Tag Archives: Slums

How Long?

29 Aug

I can see the storm descending on the hill tonight
Tall trees are bending to Your will tonight
Oh, let the mighty bow down
At the thundering sound of Your voice

Just yesterday it seems I was walking those streets for the first time, everything shockingly foreign. Today I walked them for the last time, everything heart wrenchingly familiar. Each hand holding a little tighter, each hug lasting a little longer, each face memorized a little clearer. Oh these souls.

I can hear the howling wind and feel the rain tonight
Every drop a prophet in Your name tonight
Oh, and the song that they sing
It is washing me clean but
How long?
How long?
How long until this curtain is lifted?
How long is this the song that we sing?
How long until the reckoning?

It’s been a summer of feeling the darkness even in broad daylight, of need stretching out pleading hands into my face, of burdens settling heavy, of children precious in His sight becoming precious in ours. We who have Bread had the privilege of being among a people who hunger for it. And even through the communication barrier, this Jesus-food, it’s a universal language.

And I know You hear the cries of every soul tonight
You see the teardrops as they roll tonight
Down the faces of the saints
Who grow weary and faint in Your fields

I don’t know how to leave it behind, all that I’ve seen. I don’t think it can be left behind. I think I’ll carry with me forever the deep seated lessons and soul strengthening experiences and heart imprints of a Cambodian expansion of the heart of God. And the joy that comes out of that expansion? Ridiculous. He’s met me and humbled me and stretched me and brought me to new places of prayer and love and intercession.

And the wicked roam the cities and the streets tonight
But when the God of love and thunder speaks tonight
Oh, I believe You will come
Your justice be done, but how long?

The enemy isn’t quick to raise white flags over his territory. The war of the unseen doesn’t escape the atmosphere of the visible. I weep with the evil that preys on innocence and the lives who think hope is someone else’s future, not their own. But I also weep with the beauty that is redemption and the God Who gives it.

And I am standing in the stillness of the reckoning
The storm is past and rest is beckoning
Mighty God, how I fear You
And I long to be near You, O Lord

I know His redemption is for them. I believe His heart is for their salvation. I know hope can be gloriously worn in even the poorest of this growing up generation. I can’t make it happen and as much as I want it for them, I can’t force the change. But if I leave anything behind in Cambodia, I want to leave behind a ground that’s been trampled down by wrestling prayer and take with me a pair of calloused knees. I ache to see God be made huge in this community, with or without me. I ache to see it be done soon. Not because these people deserve a better life, but because He deserves greater glory.

How long?
How long?
How long until this curtain is lifted?
How long is this the song that we sing?
How long until the reckoning?

(“The Reckoning” by Andrew Peterson)


Letter to Mowgli

23 Aug

Oh precious girl, do you know you’ve got me wrapped around your little brown finger? It’s true. You used to be so serious and quiet, and my heart ached to know your sadness. But now you talk and laugh and light up in smiles, and my heart loves it. I’ve run my fingers through your straight black bangs as you leaned against my chest. I’ve held your small hands in my white ones and smiled at you until the twinkles came out in your eyes and you twisted your head in a shy grin. Sometimes my skirt is damp when you leave, but I don’t mind. Sometimes I’m not sure if you’ve had a bath in the past week, but that’s ok. Sometimes I wish so badly I could take you home with me and make you clean and yummy smelling on the outside, and pure and Jesus loving on the inside.

When I don’t see you for a day or two, I walk to your house to find out where you’ve been. My favorite is when you see me coming and run down the street to meet me. “I missed you!” I say as I grab you up in my arms and swing you around in a circle. “I’ve missed you, sweetheart,” I say again as you bury your head in my shoulder. You don’t understand my words, but I think you know what I mean. And you don’t understand when I whisper prayers over you, but Mowgli-girl, God knows. When I think of how I’m going to say goodbye to you in a week, my throat closes up and my eyes get shiny-wet. How do I leave you behind? How do I go back to my big house and leave you in your slum one? How do I trust that Jesus will take much better care of you than I ever could? Who will watch you grow up and teach you how to make good choices? Who will I hug tight when your face comes to mind and you’re oceans away? Mowgli-girl, you belong to Jesus. I want you to know your heart is safe with Him even when your world is dangerous. I want you to know your block house isn’t your real home and your trash-littered life isn’t your only destiny. I want you to know what it means to love Jesus.

A few months ago I didn’t know you. I didn’t know you would be the face of my Cambodian summer. I didn’t know there was a hole in my heart the shape of a pigtailed three year old. I didn’t know I’d pray for your little life. I didn’t know how much I’d love you. In less than a week, I’m going to walk down your street one last time and hold you tight one last time and wait for that precious grin one last time. And then I’ll leave. But when I walk away, precious girl, Jesus won’t be leaving with me. He’ll be staying with you.


18 Aug

At the beginning of the summer, meeting all these new kids in this new place made my head hurt. I was just trying to remember new names and identify new faces. It was hard.

Sometimes meeting all these new people in all these new places makes my heart hurt. I’m just trying to live the way Jesus told me to and love in a likewise manner, and so I connect. And then I have to leave. And a very large piece of my heart stays with them. I don’t want to think about having two weeks left to figure out how to say goodbye to that part of my heart. And so I live today.

Today I had dirty fingers laced through mine as I walked down trash-strewn streets and a little one cried because I didn’t have an extra hand to hold.

Today I was invited in out of the scorching sun and sat on a falling apart chair as I swung the baby in the hammock and the grandmother jabbered in a language I didn’t understand and the little girl curled up on my lap.

Today I shared smiles with beautiful faces.

Today I brushed back sweaty bangs and tight-hugged tiny shoulders.

Today I played peekaboo and gave piggy back rides and communicated through laughter and the few Khmer words I’ve learned.

Today I loved them so much it hurt and wondered if they could feel it.

Today I wondered if it hurt them more for me to come and love and leave than it would if I hadn’t come at all.

Today I looked into big brown eyes and knew the answer.

This summer is such a gift. Over and over I stop in the middle of joy-burst moments and whisper thank you. It’s hard for me to get into circumstances like these and connect myself — really connect myself and then leave. It’s hard for me to become vulnerable all over again and again and again. I don’t like it. Really, I don’t. But today, playing with the kids, just laughing, and watching and holding them, it struck me. It’s always better — always — to love. To connect. It hurts to connect and then leave. But it hurts me more not to. Do I have what it takes to love them? No. I can try and I can think I do, but the reality is that in me dwells no good thing. Except for Jesus. So each day I ask for Him to be what comes out of Ervina.

Those kids might forget about me in a few weeks. But that’s ok.

All I want is for them to remember what it feels like to be loved by Jesus.


8 Aug

It’s a quality I could use a lot more of. Apparently I’m not as patient and long-suffering as I’d like to think. Apparently I still need a lot of grace and unconditional love woven into every fiber and pumped through every pore of my being. Apparently the days I always think are going to be easy and fun are the days I end up needing Him most.

Kids Camp is only a few days away and the closer it gets, the more excited we are. We’ve prayed over it and we’ve had meeting after meeting for it and we’ve signed up tons of kids for it.

It was a fun day of decorating. Exhausting, but fun. We’re not finished yet but the house looks great. The original plan was that the kids would stay out of the house so we could work efficiently. The outcome was more like the older ones came into help and efficiency worked its way down to borderline zero. As did my patience. Glitter and double-sided tape work great with a crowd. Wet paint and trying to make sure everything turns out perfectly do not. So when Srey Pi has black paint dripping off her fingernails and mischief dripping off her face and I take her paintbrush for the third time and remind her what a Khmer no sounds like, I hear myself asking would Jesus care if there’s paint piles all over the floor? The answer is no. So why should I? When two girls plop down beside me and trace my careful English letters with sloppy blue and I want to tell them to go cut out stars and let me take care of this, I ask myself would Jesus turn them away so He could do things easier and better? Same answer. So why should I? When bright orange shows up in the wrong places, and frustration too, and too many kids beg to do too many things and I want to stand up and announce it’s time to clear out, I pray for inward grace to transfer outwardly but it’s not until I get home that the Jesus-words come as the answer to all:

Let the children come. Don’t turn them away. Don’t forget it’s to them My kingdom belongs.

Who really cares if the poster is smeared and the letters are crooked and the stars are misshapen and the mess factor is ten times bigger? Who cares as long as there’s enough Christ-love being poured into me to get poured back out, as long as there are kids wanting to serve and opportunities to let them, as long as I’m being reminded that all the perfectionistic tendencies and creative ideals in the world won’t get me anywhere close to the kingdom I long to live in daily?

All I know is, Paul knew what he was talking about when he told us to be in a spirit of prayer constantly. Not just in worship services or early mornings or a set-aside afternoon hour of quietness, but smack dab in the middle of glue messes and paint splatters and glitter warzones. Because if you’re talking to and hearing from Love all day long, shouldn’t that make a difference in what comes out of you? I think yes. I wish I could brush patience across my soul as easily as I can paint strokes across a canvas. But I’m glad tomorrow’s another day with precious kids, and getting to love all over again, and being more like them so I can be more like Him.

Hawaiian Shorts and Red Flags

29 Jul

We called him City Slicker at first. Slicker for short. He would come sauntering in with a shock of dark hair swooping down his forehead and across his left eye, his wild Hawaiian shorts always pulled high over a tank top. When he spoke, I thought the voice was coming from a man across the room, not his four year old frame. It was two octaves lower than a normal kid’s with a few pieces of gravel mixed in. He lives one street over with his grandma, not his parents, and she’s a drunk who doesn’t know how to take care of a child. I don’t know if it’s his unique style of clothing or the fact that they’re jealous of his manly voice or if he maybe wears an invisible sign saying “pick on me”, but every time we turn our back, he’s the one getting bullied.

Little sister and I decided we’re going to show Slicker what love looks like, with extra smiles and bouncing balls in his direction and making sure the big boys stay out of his path. He didn’t always acknowledge us but his little gravelly voice mumbled Khmer words here and there. Last week he was the one who threw a ball at me first. Then I slipped him a few extra crayons during coloring time. And during preschool last Tuesday afternoon, he ambled over out of nowhere and plopped himself in my lap. I sat there with my arms casually draped around him, controlling my too-big joy, afraid he’d leave if he knew this was the highlight of my day.

Because it was the highlight. And after nearly two months of seeing him four times a week, I love that I can pick out the gravel in a crowd of screaming kids. And that he shows up each time our team is around because he knows it’s a safe place. And that he shows off his crafts because he knows we’re proud of him. And that I can walk him home at the end of the day. And most of all I love that he’s getting a chance to hear truth and know Jesus.

Ever since we found out he’s HIV-positive and his mom died after she got it from his father but not before passing it onto her son, he’s been the Hawaiian-flowered red flag in my mind, reminding me that sin never affects just one person.

Whoever receives this child in My Name receives Me.


26 Jun

They entered the swimming pool slowly, as if the water would swallow them before they were ready. Their faces permanently etched in smiles, the reality of their decision, the expectation of what it signified. It was a glorious thing, this washing of water in agreement with the declaration of their souls. They were slum dwellers, all eight. They still are, but this residence does not define them. Here they carry water and scrub clothes and live on rice and work too hard for too little pay. But at the same time, sons and daughters of Him Who gives heaven for home and invites the least of these to sit at the head of His banquet table. These who call my Father theirs enter water as I did, wear humanness with hope, and live joy unfaked; these are my family. Common blood born a world apart. This is the mystery of godliness, that invites us in to await a better kingdom together, that gives Americans and Cambodians the same keys to an abundant life. Both of us claiming Jesus. Both of us someday living in the same place permanently.

Yesterday I could have wept at the beauty of dry heads streaming wet, Khmer prayers loud and powerful, triumph stronger felt than the heat of the day. Yesterday the darkness covering this city lifted just enough to hear the celebration of heaven as the poor-born became the rich.

It’s with full heart that I get to be a witness.

Now as they went down the road, they came to some water. And the eunuch said, “See, here is water. What hinders me from being baptized?” Then Philip said, “If you believe with all your heart, you may.” And he answered and said, “I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.” -Acts 8:36, 37

Shampoo, Suds and Water Carriers

21 Jun

They come running, our white van bouncing toward them as they wave and jump up and down. Dozens of them wait at the garage door. We walk in among them, hugging waist-high heads and touching little cheeks in greeting. How can these children be so precious already?

We wash countless heads, pouring cold water over scalps and massaging around sores and turning tangles into clean, fresh braids. I sit with my fingers twirled in lice-ridden hair, feet sloshing in sudsy water, smiling like my heart can’t contain itself. Because it can’t. I’m so utterly happy in those moments. Who doesn’t melt when a little espresso-eyed girl lays her head at your knees, plugs her ears to keep out the water, and smiles up at you? This child, one of the many fainting from hunger at the top of every street. God hunger. Truth hunger. Life hunger. As my fingers rub the shampoo deep, I pray for her. I who have this God, this truth, this life. I who can’t speak more than five words in her language. How can I not pray? I ask for her heart to be washed clean, for it to hold desire for Jesus, for her to be that water carrier in a slum-world of broken cisterns. She’s just a little child, yes, but didn’t He say a little child would lead them? These people can’t afford much, but didn’t He offer this thirst-quenching water free?

I think Tuesdays are going to be my favorite days.