Growing up in an American family I always looked forward to our holidays with family. Thanksgiving had great food and usually the family was all together. We thanked God for each other during that time. Christmas was about love and peace as we celebrated the birth of Jesus. Easter, though remembering the crucifixion of Jesus, was sad, yet it was about personal devotion and pursing a life of holiness. The 4th of July, American Independence Day, stirred a great sense of pride in the nation; plus it gave us a day to tease our British friends! When I arrived in Cambodia in 1994, I was sure surprised when I found out one of their many holidays was “The Day of Hate”. April 17th is the Day of Hate, if you are interested. It marks the day on April 17, 1975 when the Khmer Rouge completed their conquest of Cambodia. As a result 3.1 million people died.
Growing up in my Midwestern Christian family saying “I Love You” was so overdone it almost lost its meaning. At every moment, every phone call, every departure, every greeting we were almost expected to say “I love you”. A lack of saying so meant that we were rebellious or angry with the other person. As a typical guy, I am not comfortable expressing my emotions openly. Among my family though, my wife and kids, we express our love almost daily for each other.
Last night we had six guests at our house who were mostly Cambodian church leaders. I knew some of their backgrounds, but then I became curious of how often they heard their parents say the words “I love you” to them.
I started with my wife, since I knew her story, I figured it would loosen the others up to be willing to share. My wife’s father had seven wives. Not only did she he never hear the words, “I love you” she almost didn’t believe in Jesus when a missionary told her that “If you accept Jesus; Jesus can be your father.” If Jesus was like her father, she responded, she didn’t want him! Even her mother, whom she loved much, never told her she loved her.
Around the table they went. One by one, they said, none of our parents ever told them they loved them. One special needs boy even shared that when he was born, his father went out behind the house and hung himself. Six different people, with six different stories. . . none of them had ever heard the words “I love you” in their life.
Later at my office, I asked my staff. Again, most had never heard the words “I love you” expressed to them in their life. Only one staff member had heard her parents say, “I love you”. She said, once in a while, on a special occasion her parents would hug her and say “I love you”. It was very meaningful to her. She is the only second generation Christian on our staff. All the other staff came from Buddhist families.
Even among married couples they rarely express their love for each other in words. I have another staff member who felt like he wanted to tell his wife he loved her for the first time. They had been married about two years and already had one daughter. He built up his courage and at night before bed he said, to her, “Honey, I love you.” She burst out laughing; mostly in embarrassment.
I asked, “Did she say, ‘I love you’ back?” He said she didn’t. But maybe one day she will! The words “I love you” were so uncommon she didn’t even know how to respond.
Hey, it’s not valentine’s day! Why would I bring up such a subject? The reason I brought it up is that I want to highlight what it takes to see a nation changed. In Cambodia, human trafficking is rampant; prostitution is rampant; abortion is rampant; child abuse is rampant. Most of the girls are not even trafficked into prostitution, but choose the profession. God created people with a desire to be loved. A lack of love is ingrained into the Cambodian culture. The results of a lack of love are seen every day in the newspaper: Gruesome murders, rape, incest, pedophilia are rampant and common throughout the country. Abortions are available almost everywhere. Cambodia is known to be one of the worst countries in the world for human trafficking. Many children who are trafficked are done so by their own parents.
If Christ is going to transform Cambodia, it is not going to be done on a weekend mission trip. The problems of the nation are too deep to be addressed lightly. It is not going to be done in a one-off crusade. It is certainly not going to be done through the internet! It is going to take generations of Cambodians and loving Christians from elsewhere all making an effort to show love to others to see the culture of Cambodia transformed.
What is the alternative? It is a society destined to self-destruct and continually destroy itself. It sounds so simple to say, “I love you”, but to change a nation, we need as many people showing and expressing their love as possible.