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Meet our Volunteers- Peter and Sheri Phillips

April is Volunteer Appreciation month and we wanted to introduce you to some of our amazing volunteers who invest their energy in the work of Ratanak. We asked them a range of questions – from Ratanak to spiritual to food – and we hope you enjoy getting to know them as much as we do!

For our third week of volunteer features, we are pleased to introduce Peter & Sheri Phillips. They are Area Representatives in Cambridge, Ontario and represent Ratanak at various speaking engagements and promotional opportunities in their area and as far as Halifax! They are an incredibly gifted couple and we are so blessed by their heart and commitment for the people of Cambodia and the work of Ratanak.

1 / How long have you volunteered with Ratanak?

It all started when we volunteered to be part of a team, from Forward Church in Cambridge, that travelled to Cambodia to finish painting the Sanctuary(now hosting a kids club and other community-serving activities in a brothel district) in 2010. We fell in love with Cambodia and its people and were honored to become Reps the following year. We are amazed by the dedication of the Ratanak staff and volunteers who we have come to love and cherish – such a great team.

2 / What is your favorite Ratanak Moment?

There are so many, it’s hard to list them all!

Peter: Being in Cambodia, meeting with the partner agencies and feeling overwhelmed in praise and thankfulness at what God has done through Ratanak: aligning with partners to fill gaps and needs, hearing stories of changed lives and helping a broad spectrum of organizations launch ministries.    

Sheri: The continual impact of the inspiring story of how God started Ratanak, has and continues to work in Cambodia. There isn’t a person who has heard the story and not been moved at what God has accomplished, even if they aren’t believers. In English class our oldest daughter, Victoria, had to write about someone who inspired them and wrote about Brian and Ratanak. The teacher was quite impacted by the story and keeps talking about it.

3 / What is your most distinct memory in Cambodia?

Peter: It is always the interaction with people that has the greatest impact. Listening to Pastor Chantha’s heart and vision for the people he ministers to. The opportunity to interact with the disciples and children while painting the mural in Rahab I. Included too is the Grannies night shelter – it is always a powerful experience listening to their life stories of hardship and loss be transformed by the offer of love, respect, basic needs, and the introduction of the power of Jesus Christ in their lives. It has facilitated significant physical, emotional, social and spiritual change in the lives of the Grannies that has rippled blessings into the lives of their children, grandchildren and communities.  

Sheri: We were headed to Hagar for a second day of painting and when we got there, discovered the paint had been forgotten. I did groan inwardly, but the time available then was such a God-ordained opportunity. We did a prayer walk around the school and then the teachers allowed the older students out of their class to interact with us. We sang to them, played “Duck, Duck, Goose” and prayed over them. Something I will never forget.  

4 / Why do you volunteer?

God has not put us here to live for ourselves and we have always had opportunity, both inside and outside our church, to be involved with and minister to people. Although we have had rich and full careers in working with vulnerable people, we wanted to begin to look “towards evening” – the last part of our life journey. Retirement is about 8 years away and we were seeking where God would have us involved after the “day jobs” were finished. Our step of volunteering to paint the Sanctuary was the first step of faith in seeking the Lord’s direction and leading for our lives.   We could not have imagined then what we have had the privilege to participate in through Ratanak to date. We are evermore excited to see what the Lord has in store for using us as vessels for His service.

This verse from Isaiah 58:9-12, in The Message, resonates with us as framework for our lives in response to God’s command and promises:

“This is the kind of fast day I’m after: to break the chains of injustice, get rid of exploitation in the workplace, free the oppressed, cancel debts. What I’m interested in seeing you do is: sharing your food with the hungry, inviting the homeless poor into your homes, putting clothes on the shivering ill-clad, being available to your own families. Do this and the lights will turn on, and your lives will turn around at once. Your righteousness will pave your way. The God of glory will secure your passage. Then when you pray, God will answer. You’ll call out of for help and I’ll say, ‘Here I am.’ A Full Life in the Emptiest of Places “If you get rid of unfair practices, quit blaming victims, quit gossiping about other people’s sins, If you are generous with the hungry and start giving yourselves to the down-and-out, Your lives will begin to glow in the darkness, your shadowed lives will be bathed in sunlight. I will always show you where to go. I’ll give you a full life in the emptiest of places – firm muscles, strong bones. You’ll be like a well-watered garden, a gurgling spring that never runs dry. You’ll use the old rubble of past lives to build anew, rebuild the foundations from out of your past. You’ll be known as those who can fix anything; restore old ruins, rebuild and renovate, make the community livable again.

5 / What is your day job?

We both work for the Social Services Department in the municipal government, the Region of Waterloo. Peter is the supervisor of a team in Ontario Works (Welfare) and Sheri is the manager of Child Care Subsidy.

6 / Who is one person, dead or alive, that you would like to have coffee with?

Peter: There are many but at this point, I would choose Brian – any time I spend with him is inspiring.

Sheri: Ann Voskamp – through her writings and ministry has taught me so much about being thankful. 

7 / Who or what is your favorite biblical character, story, or passage?

Sheri: The Apostle Peter – I love Christ’s forgiveness and restoration of Peter after he denied Christ.  It is a poignant picture of grace - we know what we should do and we don’t do it, and yet He still loves and forgives and has a purpose for us.

Peter: Abraham – starting from the point being called to follow God through his response to follow even though he didn’t fully understand where he was going or what he would experience. He moved forward in faith, did things that were hard, went to new and difficult places, was willing to sacrifice everything that was dear to him in order to obey his God. He wasn’t perfect but remained faithful until the end of his life. It is the challenge for my life to deny my own self-focus and live fully abandoned to Jesus Christ.

8 / What is your favorite flavor of ice-cream?

Sheri: Chocolate, chocolate, chocolate!

Peter: Salted Caramel or coffee

9 / What is one place to visit on your bucket list?

Peter: Food tasting through Tuscany, Italy with Sheri.

Sheri: Paris

10 / What super-power would you like to have?

Peter: Super vision to replace my slowly fading bi-focal eyes.

Sheri: To be able to fly – so I don’t have to take planes.

11 / What is your all-time favorite food?

Peter: This is really hard, I love it all…lamb or a 40-day, dry-aged striploin steak.

Sheri: Fresh baked bread with butter

12 / Cake or pie?

Sheri: apple pie anytime

Peter: both please

Meet our Volunteers- Paul Dylla

April is Volunteer Appreciation month and we wanted to introduce you to some of our amazing volunteers who invest their energy in the work of Ratanak. We asked them a range of questions – from Ratanak to spiritual to food – and we hope you enjoy getting to know them as much as we do!

The second volunteer we are pleased to introduce is Paul Dylla, our Vancouver Area Representative. Paul serves with excellence in many areas: facilitating the Vancouver Core Group, local promotional initiatives, and overseeing the Ride for Refuge – which means that he has a very full plate (not to mention his day job).


1 / How long have you volunteered with Ratanak?

I started helping out at Missions Fest in 2009 and joined the Vancouver group in mid-2010 when Melissa ran it.

2 / What is your favorite Ratanak Moment?

Anytime I share with others how our God is redeeming lives in Cambodia. I also love the day before the Ride for Refuge, when I sit back and watch God’s Spirit engaging people right across our country to make a difference in the lives of the vulnerable, the trafficked and the exploited.

3 / What is your most distinct memory in Cambodia?

Listening to the managers of the two cake shops share stories about the lives of the girls, their struggles and their glorious transformation. It brings tears of joy to my eyes.

The Rahab’s House project, although very much a Fairview Church mission, was aiding the work of Ratanak and AIM. It was a physically, emotionally and spiritually grueling two weeks in Cambodia and a further six months recovery afterward… but a unique opportunity to establish a foothold in Svay Pack for the work God had already begun there years before we showed up. To observe the speed at which God was changing lives in that place of darkness has left many on the team grasping for appropriate adjectives.

4 / Why do you volunteer?

I thought long and hard about this and realized that I don’t volunteer… I serve. I’ve always wanted to be part of God’s kingdom story, to be his serving hands and feet, and serving alongside the Ratanak staff is where I believe God is calling me to serve Him.

5 / Who is one person, dead or alive, that you would like to have coffee with?

My mom. She passed away a couple of weeks after Mother’s Day in 2012, and in her last years was struggling with periods of dementia. We lived 5000km apart, so I didn’t get to see her as much as I needed to.  I look forward to having coffee with her in heaven and listening to stories of her life. She was the kindest, gentlest and most loving person I’ve ever known. I am who I am largely because of her influence.

6 / What is one place to visit on your bucket list?

Outer Space

7 / Who or what is your favorite biblical character, story, or passage?

When Jesus calls his first disciples to follow him. It was only when I learned the first century Jewish context for the term “follow me” that I understood why their parents allowed them to drop their nets and walk away from the family business… and about the absolute confidence that God has in us when he engages us be his hands and feet.

8 / What super-power would you like to have?

Super wisdom, closely followed by super strength – as long as that one came with a body like Superman. Being super strong and having love handles just doesn’t cut it.

9 / What is your all-time favorite food?

Cambodian mango smoothies ;)

10 / Name three people who have inspired you…

  1. My mother – for giving me a sense of compassion.
  2. Debbie and Sandy Magee – for introducing me to Jesus.
  3. Desmond Tutu, Nelson Mandela and Reaksa Himm – for showing me what loving your enemies really looks like.

Okay, that’s more than three people… sorry ;)

Paul, thank you for taking the time to share this snapshot of your world! We truly enjoy working alongside you to build His kingdom and are so thankful for your investment in Ratanak. We pray for favor and blessing as you continue to faithfully serve.

Meet our Volunteers- Dynamic Duo Jessika Mak and Paul Wan

April is Volunteer Appreciation month and we wanted to introduce you to some of our amazing volunteers who are investing their energy in the work of Ratanak. We asked them a range of questions – from Ratanak to spiritual to food – and we hope you enjoy getting to know them as much as we do!

First up are Paul Wan & Jessika Mak, the husband-wife dynamic-duo that serve as our Toronto Area Representatives. They oversee the volunteers and initiatives in Toronto, from Pray Big Pray Bold to promotional opportunities and speaking events. Paul & Jessika live in Mississauga with their two beautiful daughters, and it doesn’t take long to see the level of passion and commitment that Paul and Jessika bring to life, faith, and Ratanak…


1 / How long have you volunteered with Ratanak?

Paul: Since September 2009. My wife, Jessika, joined the Toronto core group after she attended a social justice conference hosted by Ratanak and decided to get involved. After many months of listening to her talking, crying and praying over the issue, I decided to be a part of that.

2 / What is your favorite Ratanak Moment?

Paul: Being with Ratanak is like being in a spiritual family.

Jessika: That would be the Lord’s calling me (an utter stutter) to speak in front of a crowd in Hong Kong about Cambodia and Ratanak when my father had recently passed away. I happened to be there was to prepare for the funeral, yet my deep grief and pain didn’t stop the Lord from calling me to speak. I remember vividly when He called me to continue to pray for a little Cambodian girl when I was grieving and preparing for a 2-hour long presentation. In that moment of deep pain and sorrow, my “ah-ha” moment came to accept His call to serve Him by serving and deeply loving the people in Cambodia despite any visible adversaries, even on the brim of losing my father. That just SEALED THE DEAL through and through. Now 5 years later, I still cannot wrap my head around this. If the Lord’s willing, I dare to pray that this ministry is for life.  (My hands are shaking as I type this out!)

3 / What is your most distinct memory in Cambodia?

Paul: I had an opportunity to spend time over dinner and interact with the girls from the rehabilitation program. There was a little girl sitting at our table and she was my daughter’s age – that moment really spoke volumes.

Jessika: When I was in Svay Pak in 2011 and surprisingly bumped into the little girl whom I had been praying for more than 2 years for her safety. She was in immense danger of being trafficked by her father. I had a chance to walk up to her and introduced myself and to have her in my arms and we were in full embrace for the longest time like an estranged mother reunited with her daughter. That’s the moment I heard from the Lord saying, “This is the fruit of your prayers, whom I now place in your arms! Don’t stop doing what you are doing! Keep praying!”

4 / Why do you volunteer?

Jessika: It all started in January 2009 when I was invited to attend a social justice conference learning about child sex trafficking in Cambodia. My heart was shattered after listening to Brian, Don Brewster, and Lisa’s deep conviction and commitment to fight injustice. After many months of prayer and reading materials about Cambodia and child sex trafficking, I decided to attend the Toronto core group led by Lisa and got involved in whatever ways I could. Ever since, my life and faith journey have been forever changed.

5 / Who is 1 person, dead or alive, that you would like to have coffee with?

Paul: Paul McCartney

Jessika: C.S. Lewis

6 / What is your biggest pet peeve?

Paul: When someone slides ‪the metal hangers in department stores, or scratches their fork and knife on their plate. It irks me just typing it out!!!

Jessika: Okay, I am turning 40 this year and I still keep dripping water/juice/coffee/tea inside my purse!! The last time I did that was yesterday… some things just never change!!

7 / Who or what is your favorite biblical character, story, or passage?

Paul:  My favorite story is the “owner of the house” in Mark 14:12-16 – the preparation of the Passover meal. He had a task and he was prepared and ready when the task was required to be executed.

Jessika: My favorite passage is  "If you have raced with men on foot and they have worn you out, how can you compete with horses?  If you stumble in safe country, how will you manage in the thickets by the Jordon?" - Jeremiah 12:5

This passage challenges me with these questions by Eugene Peterson: “Are you going to run home the minute you find that the mass of men and women are more interested in keeping their feet warm than in living at risk to the glory of God? Live cautiously or courageously? Shuffling along with the crowd, or running with the horses?” Retreating from excellence, veering away from risks, withdrawing from faith all sound easy. It is easier to define oneself minimally and live securely within that definition than to be defined maximally and live adventurously in that reality. Easier, but not better! Easier, but not more significant! Easier, but not fulfilling!

8 / What super-power would you like to have?

Paul: Teleportation

Jessika: Ultra-fast reading and writing speed power

9 / What is your all-time favorite food?

Paul: Noodles, any type of noodles.

Jessika: Bread & butter…all time favorite comfort food.

10 / Cake or pie?

Paul: Not cake, not pie, can I pick soy sauce? Sorry I don’t like dessert!

Jessika: Definitely pie!!

Paul and Jessika, thank you for taking the time to share this snapshot of your world!  It is a privilege to build His kingdom alongside you through the work of Ratanak and we pray for favor and blessing on your family as you faithfully serve!


People often ask me how I cope with all the tragedy associated with human trafficking in Cambodia. They wonder how it is that after twenty-four years I can still function. They display a look of shock when I tell them I am more enthusiastic and motivated than when I started. So what pushes me to continue persevering in this ministry? I believe there is a huge spiritual dimension to grappling with the stories, the investigations and the trauma suffered by Cambodians. We may all manage to cope with the emotional stress for a little while. However, when the years turn into decades with the issues persisting and there is a need to continue persevering towards a goal that still seems far away, it is vital that we are grounded in the knowledge of someone greater than ourselves. We need to hold to the belief that there will be ultimate justice and freedom one day.

Those of you who have heard me speak will have undoubtedly heard me refer to the “Carpenter King” – one who considers the poor, destitute and hopeless to be of such value that they are “to die for”. It is this hope and knowledge that is central to our ability to press on in the face of overwhelming odds. In Matthew 10:29 (NLT) we read, “What is the price of two sparrows – one copper coin? But not a single sparrow can fall to the ground without your Father knowing it.” What a wonderful thing it is to serve a God of justice who cares! The point is further driven home two verses later, “So don’t be afraid; you are more valuable to God than a whole flock of sparrows.”

The power of this passage, for me, is that it is intimate and personal. So often we comprehend the huge problems of the world, such as human trafficking, through clinical theory or abstract statistical models. God is not like that – it is all very personal for Him. This brings me to another reason why both myself and other Ratanak staff members continue to persevere… it is personal. We have had the privilege of meeting and knowing those transformed from situations of slavery and hopelessness into lives of hope and dignity. Who among us would abandon those we love in times of disaster? We all have the capacity to work relentlessly for those we love, because they are neither theoretical nor statistical; they are known to us. It is no surprise then, as God allows us to get to know and love Cambodians, that we become more committed to their well-being. If we are to fully engage in being a blessing to others around us, we need to allow our relationships to become personal, as God has made his relationship with us personal.

Due to security and privacy considerations it is virtually impossible to have you know the girls personally. This is a constant frustration to me. So often when I’m with them and their laughter fills the room, I think of all of you (seriously I do). I think to myself: if only those who support us could see this, could see these faces – they would know such joy. Alas, this is not possible. However, in an attempt to bridge the gap somewhat, allow me to say a few words about some of our sparrows – those God has given us to serve and to love.  My hope is that you will pray for them and also be encouraged by how far they have come. The girls Ratanak has the privilege of caring for have been brutalized by life. They have undergone very significant trauma and were disadvantaged not only by human trafficking and abuse, but also by circumstances that denied them an education. Yet now, with your support, these girls have experienced love and are growing into beautiful young women with hopes and dreams. Four of them are attending university – an amazing accomplishment for young women who have been through so much. In the following paragraphs you will not find any particular drama, only normal impressions – the sort that may be associated with any young university freshman. But therein lies the joy, for these girls have come from a background that is anything but normal. So normal actually represents great bravery and great victory!

(I have changed all names to follow.)Salette is hoping to become a social worker. I think she will do well in this area as she has a very gentle presence and a warmth that makes people, especially little kids, feel safe. She is hungry for knowledge and recognizes how far she has come. She says she wants to develop from a person who doesn’t know anything to a person who has a lot of skill and is full of knowledge. I trust she will achieve even beyond what she expects! In the future she wants to be a Program Manager in an organization that helps women and children who are victimized and have been trafficked far from their homes. Salette is pragmatic and responsible. She is quieter than many of the girls and less quick to smile – but when she does it lights up the room. While often serious, she also has the capacity to be a complete goof and be very funny when she feels like it.

Recently, Caera also asked for information about working in the field of Counseling and Social Work. However, in conversations with the Ratanak staff she determined that “sitting in an office listening to other people’s problems” was not for her. I guess that means counseling is out!  She would like to be more active and engaged, preferably out in the community. She is currently evaluating whether she would like to pursue teaching or social work. She is interested in working with an organization either in urban or rural Cambodia. She has a warm manner, is very quick to smile, and is a social butterfly who enjoys having people around her.

Serey is studying Information Technology. She is gifted in this area and instructs Ratanak staff when they have questions or difficulties with various computer programs. She has taught them how to set up and navigate the whole social networking world! She wants to get her Bachelors Degree and become a Manager of Information Technology Systems, working in a large international company or organization. Serey’s ability to acquire English has amazed me. She has a great sense of humor and time spent with her always involves much laughter. When I last saw her she presented me with a huge plate of chocolate chip cookies, which she had just learned to make, along with a huge grin. So much for me eating healthy while in Cambodia! After giving me some of her delicious cookies we chatted, and I agreed with her on most things (except what pizza we were to order – we have agreed to disagree on that!)

And that brings me to the final element that keeps me going in this difficult and endless work – success! The healing process can be painful. The trauma of the past is manifested in different ways, but each success contributes to transformation. Particularly in times of difficulty, I only have to think of the girls, now living with dignity, and I am once again propelled along in this journey of hope. I trust that, through these newsletters, you are able to catch a glimpse of the sparrows and the hope.

Read the rest of our articles by downloading our newsletter here, and sign up to receive our quarterly newsletter by e-mail or mail at http://ratanak.org/news/quarterly-newsletter/

Community Hero – Prevention Program

Our Cambodia Country Director Lisa Cheong and a few of our Cambodia staff recently met with one of our partners, the Chab Dai Coalition. Since 2006, we have had the privilege of funding a church community and prevention program with them. This year, we have renamed it the “Community Hero – Prevention Program,” after the heroic leaders that are being raised up to create change in their communities. Ratanak is blessed to be in a position where we can not only run our own direct programs, but also have opportunities to fund innovative projects through other organizations that are in line with our vision and mandate.

The Community Hero – Prevention Program focuses on prevention and intervention in the rural areas of Cambodia. It raises awareness and educates people in vulnerable communities about the issues of human trafficking, sexual abuse, illegal migration and child rights. The programs are carried out in villages with the purpose of educating and equipping people with tools to prevent the trafficking of children. It also helps to foster a sense of personal and communal responsibility among community members for the vulnerable.


Ratanak and Chab Dai staff in a meeting

As the discussions progressed, it became increasingly apparent the impact this project is having in vulnerable communities prone to trafficking in Cambodia. This project involves no expats or Western staff. It utilizes 100% indigenous Cambodian workers who teach and minister to their own people. It was encouraging for our staff to learn about the ongoing training conducted among volunteers, who are emerging as Community Heroes. They are using their influence at a grassroots level to protect children and women from human trafficking, sexual abuse and all forms of exploitation. In just one province this past month, the program expected to train 1200 people. In fact, 1380 people showed up! Some of them were even using their own funds to raise awareness about these issues out of a desire to help their own communities. They have expressed to the training staff a love for this vision, and a desire to take responsibility to protect the most vulnerable in their villages. The training also includes ongoing refresher training workshops that happen yearly.  


A help card with phone numbers on the reverse to report cases of abuse and exploitation

In addition, the educational tools given to them (such as help cards, flip charts, posters and stickers) are empowering communities to report more cases of human trafficking, sexual abuse, illegal migration and violence. The local authorities at the district, commune or village level, and church leaders are all gaining the resources they need to stop trafficking and intervene in cases of abuse.  Initially, when this program was first introduced, it was met with suspicion. However, over the years, an amazing network has been formed as village chiefs, local police, pastors and government officials are all being trained and are working together for the blessing and protection of the most vulnerable in their communities.

Our Ratanak staff felt confident about the financial controls and processes that are in place by our partner to ensure that funds are being used wisely and being stewarded in a responsible way. It is encouraging to see the checks and balances that Chab Dai have established to ensure a high standard of financial responsibility. Such due diligence also serves to benefit us as an organization as we learn from our partners what is working and what isn’t in terms of structures and processes. All of this, we trust, will serve to enhance our own internal structures and long-term strategies. 

Activities such as reviewing facts, figures, documentation, procedures, and administrative processes might seem comparatively mundane, but they are an essential part to learning how vulnerable lives are being protected and how local leaders are being empowered to use their position of influence for the benefit of the exploited. It is so encouraging to see how God is raising up community heroes who are taking a stand for truth, righteousness and justice! What a privilege it is to see God building His Kingdom in the hearts of His people here in Cambodia as they take the initiative to be His agents of change in their communities.

Stay tuned for another update as we share about the Ratanak Medical Outreach Program for AIDS patients, other terminally ill people, medical care for prisoners and an infant formula distribution program.

Read the full story on Lisa’s blog here

Thoughts on Visiting Cambodia (Nov 2013 Training Team)

Thoughts and reflections from the Ratanak team who visited Cambodia for a training trip last month. These training trips are to prepare staff and volunteers who are speaking on behalf of Ratanak on a regular basis so they have a fuller and deeper understanding of Cambodia and Ratanak projects. Read our previous post (here) for more on what we did, saw, and experienced!


Pam and one of the Grannies at the Haven Night Shelter

"When I looked at the daily schedule before I left, I thought to myself, ‘How am I going to manage the range of emotions I will experience in the difficult lives of the Cambodian people?’ Instead what I experienced was HOPE….everywhere we went, I saw God at work in one way or another. It was so encouraging to see Him rescuing, healing, moving, writing stories on individual hearts, loving, touching, molding - HE WAS EVERYWHERE! God has NOT forgotten Cambodia - He is all over the place wooing people to Himself!"

– Pam Bredin


Jessica holding baby Ratanak

"This trip to Cambodia was the first time I have visited a country having so much historical knowledge and awareness of the current issues faced by the people. My eyes were opened to how intertwined and deep some of the systemic issues are, but even more so I was blown away by how evident God’s hand is at work in this country in spite of this, as He works to mold, shape, and restore this beautiful country.  I expected to leave Cambodia with a heavy heart because of how this country has been torn apart, but I instead came away with an overwhelming sense of hope, justice, peace, and optimism. God is clearly moving into the neighborhood, including some of the darkest places where it seems no hope is to be found. My heart has grown three sizes (excuse the Christmas reference) with love and compassion for the people of Cambodia and I feel incredibly honored and humbled to serve and love them."

– Jessica Kwee


Amy carrying a young Cambodian girl

"Being in Cambodia for the first time, the trip was a blessing and an eye opening experience for me. Cambodia itself is such a beautiful, lush, and serene country, but being able to meet the staff of our projects and partner projects firsthand and having the opportunity to meet the people that our projects have helped in person, has deepened my love and connection to this country even more so. It is so encouraging and heartwarming to see the hope and the potential that the people of Cambodia have as they work towards recovering from the deep seeded trauma they have experienced more than two decades ago."

– Amy Wong


Janice enjoying sitting at the back of Reaksa’s (a Ratanak partner) truck

"A couple of weeks back in Canada and I still find myself thinking often of Cambodia. My first mission trip in 2008 was difficult in many oddball kinds of ways, but this recent two-week vision trip was one where, as a friend of mine encouraged me, God redeemed my first experience. I left feeling inspired, challenged, humbled, encouraged and excited – it was wonderful to meet and hear firsthand from those on the front lines who are right in the middle of the mess, trusting God to do His work through them. To be able to see with my own eyes, even in a little way, the effects these ministries are having on the people they are serving in Jesus’ name. The work is hard and long, to be sure, and we swoop in and swoop out, not necessarily seeing the heartache and trials up close and personal – but I am blessed and grateful to be part of an organization like Ratanak, that partners with other NGO’s who strive and who, themselves, strive to serve God and Cambodia with excellence and integrity. And may God get all the glory."

– Janice Henderson


Paul posing at Angkor Wat

"This trip was my third trip to Cambodia. I initially visited Cambodia in 2001 with Brian McConaghy and a couple of members of my church to look at the orphanage we helped get off the ground. At that time Cambodia was still working itself out of the stone age that the civil war and the Khmer Rouge era had reduced the country to. The streets in Phnom Penh were largely unpaved and dust from the dirt roads coated everything, including the inside of our nostrils. Seven years later I had the privilege of returning to help one of our partner organizations get their foothold established in a brothel district by renovating Rahab’s House. Many of the streets in Phnom Penh had been paved since my first trip, but the city still looked the same. This time I was amazed at the changes to the city skyline. A couple of dozen high rise business building were in various stages of completion… the city was taking on the airs of a prosperous Asian city. Construction was happening everywhere, the old French colonial buildings being razed in favour of newer buildings, each one at least a few floors taller than the predecessor.
Gone too are the roads filled with mopeds. Mopeds and scooters still abound, as do tuk-tuks, but luxury cars and SUVs have largely taken over the roads. Some may see this as a positive sign of a thriving economy, but the result is slow traffic and grid-lock. When a street is closed because of a special event, protest or accident, the area turns into a huge parking lot, with moped/scooter drivers being the only ones able to negotiate the mess by driving between the stopped cars, riding on the sidewalk, and even riding on the wrong side of the road. Despite the perceived chaos on the roads, the drivers all appear to be respectful of each other and work collaboratively to move forward.
I was surprised with the lack of the in-your-face sex industry on this trip.  It seems like the predatory men and the for-sale young women have gone underground. I still saw signs of exploitation, but not to the extent that I saw five years ago. Even along the riverfront, a popular place for pedophiles to groom young girls, there was no sign of this activity.  Whether it was the recent election with its subsequent protests or the advances of the NGOs fighting this injustice, it appears that the people involved are being more discreet.
I learned a lot about the work that Ratanak and our partner organizations are involved in. The need is great, the impact of our ministries is tangible, and the risks of failing is high. Each organization articulated the difficulty of working in Cambodia, but also shared amazing stories of God’s grace.  Consistent was the theme that you have to commit to the long-term.  Transforming the people and redeeming the country will still take years, but God is laying a solid foundation. My prayer is that it will happen in my lifetime.
Highlights of the training trip was meeting the people who we serve, in the cake shops, restaurants, gift shops, prisons and night shelter. I just wish that I could speak Khmai and hear their stories first hand. It was a privilege spending time with them, as well as Reaksa and the many from our partner organizations who took the time to share their journey with God in Cambodia.”

Paul Dylla


The men on a “side trip”


The ladies on a boat tour in Phnom Penh

November 2013 Training Trip to Cambodia

Earlier in November, I was part of a Ratanak training team consisting of volunteers and staff that set off to Cambodia to learn about the projects run by Ratanak and our partner organizations.1 My name is Joy, and I’m the Strategic Communications Manager at the Ratanak International Headquarters Office in Canada. I manage our social media channels, write and edit print material, and help to develop communication strategies. For me, the two-week trip was, to put it simply, transformative. I encountered our God redeeming, restoring, and healing. I saw His love in the hearts of those who work tirelessly to serve those broken by exploitation and trauma. I saw His hope in the glistening eyes of young women rescued from a life of abuse, dreaming about their futures. Engaging Cambodia’s culture, connecting with its people, and absorbing the sights, smells, and sounds all played a role in helping each of us gain a deeper understanding of the country’s history, values, and customs. It also painted a clearer picture of this country and a people still healing and coming to grips with its traumatic past. What really resonated with our team was the hope that shone through in the midst of the darkness and the suffering. God is working in mighty ways! Where there was pain, there was also healing. Where there was immense hurt and affliction, there was also forgiveness.

We spent our first day in Phnom Penh getting to know one another and familiarizing ourselves with our new surroundings and (far warmer) climate!


The team on a boat tour of the Tonle Sap and Mekong Rivers

On our second day, we visited the Tuol Sleng Torture Prison Museum (S21) and Choeung Ek Killing Fields. There was an air of silence around both of these places that so contrasted the cacophony of sounds in the city. We walked through the rooms and prison cells of S21, a former high school, and stood where so many had needlessly lost their lives. Brian McConaghy unpacked for us the prison’s history, politics, and culture of sheer evil. Looking at photos of prisoners (strangely enough, the Khmer Rouge were meticulous record-keepers), we put faces to the stories. Some had looks of resignation in their eyes, in surrender to the unavoidable, and some appeared oblivious to what was ahead. Others had looks of terror and fear that penetrated straight through the still black and white images.


Brian McConaghy and the team at S21

The Choeung Ek Killing Fields was a site of mass graves where approximately 17,000 people were executed. Human bones and remains are still visible on the ground. I can’t describe what was going through my head as I stepped on tiles at S21 that I knew were previously stained with blood, or carefully walked around bone fragments protruding from the ground at the Killing Fields. I couldn’t wrap my head around the magnitude of pain and suffering that so many people had to endure. I grieved for them, knowing that God sees and hears the cries of His children. He suffers with them. Knowing what this country and its people have been through provoked in me a deeper love and compassion for them.2


Bracelets left behind by visitors at the Killing Fields as a symbol of remembrance

The next day we flew to Siem Reap and had the privilege of meeting a Ratanak partner named Reaksa Himm. A survivor of the Killing Fields, he told us his amazing testimony of love, redemption, and forgiveness.3 His story is one of a transformation that can only be achieved through Christ. I was reminded that no anger, hurt, or sin is beyond His reach. He can take our wounds and heal them, turning them into something beautiful. All we have to do is let Him.


Brian McConaghy, Reaksa Himm, and Jessica Kwee in front of a dam funded by Ratanak

Ratanak has been so blessed to serve Cambodians alongside him. We partnered with him to build a rural library and community center, which provides educational resources, after school sports, recreational programs, and positive role modeling to local youth. It has taken many years to establish trust in the community, but there are now about 100 kids coming to the centre on any given day! We also funded the building of a dam for a local village that was being repeatedly devastated by the heavy rains and floods during the monsoon season. It was completed just in time for this year’s rainfalls.4

The next day, much to our delight, was a trip to a newly opened cake shop and café we funded. We had anticipated eating their cupcakes and purposefully planned our meal portions around the visit! This cake shop provides employment opportunities for women rescued from situations of abuse and exploitation and empowers them with job skills, self-confidence, and the realization that they are special, priceless children of God who have so much potential. The cakes and cupcakes they bake are a taste of heaven – delicious to taste and absolutely stunning to look at. We strategically ordered as many cupcakes as we could possibly eat, cut them into quarters so we could each have a taste, and savored each bite! 


Some of the cupcakes we ordered!

We also didn’t miss out on seeing one of the ancient wonders of the world – Ankor Wat. Following Cambodian (royal) tradition, we rode into the temple on elephants. It is so amazing that such beautiful structures were built 1,000 years ago by hand, one stone at a time, without the use of technology! These temples are evidence of what was once a great and vibrant culture. Torn apart by war and genocide, we see only remnants of it now. But God is rebuilding the country and transforming lives. We saw evidence of this everyday!


The team in front of Angkor Wat

After returning to Phnom Penh, we went to see some of the sweetest women in Cambodia – the “grannies”. The Haven Night Shelter takes in elderly women who have been rejected by their families and society, and are forced to beg for money in the markets to survive and provide for themselves. They have no place to stay, and out on the streets they often fall victim to violence and abuse. Having lived through the Khmer Rouge regime, they have experienced much. At the Haven Night Shelter they are showered with love and shown compassion and dignity. Their lives are transformed as they experience the love of Christ, and the hope and joy that radiates from their smiles and laughter just melts your heart! I looked into their eyes – eyes that have seen more pain and death than most of us can imagine in a lifetime, and they were filled with warmth. We left encouraged and blessed by their graciousness and affection.


Some of the grannies at the Haven Night Shelter

Another highlight of our trip was visiting the Ratanak Achievement Program (RAP) Community Home. RAP is a transition home for young women who have undergone rehabilitation programs, but are now faced with the last difficult step of re-entering a society that has no sympathy or regard for them. Unfortunately, completing a rehabilitation program does not mean a person is completely healed. Many scars remain and issues often re-surface. Healing is a lifelong journey, and RAP provides opportunities for education and job skills training, building self-confidence and preparing them for independent living. Our visit coincided with the one-year anniversary of the home. We celebrated by playing a few icebreaker games and heading off to eat a delicious pizza dinner. Their English skills were impressive, and we were able to converse and listen to some of their stories and dreams. To spend time with these young women, laughing, singing, and even dancing (what else are you supposed to do in Musical Chairs as you wait for the music to stop?) was such a blessing! They have suffered much exploitation and abuse, but are growing and realizing their value in Christ. As Lisa, our Country Director in Cambodia wrote, they are living examples that “we are more than conquerors in Christ!”5


Canadian and Khmer staff teaming up for a 3-legged race

Lastly, the team also visited Chab Dai, an NGO we partner with for our Community Hero Prevention Program. One of the most important ways we can combat the issue of human trafficking is to prevent it from even happening in the first place. By equipping, training, and empowering community leaders (such as church leaders, teachers, local authorities, and local organizations) in high-risk rural provinces, we can educate thousands of villagers to stop trafficking at its roots. The photo below is an example of one of the posters used to communicate to villagers the dangers of trafficking.


One of the posters used to educate villagers on human trafficking

These posters have been approved by the Cambodian government and are left behind for villagers to use. So far, 200 leaders have been trained this year, and they have taught about the issue of trafficking to over 3700 people!

It was so inspiring and encouraging to meet people passionate about Cambodia, working together in unity to serve its people and communities. It is by no means a smooth or easy journey. The healing process is difficult. Loving someone means walking with them through their challenges, grieving with them in their pain, and being there for them when they fall. I admire their faith, resilience, and incredible capacity to love the children and adults they minister to unconditionally. As arduous and heart wrenching as it gets, the joy that comes along with seeing God transform broken hearts can’t be put into words. Time and time again I was left in awe of His faithfulness as we heard of how he worked through people’s suffering to bring hope and restoration into even the darkest of places. I also fell ‘head over heels’ in love with the country. Paul, one of our team members, said on our last day in Cambodia that when you leave, a piece of your heart always remains. I couldn’t agree more. 

Joy Kwa
Strategic Communications Manager

1 These trips prepare and train staff and volunteers who are speaking on behalf of Ratanak on a regular basis so they have a fuller and deeper understanding of Cambodia and Ratanak projects.
2 To learn more about the Khmer Rouge, see our timeline or read/watch some of our recommended resources
3 Read Reaksa’s story in his book, "Tears of My Soul"
4 Read the story behind this dam on our latest newsletter here
5 Read the full story behind our trip to the RAP Community Home on Lisa’s blog here

*Photo credits: Paul Dylla

University- Here we come!

Five of our young women are starting university in less than a week! It is so amazing that these girls, once considered nothing, are now discovering the joys of dreaming about their future and what they want to do. They have an opportunity that so few others in Cambodia have- only 56% of Cambodian children continue to high school and 8% to university (UNESCO and IIEP Report, 2011). For us at Ratanak, we are indeed excited for them and proud of their achievements thus far. It’s one of the reasons we have called our community home the “Ratanak Achievement Program Community Home”. These young women have have had to endure much pain, rejection and abandonment, go through years of counseling, and work through ongoing issues related to self-esteem, value and self-worth to get to this point in their lives. They are now living examples that ”we are more than conquerors in Christ.”

As part of their preparation for university, we give each young woman an initial ”education pack”- a small sum of money to buy their school supplies and school uniforms. They are responsible for any subsequent purchases made during the university year, and have to save up their weekly allowance and budget wisely in order to pay for their ongoing supplies. Some of them are also hoping to work part-time so that they can earn extra income. This is all a part of preparing them for independence. Even though it is not easy, it is a necessary step if these young women are really going to develop the resilience and tools needed to live in the real world.  


University supplies and school uniforms

So what will these 5 young women be studying? One young woman, “SL”, is planning to study Information Technology. She is already gifted in this area and advises our home advisors when they have questions on different computer programs. Another one of our young women, “C”, is planning to study social work. She had a chance to chat with both our counselors and social workers, asking them about the differences between the two professions. Through those conversations, she discovered that she did not want to be stuck in an office all day long listening to people’s problems, but would much rather be out on the field helping others. Our third young woman, “SN”, is hoping to become a social worker as well. We think she will do well in this area as she has a very gentle presence and a warmth that earns the trust of those around her, especially children. Our fourth young woman, “TY”, wants to be an author/journalist. The other day I saw her trying to translate a very difficult English passage into Khmer. She perseveres and is diligent in making the effort to study despite the challenges before her. Then there is “P”, who received a scholarship for 50% of her tuition fees. She wants to pursue International Relations in hopes of one day becoming an ambassador! Such are the dreams and hopes of these 5 young women who are entering university. Pray for each of them, that this initial enthusiasm and excitement will continue as their studies begin and that they will persevere as they enter a new chapter in their life. After all, it is not how well we start, but how well we finish. God does promise though, that ”He who began a good work in them will complete it.”  

Read the full story on Lisa’s blog at http://ratanakmissions.blogspot.ca/

Bittersweet Moments

Life can be all about bitter and sweet moments, and how we learn to respond to them. Our staff in Cambodia encounter these emotions on a daily basis, and there is not always enough time to savor the sweet moments before another bitter moment hits. We can either let such moments discourage us, or we can embrace them in all their fullness, knowing that “There are blessings we can never have unless we are ready to pay the price of pain. There is no way to reach them save through suffering.” - Dr. Miller


V’s hands in a pose as she performs a traditional Cambodian dance

Lisa Cheong, Ratanak’s Cambodia Country Director, and our RAP Program Manager recently met with one of our reintegrated young women, “V”, near her work place. It is always a joy to see young women overcome the challenges of their pasts and live a “normal” life. She is doing so well, and even received an unexpected 25% salary bonus in her second month working because she was so diligent. She also showed our staff the place she is renting. By North American standards, one could consider this a little shack, but by Cambodian standards, it is a huge place for one person. She is relishing this opportunity to live independently and is currently working in order to save money for her future. 


A girl walking alongside the waterfront

After this meeting, Lisa caught up with some of her Khmer friends in a village notorious for the deadly abuse of so many young, pre-pubescent girls. She asked about a little friend of hers, “S”, whom she had met a few months ago while out on one of her regular exercise walks near the waterfront in Phnom Penh. On that day, Lisa was overjoyed to see both her and her little sister, and asked a few questions in Khmer to which S promptly and impressively responded in English! She told Lisa she was “visiting” someone in the waterfront. They were both wearing makeup, and Lisa’s heart sank as she realized S was not just “visiting” the waterfront- she was being prepped to be sold along with her sister that very evening. S is now about 12 years old, but her size is that of an 8 year old. Her younger sister is the size of a 6 year old. To her dismay, Lisa’s Khmer friends informed her that S no longer goes to school, nor the kids club that she used to attend frequently. Instead, she dresses up daily and wears lots of make up.

We rejoice and praise God for His redemptive work in V and cherish this sweet moment of seeing her become a responsible young adult. We are also called to embrace the pain of loss as we grieve for S and what is being done to her daily for the sake of money. As we grieve and sow our tears by praying, we are sharing the fellowship of Christ’s suffering. He is sovereign over this young life, He is sovereign over her suffering, and He is sovereign as we wait for her rescue and restoration. 

Read the full story on Lisa’s blog at http://ratanakmissions.blogspot.ca/