We love Cambodia!
I heard these words often when I befriended the Taviano family in 2012. They’d visited Cambodia and thought they’d move there. But, after Gabe’s (the dad) heart attack, the chances of moving were slim. (And I’d never have met them if they would have moved as originally planned.)
So, they decided to help the Hard Places Community in Cambodia from their home in Columbus, Ohio. The three Taviano daughters started The Dancing Elephant and sold homemade gifts, sending the profit to Cambodia. They sold their home and moved to Abbey Lane, an apartment complex housing mostly refugees. Their love of Cambodia was deep, but they found a new love in Abbey Lane. Marla welcomed refugees – and taught me to do the same – long before it was an official hashtag and or persistent news story. In fact, these are Marla’s friends whom she loves deeply, not a group to label.
And God knew all along that Abbey Lane was preparation for Cambodia, and in January 2015, the five Tavianos packed their suitcases and moved across the world. (You can read more of their miraculous story on Marla’s blog). Our final visit with them included loving refugees at Christmas last year. One of my most favorite Christmas’ ever!
(You can more of our story here. This picture was taken on my birthday last year at Abbey Lane.)
Marla may live in Cambodia, but she’s still a huge part of my life. I talk to her almost daily via Messenger, and we Facetimed with her and her family yesterday. And today, we pray for her country, Cambodia, and its people.
Cambodia, once known as the Khmer Empire, is a Southeast Asian nation whose landscape spans low-lying plains, the Mekong Delta, mountains and Gulf of Thailand coastline. Its busy capital, Phnom Penh, is home to the art deco Central Market, glittering Royal Palace and the National Museum’s historical and archaeological exhibits. In the country’s northwest lie ruins of Angkor Wat, a massive stone temple complex built during the Khmer Empire. (from Google)
The Tavianos live in Phnom Penh, but will move to Siem Reap (home of Angkor Wat) in January to lead a home for The Hard Places Community. They’ve spent time learning the country’s official language – Khmer – a language spoken only in Cambodia. The currency is riel. About 15.5 million people live in Cambodia which is about twice the size of Ohio. About 95% of the population are Buddhists. There’s a small Muslim population and less than 1% are Christian.
From Marla: Sex trafficking is a big problem. An even bigger problem is sexual abuse of children by their own family members (dads, step-dads, uncles, grandfathers, “friends”). And tons of girls work in KTVs which are karaoke bars. We see them sitting outside on chairs, men come up, pick one of them, and basically “rent” them for the night. Most of these girls used to work at the garment factories (horrific working conditions with hardly any pay) and this is a “better” job for them.
Poverty is huge. Back in the 70’s, the Khmer Rouge overthrew the government and committed mass genocide killing about 2 million people (mostly old people, children, and anyone who posed a threat to them–doctors, teachers, government workers, anyone who wore glasses, etc). Today the country is still reeling from that horror (and most people refuse to talk about it, so lots of PTSD).
The Hard Places Community is doing such great work, but the problems are so deep and complex that it can get really discouraging. You help kiddos during the day, then at night they’re getting sold. One little boy in particular has a special place in my heart. When we spent time in Cambodia four years ago, he was just four years old. Tiny and adorable. And he had been raped by a pedophile (along with his older brother and sister). HPC helped him get counseling, etc, but then his parents abandoned them, and he lives/sleeps on the street. HPC lets him stay all day at the boys center, and many days he just sleeps on the floor all afternoon because he’s so tired. I’ve been praying that there will be some miracle happen.
(You can see the Tavianos’ day in pictures here, including their work with HPC.)
Lord, today we thank you for our friends, the Tavianos: Gabe, Marla, Livi, Ava, and Nina. Only you know how much they’ve taught us about love, grace, and sacrifice. We are all better for knowing them and witnessing your work in their lives. We thank you for their hearts as they beat for the people of Cambodia. We love how you’ve created a place for them within The Hard Places Community, a place for them to share you.
We lay the country of Cambodia and its people at your feet. We pray they see the love, grace, and peace you have to offer, Lord. We pray they lay aside their multiple gods in favor of the one true God. Please begin a movement in Cambodia to stop human trafficking. Protect the young and vulnerable. Provide a way out for the girls in the karoke clubs. Give joy. Walk closely with those who are choosing to break free, give them strength, help them feel loved.
There simply aren’t words to express how we feel about little boys being raped and left by parents to fend for themselves or the horrific conditions in the garment district. Lord, only you see and understand. We lift the garment workers to you. We pray for this little boy – and so many like him – who live on the streets or in unsafe homes. We know you love them. We pray protection. May they see your unconditional love.
Hear the groans of our hearts for the poor, the marginalized, the suffering. Those enduring PTSD because of the Khmer Rouge. We can’t begin to fathom what life in other places is truly like. Lord, may we never be indifferent to their plight, lacking love for our neighbor. Honestly, Lord, these prayers – there petitions – feel overwhelming to me. I can’t begin to see how these problems might ever be solved or how these children and girls might ever be free. But, I am counting on and trusting in you, God, to know and act.
Thank you for missionaries who give all to show them your love. May you work in and through each servant at HPC to love well, giving them hope in you. May you raise up more servants ready and willing to say, “here am I, send me.”
We thank you, Lord, for the people of Cambodia. Each is an image bearer of you. May we never lose sight of them as those you dearly love. Amen.
It’s a great time of year to make a donation in honor of someone for Christmas. Perhaps this year, we give fewer shirts and shoes and toys and more voice to those who cannot speak for themselves.