Katie McCallum is on a two-week trip to Cambodia with Tearfund’s Transform programme. She sent us this powerful update.
Our team spent the weekend in Siem Reap, a larger town and more touristy than Poipet. Siem Reap is home to the world-famous Angkor Wat temples and we spent a large chunk of time on Saturday playing Tarzan: climbing rocks and getting very sweaty. It was a super-duper amount of fun. Having got used to being the only westerners in Poipet, it felt really weird being hounded for money and attention in Siem Reap; it’s amazing what you can purchase for $1 in South-East Asia! Everything from Ralph Lauren polo shirts and Raybans to yummy battered bananas.
It’s very easy to get lost in western culture in Siem Reap; we all know the rules to follow. Don’t give the child beggers money, avoid shellfish and never take the first price a vendor gives you. I felt very removed from the simplicity of Poipet, which is basically one main road. As we wandered around the incredible ruins of Angkor Wat, it felt more like a family holiday than the mission trip of last week, so far away from CHO, the HIV clinic and Safe Haven. The temple was full of Thai photographers, sunburt Europeans, and pasty Brits, and then BAM. I turned a corner and there was a little boy lying on a windowsill; clearly incredible weak and vulnerable. Really really sick. My mind was overwhelmed by Jesus’ words in Mark 14 verse 7: ‘You will always have the poor among you…’. Here was the poor, among us.
I spent the rest of our time at Angkor Wat thinking how good we’ve got at hiding ourselves against the poor amongst us. We almost have a bit of a shield that separates ‘us’ from ‘them’, because we don’t really have big slum districts in the UK, or have children begging us for food as we walk down the road. In Poipet it’s obvious to me where the poor are; their children are running around naked in the streets. In Siem Reap, where tourism and western culture are more prominent, the poor are clutching at the edge of existence, trying to sell me whatever bits of random plastic they have, just to make one dollar a day. In the UK the poor become almost invisible to me. So when I go home at the end of this trip, I want to make a conscious effort to see the poor among us. In every product I purchase, I want to see the hands that made it for me. On every street I walk, I want to seek out those who call the streets home. In everything I touch, eat, see, read, whatever. I want this way of life to become a pattern; a rhythm of living that allows me to see the world as it really is, rather than getting lost wandering in my small world. It will probably be overwhelming at first, but I hope to find Jesus there.