Today we felt like true missionaries. We loaded 8 people in an older Toyota Landcruiser, drove down dirt roads that nearly required four-wheel drive, and arrived at the river winding through the largest mangrove forest in the world. Our boats were waiting for us when we arrived- small, blue boats (like the john-boats we have back home) with wooden bench seats and a canvas roof. We put six people per boat and cruised through the forest.
Arriving to the first village was an interesting experience. The village is on a small, hilly island, and the homes are made of wooden slats and built on stilts right in the water. We had to climb out of our boat into another boat, then onto a platform made of tree limbs (which, by the way, were not so sturdy), and then cross a plank over to the village side.
As we walked by the people, we received an interesting response. Everyone appeared to be friendly enough, but it almost seemed as if the adults were mocking us in a way. There was an odd air about them. However, the children were immediately all over us. It was quite different from anywhere else we had been… all of the children have been curious about us, but these kids were pretty aggressive. They wasted no time in grabbing our hands and rubbing us, and some were even hitting. The only English they know is, “Hello!” so they just kept repeating that to us.
As we walked through the village, it felt a little like being in an old Western town. There were concrete walkways, which Lynette said was most likely from Thai people who had lived there some time ago before being run off. The buildings were taller, and many had the roofs and porches like the old Western style buildings. As I said, on one side there were shacks built right on the water, but behind the homes on the other side was pure jungle going up a large hill. This is where these people believe the spirits live. They had small pots along the walkway in which they burn things to please the spirits and invite them in.
There was a very odd feeling as we were on this island. Most of us noticed feeling quite uncomfortable… there was just this suffocating sense of oppression and darkness that I just could not quite put into words. Later, one of the guys in the other group said that as they walked toward the wat, one man talked to them and said that they would not be welcome there. Another person said they noticed the monks near the wat glaring at them, which is very unlike any other area we’ve been in.
Today is a special religious day, so the children were out of school. On this day, they prepare food and offerings and take them to the wat. Although the children were out of school, they were very eager for us to see their school, and they led us uphill through the jungle. Their principal met us and unlocked the school so we could see a classroom. They had a long wooden table in the middle with benches, and there were whiteboards all over the walls, completely covered in Khmer writing. They also had stacks of books all over the room. It was very hot, mosquitoes everywhere, and there was no power.
I sat on a bench in the classroom to look around, and the children who had been walking with me immediately started climbing all over me. Some started rubbing my face, and others started reaching in my pockets and my purse. I realized what they were doing and tried to stand up, and one girl had already grabbed some trash from my purse. When I turned around, she was scraping my chewed-up gum out of the trash wrapper into her mouth with her teeth.
It was almost a relief to leave that village, and we headed on down the river to another village. This time we pulled right up to the shore, and the men were under the trees hand-making fishing boats out of wood. It was so fascinating to watch them filing down the wood and painting by hand. This island was different in that they have a Christian church and there are believers there, so it was welcoming. We had a time of worship and devotions in the church, sitting on wooden benches with no electricity on in the heat, and it was amazing. When you sit in a place like that, you find that those luxuries mean so very little… with no fancy sound system, no fancy seats, no lighting, no air, it’s just you in the presence of the Lord. Oh, what a lesson we could all learn! Stripped away of modern comforts, I found myself just really focused on God, and that is where true worship begins.
After our service we had lunch and then climbed the hill to the wat. It was insanely hot today, and we were struggling. However, we were distracted from our misery by a young boy who decided to join us. He is mentally handicapped, but so full of love. His smile melted me, and we had a great time with him. He tried to talk to us, but that was difficult with the language barrier, so we did a lot of charades. He took pictures with my camera and wore my sunglasses, and loved hugs. He told one of the missionaries after I hugged him that “they love me.” I so wanted to take him home with me!
At the wat, some of the guys sat down and had tea and bananas with one of the monks. It was so interesting, and the missionaries were able to discuss religion with him. As they talked it was interesting to look around and see their prices for services listed all over the building. They were very kind, though, and very welcoming.
We finished up and took our boats back to town. It was a lot to take in and process, but a very powerful day. There are so many people who are so lost and desperately need a touch from the Lord, yet there are so many barriers in the way. These missionaries need a LOT of prayer!