Photos and story contributed by Laura Walls in Stories from the Field
Coming to Cambodia, I’d never really experienced the hopelessness of deep poverty before. But while there, hearing stories of families struggling to survive on just $1.25 a day, I saw that poverty is so much deeper than a lack of material things. It’s really a lack of hope. An inability to think about anything beyond survival for your family. A lack of choices. But that's not where the story ends! God is working to transform lives in Cambodia, using Christian staff as tangible witnesses of his love and care. Read along for a story of transformation and hope!
Is there anything as quintessentially American as a front porch? It expresses an American ideal of family and community - right up there with baseball games and apple pie! But strangely, my favorite porch, where I experienced the greatest hospitality and sweetest moment, isn’t found here in the United States at all. Rather, it's half a world away in the country of Cambodia and belongs to a remarkable woman named, Boeun.
We met Boeun late in the afternoon after driving past miles of rice paddies, through a small village with houses poised delicately on stilts, and finally walking down a little dirt path to the very last house along the trail. On the drive to her home, staff explained that Boeun has six children, four of whom have moved to Thailand and two who are in primary school. She also suffers from a disability – a foot that’s permanently arched and makes her tasks more challenging. She'd experienced so much trauma and pain in her life that when World Vision staff met her, she couldn’t find it in herself to even make eye contact with them. Her trust in people was gone. She had no hope for a good future for herself or her children. She was isolated, alone, and withdrawn.
We walked beside Boeun's neatly thatched home and I couldn't help but appreciate the tidy yard and the peaceful sound of birds in the trees. I reflected on the trauma Boeun had experienced in her life and braced myself to hear a sad story. But nothing could've prepared me for what happened next: we came around the corner of her house and there was Boeun, standing beside her door with an honest-to-goodness radiant smile. She was so beautiful! We walked into her home and there seemed to be some kind of confusion. Sophorn, the World Vision ADP manager and our guide stopped and laughed.
“Boeun! Where did this come from?!” Sophorn motioned to the deck of the porch and then looked at us, completely incredulous. “I was here two days ago and this (the deck) wasn’t here!”
Boeun smiled with absolute delight and pride, hopped up onto her bamboo plank deck, and patted it. Sophorn translated. “She made this so you could sit with her!”
We were amazed that this thoughtful woman had, in addition to her huge amount of daily tasks, been so concerned about OUR well-being and comfort, that she BUILT us a deck, in her porch, so we could sit alongside her as friends.
We listened as she shared her personal story through tears and saw how her face lit up as she shared about when World Vision staff found her and started helping her - sitting with her, listening, and showing her Christ’s love. They learned she was struggling to get her bamboo cakes to the market so they provided her with a bike. They also gave her chickens to supplement her family’s diet and income. They check in on her and her children and, in short, Boeun isn’t alone any longer.
Boeun showed us how she went about finishing the cakes, and it was labor-intensive! First she carved the outside, then smoothed it until it was finally ready to be peeled like a banana and eaten. It’s filled with rice, coconut milk, sugar, and beans, and it’s really good!
The next few hours transcended culture and countries. Boeun’s inspiring act of selfless hospitality had transformed us from strangers into friends. It was as though, in that moment, we were simply neighbors stopping by to enjoy Boeun’s wonderful bamboo cakes and fellowship on her porch. And as we laughed and talked together, a beautiful thing happened. A cold blast of wind blew through the doorway and the sky grew dark. Rain, desperately needed to soften the dry ground and coax it to bloom, poured down like a gift. This gift was like a reminder of our Father’s great love – a love greater than the bitterness of poverty and broken dreams, a love that transforms and brings fullness of life.
I went to Cambodia unsure of what I would see and the whole experience turned out to be so much greater than I’d dared to hope! Boeun’s life has already changed as a direct result of what God is doing through the World Vision. She has gone from hopeless to hopeful! God is so in love with Boeun and has placed Christian staff in her life to show her he cares. Her children will no longer have to see their mom withdrawn and broken. She’s free and hopeful for the future!
And this transformation isn’t just for Boeun. All across Cambodia we witnessed God’s power changing and restoring lives. There is a lot of work to be done but through sponsorship with World Vision, God is bringing hope to families and smiles to the faces of women like Boeun.
2016: Update on Boeun!
I received my annual progress report from Cambodia for my sponsored child and saw this familiar face on the back of the booklet!
It's wonderful to hear that Boeun and her children are continuing to thrive!!!
Greater Together is a collaborative blog written by volunteer child ambassadors for World Vision.