Cambodia ~ connection to the larger vision

I wanted to take a bit of time for reflection before posting some final thoughts on the Cambodia experience. It has been so interesting to me how God interweaves experiences and conversations together to help us grasp some of the bigger picture. I’m grateful to those who have listened and reflected with me.

I went to Cambodia primarily to do some very specific site visits. In seeking to develop partnerships for our JustUs Community social justice initiative I wanted to be sure that I thorough understood the mission, philosophy and work of the agencies that JustUs will be promoting to our network of friends and contacts. It was my desire that these partner agencies would pique the interest of folks in our networks – but I wasn’t seeking agencies that only focused on LGBT matters. The whole point of JustUs is to create a forum for people to join with others in the pursuit of justice for those beyond themselves. JustUs is about sharing our humanity together to better the wellbeing of others. It isn’t meant to be about our sexuality. It is a place where gay, straight or trans, people can simply come together and share their passion for a better world by supporting through finances, advocacy and prayer, the practical grassroots work of those in particularly difficult and oppressive environments.

Chab Dai: is a partnering agency that works with nearly 60 different organizations in Cambodia. They ensure there is support, training and accountability for these partners in the pursuit of excellence in service as they pursue the eradication of human trafficking and exploitation and the care and support of victims and survivors. They are doing some excellent work in the area of research through the work of Dr. Glenn Miles.

First Step: a project of Chab Dai, Alastair Hilton and his team particularly focus on the unseen group of boys and young men who have been abused or exploited. In addition to offering primary care, they offer comprehensive training to other NGO leaders to ensure that prevention and care is improved wherever children are served. They are also involved in ongoing research.

Daughters of Cambodia: members of Chab Dai, Ruth Elliot and her team work with individuals who desire to transition out of the sex trade by learning new skills and entering sustainable, fair trade employment opportunities. In particular, they have a small group of lady-boys who are transgender individuals. These individuals are particularly mistreated in their society and often have very few options other than sex work. Daughters runs a training centre where clients are trained in skills such as sewing, jewelry making, silk screening, wood carving, food preparation and service, massage therapy, and spa treatments. They also run several fair trade businesses where clients can work and begin a new chapter in their lives.

I urge all of you to consider becoming more familiar with these organizations by going to their websites. I also hope that many of you will consider financially supporting their work. New Direction and JustUs will not be handling any of these donations. We encourage you to donate directly through the websites of the organizations – which are conveniently set up to receive your gifts by credit card. Finally, please pray for their work. At times the conditions are overwhelming in this context. The degree of trauma people experience is far greater than most of us can imagine. And yet, there is hope, there is transformation and healing for those who have been exploited, and there are second chances, new chapters, and a bright future.

My attendance at the Lausanne Congress last year in South Africa allowed me to witness different Christian leaders from different contexts engage a conversation that was essentially grounded in an ex-gay paradigm. From my perspective, this conversation was limited by the reality that the gathering only included those from an evangelical background and was limited to one presenting paradigm. Even so, it was clear that cultural contextualization was not only essential but extremely challenging.

The first matter to address is: why. Why would leaders from different parts of the world, with different starting points, priorities and plans want to come together and try to experience generous spaciousness? Well it is clear that the last 40+ years of enmity and polarity have born very little good fruit for the church. So a new response is needed. It is needed because the public witness of the church is being hindered by the in-fighting on the subject of homosexuality. It is needed because the reality of diversity is not going away any time soon. As much as we might demand that we all get on the same page, the truth is that there are people who deeply love Jesus and highly regard the Scriptures who come to different conclusions on the question of whether committed same-sex relationships are a faithful expression of discipleship for same-sex oriented people. A new response is needed because gender and sexual minority persons are suffering within the church or alienated from the church. The call of the gospel is for all people – so the church cannot sit silently by while a minority population experiences marginalization. A new response that seeks an expression of unity in our diversity is needed because that is Christ’s desire for the church.

These convictions have been growing in me – and so I was especially delighted to find that in my conversations with leaders in Cambodia there was a shared desire for better understanding and for more generous space in investigating the realities and needs of gender and sexual minorities in that context. Mind you, as far I understand, the church in Cambodia isn’t touching this subject with a ten foot pole. And indeed, the church across the world is generally resistant to proactive innovation in responding to controversial matters such as this. But in the NGO world, these human realities, regardless of culture, aren’t so easily ignored.

As I’ve been reflecting and pondering the insights I’m beginning to gain about the Asian context, I’ve had the opportunity to have a couple more conversations that have encouraged me that God is putting some of the pieces of this next chapter together.

One ministry contact works with communities that speak Urdu and Farsi. These connections are predominantly Muslim. However, in the Canadian context there are also Christian churches who serve this population. A reality like a child coming out for this people group is a very challenging and difficult experience. And where the parents are immigrants and the children have grown up in Canada, there can be explosive conflict. Honour killing is not unheard of in these situations. The opportunity to learn more about the cultural context from these pastors and to offer some of my learning from the last ten years to help them pastor effectively is another step in being equipped to better understand how to contribute to a global conversation.

Another ministry connection has a new portfolio to tackle. She will be the program director for the General Assembly of the World Evangelical Association. Perhaps there will be the opportunity to launch another conversation in this context that considers more than just an ex-gay paradigm as a response to the reality of gender and sexual minority individuals.