Our first look at Koh Kong

We arrived in Koh Kong by bus, and the traffic was crazy.  James and Pat loaded us up into the trucks and drove us down to the waterfront to our hotel.  I have to admit, at first glance I felt like I was in the tropics!  Beautiful water, sunshine, palm trees, and sitting areas under straw roofs… not such a bad deal!  But I was snapped back into reality by the stench of burning trash and fish and shrimp, and the sight of open tanks full of crawfish and eels outside the restaurant of our hotel.  Our room has great air conditioning and a mini-fridge, but Kirby had to capture a lizard off the wall and we learned quickly that running water is apparently a luxury that we don’t always have!

We took off this evening to check out the gym that the missionaries run here in Koh Kong.  It has a tin roof and is so hot inside!  They have an area with weights and benches, several ping pong tables, badminton, stationary bikes, resistance bands, hula hoops, and an area with a screen for aerobics (a big hit with the ladies!).

The gym is vital to the ministry here.  In the U.S. we tend to think of missionaries as people who just go up and down the street handing out Gospel tracks and leading people through the prayer of salvation left and right.  That is such a misconception!  Mission work here in Cambodia is a long, slow process… it takes years to build relationships, and it takes a miracle from God to lead these people to the Truth.  The culture is so very different from what we are accustomed to, and people are not very open to emotions and discussing their thoughts and feelings.  Personal relationships have to be worked at over long periods of time, and on top of that, the Khmer people are heavily entrenched in the throws of Buddhism.  It is all they know and have ever known… many have never even heard the name of Jesus.  Asking them to consider His word as truth is asking them to turn their backs on everything they’ve ever known, to take a step away from their family, culture, and heritage… it is not an easy task, but through His power lives are being changed.  It just takes a great deal of patience and time, and us Westerners are not too keen on that.  We want results, and we want them now!

Through the gym ministry, people are coming to know Christ.  They come in to work out and have some fun, and the missionaries get to see the same people on a regular basis.  That is where relationship building begins.  They get to learn about the lives of people, get to know them a little more personally each day, and they earn trust and respect.  They are also building their network in this area… as they get to know individuals, those individuals lead them to other individuals, and they are able to connect with people they otherwise may have never seen.  It just takes time.

We walked outside the gym, and as we stood there several children came up.  They would taunt each other to get closer and closer to us, and we started playing around with them.  They were so full of giggles and smiles, and so eager for attention!  Kirby gave them suckers, which they snatched right up and started eating instantly (after they threw their wrappers on the ground- even adults do that here).  They ran off to a group of older kids standing on the corner, and then one of the boys came back begging for money.  The older kids put him up to it, and Lynette explained to him that he shouldn’t do that.  It is amazing how early they learn to beg.

Of course, through all of that, the mama in me wanted to scream, “Where are your parents?!”  I would never allow my children to roam the street and accept candy from strangers.  But, this is a different world.

Our hotel.. Koh Kong Bay
The gym in Koh Kong

Bus rides in Cambodia are NO fun!

Jet lag kicked in today… I woke up every hour overnight, and then gave up around 3.  Worked out great, though, because I got to chat with Raegan!  We had breakfast at the guesthouse (scrambled eggs and homemade muffins), then headed to catch our bus in downtown Phnom Penh.  Even though it was only about 7:00 in the morning, the city was bustling all over.  The missionary giving us a ride said the people are up and working by the time the sun rises around 6:00.  A little hard for this lazy person to fathom!

We loaded our bus, which was quite an experience.  Our luggage went on the bottom, then we climbed up to sit in the upper section.  It was similar to an American charter bus, but much dirtier!  They played very loud Khmer music the whole time, and we were definitely in the minority.

The scenery along the way was amazing… we would see the big city, then suddenly it would a totally impoverished area.  It quickly changes from one extreme to another near the cities, and then you only see poverty when you get into the more rural areas.  About halfway through the bus ride we stopped at a roadside stop for a bathroom and lunch break.  We had lunch packed from the missionaries- they said the food is unsafe in those type of stops, and I could see why when I went to the bathroom.  I had to walk down an alley between the building lined with stinky garbage, and dogs and cats were roaming about.  Toward the end we saw a pile of fish they were using for food, just lying out in the midst of all the nastiness.

The bathrooms were squatters- a cement building with a hole in the ground and a tub of water for flushing.  We had to quickly jump back on the bus and hit the road again, and it was miserable!  It was a long, slow trip through the mountains- beautiful, but after a few hours that doesn’t matter so much.  We were so relieved to reach Koh Kong.

A sobering experience

So, we all slept hard all night, and woke up around 8:00 this morning just in time for breakfast- American style!  The guest house served scrambled eggs, pancakes, and fresh pineapple.  It was so yummy!  After eating, we all piled into a van and rode to Tuol Sleng, the genocide museum from the rise of Khmer Rouge.  It was a former high school converted into a torture center at the height of the Khmer Rouge rule… it was so disturbing to walk through the halls and see the remnants of torture chambers, blood-stained floors, and photographs of innocent victims.  It is so hard to fathom such evil.

After such a depressing adventure, we moved on to a happier place- the waterfront in front of the king’s palace.  It almost felt like I was at Epcot center in Disney!  The waterfront was lined with flags flying for every nation imaginable (even an American flag!), and there were banners and signs everywhere.  Today is the king’s birthday, which is a holiday here.  It was quite festive and the city was bustling with excitement.  We walked around and took pictures, looking like the true tourists that we are.  The Cambodians had a good time laughing at us, but the teasing was good-natured and they were all really friendly.  We had lunch at a great restaurant, and the food was delicious!  (Cashew chicken for me- yum!)

We then went on to visit the Killing Fields, the area where millions of Cambodians were executed by Khmer Rouge soldiers.  There were empty mass graves, and a huge memorial in the center full of bones and skulls of the victims.  It was a beautiful area, yet haunting as everyone learned of the horrific events that took place there.  As we stood in front of the “Killing Tree,” I was overwhelmed at how easily evil can consume a person if he/she allows it.

We traveled back to our guest house, and spend the remainder of the evening resting.  Tomorrow we board a bus and take a 5-6 hour bus ride through the mountains to our next destination, Koh Kong.  Praising God for safety, protection, and provision, and for providing a loving relationship of freedom in Christ!

Tuol Sleng
Tuol Sleng
Phnom Penh
Phnom Penh
Phnom Penh
Phnom Penh
King’s palace in Phnom Penh
Killing Fields
Killing Tree at the Killing Fields
Mass graves at the Killing Fields

30 hours of travel

What better time to restart the blog-thing than when I travel to the other side of the world?  As everyone knows, we have traveled to Cambodia for a two-week mission trip (we = me, Kirby, Dwight, & LeeAnn).

We left Wilmington at 6:00 on Saturday, October 29.  It was a very tearful morning… a little anxiety regarding the intensity of the awaiting trip, and a LOT of stress over leaving my angels behind in Leland!  Raegan was taking it especially hard.  Her tears began a week ago as she struggled with the idea of us being gone for so long.  For a little girl who never even stays overnight anywhere, two weeks without Mom and Dad was terrifying!  However, we prayed with her and explained to her that sometimes God calls you to do things outside of where you’re comfortable, and you have to obey Him no matter what!  Before we left, I gave her a list of encouraging verses to refer to while we’re gone in hopes that she’ll find some comfort in God’s word.

Our first flight from Wilmington to Chicago was a rough one.  The plane was tiny- a row on single seats on one side and double seats on the other, and there was MUCH turbulence pretty much the entire two hours.  By the time we landed we were all fairly miserable, and grateful to have our feet back on solid ground!

We had over four hours to hang around in Chicago’s airport… we got a little lost trying to find the right terminal at first.  Fortunately some kind soul noticed our aimless wandering and gave us a little direction.  We took a tram to another terminal, then ate some breakfast, got our boarding passes and went through security.  Security was a little more intense there, but we all got through relatively easily.

The flight from Chicago to Seoul, South Korea was 13 hours.  The plane was large- 3 seats, 4 seats, and 3 seats.  Kirby and I were behind Dwight and LeeAnn, and we each had a person on the end.  However, our guy got up and moved, so Kirby and I got an extra seat to stretch out on- SWEET!  We flew Korean Air, which was super-nice.  Each seat had a personal monitor with headphones, and we could watch movies or tv shows, listen to music, or play video games.

13 hours is a long time to be in one seat… ate a lot of food (they provided snacks and 2 full meals), slept a lot, and watched lots of movies.  We literally flew over the top of the world, which was amazing.  We saw glaciers and snow, and watched the sun set.  It was humbling to see a totally different realm of God’s creation… the same God that created the things I see in Leland, that created me, also created the glaciers of the Arctic Circle and the snowy vastness of Siberia.

Our time in the airport in Seoul, South Korea, was much shorter.  We found a Burger King and grabbed a snack, then got ready to board our final flight.  The flight from Seoul to Phnom Penh was about 5 hours, and we all slept most of it.  We went through visas and customs very quickly in Phnom Penh, then met up with Pat and Jeanie Hartsfield, the missionaries taking care of us for our first couple of days.

We are staying the first two nights in Phnom Penh at The Sanctuary Guesthouse, set up specifically for Christian missionaries.  The four of us are in one room with two sets of bunk beds and a bathroom.  Everything is very clean, and we have hot water and AC!  There is a real toilet that flushes (and toilet paper!), and a tub with a shower nozzle… just have to be careful not to soak the floor too much.  They also provide breakfast and dinner here.

So the trip is off to a great start, and we are looking forward to all that lies ahead- God has been faithful as always!

Sunrise from the sky
Loving technology!
Sunset on top of the world
Airplane food
Coming in to Asia
Islands as we got closer to South Korea