A New Reality
The Killing Fields…
No, this girl couldn’t have been more than 8-years-old. In that moment, all of my naive perceptions of the world shattered. And it was only day 2.
The bus pulls into the dirt parking lot and we watch a swarm of children head our direction and block our only exit. Tohn, our bus driver, opens the door and our senses are instantly overloaded: the sounds of begging and broken English; the blindingly bright sun; the conflicting smells of sweet fruit, sweat, and hot dirt; mouths dry from the sudden wave of unyielding humidity…and it was time to get off the bus. We push through the slew of children as gently and politely as possible. At this point, it has become the hottest day of my life and I’m sweating so profusely I do not want to brush against or be touched by anyone. “No, thank you,” “That’s nice, but no thanks,” and “Please get your fruit out of my face” are heard as we finally get to the entrance of Cambodia’s most infamous tourist trap: the Killing Fields.
A chain link fence surrounds the area; keeping beggars out and tourists in. We compose ourselves and go inside. Our group goes to the Choeung Ek Killing Fields each year to learn an integral piece of Cambodia’s history that lends to understanding why it is in its current state. We pass a 200-foot tall stupa that houses the excavated remains of some 5,000 Khmer Rouge victims. We reads signs explaining the history of the field as we weave along paths strewn with clothes and bones coming up from the eroded ground. Empty pits mar the once whole earth like scars that won’t fade….
The Inevitable Questions
When I tell people that I go to Cambodia every summer, I am often met with the response, “What’s in Cambodia?” Despite my instant thought being “my heart,” I refrain. Those who ask such questions want real answers. This is not only limited to strangers who inquire offhandedly, but also those familiar with my going. They want to know what I did. They want stories, experiences, anecdotes, and adventures. And they want them as soon as my feet hit American soil.
My favorite question upon landing after 30+ hours of travel is…”How was it?” My irritable mind thinks “Ever had your heart dragged across a third world country?” This is far from tactful or Christ-like so I usually say something about the trip being SO awesome and that’s it. Through no fault of their own, people don’t really know what to ask. I wouldn’t if I was in their shoes. The most difficult part of sharing is knowing where to begin. When you’ve been in a country for 2 weeks doing something significant all day, every day, choosing a starting point feels impossible. So I safely go with the beginning and then run through the itinerary. I have watched the light of life fade from people’s eyes as I dryly recant a play-by-play of each day’s events. People want to hear moments, not the schedule.
I’m usually asked to tell my stories while my mind is still so fogged by jet lag the heart-warming tales of love and hope evade my memory. So instead of getting “Jesus moments,” people are told cliffhangers about an interaction between a sick American and a Cambodian doctor who felt his ungloved, unwashed finger would make an adequate tongue depressor (true story) or how sweet and sour kitten was the main dish served (not so true…probably). The point is, the trip is missed and moving narratives remain untold because it’s so dang hard to know where to embark on this journey with people…we don’t want them to miss a second of what has changed our lives forever.
Why Blog Now?
As this will be my fifth year to go, it’s time to share the stories I felt were only fit for my private journals. Along with others who have gone to Cambodia with Global Reach- both with and before me- I will give my account of what we have done and seen in Cambodia. I now realize how imperative it is we recount our testimonies of this trip. God sends us to be His messengers and witnesses…messengers are meant to report back what they’ve seen and how the message was received. We are to tell others all that has been done, how it has transformed our lives, and how God uses even the most ordinary of people to spread His love and hope to “all the ends of the earth.” Why not start here?
…Back to the Killing Fields
As we walk the fence line, we come across more children. These are not stupid kids; they beg through the fence that is far from the entrance. A group of 8 boys and a girl are singing to and following us. We bring candy (Dum Dum suckers and Smarties) to give them. As we are handing out treats, my sister asks the little girl if she would like a Dum Dum. Problem: Dum Dum is EXTREMELY close to a phrase those in the Cambodian sex trade use for oral sex (change the Ds to Ys). The child, apparently very familiar with these words, instantaneously transforms from little girl to woman in her body language, facial expression, and tone. “Hey beautiful, wanna go away?” she asks as she beckons my sister to follow her through the fence. Horrified by her mistake and the little girl’s misunderstanding, my sister tries to explain to the her that she didn’t mean that, how she doesn’t have to do that for anyone ever, how precious she is, and how much Jesus loves her. My sister’s desperate attempt falls on unperceiving ears. The little girl continued to echo her offer in a melodious voice that will haunt me forever.