As we walked through the White Building we eventually split into two groups. The young ladies from the Girls House of Refuge stopped to speak to a young prostitute standing in one of the outdoor stairwells. The rest of us walked on through the halls, taking it all in.
When we came back the young lady was in tears. The girls were explaining to her that there is a God who loves her, and wants to set her free- that she doesn’t have to be a prostitute any more. This, the message of divine love and redemption, is a radical idea for the Cambodian mind to accept.
Cambodia is over 95% Buddhist, and one of the tenets of Buddhism is karma- the belief that the good or evil you have done in a past life will dictate your circumstances in this life. This is a foundational building block to the Khmer worldview.
For example, if you are poor, living in the city dump in a filthy shack, and make your living picking through trash looking for bits to sell or use- which we also experienced in another Water of Life outreach- then that is your lot in life. You’ll never get out because it’s due to some evil you did in a past life. After all, you must deserve this so why not just lay around and wait for the next garbage truck to arrive? It makes no sense to try. You can’t fight karma.
Similarly, if you are rich it must be because of some good you did in a past life, so live it up. You deserve it. In fact, it would be wrong to help the poor because they need to work out their karma rummaging through sun baked trash piles just as you are working out yours in your air conditioned Benz.
This is the mindset we saw played out in all aspects of Cambodian culture- mind blowing poverty literally living side by side with opulent wealth- and what it breeds is a calloused class structure that keeps people where they are and an overwhelming sense of hopelessness of ever having a better life.
So… the girls asked the young lady to visit the church on Sunday. She agreed to come. They prayed for her, gave her the address, and we moved on.
To our disappointment she never showed.
But later, after we had returned to the States, we heard that she had shown up after all with her baby and she was now living with the girls. I can’t tell you how blessed I was to hear it.
Now the task was simply to love her, teach her about this loving God who changes lives, and show her how to love and care for her baby.
I’d like to tell you they all lived happily ever after, but I can’t. Transitioning from a life driven by drugs and abuse into a life of grace and godliness can be hard- especially if you never come to a saving faith in Jesus Christ- and some simply can’t make the change.
Months later, the young lady left unexpectedly, taking her baby with her, and went back to the life that was destroying her. The baby was sold for drug money and the young lady was found later in a hospital dying of AIDS. The girls visited her there and tell her about the Lord, but she wouldn’t talk about her child.
She eventually passed away.
But the work of saints goes on. The message of Christ goes out into the darkest corners and the believers at the Girls House of Refuge do their best to bring whoever they can to the Kingdom, sometimes just by loving one person at a time.
Please, keep them in prayer.