Job Description

Celebrating 5 years of marriage

Lygia and I celebrated five years of marriage on July 7, 2012.

People have consistently been asking us the question: “So what do you do there (in Cambodia)– what’s your job description?”

That’s sort of a trick question; and honestly, it changes day-to-day and  month-to-month.

When we released our update video in February, we had just opened the school one month prior and were preparing for a lot of major changes. In hindsight, we didn’t even realize back then how huge these changes would actually be.

In March, two girls who grew up on brick factory grounds near our Rahab’s House in Svay Pak moved up to Siem Reap to help us open our salon. Brick factories in and around Svay Pak are practically forced-labor camps and the children of the workers often end up as trafficking victims; the transformation in these girls’ lives has been amazing and now they’re doing awesome work here in Siem Reap.

Brick Factory at Svay Pak

Svay Pak brick factory/labor camp: ovens (left), bricks (center), shanty housing (right).

Soon after, Jayme Moffard along with a girl who graduated from Agape Restoration Center (ARC), moved into Rahab’s House of Siem Reap to help with outreach and education.  The month of March itself saw some huge transformations with the opening of the salon and the beginning of our outreach program. It was also the month where we started to take in girls to live at Rahab’s House.

Jayme and Brittnay riding elephant

Jayme Moffard and Brittnay Knight riding an elephant in Thailand.

In April, Brittnay Knight moved up to Siem Reap to help with outreach and to teach English. She was welcomed to Siem Reap a bit crudely as our whole family had Dengue fever at the time and it seems she would fall victim to the same fate during her first week.

Despite the shaky start, we filled up our emergency housing bedroom early in April and had to add beds in an open space on the third floor to fit more girls. Here is an excerpt from a budget proposal I wrote some months ago about the situation:

Emergency Housing: Our last bed was filled on 7 April 2012. Three of the beds are occupied by RHSR staff and three by girls formerly in the employ of T** T*** KTV (karaoke club). In mid-April we bought 2 new bunk beds to house four more girls in an open space on the third floor that we plan to convert into another bedroom by May 25, 2012.

Also in April, Dr. Carla Kaczor began regular visits to Siem Reap to host clinic sessions. At introduction, she would see about 10 girls over the day-and-a-half she was in town.  Today, she sees more than twenty people a day on average and holds clinic for three day intervals every two weeks at our center.  She sees girls from local massage parlors, karaoke clubs, and some members of the general public (many of whom are relatives of the massage/karaoke workers).

In May, Alla and Michael Nagy took a month off of their work/travels in Europe to visit us and to help in any way they could with the ministry. Thankfully, Mike is quite the handyman and Alla is an excellent assistant so together they helped with the renovations we needed to expand the housing room to accommodate more girls.

Framing walls

Alla and Lygia helping Mike frame a wall at Rahab’s House.

After the renovations, we took in our last two girls into Rahab’s House. They were two sisters who we got to know because the younger of them was attending our morning school sessions. Only God could have orchestrated such a perfect series of events. The younger sister, 13, started coming to my English classes in January. When the girl from ARC moved up in March, they became friends and the younger sister even started to attend church with our staff. One day, we noticed that she hadn’t been coming to class. Our attempts at calling her and her sister were to no avail. Savry, our Assistant Director, and I went to the building where we knew this girl lived, asked around to find which room was hers, and found the girl inside crying with her older sister unconscious on the floor (probably intoxicated).  It turns out her mother had forced her and her sister to start working in the karaoke clubs. This girl is thirteen!  We immediately intervened and took them both out to live at Rahab’s House.

It was around this time when Don Brewster (Director of AIM) and I realized that what we had initially identified as a need for “short-term emergency housing” was actually greater. At inception, we thought that short term housing might be needed as a means of transitioning the girls into a proper job or something of the sort. However, we found that what was actually needed was housing for the duration of enrollment in vocational training or educational programs because most of these girls had little or no education, and certainly no other job training.

We decided that it was time to stop taking any more girls until we could really iron out, in more detail, the program that we were running and hire staff to handle the girls we had already taken in. In June and July, we worked extensively on handling this issue. We drafted a Plan of Care and revised Budget along with dozens of other operational documents.

Jimmy and Andrey fixing a curb in front of RHSR

Heavy rains, shabby construction, and careless driving ruin many roads and sidewalks. Andrey and Jimmy fixed ours and setup permanent planter boxes to dissuade drivers from needlessly driving over it.

Also in June, we were visited for about three weeks by Jimmy Munteanu and Andrey Burachek who came to serve the ministry in any way they could. During their time in country, they handled a number of small construction projects to beautify Rahab’s House.

We discovered that thirteen girls living in the same house doesn’t come without its share of problems. More than that, Jayme, who was acting as temporary House Mom, was leaving back to the States on July 8.  Luckily for us, God is good and he provisioned two wonderful ladies to take her place. We sent them to Phnom Penh for a week of training at ARC and they took turns settling in with the girls at Rahab’s House during Jayme’s last couple of weeks in country.

I spent many days during the month of July driving to the homes of the girls in our care to visit their families and village chiefs to complete paperwork and assess the previous living conditions of the girls. Not surprisingly, we’ve found that most of the families live in dismal conditions.

Phnom Khrom Village

The father of one of our girls (left) and Savry, our Assistant Director, (right) walking towards the home of the village leader in Phnom Khrom. In September-October, this village floods and becomes a fishing village. The homes on stilts are generally safe from flooding but the others need to move their homes uphill during rainy season to avoid being inundated.

In short, it has been quite the busy last few months. We are incredibly happy with what God has done in Siem Reap so far and cannot wait to see where he takes Rahab’s House in the future. We have an awesome staff that will continue to grow and serve this community.

Here is a list of prayer items for Rahab’s House:

  • One of the girls in our care and Savry, our Assistant Director, both have the same heart condition known as hole-in-the-heart where they quite literally have holes between the chambers of their hearts. As they’re both technically adults (over 16), they don’t qualify for the free treatment at the children’s hospitals in Cambodia, so we need to send them to Thailand for surgery. We anticipate this will cost over $44,000 for both girls.  Please pray and give if you’re able.
  • Over the last month, we’ve had two short term missions teams from South Korea visit Rahab’s House. During these two visits, which consisted of community outreach (mainly the children and the working girls) by way of fun educational and recreational sessions (guitar/keyboard/music lessons, dance lessons, jewelry making, sports, etc), we’ve seen a large influx of community children coming into Rahab’s House. This is an awesome thing: it means the community is starting to trust us.  However, it does put strain on us both financially and in terms of staff.  We want to serve these children in the best possible way and affect their community for the long term. We’ve started a sort of Kid’s Club type program like they have in Svay Pak for the moment. We’re not sure how long it will last or how consistently children will come, but it could mean expanding the scope of Rahab’s House even further in the future.
  • Lygia and I are transitioning home in November and Laura Linner, who has worked for Agape in Phnom Penh over the last few months, will be coming to Siem Reap to take our place.  Please pray for us as we catch her up on all that’s going on here.
  • We want to open a second Agape Training Center in Siem Reap in the coming months to both expand our program here while at the same time being able to provide good jobs for the girls we rescue from these vile places.
  • Bloom Asia is also hoping to expand to Siem Reap next year. They have been an excellent resource to our organization for the past few years, providing vocational training, healing, and education for girls rescued out of sex-trafficking. Siem Reap is in dire need of places like Bloom; they help facilitate the life-changing transformations these girls need.

So, you might ask: “What’s your job description?” and I would answer that it depends on when you ask. Some days, Lygia and I are counselors. Others, we’re construction workers. Still others, we’re clinic assistants, cooks, salon managers, ad men, teachers, janitors, party planners, social workers, book keepers, coffee runners, ambulance drivers (well, if you consider our old Camry and ambulance anyway), fund-raiser,  etc.

The one thing we can say with certainty is that God has big plans for Rahab’s House and the young ladies of Siem Reap.

Desperation in the Land of Smiles

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Sometimes Cambodia is referred to as the “Land of Smiles,” a name it often shares with its northern neighbor, Thailand. While I don’t disagree with its classification as such, I think it should be prefaced with the context of the Cambodian experience before its used. The implication derived is that people are always happy; believe it or not, many times this is the case. I see people each day who have every reason to frown yet still find ways to smile.

It takes me back to my childhood when I would see my mother laughing at a situation that would’ve seemed to merit crying; I used to ask her why she was laughing and she would respond, “well, what’s the alternative, son? Should I cry instead?” I eventually understood this reaction to mean that there wasn’t time to cry; at the same time it was an admission that there were far more important things in life than how she felt at that particular moment and an implied sense that she’d previously dealt with far greater burdens.

I’ve begun to gather that the smiles these lands are filled with are those of people refusing to let emotion dictate how they will react to their circumstance and the implied sense of having overcome far worse. It’s something I notice in the shop keepers I frequent, the drivers I’ve hired when we had no car, and the girls we’re working with. In situations like these, where people smile to cover up emotion, it’s difficult to get a true sense of what someone is thinking or feeling. The smiles, in this case, are also sugar coated with lies they must tell to save face (a common Asian practice).

Reading people here has proven to be more of a task than I would’ve previously thought. I often have to wait until the person thinks I’ve stopped paying attention to possibly catch a glimpse of what they really think.

Today I was coming home from my weekly trip to the market and, as has become habit, I slowed down while passing the Buddhist statue in the city center, which people believe to be an actual God, to see the people coming to worship. Usually Lygia and I sort of smile sheepishly as we see various people trying to feed flowers to, burn incense in front of, or leave a shot of liquor for the statue to gain favor from it. It usually seems more ceremonial than anything else.

but today I was struck with something I’ve rarely seen in this Land of Smiles: emotion; desperation, even. A woman (not the one in the picture as I took the picture after) appeared to be in tears as she was rubbing the idol’s face and then rubbing her own. Usually people bring things for the statue like as an exchange but this woman had nothing. She looked as if she was hurting and desperately reaching out for some “luck.”

In the Land of Smiles, this type of desperation hides in plain sight. If you aren’t paying attention you’ll walk right by it, you’ll look right through it, and you’ll have gone by completely unaware. I’m sharing this to say that one of my biggest struggles has been adapting to cultural differences. But day by day I’m trusting that God will help me understand and empathize more and more. While I feel terrible about the woman at the statue, I rejoice in the knowledge that God set her in my path to do just that: feel.

It took my surprise, even. I usually pass by the statue with nothing more than I mildly curious indifference, hoping to spot people doing something I find funny, like taking pictures of each other feeding flowers to the statue. While I still maintained control of my fine motor skills, I was baffled. I drove forward to the next safe point to turn around but really I have no idea why I turned around. I wanted to interact with her. I wanted to talk to her. In hindsight, I have no idea how I would’ve done that but still, I turned around. By the time I got back to the statue she was gone and all I was left with was the usual quirky group of tourists/locals burning incense and feeding the statue random things. I scanned the sitting park but she was nowhere in sight.

I never pretend to fully understand the Will of God but on other hand I never hesitate to point people to Romans 12:1-2 where Paul tells us that we can know the will of God through rational thought in many cases if we have the renewal of mind that comes from knowing Jesus. However, that’s not to say that we should make ourselves void of emotion; on the contrary, I believe we cannot. God gave us emotions for a reason but He also have us reason so that we could prioritize and understand the emotions we feel. As I remember that woman’s face, I cannot help but feel sad for her sadness, but at the same time, as the day has progressed, I’ve begun to realize that God may have placed her in my path to serve as a reminder that hidden behind the many smiles I see every day, there are very likely hidden a number of other feelings.

It’s been one interesting journey so far, and I cannot wait to see what happens next.

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