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April 1, 2024

Joy Overcomes Darkness

Our ears tickled with the roar of unfiltered laughter sprinkled with voices speaking Khmer (the language of Cambodia). Our eyes absorbed the wide smiles and glimmering eyes as children of all ages, and parents were praying and having fun together in the atmosphere of PrayGround. I tangibly felt the smile of God engulfing the room.

Randy, Angelique Reimer, Oliver Buljat (one of our global trainers from Croatia), and I launched into our three-week trip abroad, landing first in Cambodia. Our first assignment was a Family Camp held in Siem Reap, initiated by our friends, Pastors Sophea and Jenny Sem, who gathered pastors and leaders from across the nation with their families.

To conceive God’s beautiful, redeeming love on display in Cambodia, we first need to discuss a bit of the nation’s past. While I was enjoying high school, families in Cambodia were experiencing dark, evil days. One out of every four people was murdered, tortured, and starved. The first people targeted were doctors, teachers, monks, business owners, anyone considered educated, and their families. Men, women, teens, children, and babies were all attacked. At the Killing Fields, a bullet was not to be wasted, so the adults and older children were hacked to death by axes, while the young children and babies were swung against trees, forcing mothers to watch. Children were either forced labor or became child soldiers if they were to have a chance to live. The Khmer Rouge deemed it illegal to have any family contact without permission. Sadness was a sign of spiritual confusion and joy indicated individualism, both illegal. All creativity, individual awareness, spiritual pursuit, and family were considered evil and illegal. 

So now you can understand the beautiful, redeeming love a bit more that was on display in February. The laughter, smiles, and love of families saturated Family Camp. Dads who may never have received their father’s hug, hugged their children, moms’ faces glowed, gazing at their children. God baptized us in joy.

Our next stop was Phnom Penh and the New Life PI school led by Pastors Samdy Leang and Virak Tann. The hunger for God, surrender of hearts, and quick to smile and laughing students captured our hearts. 

One day, my friend, Navy, who I greatly admire and love, unraveled part of her story. She doesn’t know her true birthday. Her mother, conditioned by the past, didn’t remember much about her birth, except the moon shining. Thus Navy chose her birthdate and estimated her birth year. Having multiple birth certificates and not knowing your exact birthday or age is common. But God knows. He designed Navy. He has given her identity and purpose. He adopted her into His family. And as I watched Navy now, she celebrates her children and is successful. Navy and Pastor Samdy, her husband, lead the largest church and a church-planting movement in the nation. She sparks joy wherever she is. 

Then our team went three directions. Angelique and I went with Pastor Samnang to a new church plant in a suburb of Phnom Penh, not too far from one of the Killing Fields. At the end of service, God had us declare hope, light, the Kingdom of God, and people to come into His family. It was a powerful time. 

God shines through our spiritual family in Cambodia. They are purposed for Him, hungry for God, easy to love, and quick to laugh. Yes the laughter, oh the laughter! Family and joy, once illegal, held in the loving hands of the Father supersedes the past, bringing hope, identity, and love. Joy overcomes darkness!