A Reflection on a short-term trip with PCL
“There are many in the world who are dying for a piece of bread, but there are many more dying for a little love” – Mother Teresa. To say I was called to go to Cambodia is an understatement; I know that I clearly heard from God when my Pastor, Chad Smith, approached me about going on this trip with PCL (People for Care and Learning). You see, our church, The Pointe is a supporter of the “BUY A TREE. CHANGE A LIFE.,” organization. I’ve had the honor of being the volunteer coordinator for the past three years. Seeing the pictures of the those smiling children, meeting some of the amazing staff and hearing of all the lives changed, just added to the fire within, creating a desire to experience Cambodia firsthand.
My first major hurdle was myself. This may not be a big thing for some people, but deciding to go on a trip, half-way around the world, without any of my family and with no one I knew was a major decision. I almost felt like Peter stepping out of the boat when I decided to say yes. Fortunately for me, I never sank, but I’m absolutely convinced that God was there the entire time — before, during and after my visit to this third-world country. I also need to say that even though I didn’t know of any of the other people on this team, we quickly became family.
Our first stop was to meet with government leaders and officials in the capital of Phnom Penh. It was so incredible that the government recognized PCL’s commitment to Cambodia and even remarked about the changes being made throughout the country. Not only does PCL strive to make a difference, but they also aim to provide hope. One thing that impressed me so was their focus to train and equip people within. PCL didn’t send missionaries to get the job done. Instead, they chose to impact this community for good and to empower locals to take responsibility to end the cycle of poverty. Poverty in this country may not ever really end, but at least there has been an astounding attempt to make things better.
When our bus made the trip to Andong Village, I immediately observed the hodge-podge of electrical wiring throughout the city. I noticed the foul smell and flies coming from the market place where meat was laid out in the hot sun. I witnessed the randomness, or so I thought, of drivers swerving in and out all around us. There was a lack of clothing; a lack of food; and a huge lack of mismanaged waste system. However, Andong Village is an area where literally an entire city was built from the ground up. Roads were created; sewage lines installed; homes for hundreds were provided and even a medical center was built and staffed. As we walked through the village, kids came out from everywhere. Many walked with us, just to feel the comfort of holding a loving hand. Mothers completely entrusted us to care for their children as we walked street after street. Even though I had never seen this level of poverty with my own eyes, I also saw a sparkle, a little glimmer of hope and I was gripped by the smile and touch of each precious person I met.
While in Phnom Penh, we toured Tuol Sleng. I have always prided myself in knowing a good amount of history, but I can honestly say I had never heard about the mass genocide endured in Cambodia the late 70s. During this time, military leadership pushed this country towards communism. Cambodians were forced to relocate to labor camps, and they were faced with mass executions, severe malnutrition, physical abuse, starvation and disease. An estimate of 2-4 million people died during this time. Tuol Sleng was a school turned into a death camp. I shed many silent tears as I walked through the rooms, noticing the blood-stained floors, shackles and the mass of pictures of people who were violently murdered. I wept for the hundreds of sweet children that were used and manipulated and I’ll never forget the image of the hanging post or the pictures documenting hundreds of decomposing bodies. Out of 20,000 prisoners, there were only 12 survivors of this camp. This event was a horrific and tragic time in Cambodian history.
Next we flew to Siem Reap where we were greeted by children and staff from the Children’s Home. Instantly, I was drawn to this one little girl in particular. Her smile penetrated my heart and it took every ounce within me to not pack her up and bring her home with me. Actually, I wanted to bring them all. I was completely blown away by the outpouring of love and affection these kids had for us. They were so excited to have us be a part of their daily life, including eating meals together, attending school with them, and just hanging out. These children were polite, well-mannered and so proud to have us visit. PCL provides education not only to these children, but to the entire community. PMI (PCL Management Institute) provides college classes and teaches valuable life skills. Knowing English and having a skill will instantly improve your status and provide an opportunity to rise above poverty.
I have to give a quick shout-out to the deliciousness of a Mango Cashew Smoothie from the Common Grounds Cafe. This is a coffee shop, complete with amazing entrees, that not only provides locals with an income, it also supports the children’s home. Common Grounds serves as a vocational training center that teaches English and valuable life skills. Both the food and the atmosphere are top notch.
Finally, we visited Takam Church and Community Center. Although I was totally grieved by the desolate homes and living arrangements of the residents, I completely melted when I saw the church building decorated with tiny Christmas trees, yes even in February. I was overwhelmed with the dedication and respect the community had for their church building. While we were there, we were part of the dedication of a newly built community library. Everyone was so excited! This community also prides itself in the game of soccer. A few of our team members presented the Takam kids with brand-new soccer cleats. Those little faces swelled with pride as they slipped on new shoes and quickly challenged us to a game. Watching them run up and down a make-shift soccer field has one of the highlights of the trip. Not only are physical needs met, but their spiritual needs are taken care of as well. While in Cambodia, five new pastors were ordained and commissioned to tell the “good news,” which is so amazing! These pastors are eager to teach and share. However, the most impressive part of this community was the integrated working farm. Here locals were taught how to be innovative and how to use and maintain the resources they have in the best way possible. Every part of this farm was used and reused in some sort of way.
I can honestly say I saw many incredible things. I experienced new and exciting moments, like riding an elephant at Angkor Wat and traveling the streets on a tuk-tuk. I felt the thrill of riding an ATV through the countryside, while witnessing even smaller communities with no electricity or running water. I loved on many children and it was super hard to leave some of the most genuine and affectionate people I had ever met. I was impressed that even though Cambodians were faced with great poverty and challenges, they also had an overwhelming spirit of resilience. Part of that resilience comes from the hope that PCL provides to renew and encourage them to persevere and rise above. I can sincerely say that my life has been permanently changed by this experience, and I can’t wait to visit again. Cambodia is forever imprinted on my heart and although I went on this trip to spread the love of Jesus, I left with an abundance of love poured out on me by the people of Cambodia.