We sat round this sun-lit conference room, I already wondered why it becomes so formal to have us all sitting around the long table facing a white board, especially after the vigorous Sunday service we had in Svay Pak, the treading on the Killing Fields with my sandals and starring at the skulls and bones and picturing all the brutality that were done on the Khmer people, and all the places we visited which demanded our total surrender of ourselves and comfort zones. Now this? On the 5th day of our trip, we were down to sitting in a conference room?? “Are they going to give us a presentation?” The Hagar staff walked in with papers and markers clutched in their hands. “Oh, they ARE going to give us a presentation.” — that was the last thing I expected. There I was patiently sitting there and listening to their mandate, mission statement, vision statement, at 8:15 in the morning. I made myself to concentrate on all these words which seem to me a fancy statement on a bronze plague. However in about 2 minutes, they totally had my attention. I started to fish in my bag for a pen, “oh, where is my journal? I didn’t bring my journal!! Arrrr!” I was then passed a piece of paper outlined Hagar’s motto, “We do whatever it takes for as long as it takes to restore broken lives. Our purpose is singular; we restore broken lives. We welcome the toughest of human conditions. We stay focus on the individual.”
Right off the bet, Thyda, the Communications Officer, caught my attention by saying that Hagar doesn’t care about statistics and reports. Their focus is to bridge one’s brokenness to wholeness through recovery and reintegration. They have 4 recovery shelters in high security premises to house women, girls, boys and children who have suffered sexual abuse, trafficking, serious domestic violence. In a stigmatized Cambodian society, especially for those who have been sexually abused or suffered acid attack, they would not be viewed as victims but outcasts. However Hagar takes them in and provides healthcare services, counselling, legal support to aid in the process of seeking justice, education (“catch-up school” for children in families, who have never had a chance to attend state school, to cover 2 years of school curriculum in 1 year, and “Art programs”), Nurturing Christian Commitment, Disability program and career placements.
They also assist clients to reintegrate into their community. First opting the route of returning to their family of origin if it remains safe and beneficial for the clients to make such transition by establishing connection with family. If the door of family of origin is closed, especially in cases of children were first sold by their family of origin, foster homes will be the 2nd option, where they will be staying in a caring and loving foster family or, for Hagar clients who have attained the age of majority, in a group home. Hagar also pioneered two new programs in the country: the first recovery shelter for boys who are sexually abused and the first community based rehabilitation for intellectual disabled children. Both are first of the kind in Cambodia!!!
All these were written on my piece of paper with handwritings I can hardly read now. What is amazing is that all these written notes are not anything fancy on any given Annual Report. I have the privilege to be in the company of the Hagar staff and counsellors and witness indeed how they apply and live out Christ’s compassion and love in the lives of all these violently abused children and women.
We all were given a Hagar visitor badge and walked into this high security shelters. We saw a little boy charging to our way in a speed of full throttle. We all thought he was running toward us, everyone had our arms wide opened and guessed to whom he was running. He ran passed all of us and then Thyda yelled, “toilet, toilet, toilet!” Yes, he was running in that speed to avoid wetting his pants. I laughed so harsh I can barely walk. This little boy was belonged to the nursery care. A caring and nurturing environment all these children are striving and learning in.
Later in the afternoon, we were bused to a different shelter homes housing women, girls, boys and children. I was especially captivated by the boy counsellor whose gentle voice and demeanour extinguish himself from the other Cambodian men I saw on the streets. A thin mustache lined across his face of chocolate dark skin tone. He wore a watch, and a very “of-the-now” outfits, and a wedding band. He spoke in such gentle voice with his hands clasped together with moments of gesturing how he was coming from a background of poverty, how he was given an opportunity and was sponsored to attend school and later knew about Jesus. He wanted to extend the same opportunity and love and dignity to these boys who are so brutally abused. I remember I bursted out “Praise God” and clapped my hands at the end of his story. How can I not want to shout praises to the One and Only Living God who lives and acts among the least of the least right before my eyes?? How can you not?? Only Christ’s love and saving grace can transform this counsellor’s life and through which broken lives meet restored lives. Christ’s redemptive power is powerful and liberating and unstoppable when one follows Him, obeys His calling, humbles before Him as His follower, and walk trustingly under His light. I finally understand literally there is beauty in brokenness.
It was after listening to this counsellor’s story and spent our standing time in this boys’ shelter, I found a tranquil of peace hovering above my head and under my feet. I found the courage too to confront my own story of brokenness. All of a sudden, the courage surged inside and out shouted “Yes” to Jesus as He invited me to come before His table and receive His grace which I am not deserved to receive. It was after this visit, I came before the Lord with such confidence and security of who I am when He created me and moulded me and carried me all these years from all the brokenness that I entered and bathed in, and now coming out of that old blood ugliness of sin — clean and white and redeemed. Hallelujah (with a big grin!!)!!
It struck me that in the middle of Cambodia, in the middle of this vision trip, I found a complete release of being forgiven in this country ironically with a history of brutal genocide, amongst a team of 13 people whose lives all carry a different and unique God’s story of redemption and restoration. There I was, I found mine too in confidence because I was assured that I, a minute ago, came before the Lord for forgiveness, my faith rooted in Lord Christ Jesus, and my life compelled by the Holy Spirit. What else do I need, what fear do I have, what is that that ugly and hefty that Jesus’ arms cannot bear and take for me?
“I consider my life worth nothing to me, my only aim is to finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me – the task of testifying to the good news of God’s grace” – Acts 20:24
I love you, Lord, and I lift my voice
To worship you, Oh my soul rejoice!
Take joy, my King, in what you hear
May it be a sweet, sweet sound in your ear!!