Planting Trees & Planting Seeds

By guest blogger Lindsay Osborne

Today, our team had the wonderful opportunity to help our Cambodian partners plant a mango tree orchard. Together, we were able to plant 110 mango trees on the Imparting Smiles property. The vision is for these trees to bring food and income to the children for years to come. As we worked, the rain started to downpour. We were absolutely drenched. But we kept working, full steam ahead, until all 110 trees were planted. It brought to mind so many of Jesus’ New Testament teachings on working with seeds and soil. This type of work is hard labor and takes great perseverance. We relied on our hands and teamwork to plant the trees, but ultimately we rely on faith that God will truly allow this orchard to grow and bless these children.

The best part of this day was that timely reminder: though we plant, God is the one who sees the greater picture and brings the best growth in his timing.

1 Corinthians 3 says, “What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, as the Lord assigned to each. I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth.”

This scripture was so true in our planting of the trees and it has been so true over the course of the last 7 years as our team has watched the Lord’s hand moving in Cambodia.

Over the last 7 years, our team has been able to witness different stages of growth in our Cambodian ministry partners and in their ministry. This became clear today when our dental and nursing teams were able to treat the orphans from Imparting Smiles. Both our dentists and our nurses commented that these kids are in the best medical condition they have seen thus far in our ministry here. The kids are even significantly healthier than they were this time last year. This is huge! Not because our team is coming once a year to treat them, but rather because the people who have their boots on the ground year round at Imparting Smiles are learning how to take better and better daily care of these beautiful children.

When we realized this, it immediately made us praise the Lord for his vision, his planting, and his growth. Kara Potts made the true comment that, “As Americans, our idea would have been to send young American missionaries to run this orphanage and take care of these children. But God knew that was not the best plan because he sees the bigger picture!”

Instead, two Cambodians who come from incredibly hard backgrounds have been able to rise up as leaders who have purpose and dignity in taking care of so many precious orphans day in and day out. Their daily work is making an eternal impact and it has changed the children’s lives, as well as their own. Only a sovereign, all powerful God could have seen them, known them, and placed them in this position to bring growth in their lives and the children’s lives.

It all comes back to the bigger picture that only God can see and only God can weave together. He is the one bringing growth and changing lives, here on earth and for eternity.

“So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth.”

If you feel stuck or confused or discouraged in your life, take heart. God sees the bigger plan for your life and he is weaving together the intricate details to bring the growth that only he can bring. We simply have to wait for his timing to see it all come together. You might be planting in the downpour today, but that means you will be standing in the orchard soon! By all means, keeping on planting. All glory be to God for the growth.

Posted in January 2018 Trip | 2 Comments

Left Alone

The tiny girl in red caught our eye. We were in a church service with 750 people and about 650 were village children, but this little one caught our attention. She looked so small, so malnourished, so unkept & all alone. It is strange to our American eyes to see one so young just wandering around with no supervision.

Our team nurses found her later in the day hanging around the children’s center, but belonging to no one and they started asking questions. Through our interpreters, we learned from a group of elementary-aged girls from the village that this little girl has no family. We pushed for details and found out a story that is the story of so many children in Poipet.

The little girl is around three, though she appears closer to one. Her father had diabetes and died of a stroke and her mother left to work in Thailand shortly after she was born and has never returned home. She has a grandmother that has left for another village, so a neighbor girl around 8 years old keeps an eye out for her. She spends the night in the home of a village family, but when they work from 7am-7pm, there is no one keeping an eye on the child. She is left to wander the streets, hungry and alone.

This is the story of so many thousands of children in Poipet and places like it around the world. Her story leaves us unsettled. Her story leaves us wanting to fix the situation, but knowing our limitations. So what do we do?

We must continue to walk towards those who are hurting, those who are poor and those who are in need. If we don’t help, who will?

Tomorrow our nurses will return to the village and find the little girl. They will offer her what help they can and after that we will pray. We will pray for protection for her and those like her. We will pray for others to see her and meet her needs. We will pray for “thy will to be done on earth as it is in heaven”. And until the day when that comes to pass, we will do what we can each and every day to serve the poor that God puts in our path.

“Defend the cause of the weak and fatherless; maintain the rights of the poor and oppressed. Rescue the weak and needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked.” Psalm 82:3-4

Posted in January 2018 Trip | Leave a comment

Encounters With Strangers

Have you ever been in just the right place at just the right time for a chance meeting? I know I have. In fact they happen quite often. One such encounter happened in the airport in Doha, Qatar as we waited for the next leg of our long, 30 hour journey to Cambodia to work with our beloved ministry partners. This will be my sixth trip to Cambodia and my eighth overseas mission trip and one thing I know when I leave the United States is to get ready to see God work in ways that I often don’t take time to see in the States. Part of what I ask God each day, whether in a foreign country or Katy, TX, is to have eyes to see what is really happening around me and to see people as He sees them. Although I know the Lord is faithful to answer my request, often the busyness of life keeps me from slowing down enough to have such encounters. But once in a while, in God’s providence, I get to see Him work and I watch in amazement and I again know that He is a living and active God who in constantly interceding on our behalf.

So, back to the story in the Doha airport. My teammates, Leslie, Patricia, and I were enjoying catching up with our new friends, Tesha and Sherri who live in Jacksonville, FL but traveled with us last year to Cambodia to do medical mission work and returned this year to do the same. It has been a year since we were face to face so we had so much to talk about! During our conversation, we noticed a woman sitting close by us who was listening to us quite intently.

It was time to head to the flight to Bangkok, so we stood to leave and the woman who had been listening to our conversation walked over to us with tears in her eyes. Her name is Funmi Oguntoye and she told us that she is from Nigeria and was flying home from Houston after visiting her sister who just lost her husband and her brand new baby. With tears running down her face, she told us that she could hear us talking about going overseas to help others and she told us over and over again how wonderful that was. She said that when she got home she was going to talk to her pastor about ways that she could get more involved in missions. In that moment, no words were needed. We knew just by looking in her eyes that she is a believer, that she was deeply hurting for her sister and that she was encouraged by hearing us talk about serving others.

The conversation was over in minutes and we hugged tightly and prayed with her. We prayed for comfort and peace for her sister, and encouragement for Funmi. One thing I love about women is that we can know each other for three seconds and we can hug, pray together, and totally understand each other!

My good friend Pastor Omar recently wrote a blog about chance encounters with strangers that really are not chance encounters at all. Hebrews 13:1-2 reminds us “not to neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unaware. ”

Now, I don’t know if I have ever entertained an angel, but I do know that I have had many divine encounters that I could have missed if I had not been watching. The challenging part about serving others though is it is rarely convenient or easy. It always comes with some personal cost.

Scripture reminds us in Ephesians 5 to live wisely and make the most of every opportunity and that should propel us daily to watch for those “chance encounters” that God has laid before us that are ours to engage in or not. It is our choice.

As for me, I will continue to live with the advice of Pastor Omar; walk slowly among people. Look in their eyes. Listen to their stories. It is then that God can choose to use me or use you to bless, encourage, pray over, and love those that He puts “by chance” in our paths.

People are worth our time. Next time you are in the airport, sitting at work, picking up your dry cleaning, or waiting in carpool, take a minute to look around you. Ask God to give you eyes to see people the way He sees them and the courage to act on His behalf.

Posted in January 2018 Trip | 2 Comments

A Band of Sisters

The people of Cambodia know what it means to experience loss. Every Cambodian has a story about how their family suffered during the dark days of the Khmer Rouge. Pol Pot and his minions will forever be remembered in the history of the Khmer people as the men who filled mass graves with the bodies of their own countrymen.

The Khmer Rouge illustrate what happens when those who do not value the sanctity of human life rule the day. All hell breaks loose! Life becomes a demonic nightmare. No one is safe. Trouble is always imminent and, when it comes, will forever damage and destroy the lives of those in its path.

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As Christ-followers, we are committed to sowing seeds of life in this nation steeped in death and destruction. We continue to invest in initiatives that promote the sanctity of human life and offer the suffering the soothing balm of hope — the hope that is firmly rooted in the gospel of Jesus Christ.

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We concluded our time in Cambodia by washing the feet of the women who attended our conference. These women are among the poorest in the area around Poipet, a town regarded as the armpit of the nation. Life is hard for these women. They are unaccustomed to anyone doing anything at all for them. They live with little or no affirmation of their worth.

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Kara, our team leader, shared with the women the story of Jesus washing the feet of His disciples. I shared the same story with the men who accompanied their wives. The women listened and took notes. And then, in a move that cemented the lesson in their memories, Kara selected a woman in the room and washed her feet.

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This was not just any women. This was a woman who understands suffering and loss. In the waning days of the Khmer Rouge, she was escorted along with thousands of others to a place where they were to be executed. Miraculously, she survived. So, when Kara started to wash her feet, this woman was overwhelmed with emotion. Why would anyone stoop to wash her feet?

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The women on our team spent the rest of the morning washing the feet of every woman in attendance and then praying for each one. There was no shortage of tears. This simple act affirmed to each of the women that they are indeed valued by God.

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Many of the Cambodian women, who have a low estimation of themselves, were astonished that someone from the west, whom they regard as the highest of the high, would stoop to wash their feet. We explained that there is no caste system in God’s kingdom. He cautions His followers to not think more highly of themselves than they ought and to always regard the interests of others.

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After the last prayer, it was hard to say goodbye. All of the women had bonded on a deep level and regarded each other as members of the same family. This was a band of sisters united by their common love for Jesus Christ and for one another. That is the beauty of the kingdom of God and what can happen when we follow the example of service set by Jesus. The simple act of washing feet enabled us to build bridges of love from one heart to another.

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Posted in January 2017 Trip | Leave a comment

Company of the Passionate

Poipet, Cambodia

I am interested in the dynamics of movement — of why people will leave familiar shores and risk venturing to distant horizons. This is important because every major discovery in the history of the world has been made by those who moved in new directions despite the risk. These intrepid individuals redefined the map of the world and, in the process, redefined the geography of their own lives.

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A key component in the dynamics of movement is passion, a word that comes to us from the Latin word passus, a form of the word pati which means to suffer. Webster defines passion as “a powerful emotion or appetite” and also as “ardent love” and “boundless enthusiasm.” There are certain signs that indicate whether someone is indeed passionate.

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Passion leads to presence. Those who are passionate about something show up to make a difference or to demonstrate their support. It was a passion to alleviate the suffering of others, for example, that moved the Good Samaritan in the direction of the unfortunate robbery victim. There is no better way to demonstrate that you care than to show up — to actually be present.

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Passion also leads to perspiration — to work hard to get things done. Passionate people are not afraid of being inconvenienced or having to get their uniform dirty in order to move the ball toward the goal line. Because they believe in something greater than themselves and that serves interests beyond their own, passionate people are willing to sweat it out and to slog it out to get the job done.

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Passion is in no short supply among our Cambodia team. The folks on our team have come to Cambodia’s former killing fields to sow seeds of life and hope among the most desperate. Our first days here have been nothing less than poetry in motion. From off-loading luggage filled with supplies, setting up dental and medical clinics, preparing to teach hundreds of women what it means to be a follower of Christ, and caring for kids who live in an at-risk environment — passion is on display.

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Yesterday was an amazing day as those we have come to serve reclined in dental chairs, visited our medical clinic to find relief from aches and pains, and worshiped and studied the Scripture together. All of this punctuated with the bustle of kids playing games, enjoying crafts, and making new discoveries about what it means to be loved by God. I love the fact that when Christ-followers show up in hard places like Poipet, there is joy and gratitude among the people.

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There is no question that the passion to serve the interests of the kingdom of God has brought us here. Passion does that. It alters our priorities, helps us to see others clearly, motivates us to move in the direction of people in need, mitigates the fear of getting our hands dirty, and ultimately helps us to show a world in turmoil what it means to be an all-in follower of Jesus Christ. I am grateful to be in the company of the passionate.

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Posted in January 2017 Trip | Leave a comment

Return To Cambodia

The journey from my suburban home to the slums of Poipet in western Cambodia is long — really long no matter which way you travel. The only thing that makes the trip bearable is knowing that my heart is inclined in the direction of the poor and needy.

I live with the daily pressure of concern for the many peoples I have been privileged to serve over the years. I can no longer remember what it was like to go to bed free of this concern. It both calls and drives me. It troubles me when it suspects I am starting to slink into the comforts of my suburban life.

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Thus another long journey away from the conveniences of home. Long journeys like this are made more bearable when shared with others whose hearts beat in sync with my own. While I never mind traveling alone, I cherish the days that I am with like-hearted companions who also desire to be the hands and feet of Jesus among the least of these.

And so, I have returned to Cambodia, but not alone. My friend Kara Potts serves as our missions ministry’s point person for our work among the Khmer and did an excellent job of mobilizing and preparing our team. I have returned to Cambodia with friends.

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Over the coming days our team will serve the women and children who live in Poipet, one of the least favored parts of Cambodia. Life in this border town is hard. And it is also dangerous because it’s a favorite hunting ground of those who traffic in human beings. Those who have no regard to the sanctity of human life prosper in places like this.

Our work here is strategic and our efforts preemptive in the battle for life and the struggle against human trafficking. Our presence and the resources we invest are making a difference in the lives of the women and children we serve in partnership with our good friend Steve Hyde, the Iowa farm boy turned missionary who knows he will one day be buried here.

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And so, we have returned to Cambodia to do good — because that is what Jesus would do. We are here to affirm the value of human life, to care for the practical needs of the poor, to offer medical and dental help, to invest in women so that they in turn will be better moms and steer their households toward the life and freedom found in Jesus.

We are a long way from home and that’s ok. As Kara reminded our team last night, we have come here to live out the words of the Apostle Paul who admonished the Philippian church to do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit but instead, in humility, to regard others as more important than themselves. And that is exactly what we intend to do.

Posted in January 2017 Trip | Leave a comment

Not Home Yet

At the Hope Center, we sang songs, danced, prayed, read the bible in multiple languages, shared bible stories, and shared personal stories of how the Lord has molded the hearts of each and every one of us.  After two days of sharing, we asked those in attendance if they had something they wanted to share with us – we had been doing most of the talking.  Sure enough, a hand shot up in the crowd of Cambodian women.  Meet So Maly…image.png

On a chilly morning at the Hope Center, So Maly stands up and begins to share a heart wrenching story of survival of the Khmer Rouge.  The Communist Party of Kampuchea, otherwise known as Khmer Rouge, took control of Cambodia on April 17, 1975 and ruled until 1979 – during many of our lives.  While the Khmer Rouge was in power, they set up policies that disregarded human life and produced repression and massacres on a massive scale.  They turned the country into a huge “detention center,” which later became a graveyard for nearly two million people.

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Soon after seizing power, they arrested and killed thousands, any were held in prisons, where they were detained, interrogated, tortured and executed. The most important prison in Cambodia, known as S-21, held approximately 14,000 prisoners while in operation. Only about 12 survived. The Khmer Rouge continued to exist until 1999 when all of its leaders had defected to the Royal Government of Cambodia, been arrested, or had died. But their legacy remains and women like Noit Hyde and So Maly lived to tell stories of survival of such a brutal regime.

Through tears, So Maly bravely shared and we join her in sobbing before we even heard the English translation of her words.  Beyond survival, the most precious moment in her story was when she said “after the Khmer Rouge I wanted to go to the USA, but now after hearing so many stories I want to go to HEAVEN!” So Maly knows that life beyond this world only exist through Jesus Christ and because of him she knows Heaven is her true home.

But, we are “Not Home Yet.”  These women will not flee Cambodia for the USA, instead they will stay there, for now, continuing God’s work in their lives and sharing the gospel message to others looking for a home away from Cambodia and the destruction left over from the Khmer Rouge.  These women are a voice of survival and a bright light for the darkness left over because they know the true savior of the world, Jesus.

So Maly and I had a moment to sit and share a little with each other that day.  We had two separate bibles, two separate languages, and yet we were speaking clear as day.  She shared John 3:16 in her language while I turned there in my bible.  Then I shared John 16:33 from my language and she read it out loud in hers.  How beautiful to communicate though scripture the promises of our common Father in Heaven, “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace.  In this world, you will have trouble.  But take heart!  I have overcome the world.” We may not be “home yet,” but as sisters in Christ we have the same mission on earth with the same destination.  I can’t wait!

Building 425: “Where I belong”

All I know is I’m not home yet, this is not where I belong.

Take this world and give me Jesus, this is not where I belong.

Written by Sarah Sallee

Posted in February 2016 Trip | 3 Comments