Saturday, January 10, 2009

Poipet --- the Armpit???

Here are 2 contrasting scenes from my recent experience. Can you relate?

Scene I: Our missions team returned from 2 weeks’ ministry in April in Cambodia. It is a unique country, truly like no other place I’ve visited, except perhaps Albania during the 1999 Kosovo Crisis. Highways are so potholed that driving 150 km. to Angkor Wat took over 4 hours. The Khmer Rouge/Pol Pot /Killing Fields atrocities so decimated the nation (3 million were massacred out of a 13 million population!) its people appear traumatized, stunned, hopeless, without vision. Garbage lay deep in the cities; piles of clothing littered their streets; open sewers spewed forth a sour, putrid, pervading stench of decay and refuse. Cattle ambled by, surreally munching on plastic rummaged from fields of rubbish. This is Poipet, a Thai-Cambodian bordertown, comparable in size to Abbotsford. The Lonely Planet guidebook describes Poipet as the armpit of Cambodia with nothing of interest and advises tourists to move on.

We stayed. In fact, this was our destination. The good news of Jesus Christ is hope for every nation and the poor and hopeless especially need it. We encountered more than natural filth. Garbage, open sewers, and litter were mere shadows of even more horrible human devastation. Thailand entices its poor neighbours with promises of money, riches and a better life. However, at least 15% of Thailand’s flourishing GNP thrives on a sex trade which deceptively lures and then entraps poor, homeless orphans into a web of child pornography and prostitution. Sex and money, a lethal combination, know no borders to its lust and greed. Sexploiters infiltrate Cambodia, prey on its orphans and steal them away into a 21st Century slave trade. Sadly, many of this trade’s customers (the people who supply the demand) are Canadian sex tourists who travel to Thailand for this very purpose. Fortunately, the RCMP is now recognizing this problem, exposing and prosecuting those Canadians who engage in these illicit and inhuman abuses. Children 10 years and even younger are trapped in prostitution, coerced into videoed sex acts for the warped pleasure of perverted, twisted minds. Some even justify this as ‘inter-generational sex’! While there, over 100 of these sexploited women and children were repatriated from Thailand back to Poipet. But this tragedy of traffic in human souls continues.

One Poipet pastor and his wife decided to make a difference. In addition to their own 3 children, they began taking in homeless, orphaned, abandoned children that would otherwise have been forced into sex slavery. 1…2… eventually they added 23 other children. Their growing family became a church, and in turn became an outreach army to wash, feed, and care for hundreds of other abused children. We joined them in a Las Vegas-like strip of Thai-run casinos in a gambling no-man’s land between the 2 countries (sexual exploitation is permitted in Thailand, but gambling is not!). About 150 homeless children jostled about the field, each waiting for 1 of only 100 individually prepared meals of rice and fish. Like Jesus feeding the 5000, his disciples aligned the children in orderly rows on the grass. They ate and every one cleaned up after themselves. Not one piece of litter remained; the lawn was even cleaner and joy filled the air! But security officers from the adjacent glitzy casino intervened and forbade further feedings. They said the children wrecked the grass! Grass more valuable than children?!? Societies based on self, greed and lust, are not only are blind to the poor, but forbid those who help those who cannot help themselves.

Scene II: After returning here to Abbotsford, I attended a Christian meeting. The speaker concluded his message with an altar call: “Who is not happy with your life?” Over half of the congregation stood and waited for the man of God to pray. Were they hoping he would utter magical words to dispel their unhappiness? Perhaps wave his hand and expel their problems to Neverland? Or maybe touch them and break off anxieties that blocked their tangible happiness until their next meeting and altar call?

I watched, listened and felt a mixture of empathy and frustration. Empathy: I can identify with a desire for more of Christ’s fullness and glory to be manifest and evident in my life and the church; definitely I am not happy with the status quo. Frustration: why are so many North Americans, who have so much in this life compared with others in our world, and especially Christians, who confess eternal and abundant life through faith in Christ, so dissatisfied and unhappy? I believe we often measure our lives by the same standard as the world…self. Our ‘happiness’ is then tied to ‘happenings’ (when they’re good, we’re happy, when they’re bad, we’re sad) more than to the joy Jesus’ resurrection life gives. Why is so much of our Christian experience measured and governed by the standard of self when Jesus says His followers are to deny our selves and not use self as a standard of whether or not we are happy! (Matt 16:24)

I asked the Lord what He saw. Scene I’s homeless, hungry Cambodian children intermingled with Scene II’s unhappy North American Christians. I thought: If these ‘well-fed but unhappy with themselves’ Christians would take their riches, invest in Poipet’s poor (or wherever) instead of Starbucks (Walmart or wherever), then I am sure that within 30 seconds they would really get real joy, a vision beyond themselves and even get a life, like really ‘saved’. After all, Jesus said, “Inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me.” (Matt 25:40)

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