Tuesday, July 26, 2011

"Give Thanks With A Greatful Heart"

The van pulls up to a small gravel driveway. After about a minute, a small boy (maybe 8 years old) comes and pulls open the large green gate and allows us to enter. The van, which is holding my team members and myself, pulls up and parks inside what looks to be an outside covered basketball court. There isn’t an actual entryway, so we go over a large curb and begin to park there. There’s not much to see. One other van is in parked in that area, and there are 2 buildings beside us, but not much else. Then, suddenly, children start pouring out and surrounding the van. Before we know it, there are about 20 kids all around the van yelling to us and waving. Even though their hands are there to help us out, it is so difficult with the mob of kids. All I can hear is “Hello ma’am” and “what is your name?”. I look around, trying to distinguish faces in the crowd. There is someone I am looking for, a reason my heart has been drawn to this place….
Two weeks earlier, we had the Lord’s Supper at church, and ended the service with a meal and fellowship. During the beginning of service about 8-10 children stepped in a little bit late and, along with the children that were already there, filled up the first two rows. As the pastor was speaking (in English), my eyes were continually drawn to these children. For the most part they sat very quietly, glancing around only occasionally with a look of curiosity. I could tell they probably did not speak much English and yet they sat very well without being told. There were no adults around as far as I could see, but there were so many children! At some point, the Pastor informed us that these children were with Haley’s House, an orphanage just down the street and my heart immediately went out to them. After the service, I went up to meet them and they seemed so excited by the attention they stayed at my side for a while. I asked them their names and ages, and found out that (as I thought) they did not speak much English at all. One little girl seemed very taken with me and walked with me throughout the room. At the time, I could not remember her name. I felt bad, but with so many children around it was very difficult. Finally, we stepped outside and went to find a table to eat at. This little girl stayed right by my side. She took my hand and only sat down when I assured her I would be sitting by her side. During lunch, I got her to write down her name in Khmer and in English. She then asked me to write my name on her hand. When it was time to go, she kissed my cheek and gave me a huge hug. It was so hard to let go, this sweet little girl had come into my life just an hour or so before and yet I felt like she was taking a piece of my heart with her when she left. This little 9 year old girl, Sreni, was the reason for my desire to visit Haley’s House.

As I was trying to get off the bus, I felt a little hand grab mine. I glanced down and saw the face I had been looking for. Little Sreni was waiting for me. She had waited, while all the other teachers got off the van. She waited just for me, and she had a question. As I smiled down at her, she pointed to her hand (where I had written my name 2 weeks earlier) and asked something to the effect of “do you remember me?”. Of course I remembered her! How could I forget? The rest of the day she clung to me. She held my hand and stood by my side at all times. When it was time to go, I almost cried. I wanted to be there, with little Sreni and I didn’t want to leave.

Since that time, we have visited Haley’s House Orphanage 2 more times. Each time, we walk away with different stories to tell. Each time I go, Sreni waits for me and stays by my side. How I wish I could take this little girl home! She has an older sister at the orphanage named Srey Roath (srey or sre means 'girl'), and another older sister who is out of the orphanage. Today some of the older girls were talking to Sreni and I noticed (as I have since the last time we were there) that they kept saying ‘baby’ around her. And today I finally understood what they were saying….they call her my baby. Oh how I wish that was true! It took everything within me to hold back the flood of tears that wanted to fall when I heard that. Especially when the pastor came up and told me their story:

Years ago, the girls lived with their mother. During that time their mom got very sick. Their dad was apparently never in the picture and so the girls cared for their mother. They all lived near a jungle area and so the oldest would go out and pick fruits and things to take care of their mom and to feed the rest of the family. When Sreni was 6, her sister Srey Roath was 12 and the oldest was 14, their mother passed away. The girls lived on their own for 4 months until someone informed Haley’s House who promptly took them in. For at least 4 months they lived alone in the world, with no one but each other to look after them. Because they were caring for their mother, none of them had ever attended school. I was told that when the girls first arrived at Haley’s House and began attending school there, they cried. They did not understand what was going on because they had never been in that situation before.Sreni never smiled, and as you can see…that has changed. The girls lives have been turned around, but by no means is it finished. With an age difference of 6 years, Sreni and Srenoiy are on the same level in school. The orphanage fights to give them the education they deserve, but they can not do it alone! I was told by the pastor today, that they are looking for sponsors for these children. Sponsors who are able to donate $25 a month to one of the 25 children at Haley’s House. This $25 a month will provide food, clothing and education to the children and will help them to reach their dreams. It will also enable Haley’s House to possibly take in more children in the future and do more of the positive programs they are doing around the community. Every week so many people are ministered to through these children. These children are raised in a strong Christian atmosphere, and aren’t afraid to share the gospel. They may not have much, but they are not afraid to proclaim His name!
I have caught a glimpse of Heaven by seeing these children and now know what it looks like to have the faith of a child.


Sunday, July 17, 2011

**Break my Heart for What Breaks Yours**

“Those who trust in the LORD will find new strength. They will soar high on wings like eagles. They will run and not grow weary. They will walk and not faint” Isaiah 40:31

As we hit the halfway mark of our trip, that is my prayer: God give me strength, let me soar and help me to not grow weary. I have seen and experienced so much on this trip, and as I see it I have two choices: get overwhelmed and burnt out, or persevere and put strength behind whatever opportunities God chooses to bless me and my team with.

So far, we have been blessed beyond measure. I am truly grateful for those who have committed themselves to praying for myself, my team, and all those that we have come in contact with. It has definitely made a difference! So far, we have been given much more than we had hoped for and we are so grateful. We live in a very nice house (which belongs to a family who is in the states for the summer), and we are teaching at a very nice school. We even have the most amazing house help (her name is Nari and she is a great cook!). We are not just blessed, we have been spoiled!!

We have also had many opportunities to minister and teach the local kids. Another blessing God has given us is that there was a program that was set up when we got here which allows us to teach the neighborhood kids! This was something we were planning on doing anyway, but we were told we would probably have to go around town and recruit the kids ourselves. However, God made it easy for us and went before us and set the same idea in the mind of one of the Khmer teaching assistants, Sato, and he had already prepared and started the program. Through this program, we are able to teach the neighborhood kids who aren’t as privileged on Monday and Wednesday afternoons. Our regular teaching job is Monday-Friday 8:15-11:30 and the outreach program is Monday and Wednesday 1-3pm. It is a great experience. Twice each week, anywhere from 40-90+ kids show up to learn English and to swim. These kids range from about 18 months old to 19 and everything in between! It is definitely difficult, especially when we group for English class and you realize that you have 20 kids in your class and they are all different ages and have a different knowledge of English. The funniest (and also most frustrating) thing is when you are trying so hard to teach, but the kids don’t understand a word you say and so they just repeat every word! It’s very difficult to get them past that point, but so rewarding when you see they finally get it! For example, I was teaching a group of girls one day and we were going over emotions. I had written out 4 emotions (happy, sad, mad, and surprised) and had drawn a face to go with them. After 10 minutes of repetition and games that incorporated the 4 emotions, it was time to go. I was slightly disheartened because I felt like the girls had no clue what I was teaching or what I was saying. So, when one little girl came back and drew the four faces and wrote the words out, I was so excited! She drew out the faces, said the word, and they proceeded with trying to spell it out. I helped a bit with the spelling, but she really wanted to make sure she understood! It was so great! Every day I have a different group of kids and I just pray that something I say will sink in, and that they will understand what I am trying to teach!

The kids at the school are no less special! Most of these kids are students at this school, and thus have been taught in English and understand and speak it quite well. These are also the best behaved kids I’ve ever had the privilege of teaching! Sure, there are a few rowdy ones. But for the most part, they are extremely well behaved and SO smart! We just started a new class rotation this week. Up until this week there was another team teaching here from Canada. So, our first week and a half was spent helping them and filling in wherever we were needed. Now, we are on our own and it has been great so far! I teach arts and crafts to the Kinder and 1st grade on MWF, and the 4th and 5th grade on TuTh. After that I have the middle school kids for an hour and a half of drama/theater, and they are so fun! I have really enjoyed it! I was worried about teaching middle school because I am used to working with the younger kids, but I enjoy these kids personalities and I love that they are higher level thinkers which makes class more fun. In fact, I got a new group of students today (4 Korean students that speak very little English) and I was trying to explain the class to them. I told them my name and that they were in a drama/theater/art/mask/puppet class (because we do all of that) and one of the other kids said “this is the fun class”, to which many agreed! That comment made my morning! I love that the kids think this is a fun class, that is my goal! They are constantly learning, and I have no discipline problems at all. I do have a few kids (teenagers) who think they are too good or too old for this class, but even they grinned and giggled when I made them act like 5 year olds while I read “Harold and the Purple Crayon” and “5 silly monkeys”! I have found that as long as you make them feel safe about breaking down that barrier, they will be much more receptive to acting silly and just being kids in class! We are putting on a production our last teaching day, and I’m so excited! I think my students will be performing ‘A Tale of 3 Trees”, for which they will be making their own costumes and set. I informed them of this idea yesterday, and they seemed to love it! They got so excited that they were going to be able to do this themselves! I hope we can video record it so I can share the final production with everyone!

Besides teaching, we have had the opportunity to do so many things and meet so many wonderful people! One of my other group members said something on her blog that I find to be so true: I came here thinking that I needed to show Christ and show people Christ-like love. But I can’t. They do a much better job showing the way God wants us to live, and they aren’t even Christians. The Khmer people are the nicest, friendliest, most genuinely caring people I’ve ever met. They will go out of their way to help you, even if they don’t know you or can’t speak your language. If anything, I hope I can learn from them. They are so selfless and caring, and their whole attitude with one another is so opposite of anything I have seen in America. I am humbled after seeing this and realizing that the God of the universe cares just as much for me, in all my selfishness and greed, as He does for these people who are living the life He calls us to live, even though they don’t know Him. I wish everyone could get even just a glimpse of how life has been these past few weeks. I have had the opportunity to learn so much about myself and the way God has called us to live. And now, more than ever, I have seen been able to see God’s heart and his calling not only on my life, but on the life of Christians as a whole.