Monday, October 31, 2011

Sophy - Not Lost In Translation

Sophy, translating the Prodigal Son Story - with our team member, Trisha

Have you ever tried to explain yourself or something to a friend, spouse, audience and they just don't get it?  Even in one's own country where we all speak the same language, we need other people to come alongside us to help "translate" what we are trying to say. I think of counselors, support group leaders, articulate friends and pastors who have tried to "translate" important matters of my heart and mind to others or even to me for understanding.

When I go to a foreign country and share the Gospel, my story and ask others to share their stories through art, the translator is key in having this happen. When using a translator, I have to have a certain level of trust and a bit of risk-taking ability in order to share the essence of my story and the Gospel. In Cambodia we had women: 1. share their stories through story ropes, and 2. we shared the Gospel through art tags and the collaged papers cards of The Prodigal Son. We needed excellent transation.

My first translator, the one who did all translation with the women's groups, was Sophy. I am passionate when I share my story or the Gospel. So was Sophy. I get animated. So did Sophy. I acted things out. So did Sophy. I grabbed her, she grabbed me. Let's just say, Sophy is an amazing, amazing translator, and nothing was lost in translation.

Sophy and my feet, showing our working in concert to share story.

Sophy and I had a couple of meals together along with Allison from Freedom Stones after my team left. Allison and Sophy got "fast food" off the side of the road for dinner a couple of times and munched on it on my hotel floor. Sophy (and Allison) are as nice as can be, funny and joy-filled. We had a great time together both while sharing story and just hanging out. I wish she lived next door. Thank you, thank you, Sophy.

The proud, older brother who did love the father's heart, just the father's things. From the story of the Prodigal Son told by Jesus Christ in the Bible.

Tomorrow - hear about my translator Rosa (Roza).

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Water bottle, Altoids Container and a Slum

When an artist is making art or teaching art out and about in this world, it pays to have a water bottle with lid and an Altoids container of paints. Yep. A friend of mine, Karen, has put a selection of my paints in hand made compartments in a little Altoids container for me to travel with. She knows I have ended up in some places where paint is more important than Altoids. For this painting session, my team and I were in the Pattaya, Thailand slum/dump with kids and their families who live there.

I love to see the shear joy, no matter which country or setting I find myself, of each child when the water and paint rolls off a little one's brush on a fresh, white piece of paper. The child is creating anew, something they were created to do. I think they sense, feel God's presence when they make art. It's invisible, but really, really powerfully there.

Here is a picture of one little girl who really got into the painting. I knew right away that she is a fellow artist. I pray she will be able to use her gifting someday in Pattaya. I pray she will make it out of the dump and create beauty in her country.

There is an artist who has started a movement in Cambodia called, "Don't Forget About Art." I feel very strongly that he is onto something big. In Cambodia, with international aid, we can try to throw money on a road making project, and hope the greedy governmental leaders don't steal it. 
If we teach the next generation to create, invent, imagine and dream, produce while asking questions and make decisions using the creative arts, we are empowering them to carry that creativity into all areas of life. (And no one can steal that.)

It probably seems like fluff and even a little silly to some to put so much emphasis on the creative arts in a dump. But, our God is a creative, creating God, and what better way to bear witness to Him then in the making of visual art in a slum?

And the joy can't be beat! With a water bottle and Altoids a slum. I highly recommend it. And, thanks, Karen!

Enjoy a song about our creator God:

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Beauty in Cambodia

One thing I have asked from the LORD, that I shall seek: 
That I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, 
To behold the beauty of the LORD 
And to meditate in His temple. Psalm 27:4
- David, pursuing God's beauty

Flowering Bush in Siem Reap, Cambodia

One thing I always try to do when I visit and work in another country is to be very intentional in seeing God's creative beauty, catch glimpes of His creativity -especially in the dirty, dark places where I go. I believe God is present in every day of our lives and every place in our stories. However, sometimes, especially in the dark places or parts of our stories, we/I have to look harder to see Him and His beauty.

One example of His beauty is in the midst of standing water and oppressive heat. What Chomno and the folks at Cambodian Hope Organization have done, is to make a path between the various buildings at Safe Haven. It is a gravel path, but the striking thing about the path is the row of flowering bushes on either side of the path. The oppressive humidity and heat that pummels you as you walk along that path, is softened by the beauty to either side of you, and it becomes less burdensome.

After walking down this path, you will find some more beauty. One of the first buildings you come upon is the sewing and jewelry making building. I had heard some children were making Freedom Stones necklaces, so I was eager to find the girls who were creating beauty after being rescued from the sex slavery industry. While at CHO, I was blessed to get to know Allison, the Canadian woman who is helping these girls make the Freedom Stones jewelry. 

A thoughtful young lady, Allison told me these girls would make no eye contact with her, heads down, when she first met them. They were quiet and somber. She recounts that four months later, they are smiling, laughing while working, making good eye contact with her and setting goals for their lives. The girls don't necessarily want to keep making jewelry; they have dreams for their lives that fit with how they were created. Rescuing them has set them free, redeemed them from slavery and set them free to dream, to be the beauties God intended them to be. 

Next, as you wander around Safe Haven, even though you are hot, parched and looking for a place to sit down and recharge with a cool, iced lemonade, if you can get past your own discomfort, you come upon God's beauty in the rows of towering trees along the edge that have been planted by CHO, as well as the flowering bushes, the fruit trees and the vegetables growing here and there amongst the buildings. 

Yes, God's beauty is evident in this safe haven for children who have been prostituted and enslaved. It sneaks up upon you, and you have to slow down and look. But, in the end, there it is, and there God is.

CHO is raising chickens and providing eggs 
for many children and workers at Safe Haven.

For more information on Freedom Stones, go here:

Friday, October 28, 2011

Let's Give Away 800 T-Shirts!

Chomno and the Mayor of Poipet, Cambodia

I want you to meet the key men who led in implementing the giving away of 800 T-Shirts at the Cambodia/Thailand border. Here are the director of CHO(Cambodian Hope Organization) and the mayor of the town. My understanding is that they grew up together. They came together for redemption's sake. They planned to bring beauty and extend worth and value to the day labor workers who pull carts, like animals, to do their work. They wanted to give them a handsome T-Shirt that that had on the back the most important truth we can ever know: Jesus Loves You.

Day Laborers at the Cambodian Border

Some of the day laborers are children, some are mothers or fathers with young children or even babies alongside them or riding in the cart. This photo, taken by my roommate for the trip, Gretchen, an amazing photographer, shows a laborer who received a T-shirt as she was passing by with her children.

Cambodian Hope Organization has a machine that silk screens designs and logos onto T-Shirts, so with the help of many, both financially and logistically, the CHO staff, some of them "New Bloom" workers who seem capable of just about anything, began designing and implementing the silk sceening for both the front and back of the shirt. The aqua color is a special color for Safe Haven; all the wonderful, rescued children wear aqua school shirts. It was decided to put Cambodian Hope Organization on the front and "Jesus Love You" on the back in both Khimer and English.

Here is a CHO worker who silk screens T-Shirts, and he helped me cross the border when I left for the airport at the end of my stay. He knows English and is very kind. He helped me with some translation as I was working in New Bloom.
One needs to be a handy in all sorts of ways when working at CHO!

Here is a New Bloom worker and my translator working on T-Shirts.

The last day of our stay in Poipet, as a team, we arose before dawn, got dressed and headed to the border with a truckload of shirts. Chomno met the mayor, we all bowed respectfully, and grabbed a handful of T-shirts. Now, it was the mayors turn. We found the first laborer who was going to pass through the border, and the mayor was the one to hand him a shirt. The mayor did this for several of the first men, even having them put on the shirt. We all applauded respectfully as each man passed by.

Later, Chomno mentioned to me that the people who received those shirts would be saving them for a special occasion - perhaps a wedding or other event when they would need a clean, new T-shirt. I imagined a number of wedding guests wearing these shirts at a festive family gathering and smiled. There they would be, enjoying their family, good food and celebration, and they would be bringing the amazing, best message that Jesus Loves You on their T-shirts.

Two team members at the border with the day laborers. 
Yes; let's give away 800 T-shirts!

We know what real love is because Jesus gave up his life for us. So we also ought to give up our lives for our brothers and sisters. 1 John 3:16

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Redemption in Poipet, Cambodia

"This is how we know redemption. When we see broken things made whole, when what's been discarded is restored to its rightful place, when those in peril are brought back to safety, when love shines in a place that's been starving for it. That's redemption." - Lisa Beamer, Wheaton College graduation address May 2011


I wake from a sweat again this morning. I am remembering. I am remembering the chestnut brown mud with the gray, brown standing water, the half naked or naked children in the mud splashing and jumping, the big brown eyes of the "Hello" kids on the side of the road, the little stand of fish and eels for sale in a large pink, plastic tub. I am remembering the constant sweat on me and around me. And then, as the heat of the day increases, the mud dries and becomes dusty clouds wherever one travels. Locals pull out face masks as they walk, ride their motos or tuk-tuk like vehicles.
Seamingly, life is like an ever fluctuation wet/dry desert.

Then, I remember Cambodian Hope Organization and Hope Transformation Center right in the midst of this brown, wet, dusty blur. I just wish we could all go together, hand in hand, to see the amazing Redemption that is happening in Poipet, Cambodia. It is hard to stop. But, can we?

"Cafe" and meeting space at Hope Transformation Center

Just inside from all the mud, is a safe, beautiful space for new life, transformed life to happen. The photos I have, were taken just before I left, my team had left, so I couldn't grab someone on the team and say, "Look at this amazing beauty, amazing redemption, in the midst of the city!"

Poipet is a city that has been starved for love, and Chomno and Kim and their friends and family are doing something about that. Yes, teams of helpers come and go, but these Cambodian friends are there day in and day out, and they know the mud, the sweaty grime daily. And yet, they are bringing beauty, love, grace, yes, redemption, to their city. They want to bless children and young people who are being rescued from the sex trafficking industry, and put them in a safe and beautiful place. Their love for "the least of these" grips my heart.

 While walking through Hope Transfomation Center, you might come upon some cooking students practicing their newly acquired baking skills in preparation for the selling of bakery goods at the Cafe. A teacher from Thailand came for three days to mentor a group in baking. (That means, Cambodian Hope Organization took the initiative and got a cooking teacher.) For three days, as I was pin sewing, card-making, keychain sewing and jewelry making, a team of newbie bakers were birthing the goodies for a Cafe that has not opened. Yet.

Being next door, my crew had the pleasure of nibbling on the goodies. Delicious chocolate brownies, fresh baked bread, pizza, crepes, hamburger buns and muffins were enjoyed in our corner of the Hope Transformation Center. A miracle in this muddy corner of the world is quietly happening.

I would like to end today with a photo of a Cambodian Hope Organization worker with the children at "School on a Mat." CHO workers wore light blue, buttoned down shirts, - we visitors could spot them in a crowd. It was comforting to see one of these blue shirts....well, and the person wearing one....especially if one needed help, translation or just a friendly smile.  I don't know his name, but I want you to know he is quietly working in Poipet every day bringing about 
redemption in his city. I thought you should know.

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-

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Creativity Abounds - Wood Carving

Wood Carving Pieces at Safe Haven Lined Up for Sale

One special memory I have from my trip to Cambodian Hope Organization's Safe Haven, is my time with the wood carvers in their shop. I had two visits to the wood carving shop. One older gentleman I met there seemed to be the "master" carver, and he made certain I enjoyed my visit. About half my size, he was always looking up at me, grinning happily from ear to ear, each time I visited. As I looked at the various works, he couldn't have beamed more. He was so proud of his artisans and their work.

He also made certain I met the artisans who carved the pieces I decided to purchase. Grabbing a pencil or marker that seemed to write in a silver color, he would quickly write the name of the boy who had done any piece I picked up. If he could run and find the boy, he would. One boy, who I have a photo with, was happy, yet shy, to show his work to me. (As you may remember, these children are rescued from very difficult circumstances; I have protected him by not showing his face.)

One of the Special Safe Haven Artisans

Wood carving is one of many creative endeavor's in Cambodia and at Safe Haven. How nice to see it being experienced and enjoyed by these very special children! I really like the flowers they carve.

The master woodcarver was so happy and pleased by my visit and my purchases (all 5 -15 dollars) that he "threw in" a little wood carving that is a cross with flowers. It is actually my favorite piece. Creativity abounds, and is a part of the healing, at Safe Haven.

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

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Safe Haven, a New Life

Students at Safe Haven School

Do you want to see God's transforming power in Cambodia? Do you want to see new life? Safe Haven is a wonderful complex of buildings outside Poipet, Cambodia. The campus is run by Cambodian Hope Organization to care for children rescued out of the sex traffic industry and child slave labor industry. I had the opportunity to visit Safe Haven a couple of times during my stay in Cambodia. (I will not be showing pictures of the childrens' faces in order to protect them.)

I sang songs in English in the first grade, and I visited each classroom. It was fun to see Manna, Chomno's adopted daughter, in one of the classrooms and at the ice cream vender. I had seen her daily at the CHO cafe, so it was fun to see her in her school setting. 
Looking out at the dorms from the classrooms.

I also saw Heng, my seamstress friend from "New Bloom", with her daughter. She was very proud to introduce her, and I felt honored to meet her. I visited various areas of Safe Haven: farming, woodworking, jewelry making, dorm rooms, rice fields, fish ponds, brick-making and new library.

I had been told that one boy had been rescued fairly recently from the border area. He had been shot up with heroin in his hands and trafficked (for prostitution into Thailand.) I was told he is ten and making some progress, although he will not make eye contact with visitors - Westerners in particular. (He had been hiding under tables.) Each one of these children has a story, and I sensed I was in the midst of a very special place; a place where Jesus is loving and caring for His lambs in spite of the evil of that region.

An ice cream man came at lunchtime!

With the loving school atmosphere, the country setting with micro-businesses tucked away here and there, new dorms with neat and tidy beds and play spaces; the folks at Safe Haven and all who support them around the world, are being just like Jesus to these children. They are giving them their childhood back again and sharing Jesus and His amazing Good News of love for each of us. Here is real trnsformation.

But Jesus said, "Let the children come to me. Don't stop them! For the Kingdom of Heaven belongs to those who are like these children." Matthew 19:14

Anne, an ESL volunteer teacher, from Gig Harbor, 
spending some time with the students.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Changing The World Through Silk Keychains?

Hand Made Silk Keychains by "New Bloom"
at Cambodian Hope Organization

When my team and I were in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, we came upon a number of shops that sold beautiful hand made crafts created by free trade artisans. One artisan is making floral keychains out of a stiff plastic mesh in pleasing pastel colors. I brought one of these keychains to the New Bloom seamstresses at Cambodia Hope Organization, CHO.

Without any translation, try this sometime, I explained to the ladies and one young man, that we should try to make a floral keychain. "Has anyone seen this type of plastic material in Poipet?" Blank stares. "OK, let me look in your cabinet of fabrics, and let's see what you have in stock so maybe we can try to make our own floral keychains and sell them at The Hope Transformation Center. OK?" Blank stares and a few forced smiles.

"Well, look here. This red silk is incredibly beautiful. I would love anything made out of this fabric. So, let's use this and make some floral keychains today. OK?" You know the drill....blank stares and a few more smiles. "What we need to do is...(I am trying to think as fast as I can on my feet, but I have no idea what I am going to say next.).....we are going to rip apart the keychain I brought with me, and we are going to make a pattern." I wish I had a video of this part!

Heng, the head seamstress, figured out right away what I was up to in spite of my ridiculus ramblings in English. We began cutting the silk, but adapting the size to make it slightly more full. Before I new it, New Bloom workers had many strips of silk cut and ironed in preparation for sewing. Heng even suggested using other colors of silk. They were taking off without me - such a great feeling to pass something on.
Heng takes off with keychains in other colors.

Next, we needed the actual metal keychain, some sturdy chord to connect the flower to the metal ring, and we needed material to complete the base of the silk rose. One girl took off on a moto(mo-ped) and returned with tons of keychain rings and the heavy chord. Heng said in Cambodian, Khimer, that she had some fabric at home and would bring it in after lunch. Fortunately, someone who knew a bit of English walked in to see what we were doing, so he translated what Heng told me.

We busied ourselves with making silk roses the rest of the morning, and we put them all together after a fine lunch break. The next day, I brought in a stamp and some tags, I had purchased for the trip from an office store in the USA. I told them....why I even keep talking is beyond me...but, I told and showed them how to use the stamp to make tags for their products. I left them with the stamp, tags and ink pad. They let me know through a translator that they could buy more ink at the market.

I know that a silk keychain isn't very big, but, I pray these silk keychains, and many more made in the days ahead, will help one little girl or little boy escape sexual enslavement in that part of the world, and change their world. One beautiful silk rose at a time.

"The King will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.' Matthew 25:40

Self- Sustaining Jewelry Making

Artisans at CHO making necklaces

I am a relative newbie when it comes to making jewelry. I came to Cambodia to teach art to children and women, help others tell their life stories using art as a bridge, share Jesus and His love through my art/visual storytelling and draw/paint personal responses to what I was experiencing. Bottom line, however, is - I show up and God works. Showing up means I am available, at times, for all kinds of stuff. Teaching art now includes teaching jewelry-making in Cambodia.

My students were young adults, teens and their teacher, Heng. A gifted seamstress and collaged card maker, Heng is an amazing new friend who has a daughter at Safe Haven. All the students are trying to make an income outside the slave labor/sex trafficked life. I began my jewelry making class by showing them a necklace from Shelley Clay's Apparent Project based in Haiti. ( I have supported Shelley for a while now by buying her artisans' work and giving their nacklaces as gifts around the world. 

We were not going to make paper beads as Shelley's artisans do, at least not right now, but I wanted to show them a small, finished piece with a simple clasp. I had brought some supplies to make a few really polished pieces and many, simple pieces to do at Safe Haven. I had to teach fast, as my days were running out in Poipet.

We pushed aside the collaged card materials and set up a spot to start stringing beads. As the beads fell off the strand, I carefully showed them how to put on a clasp. (I had learned not much earlier than they!) I had also brought two books on necklace making and beading 101. They really seemed to love those books. The pictures helped with language difficulties.

After about 25 necklaces, we ran out of clasps. Someone hopped on a moto to look in the market for clasps. We had found pin backings for the fabric pins earlier, so I was hopeful. Nope. The moto driver came back empty handed. The clasps would have to be bought in Thailand. How frustrating for these new artisans. They took it with tremendous grace. I promised that the next visitor from my church would bring some in a few days - and she did! 

I just wish I could drive over to these dear ones for some more training along with some supplies in bulk. Hopefully, others will join alongside them in the days ahead. Their necklaces will be sold in the Hope Transformation Center in Poipet, Cambodia. The Center is well worth your visit! (I know, I know, it is far away.)

Here is the seamstress/artist "Teacher" at New Bloom, Heng,
and more importantly, my friend.
I gave her the necklace I had brought from Haiti as a thank you gift!

Be not weary in your serving;
Do your best for those in need;
Kindnesses will be rewarded
By the Lord who prompts the deed. —Anon.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Fantastic Fabric Pins

Fabric Pins made at Cambodian Hope Organization - "New Bloom"
(Click on photo to enlarge)

My team member, Paula, had handed me a large ziplock bag of fabric squares and pin backings, just before she left Poipet. She suggested I show the workers at "New Bloom" the supplies and sample, and assured me they would take off with massive pin making. Since I couldn't quite figure out how the fabric twisted as it was stitched together, I rested easy after hearing her reassuring words.

After the initial rush of card making, the "New Bloom" staff certainly did tackle the pin making project with skill and ease. At one point, I sat with them on the floor as they sewed the colorful pins. (Sitting on the floor is the normal work environment.) Wanting to fully participate, I asked for help with threading the needle that seemed to have an unusually small head. Then I took off, sewing on pin backings with alacrity. New Bloomers seemed to be able to stitch up twice as many as I, in the same amount of time. 
They also pulled out a bag of brightly colored buttons they thought might make the pins even nicer. All "communication" about the project, with each other, was without translation, so it was fun and exciting to see the project come together without words. Art can do that - communication without translation.

The "New Bloom" staff is a multi-talented, hard-working group in the heart of Poipet, Cambodia. I have tremendous love and respect for them. The skills they have acquired with the card making, key chain making, jewelry making and pin making, will help them in producing a variety of items for sale at the cafe in the Hope Transformation Center. I hope some of you get to meet them someday.