If you’re reading this, you’re most likely a fellow member from Saddleback Church HK,
I’m writing this post because Rainbow (my wife!) and I have been praying a lot in regards to ministry and one thing that continues to be in our hearts is the children of Siem Reap, Cambodia.
This rather long article (5-10 minute read) is written so you can find out a little bit more about Siem Reap, and for those that share this sense of mission as well, join us this summer or sometime in the future for a mission trip over there!
Siem Reap Background
Before you know more about our mission, it’s important to know more about the place. Siem Reap, in case you have not heard of it, is the home of Angkor Wat, a UNESCO Heritage site that draws in millions of people a year. It is the world’s largest temple complex, built in the 12th century. Hence, Siem Reap is mainly a tourist town. More about Angkor Wat can be found here.
The town of Siem Reap is home to about 230,000 people, and it’s economy is intimately linked to the tourism trade at Angkor Wat. It’s very much a town in development, with no high rises, small streets and lots of motorcycle rickshaws! Over the recent years, there has been a lot of development, mainly with more hotels and foreign money pouring in. Most of the locals work in farming and supporting industries, and the ‘way out’ is to get into tourism. Tourism is the major economy. In past years, it’s been English, French and German speaking, and also lots of Koreans as well! Recently, as with everything under One Belt One Road, there has been an increase in Chinese tourists, evidenced by the fact that over the years, they’ve begun speaking to us in Mandarin.
From the three times (one week each time) that I have went, I have felt perfectly safe. I’m ridden around on my bike for 100 km by myself, and never felt once threatened or unsafe. This is something I would not do in other countries I have been to, but in Siem Reap I feel safe for sure.
I won’t get into the rich history of the country. You have probably heard of the Khmer Rouge, and their atrocities against their citizens in the 1970s and 1980s. More can be read here. Great autobiographies of people who lived through those times include First They Killed My Father, which has just been turned into a motion picture with Angelina Jolie as a director. (She owns her own eco resort in Siem Reap btw! and one of her adopted kids is from Siem Reap.)
According to one of the articles, only 2% of the population is Christian. 96% is Buddhist. Many have not heard the story of Jesus and God’s love. From what we’ve seen, there are many children and young adults hunger for knowledge and also for the message of grace and love from Jesus.
Unlike in other countries, Christians are not persecuted and are given freedom of expression. Christians are seen as a positive force for societal good, especially for the young people. My view is, as long as business opportunities are not involved, and there is nothing vocal in regards to the politics going on right now, the authorities leave you alone, and sometimes even work with you to engage on social issues in the town (Pastor Rick shared one of these stories back in 2016).
As Rainbow and I see it, the same verse comes up every time,
‘The Harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of hte Harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.’ Luke 10:2
It’s appropriate as literally, many young adults do still work in the rice field!
So where does our story start in Cambodia?
Well, before Rainbow and I (Kelvin) met, Rainbow had been there 7-8 years ago just as a tourist. She made a stop at a booth on the side of the road, and it happened that it was actually a school and home for rural children that didn’t have families. It was run by Mr. Leng, a loving father and artist, who had also lost his parents during the time of Khmer Rouge. Through this experience, he decided to start his own home for kids, which range from 2 to young adults. He also runs a network of village schools now. The charity school/home is called Opportunities for Development through Art and Rainbow has been supporting them through art fairs and has gone back every year to visit them.
I first went with Rainbow for a trip there in November 2014. It was just a fun trip for the two of us back then, actually, our first trip together as a couple! The time we spent was memorable. The food, the sites, the sounds, the smells, and the cycling all wonderful. However, my strongest memory from the trip were the kids. The smiles. Their innocence. Their warmth. They were so loving and friendly. Now, you might imagine that an ‘orphanage’ is what you see in the movies, a sad place with porridge for breakfast, lunch and dinner. This is not so here. Mr. Leng has created a loving place, where all the children and young adults look after each other, in what I could see as a rough system of the older ones look after the younger ones as they had been taken care of in the same way. There was always laughter, smiles and merriment at ODA.
My most memorable part was when we decided to buy them a kiddy pool. It was only after did we did out that they didn’t have running water or an air pump. 45 minutes of breathing exercises and dozens of trips to the well later, over 20 kids took turns to play in the rubber pool (good thing we got the big one!). I think after that… it must have lasted at most a week – but the memory was well worth it!
(Another great game was balancing pizza boxes on heads. It quickly became a competition of who could hold it the longest. Probably the most hilarious game I have had ever with cardboard!)
We made a commitment to go back at least once a year to visit the kids!
Wait, where’s the church coming into this?
It was actually on our second trip, when we came with our parents (both sides!) to take pre-wedding pictures in Siem Reap.
It was really an accident or a predestined plan that we found out about ICF church.
It was in the evening. The parents had gone home. We were going to spend some quiet relaxing time together (have you ever had both sides of your parents, and then your uncles with you on a trip?! … wait, they can read this. Actually, it was great and fine!). It was a rainy evening (it usually rains in the early evening) and we were tucked into a little restaurant having a beer and food, just the two of us. As we were eating, 2 wall, large and stout Westerners came into the shop to pick up what looked like enough food to feed an army.
Of course, I made a quick comment, ‘Big Party?’ with a smirk.
One of the gentlemen, in a rather defensive way, said, ‘Hmm. No. We’re missionaries. We’ve got some missionaries from overseas visiting and we’re just having some food.’
Usually, it would end there.
However for us, we lit up and said, ‘Oh really?! We’re Christians as well, and were looking for a church to go to this Sunday’. Where’s the church, who runs it, who are these missionaries?
It just so happened, the missionaires were actually from Hong Kong! and it was the group that my friend Winky was, and I had been trying to contact him.. there was immediate relationship that was built when I asked, ‘Wait. Is there a Winky as part of this group from Hong Kong?’.
Emails were quickly exchanged as both their food and ours were getting cold. The church was actually 15 minute walk from our hotel.
One Sunday in October 2015 was our first encounter with ICF Cambodia. Pastored by Andy and C- Mo Sophal, they started ICF in 2012, with many amazing miracles witnessed in the building of the ministry there.
The worship was amazing! and the message was effective and to the point, something that is needed for youth. We came in unannounced so it was only after the service that we met Andy. He welcome us to lunch which was out in the courtyard (many kids lacked adequate nutrition so all their services has lunch served after the service).
Pastor ND invited us to visit the children’s worship hall that they were building, which was 10 minutes away. When we got there, it was amazing. Blown away with the vision. Basically, it was the size of a large American Basketball court. No walls, just a roof to keep out the sun and rain and a dirt floor. In a year’s time, they would have a concrete floor and host close of 400 kids on a Sunday. There was also Olympic sized swimming pool. Why? It wasn’t an alligator farm. It was simply they needed dirt, and instead of paying for it, they dug down, got the dirt and now they had a pool for the kids to play in as well! How innovative – certainly the only church I’ve seen with a pool this big!
The most memorable moment came when we left. The 50 year old American Jeep wouldn’t move. It was stuck in mud. The pastor, two friends and I, removed our shoes and did a lot of pushing in the mud. We did get it out in the end, but only after I got my white shirt totally covered in Cambodian red clay by standing behind the jeep when Pastor ND hit the gas.
It was an inspiring, hilarious and friendship building afternoon.
We said our Good Byes and said we’ll be back!
August 2016 – Second Trip to ICF Church, Third trip for Kelvin in Siem Reap.
Back we did in August 2016.
We came for a week, and there was a clear mission – to empower their team of case workers with the tools with work with the rural families. Rainbow, a trained social worker, for 4 days worked with them on a variety of things, focusing around case work for social workers. I supported her the best I could — they were long days, and inspiring days. Rainbow was also 5 months pregnant at the time, so we were quite tired at the end.
The team of case workers were some of the sweetest most caring group I have met, their passion was exploding out of them and many times they used their heart to tackle some of the problems that they faced. This can include the social and safety issues that arise from drug use (glue is the preferred drug), abusive relationships, and lack of knowledge around parenting. With a translator, what Rainbow provided them was with a framework on how to address the problems they faced, and gave them confidence to do it with. The case workers were quick to understand and pick it up, and what we found was that many of this they had figured out because they used their hearts and minds, what we did was merely give them the theoretical background to support it.
For full disclosure, I also planned the visit around a bike race that they had that weekend, where I raced with their church cycling team. A group of boys as young as 15 and not more than 25, laughing and having a great time riding bikes. They loved the sport, and it was a great way to build brothers to support each other. We brought a big box of bike equipment for them as well, as they are desperate for parts. Most of them raced on equipment for 10-15 years ago, and the equipment was definitely welcome.
The race was on Saturday (the organisers actually changed it from a Sunday, in respect for the ICF team’s Sunday worship services… amazing!) and riders from all around the country came.
I raced with the team – and knowing that I was older and less fit, I raced conservatively and basically followed wheels, never working in the front (as that takes at least 30% more energy due to air resistance). It was looking good for me. I was hanging in the front 20% of the race and feeling comfortable.
Then something happened.
About 25 minutes into the race, I had seen our team’s fastest rider Rong in front of me, on the side of the road. I stopped. I looked down. He had a flat tyre. As a team member to the fastest rider, I immediately stopped and asked what I could do. That offer was open for interpretation really, but in retrospect, there was only one thing that could be done at the heat of the moment, and it was expressed without words, but with a nod and a push.
GO GO GO!!! Rong was on my bike, and chasing back to the lead group. In the end, he finished 4th!!! to the cheers of the team. My race was over so soon, but I was really happy that I could play a part in the team’s success. I rode the rest of the race on a motor bike supporting the other riders, with Rong’s bike on my shoulders!
(On a side note, it doesn’t seem like I can finish any race ever – last time I raced in Thailand, a crash on the first stage left me unscathed but with a broken bike. I supported the team from the race car for the next 3 days)
The bike exchange became a lesson for how a team works and sacrifices for each other the next day debrief. The point was that the team, like the church, isn’t a collection of individual members doing various things in different directions. It’s a team of individuals coming together with a single mission, which is for the team to achieve something they could not do alone. It’s sometime I will remember for quite a while as a lesson in team work.
Our visit was over in a flash. This trip would be our last for a while, as with the baby coming in January 2017, we really didn’t know when we could go back in 2017.
August 2017 – this summer!
Well, this pretty much brings us to this year!
Rainbow and me will be planning our own separate trips to Siem Reap in the coming months, as one has to be with the baby at home, while the other is in Siem Reap!
If doing some ministry work has been on your heart for a while, and you’re looking for an opportunity, do pray about if this is the right chance for you and join us.
Right now, we’re planning for a week from Tuesday August 22 to 29th, staying with the church and lending our talents and gifts to strengthen the church there. Don’t worry about what you can offer, as long as you are willing, there will be a way for you to make a difference.
Flights and beds will be self financed, but if you book early, flights will be around $2000 HKD and staying at the church with 2 meals is $100 HKD a night, so budget around $4000 for the week.
To find out more, find Tom Chui or myself for a chat!
(the team from ICF church at the celebration event after the social worker training)