Lately I’ve been struggling with how to reach out to some of the boys I work with from the streets and slums. They struggle with authority and have very few positive influences in their lives. And I am always scared that they will give up, quit on me, and I will be powerless to help them. Just as recently as last night they stayed out all night and slept on sidewalks away from their families for fear of being beaten by a drunk relative. I know that without the right people in their lives, the outlook is not bright for these young men and I know that I alone may not be enough to make it any brighter. Often I try to block out from my mind the possibilities of what path they might go down. Recently I had a glimpse of one possibility that scares me.
The other day I was driving down the road in Battambang when I passed a shop, one that I’ve probably passed by dozens of times. It’s not an ordinary shop, nor is it unique, but it stood out that day.
It was a massage shop. Not a nice looking one with clean beds and trained masseuses in matching uniforms, but a beaten down old building with a sign out front that read 10,000. There are perhaps a dozen of these in Battambang and a thousand more across Cambodia. Very rarely are these places that anyone would go to for a real massage, but usually they are a fronts for something more sinister. And they can usually be identified by the signs indicating the price to be 10,000 riels, or about $2.50.
This day as I drove by I was going slowly, following a gaggle of motorbikes, and I looked over. Out front were sitting 4 or 5 women and among them, leaning against a wall was a young man, perhaps in his early 20s, wearing a black tank top, who had a big tattoo on his right arm and a fairly angry looking expression on his face. Immediately I thought this must be a local gangster whose job it is to keep an eye on the place.
I looked at him and felt such pity for him and wanted to cry. I still do when I think about him.
I saw in him the boys I am struggling with. If I turned back his life 10 years he would have been just like them. A boy who wanted just to play soccer, but was likely surrounded by other men who encouraged him to participate in dangerous activities. Who lived where stealing was just a way of life and you either learn to beat people up or get beat up yourself. At some point, that gangster was a child himself, who thought of candy and playing games, who wanted to be hugged and would have gladly climbed on the arm of a friendly “barang” as they call us foreigners, and somewhere along the line he was taught to ignore moral action in order to survive. Somewhere he chose to harden his own heart to the suffering of others around him for his own benefit.
I had to think, if someone had paid more attention to this young man, if someone had just taught him about God’s love, would he be sitting there participating in the exploitation of those women? Could that angry face have been one with a smile and eyes that had hope.
It was a very painful reminder, that if we don’t reach out to these young men that this is just one unpleasant possibility of what they could become. I look at the older boys we sponsor to go to school, and I am genuinely scared of what may happen to them one day if they choose to drop out of school and our program.
After I’ve done everything I can think of, all I can do is hope and pray that God’s love will touch them. That they will know how much they are loved by God, so much that He would give up His son, that Christ would give Himself up for their sake. That God will kindle in their hearts a warmth of love for others so that at least they may not become like that young man at the massage shop.
Please join in me in praying for these young boys. Not just that God will work through us and touch them, but that He will help me find what we need to affect their lives. At present I am determined to find Khmer men who can befriend these young men, share with them, encourage them, and be a positive role model within their own culture and language. Please pray that God will help me find someone who can have a powerful and positive influence on their lives.
And just maybe, we can see a brighter outlook for their lives.