Friday night I said goodbye to friends I was SO blessed to see here in Phnom Penh. A short term mission trip from my church were here for the past 2 weeks. What an amazing collection of people, with so much love to give the Cambodian people. The amount of work they did in two weeks was so impressive and honestly exhausting to see. Two of the people on that trip were two of my absolute closest friends. At home they are members of my community group, and I was spoiled enough to see them at least once a week.
A community group, for those who may not know, is a weekly prayer, bible study, fellowship group held in someone’s home. It is something I discovered almost two years ago, and it changed my life forever. Being a part of that community group (CG as we call it) gave me a family of believers that I also call neighbors and friends. I grew in my faith, I learned what real friendship looks like, and I had a safe haven to go to each week regardless of the storm going on in my life where I was loved and felt peace. These people became my go to folks for everything from comfort, spiritual support, a gals night out, or even just help moving a couch. Most importantly, when I first felt the call to join the fight against Human Trafficking and work for IJM they supported me and encouraged me every step of the way. Several members had done short and long term mission trips. They coached me and walked me through this whole new world, and continue to do so. As if all that wasn’t enough, the financial support they continue to bless me with is a constant reminder they are here with me.
True to form, even while running all over Cambodia working with orphans, rescued victims of trafficking, and various other NGOs, they made time just for me. They comforted me and encouraged me. Just spending time, relaxing in a coffee shop giving me the opportunity share and process the month in Cambodia so far, helped me settle even more into feeling at home here and refreshed in the work I’m doing. Seeing them off was hard to do, but I’m so grateful for the time I did have with them. Made me realize how lucky I am to have my CG near and far and that I love them so much! If you’re not part of one, I highly recommend finding yourself a little group. Drinking buddies are one thing, but friends who will stand strong with you in a storm and you can let your hair down with in the good times are gifts from God!
Who wants to be the next visitor??
For anyone who’s known me long enough knows I’m not the “dating” sort of gal. I love my family, I love my friends, and I really do have love for everyone. However, I always thought until I actually suck it up and try the dating thing, I’ll never understand that deep-down-can’t-live-without-each-other-grows-deeper-everyday kind of love. Apparently I was wrong. But love is love, right? How does that happen? I never understood how you can love “more every day,” when you already love with all your heart. I’ve learned it’s very much possible and it’s a result of learning more about the one you love, seeing actions (big or small) that touch your spirit, and finding comfort in the presence of the one you love as life gets ever more difficult.
In the past few weeks, I’ve noticed I’m more in awe and more in love with God almost every day. I’ve made no secret of how hard the transition to life in Phnom Penh has been. Recognizing what God has been doing to comfort me and make it better, has been quite eye opening. He has spoken through people, He has spoken through my readings, He has comforted my heart and settled my spirit directly. Through conversations and reflection I’ve seen a glimpse of the work He is doing in me because He loves me so much. He has been planning this for so long and has taken care of every detail. Regardless of how I feel or how it looks, I really can just take comfort knowing He has it all under control.
Beyond my own life, I’ve been seeing what God’s love for the world (practically) looks like too. I’m seeing God move through all these organizations He has led people from all over the world to start. I’m seeing God rising up an army of people to fight for His oppressed children. The number of active, powerful, God fearing Christians I come across on a daily basis here is awe inspiring. I’m even seeing Him work in people’s lives, when they don’t even acknowledge Him, simply to protect them and draw them to Him.
I thought these were all things I knew about the God I love. But concretely seeing it in so many ways and hearing other people’s stories, has made my heart start to explode with more love than I thought possible. It appears although I may have loved with all my heart, this growing love is making my heart grow to make room.
1 Corinthians 13:13 “And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.”
Last week I got to spend a few days with co-workers (some of the Khmer staff a couple legal interns) when we headed out of town for my first trial.* After trial, my fellow intern and I went to a Khmer restaurant with the staff. It was open air with palm trees creating privacy between tables, and even complete with hammocks. I never saw a menu, but out rolled plate after plate of Khmer food (“brace yourself I thought to myself”). I really tried to like it. I tasted almost everything, even Durian. Durian is a local fruit that Cambodians mostly love, but most of them will also admit it smells like a mixture of dirty feet and garbage. In my humble opinion the taste is not too far off. We had plates full of chicken, frog, rice, fish, and fish paste to help pull it all together (is your mouth watering yet? no? I didn’t think so).
Later that night we met up with them again for dinner. The dinner was delicious (I got Thai food ha!). After dinner they said we’re going to “go party” now. Imagine my delight when we pulled up to a karaoke bar! Now, anyone who knows me knows I LOVE me some karaoke. Unfortunately, they had no English songs so I settled for singing happy birthday to one of the gals at our table. But be warned Cambodia, I will be singing karaoke soon enough!
Exploring Siem Reap started on Friday. We headed to see the floating village. We rode up the Tonle Sap and saw the whole village. Yes, this means the entire village is made of various floating vessels (homes, shops, schools, a bar, we even saw a basketball court all on water). After this we decided to get our temple exploring on. We saw the Bayon Temple/Angkor Thom (breathtaking because of the giant faces carved into the towers), then headed to Ta Prohm (this one had these bone colored trees that had grown into the temples and the roots were winding through the stones). The last stop was Bantea Kdei. This one was very much in ruins and not too impressive. But we did find it humorous that the tower was being held together by several ratchet straps (if you spend enough time in Cambodia, this actually won’t surprise you).
We got back to our hotel in time to be met by the intern from our Thailand office, who we met at Orientation in DC in June. She came to Siem Reap to temple hop and then head back to Phnom Penh with us.
Saturday morning we grabbed a tuk-tuk and began the 2 hour tuk-tuk ride to the first temple. For those of you who don’t know a tuk-tuk is, it’s a 4 seater carriage attached to a little motorcycle (it’s also the most common means of transport aside from a moto). Now add this vehicle to the predominantly unpaved roads of Cambodia, and gorgeous countryside/rice paddies. We definitely had some scary “we’re gonna die” moments, but they were nicely placed between views of emerald green paddys, mountains, and a whole way of life completely foreign to me with each new little town. When we finally arrived at Beng Melea we all agreed it was well worth it. This temple was clearly once a massive stunner. Time and a land mine, courtesy of the Khmer Rouge, unfortunately left it mostly in ruins. As soon as we walked up to it we were greeted by a local man just waiting to take tourists through in hopes of a tip. He was wonderful (and yes, we tipped him). He guided us as we climbed over the rubble and through the half collapsed entryways, and all the way up to the top. The view from the top is something I’ll never forget. The brown stone, the green moss, the tree roots winding throughout various parts of the temple all in the shadow of what was clearly once something truly majestic. Once we soaked that all in we headed to our last temple of the day: Banteay Srei. While not a large temple, this one had some of the most intricate carvings all over every building. It’s just so amazing to me what people are capable of, even so many centuries ago.
Sunday morning we woke up at 4:30am to see the sunrise over Angkor Wat. The sheer magnitude that is Angkor Wat, with the river flowing in front of it, the massive bridge leading into it, and the sun rising over all of it made it worth it. We wandered around for a few hours.Because of the size and how well it is preserved, compared to all the others, I definitely saw why it’s everyone’s top pick (although I still say Beng Melea was my favorite overall experience). We closed out the temple tour with Ta Keo, which was also beautiful but the scary steep, broken stairs kept me from being able to climb to the top. One of my fearless fellow temple explores made it to the top and said it was worth it. Between the 4:30 wake up and being generally templed out (as some say “watted out”) I opted to just take his word for it.
All in all a solid first excursion out of Phnom Penh. Now where to go next???
*Trial/Case details are sensitive due to the nature of the work and ongoing status of the trial. Once approved I will share details as permitted.
Well…Cambodian electricity & internet are not as reliable as US electricity & internet. My apologies for the delay and the resulting epically long post. I promise they won’t all be this long. Here is how the 2 weeks have been going since settling into my new home and job:
PP is still hard to adjust to b/c there are just so many smells, bugs, lizards, and language barriers. I just need to be ok with always feeling a little dirty and unsure of what I’m eating. I am quite proud of the little Khmer I have picked up already, but have a long way to go. I need to become more comfortable with the outdoor food market settings. If I could eat out and live the “tourist” life it would be one thing, but being a volunteer (on a budget) I’m learning to adapt and find my balance between being a native and being my “western” self. I actually cooked this week a few times, and am getting more comfortable with where to shop and what I have to cook with. Cooking is also such a great stress relief. Letting my mind wander, while I throw together fun ingredients and experiment with new flavors, are some of my favorite moments. It feels more like home being able to cook for myself and eat what I know is clean/good (well mostly).
I am still trying to master riding my moto, it’s a little tough since the crazy traffic is not very forgiving of newbies. But Sunday I rode on the road for the first time and it felt liberating. It was incentive to get better at it because I loved feeling like I could go where I wanted, when I wanted and to just feel the wind on my face (a welcome relief in this heat).
The job is great. I love my boss. She’s such a loving, smart, strong, powerful woman and her laugh is phenomenal. She genuinely wants this experience to be the best it can be and has been so sweet to me. The interns are wonderful and the staff (mostly Khmer nationals) are welcoming and really friendly. The language barrier actually draws us together because we’re working to help each other with the languages. The comfort level we have makes it feel like we’ve all been working together for ages. The past week, I’ve been learning the lay of the legal land in Cambodia. How it should work, how it actually works, and what we’re striving as IJM to get it to become. I’ve been going through case files to get up to speed on the current & upcoming cases I’ll be helping with. As I’ve been going through case files I’ve realized I need to actively work to protect my mind, heart, and spirit as I’m faced with the darkness that really exists all around. I’ve also been reading through various research reports and papers to get a better understanding of where the issue of human trafficking is now, compared to when IJM began its work here in 2003. This week I will be able to join the team for my first trial. While excited to be part of it, I’m a bit nervous about being faced with the reality of the work we’re doing first hand for the first time.
After the trial, me and 2 interns will go off and explore Siem Reap for the weekend. This is my first “touristy” excursion and I can’t wait. We will go through lots of temples, the most famous being Angkor Wat. My favorite type of art is architecture. Seeing what people are capable of creating in their minds and then building with their hands is so incredible to me.
Spiritually it was a very interesting week. I really struggled at first feeling like I didn’t know if I made the right choice and ashamed at how hard adjusting was for me. I was quickly surrounded by amazingly encouraging friends’ emails & messages, the wise words of my mom, and then God just met me where I was and told me to trust Him. Through my stillness time, reading, and even church service He told me He’s here and this is part of a much bigger plan and work He’s doing. It’s been a pretty amazing chance to learn to lean into God’s love more and get my strength through His. When all the comforts of everyday life are taken away you see how weak you are, but knowing I’m not running on my own power has actually proved to be empowering. If possible I grow more in awe of God each day. I can’t deny it’s still tough not knowing the area too well and not having anyone really close I can just relax and confide in, like with my family and friends at home, but that will come with time. In the meantime the journey here continues.
Thanks for reading all of this and for all your continued support!