Recently I had the absolute pleasure of chatting with Steph Wheeler – an Aussie girl who lives in Cambodia and absolutely loves it – and writing about it for the prettiest, best magazine around: Enhance.
Well, it arrived in the mail last week, all nicely graphic-ed and printed. And as usual it took me a good few days to build up the courage to look at it. It’s always so final you know? Once the words are printed, there’s no making changes! (one of the many bonuses of blogging – you can make changes whenever you like 🙂 )
So, if you’re interested, here it is:
Love Is Always Enough – By Joni Leimgruber
21 000 children die every day because of poverty… 27 million people are trapped in slavery… 1 billion adults and children have no access to clean water… The stories are heartbreaking and the statistics astronomical.
Sometimes it seems like whatever we give or do is never going to be enough. I mean, how can one person make a difference?
When I met Stephanie Wheeler – a missionary in Cambodia – she showed me that one person can make a difference. Steph has seen poverty and slavery first hand and has witnessed the harsh reality of injustice. As she sat with the poor in the midst of grime and poverty, God opened her eyes to the truth and beauty of the part we, as ‘westerners’, need to play. He showed her that within us all, is the One thing the world needs.
Steph’s journey started eight years ago when she realised that Cambodia was where God wanted her to be. Now at age 26, she has been living in Cambodia for two years. During this time Steph has led a team for Burn 24/7 (praying for the sick, visiting prisoners and hosting conferences for local pastors) and worked for an anti-trafficking NGO (helping male transsexual sex workers who wanted to leave the sex industry).
These days, she spends her time studying the Cambodian language (Khmer) and public health (Steph is actually home in Australia right now, studying nursing – a skill which will greatly help her missionary work).
“The first time I came to Cambodia was two days after the 2004 tsunami,” Steph explains to me when I ask about her experiences. “I remember there were so many people in South-East Asia praying that they would be able to get out and I was desperately praying to get in! I landed in Phnom Penh on the 28th of December, 2004. As the plane touched the tarmac I felt truly, tangibly ‘home’ for the first time in my life.”
I’ve always imagined that life in Cambodia would be pretty hard. I’ve never been overseas or seen poverty first hand but TV charity ads have shaped my assumption – wrong or right – that the third world is void of hope and joy. Steph’s experience, while sometimes heartbreaking, shows a different side to poverty – one we don’t often see.
“Yes, there are scenes similar to the charity ads,” she explains. “There are children with distended bellies and flies on their faces. There are houses of tarp and string. There are people with half-limbs that have been blown off by landmines. There are mothers feeding their children dirty water and people dying of diseases like TB and cholera…”
BUT – she says…
“The children play, the grandmas giggle, the uncles tease and the neighbours are all in on it too. The slums are full of laughter and joy and smiles. I have spent a lot of time in slums across the country and I always leave feeling full of hope and life – because He is in there.
“These years have taught me the truth of the first Beatitude in a way that I didn’t know possible – in that God is eternally biased towards the poor,” Steph explains. “Yes, He loves us all so incredibly but He has a special place in His heart for those we cannot understand until we sit in the dirt with them.”
*A word of warning – tissues may come in handy right now…
“Bono says: ‘God is in the slums, in the cardboard boxes where the poor play house. God is in the silence of a mother who has infected her child with a virus that will end both their lives. God is in the cries heard under the rubble of war. God is in the debris of wasted opportunity and lives and God is with us if we are with them.’ See, we needed Bono to tell us what the poor already know. They know they are hungry, they know they are sick, they know the rain is seeping through their roof but they know – more than anything – that God remembers them in it.”
While living with her Khmer family in a village in Kampong Cham, Steph visited a slum – the worst she had ever seen. Her Khmer family run a church called Heartland International and they regularly visit these slums with an aim to simply love on people. It was in this slum that Steph realised how tangible God is in places of destitution.
“This slum was the worst place I had ever been,” she explains. “It smelt like something I could never quite put my finger on, but which was definitely not nice – and I came home smelling the same. The houses were platforms made
from bamboo with a piece of plastic slung over the top. The whole place was dirt; everything brown. The children were covered with burns from walking into ground cooking fires and almost everyone was unemployed. There were boys sniffing glue and were so many children – unwanted by their parents – who would probably end up doing the same thing one day.
“As I walked into this slum I caught eyes with a little girl. I picked her up and gave her a hug, whispering into her ear knyom sroline oun (I love you, little sister) and she looked at me, squealed, wiggled out of my arms and ran away giggling. This went on for weeks, maybe months. Every time I saw her, I’d tell her I loved her – which I do, with my full heart! I would hug her and play with her hair and hold her hand and she’d jump out of my arms and run away each time until, one day she nestled her head deep into my neck and stayed there. And that was the beginning not only of our relationship but also of my experiential understanding that God does indeed live in the dirt with these people – and with us if we are with them. He is not stuck in Heaven looking down. He loves so well and so hard that He came down in human skin to walk barefoot through the dirt to find the ones forgotten by the world. And as I looked into her big brown eyes in that moment – the eyes of one who had truly received love for the first time in her little life – I was wrecked and completely undone by the power of His love that invades even the dirtiest, poorest place.
“If I’ve learned anything, it’s that love is enough. Jesus came with nothing else but ‘love’ as His strategy. His love looked like deaf ears healed and blind eyes opened, like lepers made clean, like the dead being raised and like the forgotten being listened to. I’m learning to see that ‘missions’ in the developing world is living to make sure that the poorest of the poor live and die knowing that they are loved with an everlasting love. This love also has hands and it looks like clean water, looks like children being educated, looks like sex slaves being set free, looks like the sick being cared for unto health. As we love them with the whole of our hearts that are constantly being filled each day with the love of our Father, they will meet Him. True love can never be separated from Him; they will know Him as they encounter real love.”
So what can we do, over here, to make a difference?
“The greatest thing we can do, right wherever we are – whether in a rich or poor nation, working in an office or in a rice paddy, whether we are young or old – is to love each other. Love transcends culture, time, language, offense, confusion, pain – all things. No matter where you are or what you do: love is always enough.”
Read all about Steph’s adventures at her blog: http://lovetheoneincambodia.blogspot.com
(The photos which appeared alongside the article in the magazine were taken by www.triggerhappyimages.com.au)