This is Stephanie from AIM USHQ!
I have been updating you on AIM projects for two years now but it wasn’t until this month that the stories came to life for me.
I traveled to the far-off, mystical, humid land of Cambodia with some AIM staff — Julie and Renee — and a few AIM Advocates. I’ll spare you the details about the length of the flight and adjectives for ‘sweating’ and skip straight to the good part — God is doing great things in the Kingdom of Cambodia.
Our first meeting was with Dr. Carla who heads up our medical outreach. Fun fact: did you know Dr. Carla grew up in Brazil with her missionary family? She is a beautiful soul who loves Cambodia and serves humbly. She is guiding Socheak who just got his nursing credentials to serve in the clinic in Svay Pak.
Next we stopped over with Pastor Chantha who heads up Rahab’s Church and the Discipleship Program where 45 young people are learning how to lead the next generation of Cambodians with integrity.
He launched right into his life story:
“I was in the Khmer army. We were patrolling and I stepped on a land mine. It didn’t go off so I was promoted! A while later, I stepped on another mine and it didn’t go off. I was promoted again. Then I was shot but the bullet merely grazed my leg and I walked away. People feared that God was with me and I was promoted again. I kept getting higher and higher in the government and the corruption was so disheartening that I quit — I left all the wealth and prestige — simply because of guilt. I did not have conviction yet because I did not know God.”
It wasn’t until years later when he was homeless and a Christian man befriended and accepted him into his home that Chantha became a Christian and knew God had a plan for his life.
“I believe God spared me for this. Jesus in Svay Pak will change Cambodia.”
In addition to the church and disciples, the school is a big part of that.
Our next discussion was at Rahab’s Community School with the Grace and Peace Gals. This is the superhero pseudonym for three American women who have led the school the last two years. Kimberly, Rachel and Becki shared that the school just hired a tuk-tuk to shuttle 10 new children to class from a neighboring community. Our group had just seen their bright faces giggling from the benches as they were safely escorted home. “We already had a van bringing kids from the brick factory. If they weren’t at school they’d be doing manual labor or being exploited,” Becki said.
Rachel walked us from the school down the sunny street where AIM’s new, bright green Transitional Home stood. “As we continue down this alley we’ll see the new building we rented this morning!” Rachel fiddled with the keys on the gated door until swinging it wide to an open room. “This will be temporary classrooms until our new school is built,” she added.
Rachel was referring to our vision for AIM Academy. We are currently raising funds with a plan to open a school that could teach 1,500 children from Svay Pak.
“A recent poll of the community shows that 3,000 local children would attend school if they had the chance,” said Don Brewster. “These are children in a neighborhood where 70% of them WILL be trafficked. Our school will have a capacity for 1,500 children. Imagine how having them in school can prevent their exploitation and give them opportunities that will change a generation of children!”
This element of prevention is crucial to fight trafficking before it starts. But if a woman is trafficked, her rescue, restoration and reintegration are all possible at our next stop.
AIM Employment Center (AEC) was bustling with energy as the young women finished their orders for the day. I was surprised that the room and demeanor felt more like a family than a factory — friendly people having fun while getting work done.
Isaac, Director of AEC1, explained how it was payday so the young women were especially happy. He consulted with his staff in the serious but loving tone of a father and they reacted with similar sweetness and respect.
Joyce gave us a tour of the screen printing room. “This is a t-shirt order for YWAM,” she explained as one of the young ladies swept white fluid across the press and hand-stamped an image onto a gray t-shirt. “Perfect!” Joyce exclaimed. The young woman continued without looking up to which Joyce responded, “The girls are a little sad today because one of our ladies is in the hospital.”
Again, it was evident that this was not a factory but a family. And one of our family members was sick.
Emotional low’s are very low and emotional high’s are very high, we learned. Tragedy can be overwhelmed by victory while celebrations can be thwarted by pain. I supposed that is the nature of our work. We are fighting what I believe to be the most depraved form of exploitation. With this low-low it gives more room for God to make miracles which are the highest of the high’s.
And we saw very high-high’s.
Here are six very big changes for AIM that we witnessed while in Cambodia.
1. The Agreement Signed with the Cambodian Government for AIM’s Undercover Team.
The funding was in place. We hired the lead investigator. We needed the Cambodian government to give the green light, allowing our team to act on leads and have our own police assigned to make arrests.
While we were there, the agreement was signed. It was broadcast across Cambodian national television. We are already gathering evidence against a pedophile. Booyah.
2. We purchased land to build the new school.
While we were there, AIM was able to purchase a plot in Svay Pak adjacent to Rahab’s Community Center. AIM Academy is happening! The question is, how soon?
We still need $650,000 to complete this project.
3. Ratanak and Dari got Married!
Ratanak is AIM’s Children Pastor at Rahab’s Community Center and you might know him from The Pink Room Documentary. He just married one of the counselors from AIM Transitional Home. They are both young, in love with the Lord, and committed to the children of Svay Pak.
AIM staff was able to be together for the first time ever at this event. There was much joy and peace in the room.
4. The 210-Year Sentencing of Michael Pepe.
This American ex-military man started a non-profit in Cambodia which was a front for him to systematically rape and torture children. Some of the girls were placed in AIM Restoration Home. We are so thankful that after years and many difficult testimonies, mistrials, visa issues, he is behind bars for good.
5. The Beginning of AIM’s First Retail Store.
AIM is opening a retail store in Phnom Penh which will give us local distribution of products from AIM Employment Centers. This will keep our young women working and give the tourists of Cambodia a chance to find out about AIM and how to help. The funding for start-up as well as hire for the project lead came together within a week!
6. New Employees and Churches Arrived to Support AIM.
While we visited Cambodia, we were able to spend time with leaders from Bethel Church, Crossroads Church and Redeemer Church. New AIM staff pastors Derek and Pam started in Phnom Penh while Hyuen-A joined newbie Rachel in our ministries in Siem Reap. New staff that hasn’t even started working yet were visiting and new staff that had been there for a while met the team for the first time.
This was just a portion of the excellent staff we met with. I could list names and credentials for days and you would be amazed at the quality, passionate, beautiful people that serve as volunteers (VOLUNTEERS!) on the ground. This is just a sliver of the things that happened in the two weeks (TWO WEEKS!) we were there. But I don’t want to make this too long. Let me just say, GOD IS GOOD.
Incredible people, incredible partners, incredible vision, perfect timing, just enough resources. I have the chills as I write this because I know one inevitable truth — God wants every slave free and HE WILL DO IT!
I truly believe that anyone who gets to be a part of AIM is blessed indeed. From staff to donors to prayer partners — we might be dealing with the lowest of the low, but that means we get to celebrate the highest highs. I am so honored to be a small part of something that matters greatly, today and forever.
Together for freedom,