In case I have not told it yet this year, for the benefit of new readers let me lay out the back story of this adventure.
Not so long ago the land of Cambodia went through an awful purging during the Khmer Rouge regime. The country was purged of its educated population, its professional in all fields, and most of the generation that would have been considered wise elders. Some survived, at great cost. They were mostly young and strong enough to have escaped or hidden themselves. One of them was Savorn Ou, who became a Christian in a refugee camp, and returned to Cambodia later with the resolve to help his country. He had a heart for children, particularly orphans, whether through war or poverty. He had no difficulty finding them.
I met Savorn and his wife Sony on my first trip in 2012. My friends, the Hunsaders, had met them several years earlier and had gone to see what his fledgling organization was doing. They visited and liked what they saw and decided to sponsor two homes. Trish Hunsader’s letters to home during this time opened the door to my involvement. She said they just needed more arms to hug and show love to little people, starved for love.
These children have lost much – sometimes loss, of one thing or another – is all they have known. For that reason, this organization called Asia’s Hope, has adopted a unique model of operation. The plan to reduce loss starts with a stable home and family life, with parents and brothers and sisters and God. God has to be undergirding it all because without the model of his sacrificial love, none of this would work. It’s too hard for humans on their own.
The Hunsaders started visiting the children twice a year, coming back with their own children and sometimes with others like myself. They developed rituals of caring and fun that the children began to look forward to. Because they were among the first regular visitors, a trust relationship with the organization developed. As more homes were sponsored, the vision grew. Instead of renting homes throughout the city, a very inconvenient arrangement, land was purchased for a campus and homes were built. In Phnom Penh, where the families that I call “my own” live, there are now six nice, two story homes that house staff and children numbering around 26 people. There is a school which is also the meeting place for church and our medical clinics. Asia’s Hope shares these facilities with the community around them as part of their outreach.
It’s true that when we go, most of us, we are only there for two or three weeks, but it is also true that we are not treating it as a short term mission trip. We come to visit people we have become familiar with. We come to add a fresh pair of eyes, words of encouragement, and sometimes a financial boost for an obvious next step. Those steps are being taken by the Asia’s Hope families themselves, by the children.
The children are all ages, but it is noticeable now that many have reached teen and young adult ages and are finishing high school (still a rarity in this country) and going on to university. Many have become fluent enough in English to open new employment opportunities. They have goals to be teachers, doctors, agricultural experts, business people in tourism and other fields. They have goals of lifting others up and being a inspiration. They are Asia’s Hope for the future.
On our bus trip yesterday I sat with a young man, a university student, who shared with me his difficulties in his studies, in being motivated, in staying healthy and getting used to dorm life, and other practical matters. It sounded so familiar, even in a far away place like this. I know it’s because we share so many of the basic human experiences that we are able to appreciate, understand and come alongside each other in helping ways. I think conversations like this are the reason I return again and again. I am reminded always that the world is, after all, small in some very important ways. I need to keep that in mind.