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A small village of Phnom penh
[Teacher hope Lee]
It was a country called Cambodia located somewhere in Southeast Asia, a country better known to the outside
world as "Killing Field" rather than by its own name. I found myself one day in a slum village in this country.
I had never imagined, not even in my wildest dreams, that this would become my mission field. My first contact with the country occurred in 1997 when I agreed to go on a short-term mission trip to
Cambodia via Vietnam with some of my close friends. Since there was a civil war raging at the time,
all flights into the country were cancelled. We stayed and waited three days in Ho Chi Min City, Vietnam, for the next available flight.
Once aboard, I found out that there were only nine people, including the crew and ourselves,
on the plane heading to Cambodia that day. When we finally arrived at Pochentong Airport, I was absolutely horrified at what was displayed before my eyes.
Everywhere I looked, there were wounded people bleeding and moaning. Dead corpses were left unattended
on the streets everywhere we went. Violence was rampant in broad daylight and the entire city of
Phnom Penh was in chaos. I felt extremely fearful for my life and promised myself that this shall be my first
and last time to ever visit Cambodia. Upon returning to home church my pastor and mentor, came to talk to me. He shared his vision to send
missionaries to Cambodia and Laos, and said that he would like to see it being fulfilled during his lifetime.
Then he added, "As you know, I'm almost 80 years old. I would like to go to Cambodia and Laos myself, but
I am too old and weak. Would you go instead of me? I will pray for you." At that instant, the horrific images of Cambodia overtook my mind and weighed down heavily on my heart that
I could not say anything in response. I returned home in silence and talked to my wife about pastor's.
She said, "How could you reject Pastor's wish to send you as a missionary? He is your pastor and mentor.
Go. I will take care of our two boys here. Don¡¯t worry about us. Why don't you go and try it;
if it's too difficult, then you can always come back. But don't reject pastor Tow's request. He is an old man.
If he passes away and you didn¡¯t go, then you will probably regret it for a long time."
Receiving the support and encouragement of my wife, I finally decided to return to Cambodia—this time,
as a full-time missionary. Things looked bleak when I arrived in Cambodia once again. Poverty and sickness had been sweeping across
the country for many years now, and the number of HIV patients was growing with astoundingly high proportions.
Fear and hopelessness were written across the face of every Cambodian. On top of that, I had to endure
through nightly exchange of gun shots being fired all around the house I stayed in absolute terror.
At that time, I was renting out a two-story house in a slum village called Tok Tlak in the outskirts of
Phnom Penh, the capital city. Every day when the sun had set, I crept into bed in fear, crying out
desperately to God to preserve my life through just one more night. When the next day came however, becoming a missionary was another challenge to me. Learning to adjust
my lifestyle to the new culture and starting a ministry were all too difficult, because I had not been
properly trained for missions work—and certainly not for working in such a strong Buddhist country as Cambodia.
The slum village where I lived was like a place that I had once seen on TV or read in a newspaper
article before. Starvation was an ordinary part of life, and having just one meal a day with nothing but
a plain bowl of rice was considered a good and happy life for the Tok Tlak villagers. The extent of their poverty was beyond my imagination. Young children were running around with sores
and infection covering many areas of their body. They were abandoned to wander all day long naked and
barefooted, searching through garbage for food and playing in rotten sewage. Though one might find
it hard to believe, I actually ignored them all at first. I wanted to get close to them at times,
but I just could not. The adults were not any better off. Food was scarce, safe drinking water
was a rare commodity, and proper clothing to cover themselves was a luxurious concept to them.
It was absolutely out of their reach to even think of going to the hospital when a person became sick.
¡®With people like these, doing any sort of missions work is impossible¡¯, I thought. Truly, loving other people was the most difficult thing I had to learn in Cambodia. Day after day,
I was reminded of this and I began to think, 'No wonder God specifically commanded us humans to love
our neighbors as ourselves! He knew how hard it is for us.' Then I thought of Jesus Christ--one who
loved the unlovable, one who gave everything to love even those who could not and should not be loved
with his unchanging love. It is true that I had learned about Jesus who forgives the most unforgivable of sinners, like myself,
and of His amazing grace and love in seminary. However, I could not put it to practice. I was totally
unprepared to keep this command when I first started living amidst the poor in this Cambodia slum village.
I wasn't transformed enough to bear the calling of the Lord that was imparted in my life. I realized
for the first time how hard it is for one person to love another human being. Then it came upon me that I had become a "spiritual beggar" without even knowing it.
I only knew how to receive from others. I realized that all this time, I had been praying and praising
the Lord with my lips only-- even while asking God to help me live like Jesus or Paul. I found myself
in a wretched state, unprepared for the work of God. I was like the fearful servant who was not yet
ready for his master's return. I felt ashamed and miserable. Intense inner conflict started to tear
apart this "spiritual beggar." I learned that I really did not know how to share, and that my interest
was solely for the well being of myself and my family. Realizing this, I knelt down on my knees and said
this prayer, asking God to transform me first:
"Lord,Prepare and transform me. Lord,Create me anew and make me be born again. Oh my Lord,Why have you sent me to this dry and barren land, Without preparing and transforming me first? Here I am discouraged and distressed, It is difficult to press on my Lord..."
he immediate barrier for doing missions work was the language. I could not speak Khmer, the Cambodian language,
and I found it very difficult to learn, though I tried hard at it.So, I decided to learn Chinese instead, since my literature
studies in Korea and Japan included command of Chinese characters. God provided a way for me.
A Cambodian-Chinese family sent their 11 year-old son to teach me Chinese daily.
When I was able to speak some Chinese, the boy also agreed to be my translator—translating my Chinese into Khmer. Thus, I had a strategy for communication. I started to gather village children to the ¡°mission center¡±
(two-story house I was renting out) and shared Bible stories and songs. Having this young translator
by my side to take care of much of the communication difficulties, I thought I was now ready to start
doing missions work for sure. Little did I know, there was yet another mountain to climb.
The villagers had assumed that I was a foreign kidnapper gathering their children to sell them overseas.
Thus, none of the children showed up when I invited them to the mission center the second time. Such hardships and times of testing continued on. I began to think that it was impossible to do missions
with Cambodians here in this slum village. I cried in anguish every time I thought that these are the people
I was called to serve and care for in the name of Jesus, because I desperately wanted to give up.
One day in my P.O. box, I received a letter from Korea. It was from one of my former church young adult group members. She was now serving at her church in Korea
as a children¡¯s Sunday School teacher. Her letter was filled with words that describe the difficulty
she faces as a Sunday School teacher. She wrote about how the children often wet their pants and how she would have to wipe their runny nose
all the time. Because they are so young and messy, she said that it's really hard to care for them and
be their teacher at the same time. It might not sound like much of an encouraging note to a missionary
who¡¯s struggling in Cambodia, but it spoke to me like a piercing thunder, like the very "voice of God"
shaking my soul. I couldn't stop crying on my way back to the mission center from the post office.
That afternoon, I knelt down before God in the house and prayed for a very long time. Afterwards,
I changed my clothes, went outside, and was finally able to reach out my arms and hug the dirty children
of the slums for the first time. "Lord, I was not ready. I came here as a missionary, But I was not yet transformed. Please forgive me Lord!"
They had remembered this hymn that I had taught them before and sang it to me even in Korean!
Tears welled up in my eyes and fell down my cheeks. The previous night's terror and trembling melted away
like snow by the sound of their voice. The thought of fleeing the country to return to Singapore or Korea
disappeared; and instead, my heart was starting to grow full of compassion for these disaster-stricken children. Shootings were not the only major problem for me while living in this village. A case of malignant skin
disease began to eat away my flesh. It was far worse than the nightly shootings. Both of my feet started
to "rot away" and my eyes could not be kept open because of the unbearable pain. I eventually caught and
suffered from various local illnesses. There were also numerous attempts by the local gangsters to kidnap me for a ransom. There was so much to
overcome and endure for the sake of missions work in a foreign land. I thus pleaded daily, "God, I came to
this land in total obedience to your will. Please give me the wisdom and strength to overcome these trials,
and the boldness to stand against fear." In retrospect, I realize I faced dangers of many kinds, but the
right hand of our mighty God delivered me every time. During my earlier years of starting life as a missionary in Cambodia, God gave me increasing heart of
compassion and mercy for the poor at Tok Tlak. I could not be a mere observer of the villagers, especially
little ones, who are suffering from starvation, ignorance, and diseases day after day. Along with sharing
the gospel, I decided to also help them with their physical needs as best as I can. With limited financial
support already allocated for the ongoing ministry of teaching, the only option I had at the time to further
help the people was to cut down on my personal expenses—food. Thus, I began to eat one meal a day like rest of the villagers. I started to feel hunger and learned what
it was like for them to live everyday like this. As difficult as it was to experience hunger, I knew it was
necessary to help the hungry and diseased while I was sharing the gospel among them. I could not neglect
the physical needs of these people who had nothing, knowing that the good news and the love of Christ were
to permeate all parts of their life. As their ¡°pastor¡± and ¡°missionary¡±, there was no way I could look
the other way when they fell sick regularly due to malnutrition and diseases. Seeing how hungry they were, knowing how little they had, I could not go on eating all three meals a day.
As I started to starve, I also began to fall sick like them. One day as I was teaching the Bible at the
mission center, I felt lightheaded and fainted. When I awoke, all those who were gathered were scared for
my life and suggested that I go to the hospital immediately. But I told them I will be okay if I drank
some water and continued teaching. Day after day, I taught the children and youth in the slums this way,
filling my empty stomach with water.
The children and youth were amazing. They faithfully followed the teachings of the Bible. They prayed fervently when taught how to pray. They read the Bible with great zeal when asked to read it. They sang the hymns with all their strength, gripping to their hungry stomachs. God was with us in this spiritual barren land. The LORD hadn't forsaken this slum village in Cambodia. God came and met us in Tok Tlak. Immediate changes occurred in the lives of the children and youth after they accepted Jesus Christ as
their Savior. From the lips that used to sing secular songs, praise songs for God started to flow.
They prayed, read the Word and studied diligently instead of wasting away their days gambling or drinking.
Fights and hating stopped between neighbors and families. Jealous and selfish hearts were transformed
by the power of God to loving hearts that prayed for friends and family members. They began witnessing to
those around them. Many of the mothers started to accept Jesus through their children and eventually came
to form a Women's Group at Hope Church. Their hearts were on fire for God. As their passion grew, so did attacks of the enemy. A great wave of persecution started to arise for the
children and youth who attended Hope Church. One day, a report came to me that one male student was beaten
with a metal pipe and strangled with ropes by his mother because he became a Christian. I thought I would
never see the boy again at our mission center, but to my surprise, he came back to church after few days to
learn about Jesus again. When he came back, he showed up an hour earlier than the others and cried out to
God in tears. My heart ached for him as I watched him pray like this. On another day, one of our fourteen year old girls became suddenly "missing". We soon learned from her
neighbors that she was sold into a foreign prostitution house by her own mother. This mother had already
sold three of her other older daughters for prostitution, and had now sold the last one—our church member.
All of us gathered at church and prayed for her everyday. We prayed she would be rescued and returned to
us safely. Praise God!
The girl¡¯s father was moved in his heart and decided to go after his missing daughter.
He found her locked up in a dark dungeon somewhere after a few days and brought her back to Hope Church.
This sister gave a testimony before the congregation and said that while she was in the dungeon for five days,
she prayed to God and was confident that God would somehow save her from this darkness.
She said she was peaceful and was able to sing praises. There was also a time when our students were returning home after studying at church when a group of local
gangsters stopped them and asked where they had been. When our students answered, "We are coming back from
a Bible study", the gangs knocked them down to the ground and pressed a pistol against them.
With threatening voices they said, "If you ever study the Bible or learn about Jesus again,
we will kill you all." The following day, all eight students came to church again and prayed. Young children and youth were not the only ones who experienced persecution. One of the village ladies
accepted Jesus Christ through the witnessing of her daughter. When she started to worship with us every
Sunday at church, her family held a big gathering with all the relatives at her house. In front of everyone,
her husband asked her to worship the idol in the household shrine. She refused. As a result of her response,
her husband denounced her as his wife and brought in another young woman as the "rightful wife" in front of
all the witnesses. Even though her husband rejected her, she did not lose faith. In fact, she continued
to pray for her family and loved them even more. She shared in Hope Church that she was willing to face
any persecution--even martyrdom--for the sake of Christ and salvation of her family members. Another family living in a rural island became Christians and underwent tremendous persecution.
The entire village where they lived ostracized them and gave sub-human treatment. This family used to run
a shop, but when they became Christians, no one would buy anything from them anymore. They were mocked,
abandoned and cursed upon. However, this family continued to hold on to Jesus and confessed that they will
believe in Him no matter what. They added that they are willing to be martyrs for God in their village,
if their death would somehow contribute to the spread of gospel in their village. Through this one family's
sacrifice and devotion, God started His work of redemption in this island village. This was a place where
the gospel had never been preached before, but now, many are turning to God. With this family as core members,
Grace Church" was established here in 2000 to become the first Christian church in the history of this village. There were also accounts of drastic transformation among those who accepted Jesus at Tok Tlak. A fifteen
year old motorcycle gang and drug addict, who used to get drunk and threaten random villagers with a pistol
in his hand, ended up receiving Jesus Christ during Hope Church Bible camp. From the very next day, he was
a completely new person. He confessed that "my old self has died, and now I am born again in Jesus Christ"
and started to walk faithfully with God. He began to read the Bible daily, often until late at night,
prayed for himself and others, and grew tremendously in faith. He soon became a teacher for children at church and served the little ones with the kind of love that no one
has ever seen in the village before. Witnessing this radical transformation in him, his mother confessed
that Jesus is truly God and also became a Christian. Another significant part of my mission work in Cambodia was an orphanage ministry. One day, I was contacted
by the Cambodia government to help manage an orphanage for a month. Along with my two short-term workers
then (one from Korea and "Anthony¡± from Canada), I visited the orphanage and began taking care of the 130
children there. We brought bread, corn, potatoes and rice to feed their feeble bodies.
We also taught them the Bible, hymns, and also English. However, because this was an unexpected ministry
that wasn't part of our original budget, we ran out of funds after a week. Since we had three more weeks left,
we had no other choice but to save up on money for our meals and use that to support the orphans.
After three weeks, all three of us were sick with similar symptoms. When we visited a doctor, we found out it was caused by malnutrition. Since our initial term with Cambodia
government was over and we had no other means to continue supporting the orphans, we decided to give up
the orphanage ministry—even though the government asked us to continue this service. In our hearts,
we desired to reach out to them, but we just could not go on skimping our meals the way we had been. On what was to be our last day at the orphanage, we bought more bread and corn than usual and went to see
the orphans. We gave out bread and corn one by one to each child and saw them sit down and eat.
However, I noticed a little girl in the front row who was crying while eating her portions.
I knew that somehow, without anyone telling them, these orphans knew that this would be our last visit.
Additional children started to sob quietly with bread and corn in their hands.
I, Anthony, and the other short-term worker also cried with them there.
When we came back to mission center that evening, we couldn¡¯t help but to pray together for them.
Later that evening, I told the other two workers that I am determined to continue the orphanage ministry
even if I had to undergo complete starvation. Then I asked for their opinion. They too shared same sentiments and agreed to continue at all costs. At that moment, I knew that God would
be with us and take care of us. Anthony was a huge blessing for us during his one month of service at
our mission center. He denied himself completely to love others. When he left us after a month for his
next trip to China, he took out of his bag few of his emergency food saved up for China, handed them over to us,
and said ¡°good bye¡± in tears. Working with the orphans meant a lot of sacrifice on our behalf but it was a blessing to see them come to know
Jesus as their Lord. One day, one of the boys stood up and said, "I am not lonely anymore.
I will not cry anymore either. I have a father too now. He is my heavenly father and I could trust Him always.
I will now live with hope." From the unexpected testimony of this little boy, all of us were again in tears.
Through this ministry, we were able to reach out not only to orphans but also children and villagers who
lived around the orphanage. Thus, many more in the community came to hear about Jesus. Over the years I spent in Cambodia, I almost died three times. Twice, I faced death because of Dengue fever
and Malaria which are caused by mosquito bites. On another instance, my heart started to grow weak and my body
became paralyzed for no apparent reason. The doctors could not tell and I had no choice but to face
my imminent death. Upon hearing the news that the foreigner who lived among them was dying, all the villagers
came to see me and gathered in my room for the final visit. I knew my time had come, so I gave my final
sermon in my death bead. "Dear friends, I came to Cambodia to tell you about Jesus, the true God.
However, I am sorry that I must leave you now without even completing my mission to share the gospel
with everyone. But even after I die, please believe in Jesus. He is the only one who will rescue you; He is your
only true Savior." All the people gathered in my room, even the adults who had been stubborn before,
promised to believe in Jesus with tears in their eyes. The children knelt down by my side and prayed
to God to save me, their pastor. God heard their cries, prayers of the poor slum children!
I didn¡¯t die; in fact, after a few days, I was completely healed and restored to previous condition.
The villagers who had come to witness my "final moment" became Christians and are now adult members at
Hope Church, walking with us in faith. Diseases and infections of all kinds continued to consume me. Once, I had to leave for Korea for medical
treatment because my legs and feet were literally "rotting." I received 12 injections everyday in Cambodia,
but it was of no use. When I finally decided to go to Korea for treatment, all of Hope Church members
gathered and prayed for me in tears, holding my legs and feet with their frail arms.
Although I was suffering physically, my heart was grateful for the love shown to me by my Cambodian
brothers and sisters.
Throughout the years, God protected me from countless kidnap attempts by the gangsters. He was by my side through dangers of many kinds. God was with me through all the difficulties and trials. He was with me when I was lonely. God touched and healed my wounds. During those moments of trial and suffering, this hymn gave me the strength to persevere.
Hope Church received so much grace and blessings from God within the past few years.
We had no musicians at first. However, two of our girls and another boy were invited to a church
in Korea and received piano and guitar lessons. Today, they are faithfully serving as pianists and
guitarist in our church gatherings. For the first two years, we sang praises without any musical accompaniment,
but now we are able to sing to God with our voices and instruments! Furthermore, 145 orphans who could not afford to go to school previously received scholarship from
Korean Christians to study like other children. There are countless other miracles and testimonies among us
that testify to the amazing grace of our God for the people of Cambodia. The youth here in Cambodia
have a wish, and it is to visit Korea once in their lifetime. They would like to visit the country of their
pastor and many other teachers who came to teach them from Korea. There had been many difficulties along the way since I first came to Cambodia as a missionary in 1997.
I faced death three times, and suffered from diseases of all sorts. My life was constantly threatened by
shootings and kidnapping attempts. However, I also remember the children and youth praying for my life with
tears on many occasions. I remember the time when they gathered the little money they had and made me a bowl
of grain porridge when I was dying before their eyes. I remember being touched in my heart countless times by
the children, youth and villagers at Tok Tlak. I have been hungry with the people here and know the meaning of hunger now. I have seen the tears of my students who could not pay for schooling. I have heard the cries of sick
just moaning in their wooden shacks, unable to afford any treatments, and have come to understand the meaning
of their tears. Looking back, I realize that although loving other people should have been the easiest thing
for us Christians, it was the hardest thing for me. So, I stand here today with a thankful heart to Jesus,
for teaching and leading me to love those in this Cambodia slum village. I give all the glory to Him. All of us live just once on this earth. We cannot spend this precious life only caring for ourselves. We cannot feed and clothe our sons and daughters only. LORD, I do not have much to offer you. So I offer up my body instead in service and sacrifice.
I thank God for truly being the great Lord who could use even somebody like me.
Please continue to pray for Cambodia and Christians in this country, so that the Kingdom of God would
expand and His righteousness declared throughout this land through Hope Church.
Always in prayer,