma recently opened its borders and is in the midst of a break-though. After 50 years of military rule, oppression, and blood shed; freedom is coming to the Burmese people. They never gave up and they still continue the fight for their country and people. Change can happen and the most powerful force is that of the people.

I’m in the NGO capital and devoting a year with one of them. I think they have collectively done a lot of great work and helped support the citizens and fill many needed gaps, but this next big step is in the hands of the citizens. I’m SO honored to be here during this time and support them by continuing the fight for justice. Please continue to pray for the people of Cambodia and this country. Pray for all those globally fighting for freedom and against dark strongholds.

“Look at the nations, and see!
Be astonished! Be astounded!
For a work is being done in your days
that you would not believe if you were told.”  Habakkuk 1:5

*For those of you concerned (mom) don’t worry about my safety. I’m playing it smart and staying away from all protests and rallies where violence may occur and otherwise the city is fine. I’ve also been briefed on safety measures if the violence increases.