4:30 am meeting time. It was still dark but we had a 6 am flight to catch. There was such an excitement with us going to Cambodia and having our partners from the Safe House also coming and meeting us there. Our Chiang Mai hotel staff packed us breakfast To Go food. We had sandwiches, watermelon slices and cold water, oh and the sandwiches - they were tuna sandwiches. Not a usual breakfast but then nothing about this trip has been usual to say the least... Packed with protein off to Cambodia we went. The check in process for our bags was a testament of all for one, one for all. Weighing all our bags together, we were fairly close to the baggage allowance! The beauty of being one with the group.
After a lay over in bangkok where it was one more opportunity to do some airport shopping, off to Phnom Phen we went... arrived on time at 12:30 in PHN airport. No driver in sight. The group waited patiently until another van was sent and took us to Precious Women. That afternoon we met Salida, Director for Precious Women and some of the staff and enjoyed a wonderful dinner at 2nd Jar of Clay. Meeting with our Precious Women Partners and getting to know them over dinner was such a blessing. After dinner and an orientation, we formed teams, there were 3 teams who were going to do an outreach in the Karaoke bars and a fourth team who did a prayer walk.
Driving through the main road, there were so many Karaoke bars called KTV and we saw women after women lined up waiting for customers to select them. We went into one of the KTVs to do our outreach. Walking into a KTV bar and meeting with women who worked there was a new and an uncertain experience for the team. We did not know what to expect and prayed we would be able to do God`s work. During the outreach, our team met and had food with 3 girls from the bar. We had our Precious Women partner with us who took lead in just talking with the girls, translating for us and just listening to them, hearing about their stories and just getting to know them. We ate with them, drank soda and juice. Although the music was so loud and had quite a bit of a language barrier, there were laughters and smiles and what looked like a possible friendship with the girls and our Precious Woman staff member. She then invited them to join a Women in Fellowship with Christians party the next day. The seed has been planted for them to come join us in celebrating with Jesus. One of the girls have heard of Christians and commented that she has heard Christians are good people. There was expressed interest in knowing more...They may or may not come to tomorrow`s Women in Fellowship gathering but one day we hope and pray that seed will blossom and they will come and get to know Jesus. After the time wth the girls at the bar, we went back and debriefed with the rest of the team. We kept the debrief short as it was now 10 pm. Although brief, sharing our experiences and hearing about the other teams experiences was impactful.
It was 11 pm as we got back to the Green Pastures Inn and were incredibly happy and relieved to see our Safe House Partners now here and part of our group in Cambodia.
20 hours and 2 countries later....worlds apart with 3 different languages, diverse culture and backgrounds coming together all in the name of Jesus, working towards a common goal of helping empower women. What an incredible day !
After a few great days, we took thirteen of the older girls to a retreat in Chiang Rai, Thailand. From swimming and playing with beach volley balls, to seeing a movie at a nearby cinema, then over to a night of bowling and wondering for noodles, we enjoyed our time with these amazing women. Celebrating our faith together and the hope the Lord brings us, brought tears to many of our eyes as testimonies were shared. On the final morning of the retreat, we had a spirit filled worship time, ending with our retreat theme song “Back to Back.”
Saying our goodbyes after that was one of the most difficult things we endured on this trip. It was evident to us that our God brought us together for many purposes, one being to just purely love one another. The harder the goodbye, the deeper the relationship you have built. And our goodbyes pooled tears by the seas.
We then headed to our family at G.R.O.W. and were greeted by new smiles, and new hope. After some beautiful dances by the children, a day filled with tasty food we headed to the hotel “Cabbages & Condoms,” for some needed rest for a day of work ahead. We spent the following day building a fence around their on-site fish pond, where we made quick efforts to finish before melting away in the tropical heat. Next on our agenda was a shower and nap, followed shortly by witnessing children catch frogs, aka “Dinner.” We had the pleasure of enjoying a worship service with the kids the following morning including a skit performed by our Hillside team in which kids laughed in song. Saying goodbye, once again, was very difficult even with the short two days we spent with them, but God had plans for us in Cambodia.
Waking up, excited to take on a beautiful Sunday morning here across the border, the group gathered in the hotel lobby. Leik arrived to take us to a most delicious tea house breakfast. The food just kept coming, and after a comment about what they eat for lunch, a plate of their lunch food landed on the table. Piling all 14 full tummies into the back of the Leik’s pickup, we made our way to the church service at the home. Once again greeted by laughs and smiles, we couldn’t even wait for the tailgate to open before jumping out into the arms of the children. After Saying good morning and smiling till our cheeks hurt, we took our seats for maybe the best worship service I have ever had. The holy spirit erupted around the room as tears accumulated on faces and smiles held hands. After some wonderful songs by the children’s choir, we were blessed to hear the testimony of two of our group members. Pastor Sara then gave a sermon on the book of Ruth, translated to the congregation by pastor Leik. Ending with some more worship, and a Hillside favorite, “How Great is Our God,” our church service across the border was a success. We then sat down for a noodle lunch that we later found out was the bland version, keeping the spicy dish in the back to ensure our American taste buds lived another day.
After an hour or two of playing Uno, Candyland, and learning how to count, we made our way back to the hotel to complete our bathroom kits for the children, and some much needed R&R. When we arrived back at the home for the evening, we were told that the boys, along with Leik, were going to play kick volley ball, or “SEPAK TAKRAW.” A game of two teams of three, played with a straw ball using only your feet and head. Three group members ended up participating in this quick paced game, and to say the least, dinner wasn’t the only thing cooked.
After a great meal once again, we had some more time to interact with the kids. Ron even had purchased a new DVD player for the kids, where they huddled around to watch some of “Finding Dory.” We ended the night with some more great worship. Mixed songs of English and Burmese, complied together, enthusiastically bringing the joy of the Lord into the Hearts of us all. Although we speak different languages and embrace different cultures, we both look up at the same moon. And said best by Pastor Jeff, we praise the same Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
Leaving the home late at night, exhausted, yet full of bliss, we kept our minds on the task ahead. Tomorrow is another day, another gift, spent loving Jesus, and spreading hope and good news.
After a long night/day of flights the group safely arrived in Chiang Mai. At the airport we were greeted by Pastor Sarah, whom had already been in the city for almost two full days. As jet lag began to set in, most members of our group made their way to their rooms to get some food and to their rooms to unwind. The streets were filled with smiles and smells, some not so familiar, yet very pleasing. After some down time, a prayer walk through Chiang Mai’s red light district led us to our first dinner meal as a group before our trip to the border the following morning. Fruit juices and curry dinners lined the table, fitting for the restaurant’s name, “The Whole Earth,” but only a few dared ask for “Thai Spicy.”
As our minds were set on the goal ahead, jet lag seemed like no obstacle. Suitcases being stacked into vans, and small bags tagging along with us to our seats, we were on our way to the border. The Chiang Mai Aquaculture Development Farm was the first stop of our estimated five hour drive. From fish, to egg, and back to fingerling, this faith based tilapia fish farm produces 1.5 million fish for sale per month, with only 40 total workers. After a humid tour through the farm, we prayed for the success of their business, as it provides food and salary for many of the families in rural areas nearby, and for rain during this drought Thailand is experiencing. Back on the road we went, and prior to the mountains, Dramamine seemed to be the meal of choice. After a few more hours, we stopped for a flavorful lunch in the mountains right on the river. We purchased pie’s for the girls and boys across the border, ranging from our traditional apple pie to a tropical pineapple pie.
With the border nearing, not even a flat tire nor van change could stray us from bringing smiles and positivity to our family. At the border we were greeted by a big smile from Leik, the Home leader and pastor, and after playing suitcase Tetris in the back of her truck, we grabbed our handbags and walked across the border bridge. Fitting into our “9 star hotel” rooms was quick and flawless as we were all anxious to meet and/or reconnect with the smiles of our family across the border. Never have I seen so much light from a smile, and so much joy from hugs, high fives, and the exchange of names. As guests, we all sat down to a deliciously prepared meal, followed by introductions and a great worship service led by the home band. They give the David Crowder Band a run for their money. Saying goodnight was difficult, but tomorrow we look forward to a church service and continuation of building hope in the eyes of Christs children.
Please pray for the following members of the Hillside Thailand mission team:
Allen & Terry Pennebaker
Ron & Gemma Tosto