Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute.
This summer I spent two weeks in Cambodia with a team of 10 people whose united purpose was to bring hope to the hopeless. We were Mission of Hope, with the Khmer words Sekeday Sangkum in Khmer script on the backs of our bright red t-shirts. We had the absolute pleasure and the desperate heartbreak of working with Greg and his staff at Crossing Cambodia to put on a 3-day carnival for the street kids of Battambang.
I want to write this blog entry as a proclamation of how great, and spirited and talented and wonderful Crossing Cambodia’s kids are in the hopes that you, my reader, will want to go and spend some time with them too. What is it that you have to bring them? As you will see your very presence is all that is required to continue this message of hope we are praying over their lives. Perhaps a massive undertaking on your part (putting together a trip of this size, to travel to South East Asia) has the simplest of reasons to do it. A hug. A smile. A game. A blank colouring page and brand new crayons. These simple things are more love than these kids have had in their whole lives.
I don’t want to write this to tell you about all the wonderful things we did and how completely amazing and fantastic we are and challenge you to step up and do something wonderful too because that’s just not true. My desire is to tell you about how fantastic those kids are, and how simple and basic our gifts were. In actual fact, if you take up my challenge to go, you will receive FAR more than you bring to the table. You will leave refreshed, changed and charged up.
So let me get right to telling you about the kids of Crossing Cambodia. They live in various locations scattered around the city of Battambang. Our first day I was so eager to go in Greg’s truck, which we aptly named ‘The Hope Mobile’, to go and pick up the kids and get our ‘Mission of Hope’ started. I had heard Greg talk about his daily drives to go pick up the kids and how they run to him and hop in the truck and I wanted to see it all in action. I wanted to see the places these kids slept at night. Well, they sleep on sidewalks or under trees or maybe in tin shacks if they are lucky enough. They have snotty noses, cut faces, dirty clothes, if they are lucky enough to be clothed. They are clearly unwanted, unloved, and in desperate need of proper nourishment. Yet, true to Greg’s word, they came running. And they came running with smiles on. They came running barefooted and alone out of bushes and from behind tin screens and out of abandoned buildings. No body came to see them off. Nobody gave them a bagged lunch for the day or had brushed their hair and put a pretty ribbon in it. Nobody watched them leave, waving and blowing kisses. Nobody.
But Greg came. Greg came into that loneliness and offered a place of joy. And they came running.
I have to tell you a little about myself at this point so you know the perspective from which I am writing the stories I am telling you. I have worked with kids before, a lot of kids, a lot of different camps and daycares and other situations, heck I HAVE kids! I know what its like to be a mother and be in the nitty gritty all day every day. I’ve also been to Cambodia before, this was my third trip in fact so I had seen the poverty before, but nothing, and I mean nothing could have prepared me for how hard this group of kids in this particular part of Cambodia was going to be. When I say I’d seen poverty before, that’s really all it was. I had seen it. Driven by families with naked babies, mothers with yet one more swollen belly, another hungry mouth to feed. No shoes for the children, just a begging cup. Yes, I had seen it, but I hadn’t been up close and personal with it. I’ll be honest with you, it was dirty work, but the elation these sweet children showed on their faces when we brought out a jar of bubbles or a brand new soccer ball was totally contagious. In my filth, literally covered with blood, sweat and tears (often not my own), I was able to witness a miracle.
Hope. There it was! I could practically smell it. It was in the air singing the sweetest melody through the leaves of the green mango trees, I could hear it in the chuckles of the children as they played relay races in the front yard of the Crossing Cambodia office. Their giggles lifting up into the trees and over the roofs to the point where some other local kids were actually climbing on the roofs of the adjacent buildings to see what joy was going on down below! It was unbelievable to be a part of.
In the space of a few short hours we went from being strangers to being completely swept away with holy love for these most precious of His children. We prayed through the heat, the fatigue, the noise and undisciplined behaviour and even in that hard place we found a beautiful love. We fed them, we bathed them, we rocked them to sleep for naps, we bandaged cut feet, we praised their art work, we did the best we could to show love and when we dropped them off that night in the backstreets and riverside alleys of Battambang they were alone again. For the most part there was nobody coming out to meet them to see how their day was or where they had been or what they had done and if they had eaten. Our hearts broke. But we had to rest in the truth that the love we had shown them couldn’t be taken away from them. We prayed it would give them hope and peace.
At the end of our three days together we felt the love reciprocated as the kids discovered ways to help us instead of hinder us in our games and activities. The rowdiest and roughest kids became really sweet and loving and we even put them in charge of groups as team leaders when we headed to the local swimming pool. It was beautiful. In the space of three short days together we could tangibly see love in action and the positive affect it had on these undisciplined children.
By the end of our stay in Cambodia some of the kids had discovered where we were staying and they came and hung out by the side of the road where the tuk tuks wait for passengers, in the hopes that they would see us. The first day we thought, “Wow how cool to see them, what can we do? Let’s invite them in for breakfast” but they were uncomfortable being our guests, so we went into a restaurant and bought boxes of food which we brought out to them. They were grateful, but in that moment we realized they came not for food, but for hugs. It was again so beautiful. The next few days continued our daily morning hugs and smiles outside the restaurant even after our carnival was finished.
The last thing I wanted to share is the amazing group of six kids who are now enrolled in their first year of school. Although we saw less of these kids because they were at school all day, we saw such a parallel between their life on the streets and their life at Crossing Cambodia. They would arrive in the morning in rags and Crossing Cambodia’s staff would bathe them and feed them and put on a clean school uniform. When we saw them for lunch they looked amazing as they arrived back at the office in their uniforms, backpacks proudly on their backs and big smiles to see their friends. You could tell they felt special, but they also felt like they were missing out on the fun. I am so proud of them for saying “yes” to an education when Crossing Cambodia offered. Despite their upbringing and their destitution they are committed to making a better life for themselves, even at 10 years old taking Grade 1 they have so much to be proud of. These are the kids who are going to make a difference in these impoverished communities. They are such great role models already, so brave to get up and go to school despite their situation. It would be much easier for them, after a night of begging in the streets to lie down somewhere and sleep, but thanks to Crossing Cambodia, someone is there every morning in ‘The Hope Mobile’ to welcome them to a new day.
This is a hard situation. Kids who have nothing but can’t be placed in an orphan home because they do technically have parents. Unfortunately their parents use them to beg at night to feed their own vices of drink or drugs, the money is most often not to feed their hungry bellies. There is no social safety net in Cambodia to help these children, no government who will step in and say, “This is wrong. This child has rights.” So it is up to organizations like Crossing Cambodia, and the mission teams and the local churches in Battambang.
So what can you do for them? If you’re Greg you can be there every morning to say “It’s a new day and I love you today, come hang out somewhere safe” or if you’re not Greg but would love to be a part of his world then, like us, you can go on a mission trip and spend a few days showing them how fun it can be to just be a kid, while sharing Jesus love and hope with them. Or you can sponsor one of these children to go to school and challenge them and encourage them to make a difference in their lives and their families and communities.
When I came home a month ago I thought, ‘What can I do now for these kids?’ and Proverbs 31:8 came along; “Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute.” And then these words you are reading came onto my page and then you read them… I will continue to share the stories of these kids I met this summer and to pray for them and I will continue to send teams from my church to aid the work that is happening in Battambang Cambodia. I challenge you to ask yourself what you are going to do to step in and help. Reading this was the first step. Don’t let it stop here. The next step is just six simple words. “Here I am Lord, send me.” (Isaiah 6:8).
Suzanne Bisaillion is an Irish Canadian to whom God has given a heart for Cambodia. She leads teams from her home in Montreal, Quebec and is also our Regional Liaison for Canada. If you are in Canada and would like more information about traveling with a team or volunteering with Crossing Cambodia you can email her at firstname.lastname@example.org