To Cambodia with Faith
Do you remember what you were doing during the 10 days of July 14-24 of this year, 2013? Most of us may have to think for a few moments to remember, but for a group of 21 individuals, they are 10 days they will never forget. Sit down and prepare to have your hearts shaken and your eyes opened as I tell you about their recent mission trip. Mission trips are always an amazing, time-worthy and purpose-filled experience. The Bible states throughout that we are to "go ... and make disciples of the nations" and for those who commit to that are forever changed. This particular mission trip was more than what one may think of when hearing those words "mission trip" and even those who were on this particular team were not fully prepared to comprehend the totality of it.
The "Freedom Project" Missions team consisted of high school and college age students from both Fellowship Bible Church in Roswell, GA and Lanier Hills Church in Gainesville, GA, and a few adults from each church. This type of mission trip was the first of its kind for FBC with its Student Ministry. The purpose of this trip was to raise funds for the Hard Places Community located in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. The funds would help provide shelter, meals, schooling, safety and love for young children who have been forced into the sex trafficking industry, children as young as three years of age, on up into their late teen years.
For those who are unaware, sex trafficking of children has become an international industry. It is an international business where the profits are huge and the perpetrators are ruthless. Even our hometown of Atlanta, GA, is one of the worst cities in the United States for child trafficking, primarily due to our international hub/airport, where children are flown in and flown out. This is not just a major issue in someone else's country; it has spread voraciously and internationally, like a stage-four, world-wide cancer.
In Cambodia, "The Hard Places Community mission is to see justice prevail, pain redeemed, hope reborn, and life restored in the hearts of those the world deems to be the most broken, and in the darkest corners of the world." (combined vision and mission statement from their website). To date, they have a "Safe House" established which provides temporary safety for young boys (they are exploited as much as young girls are), and are praying for additional funds to build a Safe House for girls.
I asked Brandon Howland, Senior High School Ministry Pastor at FBC, and Jenna Kimbrel, high school summer intern at FBC, how they prepared the team for a trip of this magnitude. Brandon stated they had a five month preparation period that also involved having parents attend the meetings so they would be just as informed as to the nature of the mission trip. He also handed me a folder filled with outlines, guidelines, and pages of information ranging from the purpose of the trip, cultural differences and sensitivity (serving with eyes wide open), safety measures, preparations for what they may see, and all the additional details that pertain to an overseas trip. When I asked if any shots or vaccines were necessary for this trip, they both let me know that though they were not required, the recommended ones were for: typhoid, malaria, hepatitis A & B, rabies, and tetanus. These young students were soldiers for God, their willingness and courage for this mission trip was immeasurable.
Don Rock, from Lanier Hills Church contacted FBC a little over a year ago to continue the project that he started at FBC. The students’ desire for the "Freedom Project" is to raise enough funds to have a "Safe House" built for the females. The cost of a Safe House is approximately $40,000 and they currently have raised half of that amount.
It took 20-hours of flight time for this mission’s team to arrive in Cambodia. The first flight brought them to South Korea and the second brought them into Phnom Penh, Cambodia. As much as they prepared for this trip, no amount of explanation or guidebook reading, could have prepared them for what their eyes would see. In those 10 days, after becoming familiar with the Hard Places Community staff and programs, they witnessed homeless children rummaging through trash or sleeping in it, Cambodian homes that were smaller than the students own bedrooms back home, and worst of all, older men making cash transactions, in broad daylight, for time to be spent with little boys or girls.
Love has a different definition for these young boys and girls in Cambodia; it is associated with having to give up a precious part of themselves. They do not know or understand any other kind of love, especially unconditional love.
The Freedom Project team had time to spend with some of these children in the parks daily; in an area where they could play and have time to find some joy and laughter in their day. They felt safe with "these strangers" because they associated them with the Hard Places Community staff. Brandon wrote a comment in his daily blog while overseas from Jeremy Gross, a team member, "There's a lot of power in us playing with the kids, giving innocence back to them for awhile". An additional blog comment from Brandon, "We have seen more than our minds could have imagined in a few short days."
After spending a week there, Jenna commented, "This week has been a week of joy and sadness, but filled with confirmation of what I believe I am called to." Jenna is a high school senior. After the mission team returned to the United States, several of the team's members spoke to the Student Ministry at FBC, an audience that day of about 200 students. Brandon had asked some of the team members to share some of their experiences and seven of the students came forward to speak. Each of those who shared were either junior or seniors in high school or freshmen in college. Savannah, a senior, said that this topic is not one we can be "lukewarm" about, "we need to be fully devoted to this cause." John, a junior and first-time mission trip traveler, said he was "observing" a park scene where his team was engaged in VBS (Vacation Bible School) type activities with the children, and off in the distance he saw three females standing together. He said they looked like a family, but then a man came up, gave the oldest woman cash, and then that man rode off with the two younger females. Bryce, who also was on a mission trip for the first time, said "God has called him to be an evangelist" and that "he will go back."
Brandon who is also a father of two, said that he will never be the same. "The wonder of love and the wonder of people" that he witnessed being displayed by such a young team of students to the young children in Cambodia was "transformational".
If you would like to help these "Freedom Project" students raise the remaining $20,000 so a Safe House can be built for young females in Cambodia with the Hard Places Community, please go to the following website: freedomproject.tv
At least one of the team members will be returning to Cambodia in November of this year. Many of the team members will already be back in school. What a blessing it will be for the additional $20,000 to be raised by then so it can be provided to the Hard Places Community for another Safe House to be built. The Freedom Project team went to Cambodia with mustard-seed faith, returned to the United States with incredible hope, knowing full well that it is intentional, unconditional love that prevails - in Atlanta, Cambodia and throughout the world.
For additional information about the Fredom Project go to: freedomproject.tv
Article by: Donna Stanger, Contributing Writer
Photos provided by: Connie Rock