Thursday, 16 September 2010

Cambodia, please help.

On the way to Cambodia for week 2. Another plane disaster, this time my fault! Emma and I had booked our plane tickets online together and without double checking that we had the same times, we arrived at the airport in time for the departure on Emma's ticket. As we arrived I decided to check the time on my ticket, yep I'd missed my flight! I prayed for Air Asia to take pitty and have some grace for me... there was none, even with my tears!! So had to pay the price which ended up being 3 times the price of my original ticket! So after the bad start to the journey it could only get better, and it did! After our night in Bangkok we boarded a bus which took us to my favourite bus station in Bangkok!! This time we spoke to the right information desk and bought a very cheap bus ticket to Cambodia. I paid and Emma ran for food supplies, then we both had to quickly follow an old man with a bucket! Who lead us out to the motorway, where he shortly flagged down a big yellow, comfy bus and we were on our way!

The Border: What a hot, sticky and exhausting exercise! Off the bus we couldn't see the border but hoped it was near. Knowing the border to be a hot spot for scam artisits, we ignored the masses of people shouting to follow them for a visa, and kept walking and asking official looking people until we found it. An immediate change was already visible here from Thailand. A group of scruffy looking children wondered around begging for money, an older girl of about 8 years was clearly the boss, she shouted at them and hit them, and they looked terrified of her. It was unclear where to go to get our visas, so we had to walk back on ourselves across the vast no mans land between the two countries. Here stood many Casinos and grand hotels, with a shifty and dark feel to their glitsy exteriors. It felt like the kind of place that you wouldn't want to get lost in at night! The Casinos suddenly came to an end and there lay Cambodia.
Sambo and Matthiew picked us up and took us to the school/house in Poipet.

Poipet: Couldn't quite believe the site outside the window. Poipet seemed to be a mud bath covered with random buildings and shacks, and a layer of uncollected, unbagged rubbish. Sambo's house (and English school) was very close but it took us ages to bump our way through the seemingly undrivable roads. His 4 story building looked like the only decent building on the road, and we were shown our room. They gave us the one air con room in the house, such a blessing. And we would be sleeping Cambodian style for the week.. on the floor!

Sambo debriefed us on our work and Emma and I began planning our lessons with the hilariously ancient English books. We were meant to be going to teach in the villages every morning but the monsoon had made the roads so bad that it was now impossible to get there, and so began our somewhat clostraphobic week of intense teaching. Everyday we taught a varied age range of children in the morning, I had a class of around 30 and Emma had a slightly smaller group of even younger children. We taught them for 2 hours. We chose not to follow the English books but teach them with our fun games and songs that we knew from teaching at home, and incuded lots of craft activities so that they made and took home something everyday. In the afternoon we each taught a young adults group for two hours. Some of the guys in my group were too cool for school, so getting them to do games was harder but fun to see them getting into Simon Says! They loved it! An hour after this class we each taught two advanced adult groups for an hour each. After which was dinner time. Exhausting, but the cool part of my day was that my last two classes, when I had the least energy, were on the roof of the school as the sun went down, so I got to see Poipet from above and watch the hot sunset. We had a laugh in the evening classes, maybe my tiredness made me relaxed, and we still managed to play some games.
I absolutely loved getting to know all the student and hanging out with Sambo and his family. Sambo was clearly not his usual bubbly self, although we saw many moments of his true character and infectious laugh, he was troubled by the looming rent payments and church pressures that he simply didn't have the funds for. Sambo's work, I discovered, went far further than teaching English to people in Poipet. He believes English provides people with the tools to get better paid jobs and help themselves out of poverty, which he is passionate about. Using his own money he travels to remote villages to teach to all ages, and pays the fees for the kids in Poipet who can't afford it. He is funding a former student through University whilst also supporting his pregnant wife, two young daughters, his brother who has recently lost his wife and daughter, and his brother-in-law. Sambo was also a key leader in the church, running bible study groups and church services. When we visited the church Sambo lead the service and the accoustic worship. We later learnt about the drawback of being so influencial and important as a Cambodian in Sambo's missionary church. There was much jealousy towards him in the church because he was a popular mamber doing mission. The main church leaders came from America, strangely instead of encouraging local initiated mission they were seemingly oppressing it unless they were able to manage it. The church was trying to convince Sambo to move his school out of Poipet, where the need is, and start one up out of town next door to the church. The logic behind this seemed to point solely to a desire to oversee and mange the work from inside the church. To ensure it happened they had cut all funding for Sambo's mission. There wasn't really anyone in the same place as Sambo to journey with and pray with, he had his friends and wife who he prayed with a lot but no one to challenge or pass on advice. He felt quite issolated, and Emma and I prayed for that person of accountability to come into his life soon.

At the end of our week Sambo generously took us to Angkor Wat for a little break and treat. It was stunning, especially the 'Tomb Raider Temple' where as usual I was more impressed with nature's show and attempts at reclaiming the land than man's creation. Our tuk tuk driver around the Wats was a friend of Sambo's, he was fantastic and wanted to teach us about the place at every stop. There were lots of child beggers here, who were very persistent and forceful. And I had my first up and close experience with asian monkeys. Walking through a wooded path connecting two Wats they were all hanging out along the path. Got some great close up pics. Only to discover when I looked up that a group of tourists were photographing me!! Having spotted them they decided to ask for my permission, and one by one each of the Vietnamese tourists had their picture next to me, bizzare!! Should have charged!

On one of our last meals together, which I had enjoyed eating every time, a strange looking fruit came out for dessert. Usually water melon, but today a spikey large round fruit called Durian. The two little girls were really excited by this arrival and we soon all had a piece of the fruit's soft inside in our hands. I took a bite and didn't know how I was going to swallow it! The richest, most pungeant, thick tasting fruit, similar texture to a banana except smoother and with the worst aftertaste ever!! I thought it was best to be honest for fear of future servings, only to discover that this was a real treat, a very expensive fruit just bought for the special guests, classic! I felt bad but the girls enjoyed finishing my portion.

For one last treat Sambo and friends took us to a 'waterpark'. To start with it had begun to rain but that didn't put anyone off. Smaller than a football pitch this 'complex' had 2 slides of dangerously unsafe proportions, the bumpy slide threw me several feet into the air at each bump before the harsh landing back onto the plastic slope and a drop off into the brown, algae infested pond! Whatever you do don't swa;;ow! Surrounding the pool were plastic figures like dinosaurs and tea cups for the enjoyment of kids, it was hilarious, but they LOVED it!

Our week at the school had created so many lovely friendships and I was going to miss these bubbly new friends.

Sadness: A couple of weeks after our departure from Cambodia I received a desperate email from Sambo. His brother-in-law, who we'd not met, had just been in a horrific road accident where he was flown from his motorbike head first into a metal fence. There was bleeding in the brain which they had to drain, and he was unconscious. The man had a wife and two young sons but the rest of the family weren't around, so Sambo was left to pay the huge hospital fees. Far higher than he could afford. A few weeks after that, a second email told me they had run out of money and his brother was dying. All I could do was pray for Sambo and the family. It broke my heart because I was really praying for a breakthrough in finances for Sambo and then this accident which had taken everything from them right before the birth of his new baby. God please send your hand of healing and provision into that family and restore hope. They were so loving and generous to me, I pray for them every day.

Friday, 27 August 2010

What is mission?

Written: 23 August 2010
My first two weeks are done and I'm currently resting on the beautiful Thai island of Koh Tao which is blissfully quiet as all the other farangs (foreigners) have made their way to Koh Pagnan for the full moon party in 2 days time. Me and Emma however could do with a slower pace!
Week 1:
Was a beautiful introduction to Thailand and its culture and people. The trip started with a flight disaster! My flight to Thailand had an hour stop over in Abu Dhabi, an airport in the middle of the Arabic desert. But somehow on creating my flight ticket my travel agents hadn't included the ticket number for the Abu Dhabi to Bangkok flight. So Emma was allowed on the flight but I couldn't fly, and because we'd checked in together they took both our bags off the flight, not knowing whose was whose! I was stuck at the airport unable to do anything except wait 5 hours for the travel agents to open at 10 o'clock, as it was currently 5 in the morning English time. It eventually got sorted out and I was on the evening flight to Bangkok. That time alone. 14 hours in a highly air conditioned airport, gave me time to pray and realise just how much I was gonna have to trust God for the many things this year that would be totally out of my control. A scary start but it taught me from day one that even in the worst looking scenarios I needn't worry, and I felt like my prayers and the prayers of everyone who knew about it gave peace and a solution to the problem.
Having missed out on my hotel room in Bangkok I thought I might be able to catch breakfast, so boarded the shuttle bus from the airport, lugging bot bags, as the driver agreed that his bus went to my hotel. I had totally forgotten that if a Thai person doesn't understand what you have said they smile and nod! So I ended up in a bus station in the middle of Bangkok! After traipsing around several information places, leaving my passport and papers at one of them, I decided to go back to the airport and wait for Emma there! Reunited finally, we got our flight up to Chiang Rai.
Chiang Rai:
We stayed at a place called Eden house which takes in and becomes a home to Thai girls living in hopeless or dangerous situations. They currently have 33 girls ranging from around 5 or 6 years old to 17 or 18. Most of them have come from the nearby hill tribes and are often referred to Eden by the local authorities as children at risk. They all go to local schools in Chiang Rai and enjoy love, security, food, clothes, activities and learning about Jesus int he homes. Emma and I took one of the girls cell groups (a small group who study Christianity together and support each other in prayer). We shared our testimonies, studied a part of the bible and prayed with them, they were so keen to hear what we had to say about the holy spirit, an issue of great confusion for them. We were able to encourage them in what we saw as their gifts from God. We joined in with a few worship meetings, including one to celebrate Thai mothers day. where we had some of the village mothers come to visit. A very emotional day. We were able to visit one of the older girls from Eden house in Chang Mai, where she had just started English at Uni. It was lovely to see how the girls had fully embraced their new family at Eden and were so in love with God. The couple from America who ran Eden house took us up to the hill villages to see their way of life, to learn the many cultural differences here and to hear about the stories behind some of the girls. Stories of grugs, murder, HIV and poverty, however, our visits also showed us the tranquil and self sufficient village life. We visited another former Eden house girl in the village who had just had a baby, and learned about the lack of freedom Thailand gives to village people. They are not considered citizens of Thailand so have no passports and if they leave the country they cannot return, they are trapped and are unable to own land, forcing them to precariously farm on the steep sides of the hills. We visited a village tribe with another missionary family from America, who had been building relations slowly with the people. Then a village leader invited us into his hut for some tea and tribal gifts. We were able to pray we them and for his sick little girl, thanks to the American family's fluency in Thai. On the way out we passed a strange sight in amongst the gorgeous stilted bamboo huts, a western looking brick church. It was overgrown and unused because the pastors that had been trained up to work there preferred to work where there was more money for an income. Some of the villagers claimed to be Christian and we had a warm welcome, which left me to question how would I feel if people from another country and religion had come to my village and built a place of worship and talked to me about changing my faith, I'm not sure I would have been so welcoming, I guess it depends how it was done and whether God's love shone through with every built relationship. I was beginning a journey into the realities of Christian mission with many questions to find answers to. Like whether building a western looking church is necessary when God loves different cultures and expressions of faith, or maybe it is a helpful starting point to practicing such a different faith? Could church not have been like our meeting and prayer in the leader's hut? I was beginning to see many western ideas to solve eastern problems of poverty, but it lead me to question what really is poverty? In many ways these hill tribes were far richer than me with their self-sufficient skills of surviving and living often without running water or electricity. In a world with dramatically reducing energy supplies I couldn't help feeling like we should be learning from them. And what really is mission? I heard and saw some fantastic ideas at creating community and reducing poverty but wondered if a totally western idea would create too much dependence upon the westerners for its success, in turn reducing the Independence and self-sufficiency of the villagers. Thais know how to be Thai and relate to the culture infinitely more than westerners. Would a better solution be to communicate with the villagers and allow them the space to create ideas using the skills they have to relieve the poverty, using westerns as guides and fund starters, that would put the power back with the people? But maybe the people don't even feel like they are poor? It is easy to question as I am not actually trying to be a poverty solver or missionary in Thailand, and I'm sure the missionaries here have asked these questions. I have no answers and no judgement, only questions. One thing I cannot question is the genuine heart for the Thai people that the missionaries I met hold closely.

Wednesday, 4 August 2010

My mum wins the prize!

Well today I realised just how poor my mathematics skills really are. After recently booking my flight from Singapore to Manila to give me 3 months in the Philippines, which is what I have a visa for, I had worked out that the earliest time I could arrive in Manila was 16th October, as my flight to Australia was the 16th Dec. My mum won the prize today for spotting my incredibly silly error... this would only give me two months in Manila! Nooooooooo, how did I not spot that! I have a visa for 3 months and I want to work in the Philippines for as long as possible, so today I had to pay more to change my flights and allow me to arrive 16th September instead of October! This now means slightly less time in Thailand and therefore might not be able to fit Pattaya slum ministry work in, but we shall see what happens. An expensive error but I'm so pleased she spotted it! Yey, more time in Manila!

Thursday, 29 July 2010

The month of preparation

Wow what a month! I have 3 days to go now until I leave from Manchester airport to fly into Bangkok. So many amazing answers to prayers and people helping me at just the right times. For example; friends needing the exact furniture that I wanted to get rid of, people offering me their houses to store my stuff for a year, the school I work for raising a fantastic amount for the Philippines charity that I'll work with, people helping with fund raising events, and even people paying for the Notary Public signature to go onto my Philippines visa that I hadn't realised would cost so much. It has been, and still is, a hectic time, but gloriously not stressful. Everytime I've thought about something I need to organise or get, I've prayed for God to help me get it sorted, and within days it was done. Even the conversations I have with people, many of whom have given me fantastic advice, seem to be just at the right time for what I needed to know in that moment. I have such a peace about going, I am now really excited and know it is the right thing to do this year. I can't wait to learn all that God has for me.

The itinerary:

5th Aug - Fly to Bangkok

- Stay over night in the nearby Hotel ready to catch an early flight the next day.

6th Aug - Fly to Chiang Rai

- Meet the Schools project team in Chiang Rai and begin a week working and having fun with them.

14th Aug - Fly back to Bangkok

- Probably stay at the same hotel ready for an early train or coach to Cambodia.

15th Aug - Get to Cambodia and meet the schools project team.

16th Aug - Teach english at the schools project. Begin a week of working and fun on the Cambodian border.

23rd Aug - Me and Emma make our way for a week's break on the southern Islands before she returns to England.

28th Aug - Return to Bangkok and say goodbye to Emma.

29th Aug - Make my way to the slum ministry of Pattaya, working with the children and the YWAM project for a while. Time spent with them is unknown as of yet.

- After working in Pattaya I will make my way down Thailand, through Malaysia and onto Singapore. As this was the cheapest airport to fly from! On the way I will clearly have to take some time to take in the gorgeous scenery!

16th Oct - Fly from Singapore to Manila to meet the people from House Of The Heroes, housing street children. Where I will be for the next 3 months. Living with the children and doing some teaching and caring, and getting involved with some local projects that rescue children from the worst conditions.

16th Dec - Fly Manila to Sydney. Meeting a good friend in Sydney, before making my way to Melbourne to spend Christmas and to catch up with some more amazing friends. Not too sure what I'll be doing the whole time I'm there but I need to learn Portuguese properly before I go to work in Brazil.

27th Feb - Fly from Sydney to Buenos Aires, Argentina. This is when it all gets a bit hasey!! Fly on to Brazil as I know I want to work in Brazil with street children, hoping to spend a lot of time with Happy Child. But the details of when and how I get from Argentina to Brazil are yet to be finalized. So instead of guessing I'll just leave it there! Maybe that's something else that might take up a lot of time in Australia!

June - Fly from Rio to Heathrow. But it's too far in the future to be able to book this flight yet!

I am really looking forward to working with such passionate people who have dedicated their lives to helping these children. I can't wait to get to know each one of the kids and pray into their lives for so much peace and love to surround them. I am keen to teach them and encourage them in the skills that they already have. And I'm so excited to hear from God what plans he has for their lives. Along the way I can't wait to dream with God and get inspired by his phenominal creation, and I know I won't be going alone. Quite excitingly, as I was being prayed for on Sunday by my church here in Manchester, a member said God revealed something to him that he had never seen before. God showed him what my guardian angel looks like, by the way he is massive!! God also told him the angels name and even how to spell it. Ezriel; which means God is my aid. I was so blown away by this, and love that God chose to reveal that to someone as an encouragement to me, because I have been a little worried about being on my own and being in dangerous situations. I will not intentionally be putting myself into scarey situations but it is always good to know the names of who you can call on when you are ever out of your depth.

Saturday, 26 June 2010

the beginning continued...

I went to see a friend of mine, Helen Mukibi, to talk and pray about how frustrated I was that I didn't know what I'd be doing next year. She said that she felt God wanted me to journey the unknown with him and that I probably wouldn't know my plans before I leave, that felt really true, and made a lot of sense in my heart, but scared me completely. She also said that I should read some biographies by people who have been there and done it. Not being much of a reader, I took one book from her collection thinking I might just be able to read it in a month.
I've never read I book like this before, I wanted to read it all the time. 'The Street Children of Brazil' was so inspiring and really confirmed my desire to be working with street children next year. A friend of mine from church, Hannah Delaney, had been to work with street children in Brazil a few years ago, so I told her about this amazing book I'd started to read. Her reaction....screaming! It was written by a family friend, and it was the charity of the author who Hannah went out with. Small world after all. Hannah helped me get in contact with the organisers to see if I could join them in Brazil. Working with 'Happy Child' is now on the agenda for next year. YES, I have something!
A few days later me and Hannah went to an event in Manchester called 'The Stand', all about human trafficking and what we can do to help stamp it out. Hannah and I felt like the evening could be really significant for my plans next year. A man called Tony Campolo spoke about the work his charity does in Haiti. I really felt I needed to speak to him, as Haiti had been a country in my prayers ever since the earthquake, and I'd told myself if I ever had the chance to go out there I would go, if it was right to go of course. So I asked him if they needed teachers or extra help in Haiti, and would they want my services. He said teachers were exactly what they needed, but mainly as a support to the existing Haitian teachers who have maintained a dictatorial style of teaching since the rigid dictatorship in Haiti. They now want to know what the best ways to teach children are. So he put me in contact with his staff. I've been praying about this as its a bit different to what I imagined I'd be doing, but I'm really open to the plan changing and the year taking its own course, steered by God hopefully. As of yet they haven't replied to me, so we shall see.
But on the way out of 'The Stand' I bumped into a friend from my youth down south, Ross Gill, who was up to get some advise about safe houses for girls as he has opened one in Portsmouth. I told him about my year off and he said I should check out the 'House of Heroes' for the street kids of Manila, Philippines, which he is one of the founders of, along with a guy I did a church trip to South Africa with when I was 15, Craig Johnson. As he was telling me about it I got chills down my spine, it sounded like the early stages of 'Happy Child' in Brazil. Wow if I could work with these guys too I'd be so excited. I immediately went home, found out as much as I could about the work they do and emailed Craig. Really praying I get to go out to Manila to work with this charity, got a meeting with Craig soon about the possibility of going out there next year, just praying it works out.
The final development has been to go out with a friend of mine to work in the orphanges of Thailand and Cambodia which she, Emma Gaze, worked with a few years ago. This would be over the summer, so she can come back to start her new job as Ivy Manchester's youth leader, but that means I'll be leaving really soon!! But the nice thing about going out with her is I get to do the first part of my travels with someont I know and to places that she already knows the people, so it sounds like a great beginning leg. Especially because I'm getting so scared about the scale of everything and how little I am. Going on my own somewhere will be a first anyway, but for a whole year where I'm still so unsure of so much, that's huge for me. Luckily I have a big God coming too!
It was so amazing that within the space of a couple of weeks I could be working in Brazil, Haiti, Philippines, Thailand and Cambodia. Well that's progress anyway....but I still believe that things will change and develop, most of which while I'm out there. But praise God for giving me some direction. Now to book the flight out to Thailand, not knowing where I'll be going from there but probably flying home from Rio a year later. AHH!!!

Saturday, 12 June 2010

The beginning...

Thank you for looking at my blog about this year's journey into the unknown! Let me tell you a little bit about what will be happening this year and the heart behind it....

As a Christian primary school teacher with a degree in Geography, you might be able to guess what things I'm passionate about...working with children, of all ages, absolutely LOVE it. Learning about other cultures and other physical and social environments, how their situations have been caused and problem solving for solutions to poverty. Loving and serving the poorest communities by feeding the hungry, healing the sick, clothing the naked, and housing the homeless, but through a loving power that can mend emotional scars and rebuild shattered lives. I'm really interested in working in poor places; to empower local people to have the skills and confidence to be the solutions to their own poverty. My heart is particularly broken for the children of this world who live on the streets and who have been robbed of a loving childhood.

With this passion burning inside me, I requested a year out of teaching to work in some of the world's poorest places, with some of the most deprived people. Amazingly, my fantastic school have allowed me to take time out from my job to do this. And this is where the story begins...

At the time of requesting a year out I had no idea where to go, I just knew I would be going! I wasn't worried, as my life's experience so far had taught me that everything always falls into place if you pray and trust God, however the planner in me was worried and anxious to get things sorted! Every time I tried to sort something out there would be no response from the charities I was speaking to. So frustrating, I just wanted an idea, a place to be excited about, a mission to pray about but nothing was happening. Everyone around me kept asking, "Where are you going, what are you doing?" which added to the realisation that I had no clue. As I prayed about it I felt like God was keeping from the plan for a while on purpose. Did I really trust him with next year and my life, was I going to let God plan it or would it become something that I organised in the hope that it matched Gods plan. I knew I had to let go and just trust God that it would happen in the right time, and that he would not just help me find a trusted charity to work for, but that he would cause my heart to break for the people of a country and I would know it was right. A few weeks later at church a friend said to me that as she was praying for me, she felt God saying that God is holding off telling me the plan because he wants me to want it more, and that something would happen to change things. That something did happen...