Restoration Center Recap

 We spent a few hours this morning at AGAPE restoration center. The restoration center is where the girls begin their journey out of hell.

Don and Bridget Brewster came to Cambodia on a short-term trip years ago and were appalled to hear about the prostitution and human trafficking. “Someone should do something about that” became empty for them so they looked in the mirror and said “enough.” That was the beginning of cultural change in the community of Svay Pak (suburb of Phnom Penh). Years later, more and more young girls and boys (boys are not left out of the brothel scene) have hope.

As we drove through Svay Pak last night, it was overwhelming to see girls of all ages all dressed up standing outside the karaoke bars. This is their culture. It is as normal as Sunday NFL football in America. It’s just the way it is. To make it worse: in this culture, there is little forgiveness or forgetting about the past. Damaged goods are permanently damaged goods.

Now before you think you’re better than these heathens, think about the last time you had to work in a brick factory (and not a nice one like you’d find in the states with air conditioning and health benefits), or had to make the choice between a bill equal to your annual income or your spouse dying. And then pay more to the loan sharks who “helped” in the first place. Or when was the last time you needed your 7 year old to go to work so your family could eat?

It’s just not as simple as: “don’t treat people like objects,” here’s some money, pick yourself up by your bootstraps. The girls stay at the restoration center as long as they need: 3 months to a few years. After the restoration center, many go work at one of the AGAPE employment centers where they make bracelets, T shirts and the like. The end goal is complete re-entry into society without dependence.

Stacy and I love simply being around each other. We’ve been together 24/7 for the past 11 days and we’re still snuggling as we sit here on our flight from Phnom Penh to Taipei. We talk about everything. However, we haven’t said one word about our time the last few days. We’ll need some privacy to have a joint breakdown. In fact, we took turns diverting our gaze away from each other the last two days-one look into each others’ eyes and we know we’d lose it. It’s been an unspoken between us 🙂

Back to the restoration center: there were 40 girls there right now ranging in age from six to mid 20s. A three year old was there as part of prevention: based on her family life it was only a matter of time before she became the next victim.

We heard the story of a young girl who took longer than usual to get out: 22 days meant an extra 190 rapes.

The girls were screened before we arrived to prioritize those who really needed eye care. It was surreal to hear, “we need to add this one because she wasn’t here a few days ago for the screening.” A new birthday for her! Girls are continually being rescued and rehabilitated.  Fortunately we were able to see all the girls and the staff.

We managed the entire process without me touching them at all. If I needed to look closely at their eyes, we’d have Stacy pull down (or up) on their eyelids…and made it all seem natural like that was the normal way of doing things. We moved so quickly that I didn’t have time to think about a few of the girls who came in with their heads down and holding each others’ hands-obviously terrified. Frankly I was terrified of doing something wrong (and I’m sure Stacy was too) but God is good, we didn’t let that fear control us.

To glance into the eyes of a six year old (the same age as our Lilly) and imagine what she’s been through-incomprehensible. But there’s hope! People like Don, Bridget, Kim, Becki, Rachel, Isaac, Kelly, Carol, Krista and others are bringing the light of Jesus Christ into the darkest pits of hell.

The most incredible thing about the people I listed is that they are normal people. They have simply decided to follow Christ to places where I’d say “not me.” I’m not saying everyone is called to Svay Pak, Cambodia but many are and we all need to be listening to the call. Whether that call is to Cambodia, Canada or California.

I truly think that MLK Jr., Mother Teresa, Jim Eliot, and others were normal people. Just like you and me.

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236 Patients. Today.

I would have never dreamed I could encounter 236 patients in a day, let alone personally see them. Had Stacy not been there counting, I would have guessed it were half that many. If you’ve read my blog at all the last few months, I’ve talked a lot about event orientation vs. task orientation. Not worrying about all the stuff. In fact, I told Stacy to not even count the number of patients we saw on this trip (she never listens to me anyway-wise woman that she is) but she knows I’d want to know so that I can better plan logistics for future trips.

Anyway back to the 236. It’s not about the 471 eyes (can’t count the prosthetic one) but about the lives touched and the doors opened. These eyes have seen the rest of their bodies brutally abused and sold. Seen their community rise up from being a hotspot of prostitution and human trafficking to now a center of light in the darkness. Now these eyes see that they have a future. And that includes the eyes of the five year olds as well as the 80 year olds.

We won’t have hardly any pictures from clinic today (for obvious reasons). Suffice to say, words nor pictures could begin to describe working in a former brothel which now functions as a church.

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stacy did sneak in this picture from clinic…..of the old lady with her hand on my thigh

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one of the brick factories where many of the children’s parents (as well as many of the children) work

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a lot of the Vietnamese children come from these fishing villages along the river

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“The Pink Room” made famous in the documentary by the same name. This room, more like a stall and now used for storage, is left as it was when it was part of the brothel. The drum set gives some idea of the cramped quarters.

 

For the eye nerds out there wondering how in the world we saw so many: I have a PlusOptix handheld autorefractor/screener (thanks for the loaner Cyd!) which we used to screen about 80 of the children. For the other 150 or so, I’d do retinoscopy. Our glasses supply is made up of ready made readers and any other glasses where the anisometropia is less than 0.75D and the total astigmatism correction is less than 1.0D. Before you think that’s crazy just think of all your patients who are happy using OTC readers when they have 1.5D cyl.

For the medical part of the eyes I use my direct ophthalmoscope. And I only use that when vision is poor. I guess glaucoma would be the biggie we’re ignoring but I’d have to spend tons of time looking for it, tons more time educating, and tons more time & resources coordinating care. I’d rather get 10 more patients seeing well during that time.

I mention all that to say: you should be doing this! You’re missing out my friends 🙂

Our Minds Are Racing

We’re excited, nervous and anxious. The travel is mostly behind us and we’ve been in country for well over a week. We’ve completely adjusted to the time zone, climate (as much as one could hope), and culture. So why has tomorrow got us all worked up?

Tomorrow morning we get up before six to begin our work with AGAPE International Mission and the Grace & Peace Gals. Google ’em both to see what they’re about. Long story short is they are about changing the culture of Cambodian communities where modern day slavery is the norm. Slavery from sex trafficking as well as human labor slavery.

Girls who should be in first grade and worried about which My Little Pony character is the best are being prostituted. Boys who should be riding bikes and playing in the dirt are working real hours at the brick factory. Taking either from their “jobs” to get an education means money is not coming home. Often times that money is needed to buy food. Not in the American sense of “I can’t afford food”…..because I need an iPhone 9 or another car. But in the sense of we are going to starve without money for food.

You can’t just show up and tell them it is wrong for human beings to be sold and abused. You can’t just give them money because poverty is so much more than simply a lack of material wealth. This kind of work takes years and years to positively influence a culture.

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not staged. this was after being dropped off on the wrong side of the highway 🙂

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first thermometer we’ve seen all trip. 87 inside at gals’ house. given that our clinics the last few days must have been much closer to 100

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much prefer the forest, side of road, or alley

Sitting down with Becki, Rachel and Kimberly of Grace & Peace Gals fame tonight for a few hours is eye opening, refreshing and heart breaking. Pray for them. This has been a really difficult week with the horror of a car wreck scene, suicide intervention, alcoholism counseling, and the list goes on and on. Tomorrow will be long and very busy but hopefully a blessing to not only the patients we see but our hosts as well. IMG_0024 copy

NOW We’re Tired

We’ve been rocking and rolling ever since our first full day in Cambodia. I haven’t had nearly enough time for blog posts and updates for all of our family and friends praying for us back home.

 

Today the heat and weeklong work took its toll. We laugh about the heat because the locals are (no joke) wearing light jackets and a fair number have on stocking caps. This despite the heat index hovering probably in the mid nineties.

 

We were doing great today: up at 5, another hour plus drive and had seen over 70 patients by 11am. No prob. Then we started driving….in the heat of the day with no shade…and we hadn’t eaten since 6:30 and only shared a small 0.5L bottle of water. By the time we got to village number two (yet another 45 minute drive) and set up our clinic in the upstairs of someone’s house, we were beat.

 

Fortunately the local fruit (milk fruit, mini bananas, jacima, and rambutan to name a few) and a few small slices of grilled pork energized us enough to see more than 50 patients in the afternoon. Our missionary Kreg mentioned that we weren’t just bringing eyeglasses to individual patients who have never had them, nor had the ability to get them, but bringing eye care to entire villages that have zero access to care. That’s fun and we pray that doors are opened for Kreg, Kevin and the other missionaries working in Ratanakiri Province.

 

Stacy did insist we skip the lake swim on the way back into town as a Coke and shower were calling her name. Always a next time I suppose.

 

I would say our trip has been a success. Our marriage is stronger than ever plus we still like each other. We’ve seen more than 250 patients and dispensed probably close to 150 pairs of eyeglasses (I told Stacy I’m not going to worry about numbers but she’s been keeping track). We’ve identified 7 patients who could benefit from cataract surgery and will work with Kevin on getting that taken care of (that’s a really low number but many villagers die before cataracts become a problem). Our expenses for the trip are hilariously low….and we continue to pray that doesn’t change.

 

Our trip has purposefully not been focused on “confessions of faith,” “baptisms,” or any of the like. We are focused on opening doors so the missionaries, and even more so the locals, can do the discipling necessary.

 

Above all I really hope we’ve been a blessing to Kevin, his family, and the missionary families here in northeastern Cambodia. It’s tough to have people invade your space and disrupt your schedule.

 

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this image has been seared into my retinas for the past week

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doesn’t taste like chicken

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four year old who took a knife to the eye

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“balut” in Philippines

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Sunday night snack

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congealed pig blood cubes

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the deforestation and disruption to native life is heartbreaking

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our seamstress and her husband all smiles with their new glasses

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snack in the corner (it’s a rat if the pic is too small)

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the pictures of our clinic always make it look so nice (camera flash). here’s a better idea

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“started about a month ago”

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20 year old kid who had high fever 6 months ago and now can’t see out of this eye. any ideas?

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Phil apparently has sought immunity in Cambodia

So for now we rest before the 6am pick up for the….screw it I’m not even gonna guess how long….8+ hour ride to Phnom Penh tomorrow. Then we begin phase two of our trip: working alongside AGAPE International Mission as they rescue young girls from trafficking. We have the privilege of caring for the eyes of their staff, students and local church members. Pray that our feeble efforts would be a blessing to their ministry. It isn’t easy hosting out of towners 🙂IMG_0243 copy IMG_0254 copy IMG_0339 copy IMG_0366 copy IMG_0461 copy IMG_0466 copy

B.E. Flexible

I probably could have written this post before we even left the States but it’s a good reminder….for me 🙂

It’s like a mantra: be flexible it’s the only way to survive. The 7-8 hour ride from PP to Banlung took 11. With blaring music and barf.

The “quick jaunt” to drop off a few villagers took 2+ hours; with a few minutes’ break to let one of them puke on the side of the road.

“Pick you up at 6:30” means we’ll roll in around five ’til seven.

“Let’s take the day off” turns into “this afternoon we’ll run out to Tumpuan Reung.” A village 90 minutes and a canoe ride away.

“Clinic for a few church members after church” turns into 2 hours. When it’s 90*. And 2pm with no lunch. All that as a warmup for the actual scheduled clinic on the way back into town.

And then a call from another missionary, “can you see this 4 year old villager who got stabbed in the eye last year?”

“I always wondered how they make these Cambodian cookies” sounds simple enough. Unless you know Jenny, one of the sweetest women to ever grace this planet. That means skidding to a stop on the dirt road and getting out to watch villagers caramelize sugar and add puffed rice.

You get the idea. Why do I constantly need the reminder to relax? Because my natural inclination (and that of our American culture) is: how many patients did you see? How many pairs of eyeglasses and bottles of drops did you give out? How many baptisms? You came 9000 miles away, you can’t take an hour off.

And then it hits me: without all that we wouldn’t have been able to give the seamstresses at the market new reading glasses, Jenny wouldn’t have been able to introduce herself to the poor villagers cooking the treats and we wouldn’t have been able to give their parents new glasses, we wouldn’t have heard the incredible story of how Kevin and Robin were some of the first missionaries allowed in Cambodia 20 plus years ago, wouldn’t have been near a western toilet when……anyway, wouldn’t have been able to take care of the four missionary kids who have never been to the eye doctor, wouldn’t have been invited into a village home that no missionary has ever set foot in, and on and on it goes.

And then it really hits me, this is not just a lesson for the missions field. It is a lesson for every day. Slow down. Listen. Let God work.