We will be working with the Cambodian Hope Organisation (CHO), in a border town called Poipet. In Poipet the largest source of employment is day labour, 8-10 thousand people cross the border each day to transport goods back from Thailand; working conditions and pay is poor. Poipet lies in the shadows of ten super-casinos, they provide little economic benefit to the local area. The influx of tourists and gamblers attracted by the casinos has encouraged the sex industry to flourish. Child trafficking has taken a stronghold in Poipet, and its the poor families who are at risk of being lured into sending their children into Thailand where the risk of trafficking is high.

There is Hope! CHO works in the local community, and they envision 'a network of strong, hope-filled communities where adequate physical, psychological and spiritual needs are met.'

The work we will be doing with CHO is varied and includes; Helping to build a safe haven centre for children who have escaped the child trafficking industry, learning Khmer, the local language, taking an active role in children’s clubs and ‘school on a mat’, assisting CHO staff in their work in the community, working with individuals from different cultures and faiths, especially the Buddhist culture, praying for and visiting those suffering with HIV/AIDS, taking an active role in the life of the Church through worship, sharing testimonies, taking bible studies and preaching.

Sunday, 18 July 2010

12th - 19th July

Hello and welcome to our final blog, we return home tomorrow on the 20th of July early in the morning. At the moment we are sat in our guest house waiting to go to Bangkok airport. Let us fill you in with whats been happening here in the last weeks:

Last Monday (12th) we rose early at 5am, after Holland lost the world cup final, (yes we did stay up to watch from 1.30-4.30am)to get ready for the opening ceremony of the new TB ward at the CDC (HIV hospital). CHO partnered with TEARfund to build the new ward and on Monday the provincial govenor came to officall open it. We were there to play English christian worship songs for the people as we waited for the governor to arrive. It was such a special morning, to worship God and pray for blessings upon this hospital for the last time. Calum represented Tearfund, so he sat on the stage next to Chomno, looking like a naval officer, the girls loved it!
After the new ward was opened we went with all the CHO staff to Safe Haven for a party to say goodbye to the two Dutch carpenters; they'll be coming back in 6 months to live in Siem Reap. So we played football, ate food and had a good time, relaxing after an early start. Everyone went to the carpentry workshop to have a look at the carvings that the 5 students had made, it blew us away! These students are so skilled and after just 3 months were producing incredible carvings of Angkor Wat.

Our time at Safe Haven school last week was special. On Tuesday we set the children a task to build the tallest tower with eighty plastic bottles, one roll of celotape and two pairs of scissors, in groups of 6 in 20 minutes. We were so impressed with their efforts, the tallest tower was over 2.5 metres. On Thursday we had a talent show, so spent Wednesday preparing for it. The children could choose to sing, dance, act, play games, make music, or make art. With a little help from us, they came up with original acts and prodcued a fun and exciting show on our last day at the school. Of course we contributed to the show with a story about Chico the clown, intrigued...?
We then did our final bible class on the first and greatest commandment, to love God and one another. We had the children stand in a circle, join hands and tell the people around them that they love them and give them a hug. We then asked them to pray for the person on their left and right and finally for everyone in the school; what a great way to finish our time there, seeing all the children praying for each other. After that we gave out photos of us with the school children that we had taken previously in the week and printed off for them, sweets and a Union Flag to be put up in the library.
Then it was time to say goodbye; those last hugs meant so much to us and we'll never forget their smiley faces. Leaving that place for the last time, it felt like we would be back, we hope we will.

Throughout the week we have been preparing to go, starting to pack and sorting out the loose ends at CHO. Alex gave his guitar to CHO and we left some things we thought would be useful. On Friday we had a classic CHO leaving party. There was dancing, singing, fruit eating and many goodbyes. These guys are our family here, and we realised that when they all gathered round and prayed for us, it was a beautiful moment, tears were welling up from them and us...
Despite the difficulties in saying goodbye, we realise that we aren't truly saying goodbye as we will see them again, we have the whole of eternity to look forward to with them, what a hope we have in Jesus!
The last few days have been filled with ups and downs, and leaving CHO for the last time really brought it home that we were leaving. Although we are looking forward to coming home, we leave a piece of our hearts, and the people we have met and spent time with we take back with us in ours.

We have learnt so much and could write so much about how we have changed, our struggles and difficulties, but also our many joys and triumphs. The last 6 months, as cliche as it may sound, has been life changing and we are so grateful to God for bringing us to this place and what he has done in us and through us. Mission involves everyone, whether you are sending people or being sent, so we want to thank you all for your prayers and want you to know that our time here would not have been the same without you. Thank you.

Praise be to our Lord Jesus Christ for who he is and what he has done.
ACTS 20 : 23 - 24
I only know that in every city the Holy Spirit warns me that hardships are facing me. However, I consider my life worth nothing to me if only i may finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me - the task of testifying to the gospel of God's grace.

Blessings to everyone and we look forward to seeing you soon.
God Bless
Alex, Paul and Calum

Sunday, 11 July 2010

1st – 11th July

Well it turns out that we will be the guest Blogger (sorry for any disappointments!) as we enter the final week in Poipet!
174 days down, 9 to go…

The month started early at 5am with Alex’s birthday where the three of us and our friend Thea, one of the CHO staff with whom we do most of our work with, went to the meat market. We particularly enjoy visiting the overcrowded and somewhat smelly market and seeing what exciting new things we can find, and so, at Alex’s request we began the month at the place where it all happens in Poipet! Much busier at six in the morning instead of later in the day when we’d normally go, but not nearly as smelly; with temperatures reaching mid 40’s the smell of meat is, ermm… potent!

Our work currently revolves around the Safe Haven – at the building site in the mornings and with the children at school in the afternoon. The walls are built, the windows and doors in place and the roof is on, with the ceiling currently going in and we have just finished concreting the floors inside and out on the patio; next week we’ll start tiling.

We of course continue to teach English at the Safe Haven school and bible stories after that. We now know the children so well and we will certainly miss them when we come home, as they are a delight to be with, talk to, play games with, teach English and learn how to love like them. We have been doing another project with them over the last two weeks; putting on a production of Noah’s ark!
They made: animal masks, angry/laughing people masks, Noah and his family’s masks, 2 wonderful backgrounds – land and sea (flood), a rainbow, raindrops, acted out the whole story and we made an ark. With a wonderful narrator, an occasionally smiley God, some quiet angry people, some comical laughing, the ark almost falling down, some stray cats entering through the back of the ark and not the door, beautiful [praiseful] singing of “Happy Day” and a final prayer by Mana, Chomno’s daughter whom we live with, to end the performance; it was a wonderful afternoon. The children did so, so well and we were so proud of them! It was such a fantastic way to start saying goodbye to these awesome children!
We will ditch the English for them this final week and play lots of games – which may involve a load of water bottles, Cello tape, scissors, team building and lots of running around!

We had our last church service this Sunday morning where we played a few songs with the worship band and was both sad to say goodbye and surreal that we were - the final week seemed so far off a few weeks ago, and yet, here we are.

Tomorrow we are playing music at the opening for the new TB clinic they have recently built at the HIV/AID’s hospital that CHO run and so we are looking forward to that. The TB clinic will provide better facilities for those who suffer from HIV/AID’s and TB and thus able to separate those who do have TB form those who don’t. So for those awake at 2 in the morning, your prayers would be welcome!

We plan to do one more blog after this, but please keep us in your prayers as we are in the final home straight now and perhaps need your prayers more than ever now!
There are many thing’s we love about this country and thing’s we’ll miss, thing’s we won’t, thing’s we’re indifferent to, thing’s we’ve learned, thing’s we’ve seen, thing’s we’re looking forward to, thing’s we’re not, thing’s that have challenged us, changed us and transformed us.
Whether it’s the Safe Haven children, the Khmer people, building, moving bricks, gravel, sand and dirt from A to B, then to C and back to A, visiting the villages, playing games and sharing bible stories with the school-on-a-mat classes and vocational training classes, morning devotions, praying for people, seeing and living with those who live in a world so different to ours in Britain, teaching English, playing worship music and spreading the gospel of Christ; or sticky rice, deep fried battered bananas, living on a main road where incessantly beeping a horn on a moto, car or lorry is perfectly acceptable at 3 in the morning, washing in a bucket, occasional clean clothes, cockroaches appearing dead and consequently being eaten by ants daily; geckos, mice and the occasional rat; Khmer music, the never ending Khmer weddings (very loud music at all hours of the day – sleep is not allowed for those within a 100m radius of the speakers) and seeing an impossible amount of pigs and/or chicken’s being carried to the market strung upside down on the back of a motorbike and a family of 6 plus luggage balanced on a single motorbike; living in Cambodia and working with CHO has challenged us, it’s undoubtedly changed us and through Christ, and what we’ve been able to be a part of here in Cambodia has transformed us…

Yesterday was spent upturning the two rooms we occupy at CHO, where items previously thought lost, have once again been found; the floor is sparkly clean through the use of a broom, bleach and a crafty invention known to most as the common mop; the washing facilities have been cleansed from years of grime, cupboards emptied upside-down, back to front and inside-out, it was like ‘How Clean is Your House’. The first noticeable signs of packing have begun; though who would’ve thought Calum would be the first to pack! After 6 months of being with each other 24/7 (nearly 4,180 hours)... certainly not Paul and Alex, that’s for sure!

Well, to everyone and especially to all those who have been praying for us, sent us letters, packages and reading these horrifically long blogs, which are so sporadic it’s untrue, we thank you so much for all your support as we appreciate it ever so much.

God Bless
Alex, Calum and Paul

...and even if England did lose to Germany, at least through the referee, England made it to the World Cup Final 2010!

(Calum: I took no part in the inclusion of this ludicrous, ‘clutching at straws’ statement.)

Tuesday, 29 June 2010

Guest blogger; 12th - 30th June

Welcome to another blog, sorry for the delay. We now have 2 and half weeks left in Poipet and so though this week we would ask Emily Perry to be our guest blogger. Emily has been here for the duration of our time here and was on the same transform trip as us last year and now works with ‘Hope for the Nations’- a NGO working with CHO. We thought it would be interesting to have a different voice give their take on our time here. Enjoy...

After spending nearly six months with the three boys, I feel like I am highly qualified to comment giving all their faithful follows insight into the reality here. On arrival here there was a comment made by a CHO staff member; “their bodies are fully grown but their faces are so young!” since then we have worked them hard, got them a tan and stood and watched these boys turn into men.
Shall we begin with their living standards! Each boy keeps himself well groomed and kept for most of the day light hours; occasionally showing some spontaneity and experimentation with facial hair. However the rooms which they inhabit showed me a different story. They occupy two rooms the first of which has become their dumping ground for many unusual objects and a home for the world’s population of ants. I have caught them purposely leaving food for the ants to continue their city! Their water bottle pile has become something to marvel at. No bottle goes to waste as they collect them all and store them for that one grand final project that is yet to be worked out. A few ideas that have been tested include a bowling alley, sofa, decorations to be hung around the bedroom and a rather successful water feature! One of the regular activities that takes place in the front room is hair cutting. I know this because the pile of various coloured hair is swept up and remains in a corner to surprise any visitors. Maybe they are saving it for an art activity but I haven’t been brave enough to ask that question yet!
Their day consists of devotions, 66% of the team are regular attendants to this early morning activity, the other 33% catches up after breakfast. The morning at the safe haven keeps them busy before they return to the office to spread their sweaty love around us all. The safe haven school gets a treat in the afternoons with having English lessons and bible stories.
Calum enjoys sharing his years of wisdom with people who have limited English language skills and his safe haven grade 1 class! They enjoyed learning the theory of light being a spectrum of colours and the full science behind the theory. They have become the most educated grade 1 class in all of Cambodia!
Paul thoroughly loves the outdoor mans work and looks like proud local farmer with his straw hat coming back from a successful harvest when he has done a morning labouring at the safe haven.
Alex, (the pastor for the people) has his own following who arrive every day at 5 o’clock (often a lot earlier) to enjoy the English lesson. So far we have one love note and a fight started by a protective girl controlling the young rabble.
What a tremendous delight to have been part of their story here and to have them part of mine. They have tales of reaching village groups and whole schools with the gospel, and also memories of moving piles of rocks from one place and then back again the next day. Either way these boys are faithful to the cause and keep their eyes on the bigger picture. Humbly and unified they have impacted this community by simply being.

Blessings, look forward to another guest blog next week.
Calum, Alex and Paul.

Wednesday, 9 June 2010

May 22nd – 11th June

Welcome to yet another blog, we’ve had a busy two weeks being back at CHO, hence the slow blogging! Since our return from the village we have been back into a fairly regular schedule, working in the morning and teaching at the Safe Haven School in the afternoons. There have been a few teams come through after a short break and so was nice to see some fresh faces and talk with them. We are delighted to see Rebekah with us again (she came before, in February, for a short time). She has been to CHO numerous times and will be working with the ‘School on a Mat’ project and Safe Haven School implementing a new curriculum over the next six months. Rebekah works for one of the NGOs (Hope for the Nations – works in nearly 30 countries worldwide, founded in Canada) that support and sponsor CHO.

We ended May mostly working at the building site for the new house for trafficked boys at the Safe Haven Centre. That building now is nearing completion and is currently having the roof put on. There is a lack of finance for this building at the moment so your prayers would be so appreciated for money to finance the construction.
Since then we have been building a road through the Safe Haven and will continue to do this for the rest of the month (well, until it’s finished!). There is a mud/dirt road already running through it, but with the rainy season on its way (it is raining more frequently now in the afternoons) we have been putting small stones on top to keep the road in place, making it possible to walk on when the rain comes.

Paul, Calum and Thea working on the road (Alex is working, just taking the picture!)

We joined with several hundred children on the 1st of June to parade around Poipet for ‘International Children’s Day’, to promote children’s rights and stand against trafficking and child labour. Every year, CHO sponsor and organise (together with local schools) a parade around the city like this. Out of the hundreds of children that came, over 200 were kids from ‘School on a Mat’. It was a hot, but joyful and special day.

School children at the start point of the parade

Parade on the main road at the top of the City

With Rebekah now implementing a new curriculum into the Safe Haven and Mat schools, we have started to do more varied lessons in both schools. We have done art, music and puppetry lessons with the children; drawing, weaving, making shakers and puppets, with more diverse lessons to come. A new art exchange program has begun, with the Safe Haven and Mat School children drawing postcards which will be sent to schools in Lancaster (England), Kelowna (Canada) and Hong Kong. The children in those schools will then send their own postcards back to these children, so it is exciting to see the beginning of this process.

Other updated news; in addition to our morning devotional talks, we will now speak at church on Sunday morning’s – Alex started at the end of May with Paul and Calum to follow. We unfortunately said goodbye to Dara, who has been translating for us since arriving in Cambodia. He has been a good friend and fun to be with. We wish him all the best. On Fridays we are now playing basket ball with the Canadians at Victory Church, down the street, and a few Filipino guys who work at the casinos. There has unfortunately been a stop to the STREET outreach event due to some difficulties. Please pray for fresh ideas for an outreach project that we can start before we leave in just over a month.

Our time left in Cambodia suddenly seems somewhat limited (the time is flying past), but please keep us in your prayers.
With our love and prayers,

Blessings from Cambodia ...

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Wednesday, 26 May 2010

01st – 21st May

Poipet City

Poipet city from our window

Old market in Poipet at one of the many fruit stores

After a run of rather busy weeks we have finally sat down to write the blog. A lot has happened this month so far, so we’ll try and summarise the main things!
We have now started working with a few more projects and have a more varied schedule. A new house is currently being built at the Safe Haven site for trafficked boys to live in and there are plans for another one next to it for single mothers. We are helping two to three times a week building the house; over the last month we have made and moved bricks and at the moment we’re helping to pour cement into the brick walls. There has been a slight lag in progression with the building due to a lack of money to finance the building so please pray that finance would come for the construction of these two houses to continue; ultimately because the sooner there is finance, the sooner those who are at risk and vulnerable can be rescued and escape the horror of the human trafficking industry in Poipet.
We helped the agriculture and water and sanitation teams build a water filter at the Safe Haven, so that the kids can have cleaner drinking water. We enjoyed doing something a little different from our previous schedule.

Alex, Calum, Paul (left to right) working on the building site for the new boys house.

We have now started working with the HIV/AIDS project, praying for people who are suffering from the virus. It is quite a challenging morning when we go. Visiting people who have had HIV for years, seeing their suffering and knowing how to talk to them appropriately and sensitively is challenging and not easy. But Hallelujah, in Jesus Christ there is hope!
We’ll share just one story from a woman called Long Seenah, who we visited. Like so many women in Poipet, she has HIV. She did not know how she contracted the virus, presumably from her husband who is often drunk and abuses her and their five children. It is horrific at how ‘usual’ it is for men to abuse their wives in this country unfortunately, however, we guess that nothing is done because without him, there would be no finance for the family. All her children are fortunate enough to go to school and Long Seenah has help from CHO to transport her to the CDC (Control Disease Centre) HIV hospital in Poipet once a month so she can receive ARV treatment for the virus. She is one of over 320 people that CHO provide transportation to and from the hospital for ARV treatments.

We said goodbye to Sarah on the 11th May as she has gone back to the USA after being here four months at CHO. She has been working on writing a report for CHO about the Safe Houses in the surrounding villages of Poipet that CHO run, concerning its current condition and future development. The Safe Houses are where children who have been orphaned, abandoned, or at risk of being trafficked across the border, can grow up with a family - which is supported by CHO - in the villages. This was part of her master’s degree from Boston College. She arrived the same day we did in Bangkok and has been with us every step of the way, discovering Poipet, the Khmer culture, language and of course CHO so it was sad to see her go as we have all appreciated her friendship so much. We wish her all the best.

We had a holiday for five days on a Thai island called Koh Chang last week. We celebrated Calum’s 19th birthday here and had a lovely relaxing time on the beach, seeing the island and being able to take a break from the busy schedule we have working at CHO. Long, white, sandy beaches; warm, clear sea; beautiful, picturesque sunsets; and reading a book on an idyllic island we’d only dreamed of going to was an incredible way to spend a holiday.

Calum, Alex, Paul (left to right) at a waterfall in Ko Chang

Ko Chang island beach

In quite a contrast, on our return last week, we went to visit another village an hour from Poipet, where we stayed for 3 days in the village of O’Ompul. We went with Dara and one of the CHO Pastors, Sok Sarouen, and arrived on Tuesday morning to be greeted warmly by Pastor Sarath who we would be staying with over the next few days. We did not have much of an idea of what we would be doing, but trusted in the Lord. After lunch and spending time with Pastor Sarath and some of his family, we walked 1 kilometre to a smaller village community further out. We walked through fields, once covered in land mines from the Khmer Rouge Regime and civil war, just over 30 years ago. This was exactly how the Christian church developed in Cambodia, through missionaries walking from village to village spreading Christ’s gospel, in the early 1920’s.

Fallen down sign warning of a previous mine field – the one we walked through.

Walking through the Cambodian fields to a village

We arrived at a family’s home from Pastor Sarath’s church. Ten minutes later half the people in the community had turned up to meet us. A robo-cow that’s cart was full with durians passed by, and being the hospitable people that they are, they kindly bought us some to eat. Durians have a stigma we think is slightly wrong. They are claimed to have an unbearable smell but an amazing taste. However, the pungent aroma fills the back of your throat and they taste disgusting, an unbearable sensation when combined with their raw egg consistency. It has been the general consensus between the three of us that after this durian encounter, we will not eat them again. Ever!
We continue to be astounded by the constant generosity of the Khmer people, those who have so little and yet still giving; though we do not find this easy so your prayers in this would be so very appreciated. We gave a short message about prayer; what, why and how. This was sprung upon us without warning and so a quick minutes brainstorm and we were speaking to over twenty people. Lesson learned; always come prepared with a talk in the back pocket!

The village we visited to speak on prayer

That evening we met with the youth of the church, playing games, getting to know them and having a discussion about the personal relationship God wants with us.
On their departure we spoke to Pastor Sarouen and Pastor Sarath about their lives. Pastor Sarouen (the Pastor from CHO) was once a high ranking soldier in the Khmer Rouge army with 300 soldiers at his command. His life was transformed after the war when hearing a Christian teaching on a Filipino radio station, speaking in Khmer. He consequently found a local church where he gave his life to Jesus. Since 1998 he has been a missionary in the Battambang Province, about an hour from Poipet, until he joined CHO in Febraury.
Pastor Sarath was part of one of the guerrilla rebel groups fighting against the Khmer Rouge. He lost his left leg from the knee down from a land mine and ended up in one of the many refugee camps in Thailand where he became a Christian. There he met the now general Manager of CHO, Rathana. In time his faith came and went until about a year ago where Rathana convinced him to give his life to Christ once again. Six months ago he started his own church in the village which has grown to nearly 80 people. Once these two men were enemies, fighting against each other, but now they sit next to each other, working together to spread the good news of Christ. Only Jesus could bring such healing to a situation!

Pastor Sarath’s son, Pastor Sarath’s wife and newly born son, Calum.
Paul, Alex.
Pastor Sarath, Pastor Sarouen.

The next day, in the afternoon after lunch with some members of the village, we visited a smaller village 1 kilometre away and talked on God’s creation and the personal relationship he desires with us. This community had real trouble and difficulties in their lives, and we were glad that we could speak what we hoped were encouraging words to them. Despite their difficult lives they were extremely happy, joyful and pleased to listen to us. It’s often so hard to encourage these people when they have lives so different from our own; we can’t comprehend the storms they have in their lives, but Jesus can and he calms them. We met people with health problems and families split up between countries due to few job opportunities - many go to Thailand from this village in search of work. We met a boy and girl whose sister moved to Malaysia as a maid, one man we spoke to was once a doctor in the refugee camps but now has next to nothing and can’t support his family. This is the harsh reality of poverty, and it’s so hard to know how to respond to them, but Jesus brings hope, and we pray we brought some of that hope as we talked to the communities.

After speaking of God’s creation and the personal relationship he wants with us near O’Ompul

That evening we continued to talk to the youth about how Jesus takes away our sin and how we can enter into this personal relationship with him. It was good to spend some time talking with them and discussing this relationship Jesus wants from us.
We really felt God blessed us because these talks prepared us for the last day in the village. Pastor Sarouen that evening told us that we would be spreading the good news in a village where people had not heard the message before. So that evening we talked with him, and learnt how to spread the good news of Christ. The next day we were all looking forward to going to the village and when we spoke to a small group of seven people, five gave their lives to Christ (the others were already saved). Praise the Lord! It was a great experience to have had and we learnt so much from doing it. We hope that we can put this into practice in our lives at home but also in our time here left in Poipet.

We all really enjoyed our time at O’Ompul, although faced with challenges we had great food, the church where we stayed was comfortable and we loved the work we did, learning so much from Pastors Sareoun and Sarath. Four months ago we wouldn’t have had a clue how to go about responding to these challenging questions, cultural differences and invitations to spread the gospel of Christ to crowds. But we feel we have so much more of an idea now, of course we don’t get it right every time but we’re always improving. We can’t do this in our own strength, so please continue to pray for us.
We are back to a more regular schedule over the next few weeks. Thank you for all your support and prayers.

With our love
Peace out from Cambodia...

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Sunday, 16 May 2010

16th May

This is only a quick blog to say that we continue to be well and are enjoying our time in Cambodia.
We have just returned from holiday; there was another national holiday in Cambodia as it was the King's birthday, and so this time we went to a Thai Island called Ko Chang and had a laovely time relaxing on the white sandy beaches and living the island life for a few days. It was great to have a break but are pleased to be back home in Poipet ready to work once more at CHO.
This coming week (17th - 20th May) we will be visiting and staying in another village to do work there. We do not as yet know what we will be doing, but we predict it will be similar to the last time in Bos Thom.
Please pray for us as we stay there over the next few days; for our health and safety, our Khmer language, for wisdom and knowledge of what to teach in the Bible and that we would continue to learn more and more, not least, about God and his heart for Cambodia. We want to see peoples hearts and lives changed in Jesus' name and see the gosepl of Jesus brought in his great love, joy, grace, peace and power. Please pray with us.

We will follow this short blog with a more detailed one on our return from the village towards the end of the week, hopefully - internet can be somewhat sporadic in Cambodia at times!
Alex, Paul and Calum x x x

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Tuesday, 4 May 2010

24th-30th April

We were fortunate enough this week to stay in the village of Bos Thom. After a quiet weekend sorting things out after our holiday in Singapore and an ever improving STREET on Sunday evening, we were looking forward to a change from our Poipet home; and it couldn’t be much different. So much happened in the 3 days we were there, it’s difficult to summarise in this blog so we’ll have to tell you more on our return, now just over two and a half months away.
Monday: We left for Bos Thom with Dara (our translator for the time away; he was invaluable, and we could not have achieved what we did without him, we are so grateful for his help). We stayed with Pastor Saruet, one of two Pastors at Bos Thom, with his family of eight. We were honoured and privileged to be the first foreigners to stay in the village. He is comparatively well off in the village of 1000 people, with a moto, house, toilet (squatty potty), pond, chickens, pigs, ducks and geese. We arrived late morning and were introduced to the Pastor and his family. We had no real idea exactly what we would be doing over the next four days; as is the case so often in Cambodia, you just need to dig a bit deeper and ask the right questions!

Pastor Saruet

CHO helped this village hugely by building a school, water pond, and started the church that Pastor Saruet runs. Many people used to get very sick before the pond was built; now they have access to clean fresh water. We learned on the last day that Pastor Saruet’s eldest daughter collects water from the pond every morning at 4.00am to replenish the family’s supplies. She carried two 20 litre buckets hung on a bamboo pole over her shoulder; we struggle to lift one on our own.
That afternoon, we taught English and did a bible class in the local school. Teaching at safe haven was good preparation! The majority of children had not learned English before, so we made a start with basic words, numbers and phrases. Everywhere we go the children are so similar, happy, smiley, and keen to learn, we love working with them! After some games, we started our bible classes with the creation story; we then asked the children if they had heard any of this before. Not one hand went up, out of a hundred. This knocked us for six. We wanted and knew we had to share the good news with them. Though, how do you tell anyone of the good news of Jesus and God’s unfailing love in just five half hour slots over three days? And that said, really only three/two sessions (there were two different classes in the morning and afternoons). It is such a privilege to serve and worship an unchanging God who is the same yesterday, today and forever; sharing the message with those who have not heard of Jesus’ name is what it’s all about. We got them to shout out: Preah jibijah slor’lang knhom! (God loves me!) It was a start that we would build on later in the week.

In the time whilst we were at the village they cooked us great meals. We found it so difficult however, to eat their food when they have so little. They insisted though and it is rude not to eat the food they’ve prepared. That said, the thing we found the hardest was how they fussed over us. We were honoured by their generosity which we couldn’t refuse but it was hard to accept sometimes. On Monday evening we spent the time playing endless games, drinking a lot of water and sweating! We brought a Frisbee with us and taught them ‘Ultimate Frisbee’ which they loved and despite playing some very odd Khmer games we had fun. The evening was lit up by the most amazing lightning storm we’ve ever seen – quite incredible. Our bed for the next three nights was a few wooden planks with a small, thin mat separating us from the boards, surrounded by a mosquito net – not the most comfortable nights we’ve had but how could we (how dare we) complain when this is what they have everyday of their lives.

Tuesday: We woke, Tuesday morning, to the embarrassment of having fifty children ready to learn English at 6.30am – we were not due to start teaching until 8.00am and so was quite a surprise! We washed and dressed, ready to teach in the Pastor’s home where he had brought 14 desks especially for us from the local school. His house is all open-plan with dirt floors, with both corrugated iron and thatched roofing.

Calum teaching English

We taught the basic English phrases and words, played games and after talked about God’s grace which the Pastor had asked to do (10 minutes prior to doing it!). It’s a simple concept for us to understand with our upbringing, but how do we explain God’s grace simply? You can’t explain grace until you explain everything else! But how can they understand that without first explaining who Jesus was, and is? And more to the point, we feel many of you reading this now would be far more qualified to teach on God’s grace than us! We followed from yesterday’s creation story and used John 1v14 and 3v16 to introduce who Jesus is, what he has done for us and his incredible grace for us. We had them shout out once again Jesus loves me! This thus started the beginning of a series of talks on grace over the following days. It’s good to know we can prepare a talk in a couple of minutes though.

We talked about the Good Samaritan to try and further explain God’s grace in the afternoon, as they were a younger class but had similar English lessons. Over the 3 days in Bos Thom we believe we taught nearly 150 children English and the bible, all the desks were filled, with children spilling outside the building in both lessons. We sang songs and both taught and learned new games with the children. By the time we left, Ultimate Frisbee was played continually and a game called ‘Ninja’ was played everywhere we looked! It was so much hotter in the afternoons, playing games was exhausting and none of us had sweat quite like we did in Bos Thom, with such a relentless thirst for water. We drank 50 litres between the three of us, and Dara, whilst we there– in a neighbouring village, Khvai Thom, people have just 5 litres of water between two people per day in which to drink, wash, cook, everything. And yet, without drinking that water we would have been dehydrated very quickly.
We looked around some of the village with the Pastor walking through fields. We visited a family who had made their home in just three days from bamboo and grass thatched roofing; amazing.

The Bamboo home we visited

The family who live there

Alex scaring the family

Other than a few plastic items, both here and across the village, we recon that the village would have looked little different 500 plus years ago; and we are unfortunately not joking when saying this. Everything is so simple, not over complicated and resourceful – the bamboo and thatch were all from the surrounding fields. There is such a contrast in the world in which we live and in Cambodia (indeed any third world country), the contrast between poverty and wealth is so great and it hits us even more so as we live it and even then, it seems unreal that we live in a world with such contrasts like this.

Wednesday: Today was our 100th day since leaving home for Cambodia! We once again woke this morning to the sound of children eager to learn English at 6.30am. We continued with the English basics and then had the children act out Jesus healing the paralytic man in Mark 2 and later that afternoon acted out the story of Zacchaeus.

Paul teaching the Bible

We visited some of the Christian households in the village near the Pastor’s house after teaching in the afternoon and we met a woman who was making roof thatch. A 2 metre strip, which takes a good hour to make, sells for just 500 riel, about 7 pence. Another women we met earns 2 ½ US dollars a day, under 2 pounds. There are next to no job opportunities and so at least they are earning something. We paid Pastor Saruet $90 for the four days we were there; a lot of money, we first thought, when living is so inexpensive. This was somewhat short sighted as that money will be able to be used in the village to help people who really need it. We only hope they didn’t use too much for our short stay. One lady asked if we had houses like hers in our country, a small bamboo/grass thatched house. The answer we gave was hardly adequate but we couldn’t just lie. Our lives are just so different – all because we were born in Britain and she in a remote Cambodian village. One man had had his land invaded by a family and was writing a handwritten letter to the police and village chief seeking justice to have them removed; though what happens to those people once they are removed with nowhere to live, we don’t know.

That evening we spent the night learning to write Khmer and colouring with the Pastor’s children. After three days, everyone was so comfortable with us around and despite having a very evident language barrier we had great fun with them. So many of the children are very confident, joyful, servant hearted and could go so far, however we wonder how they can when growing up in a place like this. One boy, called Lee Hua, in particular shone out to us, a natural leader and spoke some good English already. We later discovered he was once a Safe Haven child, but one year ago he moved to live with his grandmother in Bos Thom. It is so good for us to see a child leave the Safe Haven and fit so easily back into ‘the real world’, so we were delighted to see that, but it just makes us think about his future, how different it will be living here. We played endless games and sang songs all evening and finished by praying for all the children, the Pastor, his family and the village. The Pastor asked that we prayed for: his church (its growth, finance and a building), an English teacher, help with making the ground higher at the school as it floods in the rainy season, the family who had their land taken and medicine. What an incredible evening and three days.
Just before going to bed Pastor Saruet asked us how we thought his church could grow and have more money in the collection. We have been challenged by so many questions the last few days but this we just did not know how to answer. How do you? He will know more than we do in running a church. How can you expect people to give when they have such a small income which is so precious, integral to their survival? God asks that we give a tithe and what we can, so even if they do just that – there’s still hardly anything to make any real change. All we knew to say was to pray and to know to trust in God that he will always provide in the best possible way. So often with questions like these, we don’t know what to say and so refer to what we do, but please pray that when we are challenged and faced with such difficult situations and questions, that we would know what to say. We are all called to be the hands and feet of Jesus, but we cannot do things in our own strength. We need the Almighty, Holy and living God by our side.

Thursday: We unfortunately left on Thursday on a bit of a low note as was Alex ill. At a time when Alex needed to keep his fluid levels up, with nearly no water left, Paul went to buy a 12 bottle pack of water from the local shop. This cost just 3 dollars for 12 bottles; he had to walk past the woman who earned just 2 ½ dollars a day – she could never afford that and yet we needed it. We finished teaching English and spoke on Jesus walking on the water in Matthew 14. We wanted to speak to everyone about how walking with Jesus and being a Christian is a leap of faith. As Peter did, we need to step out of the boat and know that even when we are in trouble, Jesus will immediately catch us. Following Jesus is a risk, but it’s worth the chance of eternal life. Just because we can’t see God, doesn’t mean he’s not there; but we’re not going to see unless we come to him. Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed, John 20v29.
When we arrived on Monday, the children could hardly speak any English. When we left on Thursday they could say: Hello, Goodbye, Sorry, Please, Thank you, How are you?, I am fine, What is your name?, my name is ... , How old are you, I am ... years old and count from 1 to 20. We were so thrilled with their effort. As we left they didn’t want to say goodbye and didn’t want to see us go, nor did we. If Alex wasn’t ill we would all have loved to stay longer, we hope the Pastor didn’t think it was his fault. We had the most incredible week. Our eyes have been widened further both mentally and spiritually. Living in a village which would be little dissimilar in AD 1500 and seeing Jesus in Bos Thom village through the children, the church and Pastor Saruet. Speaking on God’s grace has shown us how God’s grace and love reaches everyone. The world would consider this village to be the least, the lost and the last. But Jesus loves them, his grace reaches them and they are some of the most amazing people we’ve met.

On our return to Poipet, Paul taught at the Safe Haven in the afternoon whilst Calum stayed with Alex, who is now fine and well. The following day we had a quiet morning and in the afternoon we had the weekly prayer meeting at the Safe Haven where we had the staff write prayers on coloured pieces of paper and put them around the site as a sort of prayer walk. In the evening we had a home church, spending time with Emily and Sarah, praying, worshiping God, listening to a talk and catching up from the past week. It is so great to have fellowship with each other.

Please continue to pray for us as your support is so very appreciated.
Alex, Calum and Paul

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