I came to Cambodia with an open heart and mind, hoping that God would allow me to see what He wants me to see. One thing I truly appreciate is that our itinerary includes devotions every morning. Honestly, I arrived knowing very little about the country except for the research I did about the genocide that transpired here after I heard that we would be visiting the museum.
It was a long, long journey but we finally arrived in Phnom Penh on Sunday, November 11.
The next morning, after breakfast and a moving devotion from our leader, we took a tour of the killing fields of Choeung Ek and the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum. 1975-1979 were horror filled years for the country of Cambodia. In both of these tours we were given headsets to listen to an audio recording of each section or memorial, along with a pamphlet and a map. It was a very somber place. Each person you passed walking along the trails or through the rooms had expressions of anguish, sorrow, and/or anger. Every city had been emptied out and taken to the killing fields (there were over 300) to be executed in an inhumane fashion or sent to a prison to be brutally tortured. The killing fields displayed areas where mass graves were found (up to 400+ victims), as well as clothes and bones that have washed up over time. One of the hardest areas for me to visit was a tree where Khmer Rouge soldiers would smash the heads of babies and small children. In the pictures you will see strings and bands hanging on the tree or wrapped around the rods of the mass graves. These are thousands of bracelets or necklaces that people have left behind.
Located in the middle of the center stands a memorial stupa where skulls were displayed. I viewed it from a distance as my heart near felt ready to burst already and my team was finishing up.
Many of us are very familiar of the Holocaust; the history, the victims' stories, the concentration camps, and so on. Yet, walking through these places in the country where it took place in my parents' lifetime, then looking into the eyes of Cambodians knowing that nearly every single one has been affected by this atrocity.
The Genocide Museum was at Tual Sleng, which was the secret center of a network of nearly 200 prisons where people were tortured. Out of 12,000-20,000 people that were held here only 12 of them have been confirmed survivors. Does that not just boggle your mind?!
This country is still recovering from the genocide. Most of the population is around 30 years old. Many struggle to even put food on the table. It will take a long time to go over more details but this is why so many girls end up in establishments where they are bought for a night, used, and strongly encouraged by the family to help put food on the table or assist in overcoming huge financial burdens. Destiny Rescue has been making great strides in working to rescue girls from these places, with the average age being 15-17. These girls are taught vocational skills that then enable them to go back into their own community and find a respectable job or even start their own business. We visited 3 different projects and became the models for the girls to practice their newly found skills, such as dyeing or styling hair, manicures, pedicures, facials, and more. We sat down with them and worked on puzzles, participated in card games that seemed to make no sense, and played badminton. Something so simple could mean so much to each of these precious girls. We saw them not as victims with a broken past but as beauties with a purposeful destiny.
This trip is different in that we've not prepared sermons or lessons to share with the girls. We didn't build a glorious building or paint classrooms. We are here with the purpose to encourage the staff that are working in each of these projects, witness the amazing work of Destiny Rescue, and take part in the empowerment of these girls in any way we can. They come to know the love of God through their redemption, and many receive salvation in the process.
As we've met the staff at each project we have come across former teachers, doctors, professors, and more who have left their life behind to fulfill a call to respond to the cries of Cambodia. As a local DR volunteer shared, "We are not here to save the world", we can all agree that we can do our part to reach one at a time. Sometimes we see great things happen quickly and other times changes take place in slow motion. In either scenario, God is indeed working. Let Him use you. Let Him love through you. Let Him shine through you
Sonia E. Vargas
Sonia's desire and hope is to write for the purpose of inspiring this generation, especially young woman.
Hannah Helm is a fun and outgoing young woman who loves to bring laughter and joy to anyone she comes in contact with. She is 23 years old and is a leader of Girl's Exalting the Master Ministry.
Paula is a passionate follower of Christ and loves to encourage others around her to do the same. She is 27 years old and is currently attending Free Gospel Bible Institute. She was a part of the Guatemala GEM team in 2014.
Kristyn is a sweet and gentle young lady from Trinity Holiness Tabernacle. She is 19 years old and is currently attending Free Gospel Bible Institute. She plays the piano and sings beautifully. She was a part of the Guatemala GEM team in 2014 and Honduras team in 2016.