A couple of weeks ago I was walking through a new area of town. The town is Poipet. This is Cambodia’s “wild west” town where there is little law and the motto is: “everyone for yourself”. Not an area you would ever find any tourists. In fact, the Lonely Planet guide book for Cambodia says of this town, “if you have spent 5 minutes in this town, you have spent 5 minutes too long.” Why do they say this? Because Poipet is a new town which is part of the world’s largest mine field (not a gold mine, landmines!) which stretches from northern Cambodia, all along the Thai border, for more than one hundred miles. They estimate there are still more than six million mines still hiding in the ground. Why would people live here? Simply for the prospect of trying to make money. This town, which didn’t even exist ten years ago, has grown to be one of Cambodia largest cities at more than 100,000 people. This happened because it is Cambodia’s biggest border crossing to Thailand. Most people live here in dire poverty. This is what poverty looks like:
I met this lady two weeks ago. “Om” is a widow. She came to Poipet many years ago and barely survives, but has nowhere else to go that offer any better prospects. She has no family to help her, so each morning she cooks rice and tries to sell it to people. When I met Om, she was just washing the dishes from the morning breakfast. Yes, in the same water, that she is living over. I just pray that the people she feeds don’t spread cholera. Her house is the little hole directly in front of her. It is made out of rubber insulation from discarded shipping containers and bamboo. Her toilet is behind the white rice sack wall and her clothes line, for her other set of clothes, is a bamboo pole. In this picture, you can see all of her possessions. This is true poverty.
All across Cambodia I meet people like Om. In this town alone, there are some 40,000 people who live in very similar conditions. The rural jungle areas of Cambodia are far worse than even this. It is easy to be overwhelmed with the task or become depressed by the hardships you see. So what can any of us do when we are confronted with such poverty?
Well, I don’t have a perfect answer, nor probably the best answer, but I have my experience. I simply am friendly with them. I don’t give them a theological treatise on the depravity of man or the sovereignty of God. That would be an utter waste of time and insulting. Sometimes I just tell a joke to make them smile. Other times I share their tears as they tell me about their situation. If I can help, I do. Actually, there is always some way we can help people like this. It is more a matter of stepping out of my comfortable life and lending a helping hand. What I find is that as I show love to people like this, lives begin to change. They truly receive good news. And more often than not, they also find Jesus in the journey as well.