It’s an early start for our trip to Kep, Cambodia with the kids and staff of all six Prek Eng homes of Asia’s Hope. There are 157 of them, and 10 of us on three buses. They had planned to leave their campus at 6 am to meet us at 7 am in town, but we asked for a 30 minute delay, thinking they would push back their departure time. From our pragmatic perspective, we figured there was no point in rushing since it’s a 2 1/2 hour bus ride and the hotel will not likely let us into our rooms until after lunch. We don’t account for the collective excitement and energy of that many kids. Even though we have done this retreat for 5-6 years, the kids still get so excited they are awake and running around at 3 am. For the house parents, the sooner they can get the kids on the bus, the better. We find out later that 2 of the buses left at 6, but our bus sat and waited 30 minutes to make our 7:30 meeting time. I think we’ll plan on 7:00 next year.
It’s not a busy time of year in this lovely seaside town, so we are able to check in on arrival, and the kids are able to get in a bit of swimming before lunch. Our first planned event is a group Bible study at 1:30. We split the kids into 6 groups by age and gender, and send each group to find their own spot to meet. Mike and I have the youngest boys who enjoy acting out some of Jesus’ healing miracles. Mackenzie and Jeanne have the youngest girls who enjoy a lesson with a craft project.
After the study, the kids have 2 hours of free time for swimming at the hotel pool. It’s huge and since the hotel had a couple of drowning deaths a couple years ago, they have filled in the deep spots so most of the kids can stand in all parts of the pool. For the smaller ones (mostly the PE 6
home), there is a shallow kiddie pool that adjoins the big pool. Their house father Samnang says the kids haven’t been swimming since the retreat last year, so they are having a big time!
After swimming is dinner, with the kids and staﬀ eating at the hotel, and the house parents and team eating at Kimly Restaurant – an open air
spot on the ocean. In years past, the kids have eaten a banquet-style meal at the hotel, but we can’t justify the expense and learn that for about half the cost, the cooks can purchase a great spread of cooked seafood (favorites the kids don’t get often) to eat at the outside pavilions. Both groups have a great time!
After dinner we gather in the large meeting room for some singing and a message about the Power of God from Mike. In the middle of the message, the boys from PE4 perform a Bible story skit and, as usual, their performance exceeds expectations. The final event of the night includes the movie Sing for the small kids, a time for discussion and encouragement with the house parents led by team member Dave, and free time for the rest of the kids.
June 11, 2017
We plan a 7:00 breakfast at the hotel restaurant, but when Mike and I arrive at 7:05, there is no food left. The kids were up early, and settled in to eat breakfast by 6 a.m. The six big silver serving trays on the counter are empty, the platters of bread have only one lonely end piece left, and the fruit platters are also bare. It’s like the aftermath of the Biblical locust plague. Eventually they refill the bread, and the very talented omelet man who has three skillets going at once is able to fill quite a few plates in a hurry.
Breakfast is followed by a time of worship and a message by team member Scott about Jesus as our King. He connects the theme to soccer which gets all of the kids (especially the older boys) involved. Soccer is a big deal here and it is not uncommon for the boys to go to bed early so they can wake up at 1:30 am to watch a soccer tournament on TV.
Within about 10 minutes of the end of our worship time, the kids are dressed and ready for the bus ride to the beach. The ocean is right across the street from the hotel, but most of this village has a sea wall, and the beach is about a mile away. Most of the kids swim, some stay on the beach for a game of soccer, and some just enjoy hunting for shells and enjoying the scenery. After about an hour, the kids start walking back in small groups to the hotel pool for their last swim.
In all, it was a great weekend with no injuries and lots of fun/active time with the kids. Each of us is able to make a special connection with one or more kids, have some deep conversations about life choices and faith matters, and continue to build relationships.
Our post-retreat team discussion includes a conversation about what to change for next year. We feel compelled to have a ‘program’ for the retreat, but realize that for the kids and house parents, this time away is really needed as a break from the routine. The older kids go to school all day and have tutoring up to four nights a week. Those who go to school and hold part-time jobs leave home very early six days a week and don’t get home until early evening. For the house parents, the stress of daily living takes a toll, and this time away needs to be refreshing. We will likely do less programming next year, keep the two worship services, maybe plan more crafts, but allow for even more free time.
It’s amazing that when it’s time to check out of the hotel, all 42 room keys have been returned to the front desk and everyone is cleared out of their rooms and waiting for the bus on time. Our team members know what a struggle it is for us to get anywhere on time at home, and we marvel at the eﬃciency of the house parents who get everywhere ahead of schedule with 20+ kids in tow. Team member Dave went back to Phnom Penh with the kids, but the rest of us are oﬀ to the Veranda EcoResort for some R&R. Dave is planning to teach some science lessons at the Prek Eng elementary school early in the week so he opted out of staying in Kep. For the next couple of days we are going to relax, refuel, and get ready for our final days in Cambodia. We will return to the city on Tuesday and have activities planned with the dorm and Asia’s Hope Tuesday night through Friday afternoon; Mike, Emma, Shirley, and I all leave Friday night.
Overall, the team is in good shape. Please pray for safe travel back to Phnom Penh, for continued good health, and for us to be used by God in our last days here.
With love on behalf of the team,