Compassion for Cambodia - My Family Travels

Before I went on my mission trip with Teen Mania, a friend told me that I needed more compassion in my life. She encouraged me that I was strong in boldness and strong in passion, but it was time that I started really feeling for other people. I knew going on this trip that my heart would break for the people I met, but I didn’t know my heart could break for an entire nation.

            I remember the first moment that it hit me that I was in Cambodia. It was the first night we were in country and all the sudden at four in the morning we were startled awake. Loud oriental music filled every crack of the small room we were sleeping in. We didn’t know it at the time, but a neighbor was having a wedding celebration, which starts really early. I remember getting out of my sleeping bag and sitting in the hallway just listening to the music and soaking in the realization that I was in Cambodia. I stayed awake for awhile and prayed for the people of Cambodia- this is when my heart began to change.

            We started our trip just outside of Phnom Phen, at a place called the Life Center  Here 17 orphans lived- orphans that I fell in love with. Matt, the runner of the life center is an American Missionary and has a big vision for Cambodia. His life center serves as an educational and financial resource to its community. We would end up spending the last two weeks of our trip there, but for the first week we traveled to small Cambodian villages.

            Every morning we woke up in our little hotel room, got dressed, and walked a mile to the river. Then we road down the river in a Cambodian boat. I still remember the peaceful crash of the water against the boat; the children pointing and waving at us from the shore; and the talks with our funny boat driver. Down the river we would stop at a missionary doctor’s house to eat our cereal, much of which had been infiltrated by small brown ants. Then we set out for the villages.

In the villages there were usually 150-300 people waiting to greet us. We started our program with a funny skit, then we shared our message, and then did a serious drama. At the end of this we offered a vacation Bible school for the children and a medical clinic for whoever needed it. We did two of these a day. During our vbs we played lots of games with the kids. One of the favorites was duck, duck goose. We created massive circles and ran around until we were exhausted.

 One of my favorite parts of the day was the late afternoon rain. We had to ride back down the river in the rain and then walk the mile back to our hotel in the rain. I loved it! The dirt roads by this time would be caked in slippery mud. It was hilarious trying to walk slipping and sliding down the road. We tried holding onto each other, but most of the time that just made all of us fall in one big pile. Even worse I’d forgotten one of my shoes in the van that dropped us off, so I was either stuck walking in my flip flops or bare foot. When we got back to the hotel we hung our clothes up, hoping the mud and rain would dry before the next morning.

            The next two weeks of our trip we were based at the orphanage. Here I got to know and fell in love with the 17 orphans. Many of them were not really orphans- their parents were either just too sick(HIV) or too poor to take care of them. This was the case with the one I call my little boy Daniel- pronounced Danielle and his brother Dano. One of my best memories in Cambodia was an evening that I spent with Daniel. We sat at a door stoop together and watched a magnificent lightning storm. Daniel and I had been getting to know each other throughout the week. He was one of the few orphans who spoke English. I gave him one of my Bibles and a notebook. We’d been reading together and drawing together. This night we just talked. He told me about his life, about the terrible things he had seen. I honestly didn’t understand much of what he said, but I could tell that he was sharing his heart with me and I wanted to do nothing more then listen. Here under the lightning filled sky I was taught by a ten year old boy from Cambodia how to have compassion.

            Throughout the next couple of weeks we worked around the orphanage building a waterslide, harvesting fish, teaching VBS, and playing with the children. We also spent a few days working with girls who had been victims of human trafficking. There I met a young girl named Na. She and I became friends, writing each other notes and sitting together. She didn’t speak and English and I didn’t speak Kamai, but we didn’t care. Her smile pierced my heart with love and compassion for her and for her people.

            Though Cambodia is a beautiful country, with beautiful people it has a very ugly recent history. Only 36 years ago the nation was taken over by the Khmer Rouge. The Khmer Rouge was a severe dictatoriship, who took away freedom from the people through social engineering, famine, and a genocide. This is an exert from a poem by Sarith Pou entitled The New Regime,


No religious rituals. No religious symbols.
 No paying respect to elders.
No social status. No titles. No education. No training.
No school. No learning. No books. No library.
No science. No technology. No pens. No paper.
No currency. No bartering. No buying. No selling.
No human rights. No liberty…

No marrying. No divorcing.
No marital conflicts. No fighting.
 No mercy. No forgiveness. No regret. No remorse.
No second chances. No excuses…

No holidays. No weekends.
 No drawing. No painting. No pets. No pictures.
No electricity. No lamp oil. No clocks. No watches.
No hope. No life.
A third of the people didn’t survive.
The regime died.


How could I not feel compassion for a people so troubled? The regime is thankfully gone, but there is still so much damage done to the country as a result. One of the major issues is that the conscience of the nation has been seared. The adult generation was raised in the midst of this totalitarian reign. Therefore education in the nation is severly lacking and thus right and wrong is blurred. Human traficking- parents selling their children for labor and prostitution is only one symptom of Cambodia’s sleepy conscience. On one of our free days we visited an old school building that during the Khmer Rouge reign had been used as a concentration camp. There I saw the poem by Sarith Pou and there I finally began to understand what the Cambodian people had been through.

I could no longer judge a people who had been so hurt for their ignorance, but by loving them myself I could show them that there was good left in the world. My goal became to show them a love that had been lacking for many generations. As we left my heart hurt. I worried for the orphans- they didn’t have enough people taking care of them, especially mother figures. As we drove away I looked behind me and prayed that the Lord would send my orphans some one to love them. Only six months later my prayer was answered. The same friend who told me I needed compassion traveled to the same place in Cambodia and stayed with the orophans for three months. Knowing they were in trusted hands even for that short amount of time put my heart at rest. It made me realize that as much as I loved them God loved them even more.

I emptied my savings for this trip, but I wouldn’t trade it for anything. I lost a shoe, trekked through mud, and fell in love with 17 Cambodian orphans. I continue to pray that the hearts of the Cambodian’s would soften, that their conscience would awaken, that their minds would be renewed, and that they would overcome thier history with a glorious future.


Dear Reader: This page may contain affiliate links which may earn a commission if you click through and make a purchase. Our independent journalism is not influenced by any advertiser or commercial initiative unless it is clearly marked as sponsored content. As travel products change, please be sure to reconfirm all details and stay up to date with current events to ensure a safe and successful trip.