Monday, December 15, 2008

"Songkum" and Rapha House

[Editor's note: I wrote this during a recent trip to Cambodia.]

While here in Cambodia, I attended an anti-trafficking conference in Phnom Penh. On the last evening, some from our team went to a riverfront restaurant where two former Rapha girls met us for dinner. The next day, they joined us for the trip back to our shelter so they could spend a few days with their friends at Rapha before returning to Phnom Penh with us.

During the long ride to the shelter, Yan leaned forward from the backseat to ask me a question. Yan speaks a little English, and she said, "Kerry, what is the purpose for living?"

You don't have to be highly educated to ask profound questions. Yan was labor trafficked to Thailand when she was a teenager. And though I don't know all the details of her story, I do know from the bits and pieces that I've heard that she suffered terribly.

Her question caught me a little off-guard, so I decided to buy some time and bounce the question back to her. "First, I want to ask you a question, Yan," I began. "What do you think is the purpose for living?" But she did not tolerate my efforts to stall for time. "No," she replied. "I asked you first. I want you to tell me, and then I will tell you what I think."

So I collected my thoughts and answered her as best as I could. She didn't hesitate a moment to tell me that she disagreed. Then she went on to say what she thought.

The Cambodians have a word for it—songkum. And Yan explained why she thought songkum was the purpose for living. She said that even if a person is blind or is missing a limb (not an uncommon sight in this country with so many unexploded landmines)--if that person has songkum, he or she can keep on living. But without songkum, the person will give up and die. Songkum in Khmer means hope.

I then asked Yan if there ever was a time in her life that she lived without hope. And she quietly said, "Yes." Then I asked her when that changed. And she said, "When I came to Rapha House." She said that's when she began walking with Jesus.

In one respect, Yan is right. Hope is the purpose for living. For without hope, people will give up and never know God's love.

Some may think that we're in the business of helping exploited girls. And some may think our calling is to combat the evil of human trafficking. But in reality, that's not what Rapha House is all about. Rapha House is about songkum. With the help of God and people like you, we bring hope to people who had no hope. And in doing so, we help them to find a reason to live.

"I am the LORD; those who hope in me will not be disappointed." (Isaiah 49:23)