Expecting one thing and something drastically different happens
This week we received a copy of a letter partners of Neverthirst were sending their friends and family this Christmas after returning from a trip to Cambodia. This is a great read about how we go on mission trips expecting one thing, and God has a much different and greater plan. So often we think we are going overseas to "bless them", or "help build ___", etc, when in reality we're the ones that get blessed. Going overseas on a mission trip is more about the people rather than a "project", and this is a great story of a realization of that. We've highlighted a section of their takeaway from the trip, but I would deeply encourage you to read the entire letter attached below.
My Short term Trip experience
After the villagers sang us a song or two out of a Khmer hymnal they closed their hymnals and turned to us and asked "What do you have to encourage us with?" That question seems very simple but in reality, it blew me away. That is why we were there. It wasn't to help (1) Build rainwater collection tanks, (2) teach sanitation and hygiene, (3) or even see the Angkor Temples; it was to encourage a group of people who live in the most austere environment that you could possibly imagine that God is still good, that Christ is sufficient, and that he "preserves the lives of the saints"....The truth is that we have realized that the people that we met are very real people. These are people with children that laugh and play. The little kids get in trouble when they act up when guest are there. The parents are embarrassed when their houses are not clean enough for guests. Ultimately, we have a responsibility to help those in need because if we do not, who will? These are our brothers and sisters in Christ who are struggling to live, much less live well. We are simply responding to the implications laid out in 1 John 3:17: "But if anyone has the world's goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God's love abide in him?"
Dear Family and Special Friends,
I hope that you and your families are having an excellent Christmas Season so far. I wanted to write you a letter and let you know about some special things that God is doing in the lives of the two of us. As many of you know, we went to Cambodia with a group of eight from our church with an organization called Neverthirst to visit and observe how clean water is helping the people of Cambodia. Our church funded a number of water projects in Cambodia and sent us as members of the church to observe what has been done. The trip ended up being much more than an "observe and report" type trip. Over the two to three months leading up to the trip and the ten days during the trip, the Lord made a large impact on our lives through what we saw and experienced. Our thoughts and opinions of what short term mission trips are all about changed dramatically.
Before this shift in viewpoint, typically when I would speak with someone who had recently returned from a short term trip to a destination either at home in the United States (US) or abroad, the two questions that we would ask were: (1) "So, how was your trip?" and (2) "What did you actually do while you were there?". Those questions are actually excellent questions but as our ten day trip went on I learned how inadequate they really are.
If you had asked us before leaving for this trip (as many of you did) what we were going to be doing in Cambodia our response would have most likely included that (1) we were going to help build rain-water collection tanks, or (2) teach sanitation and hygiene, or we might have even said (3) we were going to see the Angkor Temples. While those answers were correct, we were missing the main point of the trip that we were about to embark on.
Before I go into detail about what we learned, let me give you a very brief background of the recent history of the nation of Cambodia. I will start in the 1960's and briefly get us to present day.
By the late 1960's the US was heavily entrenched in the Vietnam War. The Viet Cong were being heavily bombed as they traveled the Ho Chi Minh trail, which lead them into the Eastern edge of Cambodia. US bombers begin to bomb the area inside of Cambodia killing thousands of Viet Cong and unfortunately Cambodians as well. This caused great fear for the Cambodian people and caused a migration of sorts. An up and coming communist leader, Pol Pot, saw this as an opportunity for his Khmer Rouge to take control of the nation and transform it into a primitive agrarian communist state. In April of 1975 the Khmer Rouge overthrew the standing government. He was welcomed as a hero and liberator by the people in the capitol city of Phnom Penh. It wasn't long (only a matter of hours) until they begin to realize that things were not at all as they seemed. The Khmer Rouge began systematically forcing a migration out of the city into the rural (very rural) countryside. This migration was met with little resistance as the people were told, and largely believed, that the US was coming to bomb the densely populated city of Phnom Penh (which they were not). Over the next four years it is estimated that 25% of the Cambodian population was murdered and/or starved to death as a direct result of the actions of Pol Pot's Khmer Rouge. This amounted to two million men, women, and children. Among those specifically singled out were those who had received any education (nearly every doctor, lawyer, engineer, priest, pastor, ect), could speak any second languages, or even those who wore glasses (as they were assumed to be able to read). After four long years of torture and abuse Pol Pot's regime was toppled when he attacked a village across the Vietnam border for paranoia based reprisals for non-existent crimes. This eventually led to the Vietnamese invasion of Cambodia and the end of the death camps.
This brings us to present day. Cambodia is considered "un-reached" by the gospel (aka good news) of Jesus Christ due to the fact that less than two percent of Cambodians claim to be Christian and even less than that are considered to be evangelical. The good news is that Christ's church is growing there.
Our group had the opportunity to meet with a small group of believers (seventeen) in a small village called Samrong. They asked if we would meet with them in their house church and worship the Lord with them. I think the majority of our group was uneasy about the arrangement as we had never met in a church that was in a house (very different than a house in the US) in a very rural village. This ended up being the most profitable and rewarding part of the trip for many of us. After the villagers sang us a song or two out of a Khmer hymnal they closed their hymnals and turned to us and asked "What do you have to encourage us with?" That question seems very simple but in reality, it blew me away. That is why we were there. It wasn't to help (1) Build rainwater collection tanks, (2) teach sanitation and hygiene, (3) or even see the Angkor Temples; it was to encourage a group of people who live in the most austere environment that you could possibly imagine that God is still good, that Christ is sufficient, and that he "preserves the lives of the saints". You see I was the one who had the privilege of teaching on Psalm 97 for about five minutes through an interpreter. It was incredible to hear "Amen's" as my interpreter told them the things that God was saying through me. While I am sure that the Holy Spirit is capable of overcoming all of my inadequacies and teaching those who were listening, I'm sure I was learning much more than they were during that time that they were hearing me. It hit me as we drove away from Samrong Village that this was actually a "mega-church" in this area. The believers in that small house church had walked or ridden scooters from all over the village (large area), they were from ages 5 to 85, and were overjoyed to meet other Christians. We on the other hand avoid going to visit with other believers in our ornate air conditioned churches because we are inconvenienced by having to dress up or drive 15 minutes to get there. What a privilege we have to meet together! We have so many resources at our disposal to read, watch, or listen to. They don't have these resources, and many of them cannot even read.
Ultimately, we saw that while clean water was instrumental in helping to physically save and greatly improve many people's lives (especially small children), the "living water" (as Jesus called it in the gospel of John) that is introduced in the process by local workers who genuinely have a heart for the people who they are helping, is really point of the Neverthirst mission. The fact of the matter is that one in twelve Children under the age of five die from preventable diseases that can be directly linked to different types of bacteria in their water supply. Most families collect their water from creeks, streams, ponds, or even arsenic contaminated wells. These water sources can be close or can be kilometers away. They labor to bring hydration to their families only to bring back water that will most likely cause intestinal distress for them and could ultimately take the lives of their small children. What we are trying to explain is that these are real people with real families just like us who are suffering and dying in real ways. In our view the only difference between us and them is that God in his wonderful grace has chosen to place us in the wealthiest nation that the world has ever known with an extremely high quality of life. This isn't simply to give us resources to wallow around in, but so that we may bless others. This isn't simply just to make us feel good (although helping others is known to make you feel good), but to respond and react to worldview we claim to believe in.
We are very thankful for the opportunity to go on an adventure like this one. Because of what we have seen this year our intention is to provide the resources ($800) for one fresh rainwater tank to a family in Cambodia. We have decided that instead of buying gifts for each other or gifts for others (except for some small exceptions) we are going to give that money to that end. I want to underline the fact that we are not changing our giving this year simply for money's sake but because we think that it is of the utmost importance to underline our reason to those closest to us. We don't know that we will do this each year but the thought of spending $10, $20, or $100 on a gift that someone doesn't truly want or need seems ridiculous when there is so much more that our money can do and so many that it could help, possibly eternally. We would appreciate that since we are not giving gifts to each of you this year, please do not feel the need to bless us in that way either. If you do insist in giving a gift please join us this year and give to the charity of your choice instead (we suggest Neverthirstwater.org). Do not give out of guilt but out of a very real overflow of joy for all of the wonderful blessings, both material and otherwise, that God has given you. Please understand that we do not condemn the giving of gifts and we are certainly not trying to impose a guilt trip on anyone this Christmas. In fact, we will be leaving for Colorado the day after Christmas to enjoy some time together away from home, work, and distractions and we are very thankful for the opportunity to do so.
The truth is that we have realized that the people that we met are very real people. These are people with children that laugh and play. The little kids get in trouble when they act up when guest are there. The parents are embarrassed when their houses are not clean enough for guests. Ultimately, we have a responsibility to help those in need because if we do not, who will? These are our brothers and sisters in Christ who are struggling to live, much less live well. We are simply responding to the implications laid out in 1 John 3:17:
"But if anyone has the world's goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God's love abide in him?"
Is giving the funding for a rain tank the right answer for everyone? No, not necessarily. But it is an answer.
If you have read this far, thank you. We know that your time is valuable. There are certainly many pictures and videos that we have collected that would help us tell the Cambodian people's story. If you are interested in seeing them or learning more about Neverthirst and what the Lord is doing through their ministry in Cambodia, India, and Africa please ask. Watch Neverthirst's Cambodia video for a video recap of the informational part of this letter.
We appreciate your prayers and support and we are more thankful than we can express for the grace God has shown us by allowing us to have such wonderful family and friends.