So, here’s part 2 of my Cambodian trip post! You can read part 1 here.
where we last left off, I had just encountered God in the slums of Deum Sleng.
Another big question that came up was definitely ‘what is the point of doing one off charitable things?’ We were in the slums to distribute bread, which I actually did not want to but someone gave me a bag and said ‘please help’. The reason why I didn’t want to help give out bread is because I didn’t want to feel like such an asshole!!!!!! We had experienced earlier that morning the pains of not having enough to give. We prepared craft materials for 20+ kids but in typical Cambodian style, a whole bunch popped up (particularly when food was given out at the end….). I feel like it might seem so far that this list of lessons has come out of negative experiences, but that really isn’t true. Cambodia was still lovely.
this girl came up to me and just put her hand in mine, and sat down with me to listen to the bible story being taught. Isn’t she precious? If only we all had that level of focus to hear from God…
and this was her face when she caught me using my phone (but I was only taking a picture of her)!!!! Hahaha I’ve never felt that judged in my life… suffice to say, I kept my phone.
But back to my lesson:
It still surprises me how surprised I am that Cambodian slum kids are exactly the same as kids anywhere else in the world… You have that bunch of girls determined to reproduce exactly what was given as an example. A girl came up to me and communicated in sign language that she wanted the same marker shade I had used. And then you get those kids doing their own thing in the corner. Wait! It seems like we haven’t gotten back to my lesson. Now, forreals, back to it! (also I promise I’m really not this chirpy and bubbly in real life…..)
Having to tell these kids we didn’t have enough for them was already a bummer. The stickers we gave out became distractions. They fought over it – but they also shared. As I scrambled to cut more craft materials up, R said to me ‘I feel like such an asshole’ and it was so so true.
Back in that slum, I was reluctant to assume that position of ‘I have more and I’m going to give you food’….. why was I so averse to it? Is that a mindset or a position you really assume? The sunday school we had taught at that morning earlier that day actually serves the community in a small section of Deum Sleng, so we saw many of the same children again. And they really came swarming out to ask for bread. We were distributing about 200 loaves of french baguettes that cost what, 10p/20 cents each? We were told to give one loaf per child (only fair?) and to keep walking. And the kids would run up, grab one, give it to their parents, then come back and beg for more. I felt such discomfort at having to say no multiple times. I had prepared to teach Jesus feeding the 5000 at an orphanage later that day. Never before had I felt such disparity between what I believed and what I did. “Jesus provides abundantly! There were 12 baskets of bread and fish left!” but “I can only give you one loaf right now!!!”. I saw a grandmother run out of her house and yank her granddaughter sleeping in the shade outside up with such ferocity (actually kiasu-ness is more apt a term). I wish I could have stopped and given her Jesus instead. They had such hunger, and what I wanted was to give them the Bread of Life. But we were told to keep on walking. Once I stopped, I was swarmed by 10+ little kids tugging and crying out for more more. It felt like the only way to move was to harden your heart and walk on…. but I don’t want to do that.
I think ultimately the frustration was that we were doing small, one-off things, when top-down, changes at governmental level were what would have the biggest effect. (btw the plastic bags the bread came in were much coveted, hence this little boy’s glee + also he snagged 3 loaves!!)
This is Dara, who didn’t remember us from the 3 days we spent teaching him in 2012. R and I were so excited to see him again, and I mean it really goes to show that social tourism has more of an impact on us then on them. I don’t blame him, and I still think service learning trips are worthwhile. How do you truly change their lives in the limited time you have there? But just because you can’t do much, does that mean you shouldn’t do anything? If giving out bread just perpetuates the idea of living on hand-outs, should we do it still? Even if it’s only 10p per loaf and it makes them happy? It keeps them going for another day?
I’m back now from an hour plus long skype call with my soul friend, telling her more about my trip, and getting so excited and passionate but also worked up. I was tearing up while talking, and then suddenly crying when sharing about wanting to give them Jesus instead of bread because in that moment God was moving. And she said these wise words:
“Social tourism is when you go to a place, you see how people live, you’re affected by it in that moment, you feel like it’s an incredible experience, you come back, you tell your best friend about it on skype, maybe you even cry, but what makes you a social tourist rather than a missionary is what you do with what you see. If what you saw impacted you, let it change you.”
There are so many more things I can share about in great detail. The HIV+ little girl who just hugged me tightly for a minute straight. The angry, frustrated kids who started fires twice in their orphanage. The challenge of reconciling going to Cambodia’s most expensive restaurant (but still only a slightly more expensive meal for the average Singaporean) right after going to the slums. How this trip confirmed my desires to do medicine (because yes, I still struggle with that). The smiles when the kids heard Happy by Pharrell Williams and told me ‘banana?? banana??’ because that’s what they call minions. I can go on about the problems of many many NGOs and the rife corruption in Cambodia, or the impact of the Pol Pot genocide.
But I want to leave you, dear reader, with this story that really moved me. I don’t know why (yes I do, again, God!!!) upon sharing this with Max I just really started to cry…
I don’t know his name, I’m not even sure he can talk. He was a boy I met at the HIV orphanage, and I think he’s autistic. He was crying initially because I didn’t have anymore Despicable Me stickers, but I convinced him to take some other ones. Later, he just quietly came up to me and took my hand and just led me to his dorm room. His other hand was clutching a torn paper balloon, the kind you buy for 20 cents, that a lady in our group had distributed.
Obviously once torn, the paper balls aren’t fun anymore. He brought me to his bed, at the foot of which lay his possessions, and then opened up a tin box that contained his most precious items and rummaged through for it. In my head all this while, I was thinking if I could get him a new paper ball, since there were extra ones outside. I was also fascinated and touched that he had allowed me to see this private collection of his. Unexpectedly, he placed the torn, scrunched up paper ball into his box, carefully locked it away, then led me out, dropped my hand, and proceeded to ignore me for the rest of the time there.
I was so honoured to be able to enter his world, just for a while: “where your treasure is, there your heart will be also”.
My time sharing with my soul friend was just so great (as always, mon cherie), talking about God raising up our generation to just hunger after Him and do His will. My previous post’s title Step By Step came from a great sermon I heard today (technically yesterday, as it’s now 3am…), talking about taking steps with God. They might not be extraordinary steps, but each one is significant. They might not all lead up, in fact some may lead down, like Joseph into slavery and then into prison, but with God leading, no U-Turn is ever going backwards. The preacher also shared about just going on an adventure, which is what my heart has been yearning for. And I was telling Max, I don’t want an adventure in the future like ‘Oh God who am I going to marry and how I going to meet him and am I going to stay in the UK or Singapore or elsewhere?’. I want my adventure now. I’ve felt my whole life like I’m on the precipice of something bigger, something greater, something in the future. I want my adventure with God now. Not year 2 of med school, but now.
Her response was so duh and simple it was brilliant: you are an adventurer.
God, may my eyes not be downcast on my feet, my broken shoes, my problems, or how I’m getting from A to B but may my eyes be fixed on You as You lead me wherever. #fixmyeyes