Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Love love love

Well, I am back in the western world. I arrived Saturday morning, and after staying awake for 31 hours, I promptly took a nap, attempted to get coffee, and went grocery shopping. Let me tell you - after two weeks of my arch-nemesis in every meal, muesli has never tasted better. So long, eggs! May you never cross my taste buds again.

But I realize you don't tune in for my opinion on the worst of all breakfast foods. You are actually here because you care about how my trip went.

If I had to think of one word to describe the last two weeks, I wouldn't be able to. True to promises we got from God, the last two weeks of outreach were a grand finale, like the moment of air time at the end of a ski jump, and entirely different than everything else we did. In other words, it was unbelievably busy, incredibly powerful, and insanely humbling.

This outreach has been extremely varied. We worked with trafficked women in the big city, with families in rural Cambodia, with all ages in both town and in the villages, in a predominately Buddhist nation and a predominately Hindu nation. We did evangelism and discipleship and preaching, teaching and health care and community development.

Our team leader said she's never led a team that has done so much on one outreach, and believe me, I am intensely grateful. Even now, thinking back on what we did these last three months, I can't believe I did them. Hiking ten hours to do a medical camp in an unreached village? That was me? Teaching English in a nation still recovering genocide? You mean I actually did that? I worked on building two houses - even laying a foundation on a steep, steep mountainside! As one of the lecturers from DTS said in worship - "What the heck?!!" How did that even happen?

I think one of the things I really learned the last two weeks was the contrast between words and deeds. An author once wrote, " words are wind," but I don't think I truly understood that until reaching Cambodia.

There are many NGO's at work in Cambodia now - UNICEF, UN observers, anti-trafficking groups, mine field clearing and community development groups - but many of them are so specialized that as they work with a people group, they help only one facet of that group's needs.

The first two weeks in Cambodia were spent in  Battambang, a small town where so many NGO's were based, we were told to be cautious of telling foreigners of our faith. But in the second half of our time, we were in Bavel commune, a village center about 90 minutes from Battambang and 45 minutes from the Thai border.

For all outreach up to this point, I always knew what we do the next day. In Kathmandu, the missionaries there had a schedule of how we would help everyday. There were even days in the schedule to get individual marching orders and then do them. In Dadeldhura, the missionaries were laid back and in the middle of governmentally-instigated upheaval, but would always tell us by the night before ministry what we would do that day. In Battambang, we always scrubbed walls in the morning, taught in English in the afternoon, and did evangelism at night.

Not so in Bavel. We knew the general objectives - service in four villages over the course of twelve days. That was all we knew, though. We were the first team to be sent into this area, the translator had never been to the four villages, and the non-YWAM pastor overseeing our service would come and go, seemingly at random, and leave what our service looked like up to the local village leaders. We were literally flying blind with every village we went to. In the morning as we would pile into the tuk-tuk to go to a new village, we had to be prepared to teach English to any level, teach computer skills, teach basic health and sanitation, do a two hour children's program, do a one hour open air, have a sermon prepared, and be ready to sit with old folks in a hut and carry on small talk with a survivor of genocide.

The first village was fairly easy - computer classes to a group of teenagers who had learned Microsoft Word a few years ago, and English to elementary students who didn't know the alphabet. But then it got harder. Every successive village was farther and farther from our home base and closer to the Thai border. The third village we visited was referred to as "ground zero" for child trafficking in the region. This village was founded in 2004 for the remaining Khmai refugees still living in Thailand. The refugees were resettled in jungle far away from paved roads, as the closer properties were all controlled by the politically influential - rich corporations, governmental employees, soldiers.

However, as soon as the village was founded, the wealthy began claiming all the land around the village, leaving the refugees with very little land on which to support themselves. Even if a family has a surplus, the roads are so bad that any produce would spoil by the time it reached the market. However, the land doesn't produce enough food for the large Khmai families to survive, so the parents move to the Thai borders to work, leaving children behind. But because they were refugees, there was no family network to care for the children left behind. These children are perfect prey for a trafficker. Promising food or a reunion with their family, they lure the kids away from the starvation and neglect of the village to the abuse and mistreatment of modern slavery.

In addition to this poverty, the region of Bavel was one of the last strongholds of the Khmer Rouge during Cambodia's civil war. The Khmer Rouge covered the area with land mines to protect themselves from the government, but when they stopped fighting, the mines remained. Areas close to town have been cleared; in more remote villages, it is best to stick to the road.

A church was planted at the same time as the village - our supervising pastor had hidden in the area while fleeing Khmer Rouge soldiers, and had a care for the new residents. However, in the past five years, three pastors had died: one from malaria, one from another illness, and one from stepping on a mine. The church had not met for two years - since the last pastor passed away.

Imagine you are an idealistic young white girl who can speak six phrases in the language. Imagine riding into the village after a two hour tuk-tuk ride. Imagine yourself seeing signs with declaring "minefield cleared by ..." and children with bellies distended from malnourishment. And now realize that this is not a movie set, that this is not a temporary situation, that this is LIFE for the people staring at you warily from underneath the thatched roofs of their huts.

There are no words for some situations. There are no platitudes, no blessings, no comforts to be had from mere words. Sometimes, there are only actions.

I feel like I speak love a lot. I say things that make other people feel warm and fuzzy and valued for a time, but my actions don't follow the implications of my words. And one of the main things I learned in Cambodia was the truth that I have been speaking for the past three years. It is a truth that I've known intellectually, but not experientially. I have been confronted with the cold hard truth that love is an action. Love is a verb. Love is a going out of one's way to serve and value another. And above all love is a way of living. It is not a once-in-a-while, if-I-can-be-bothered, just-let-me-finish-my-mocha, there-will-always-be-injustice-so-why-the-rush choice of convenience or pity.

I am not required to change the world - though that would be quite nice. I am mot required to change a country - though that is a definite possibility. My responsibility is one thing, and one thing only: to love people as God loves them. One at a time, individually, practically, and in every way.

Let's be honest. I am only 19. I have no great influence, no great wisdom or wealth. But I do have hands and feet. I have knowledge and time and a heart. I have all I need to touch a life.

Because my team went to the village, a church now meets where no church met before. A ministry now exists for orphaned and abandoned children. And people have remembered who they are and what they can do.

I don't claim this for myself. I know I couldn't have done it alone. What I do know is that none of it would have happened without ten people being committed to love.

And I think that may be the most important thing I learned on outreach.