In 2017 I (Aaron) co-led a rights of initiation retreat for 26 male staff at Hard Places Community (HPC) in Cambodia. We were out in the jungle and I had gotten up early one morning to spend some one on one time with God. While watching the sunrise together, He promised that if I continued doing the work in my own heart, he would give me the opportunity to journey with people into healing around the world.
That might sound nice, but up to that point, I had told God many times over the years that I would never do long term missions overseas (cue God laughing). I thought I could never be as effective in another culture as my own. However, the reality was, I was afraid. I never wanted to be so vulnerable as to need, or be dependent on others; including God.
So when God told me His promise; I responded with a "yeah sure God," not thinking anything would come of it. However, I hadn't expected to fall in love with the khmer staff and what HPC was doing in Cambodia. Seeing those guys encounter God on that trip, and getting to be part of that, moved me. It made me think differently about how God was moving in my life. A few people suggested I should consider moving to Cambodia and working with the staff full time. I previously would have just laughed it off, but something had shifted. There was a real connection here and God was doing something.
When I got home I told Megan "we should pray about considering maybe one day possibly thinking about the idea of...I don't know...moving to Cambodia." If you know Megan, you know I should have expected her answer; but it caught me off guard when Megan responded, "Ok, lets go now!" What was happening? I was the guy that was never leaving the U.S.
I still wanted to pray and see if God would give us confirmation one way or the other. So we prayed about moving to Cambodia. We didn't tell anyone that we were considering it, even the people in Cambodia. However, within two weeks, four different friends shared dreams they had of our family living in Cambodia. That was the confirmation we needed. It took us two and a half years, but we sold our home, paid off debt, raised support, went to cultural training, and moved with our two girls, Harper and Ember, to Cambodia in August of 2019.
When we arrived in Cambodia we were only 50% funded. We trusted whatever God was doing, whether that meant bringing in the finances for us to stay, or sending us home. God came through partly in the form of a job for Megan at the girls school, Hope International. Her salary didn't quite pay for all our remaining needs, so God came through with the rest of it every month through generous gifts from our support community around the world. Megan being at the school also really helped us get plugged into community here quickly. It turns out that was important once the pandemic lockdowns started eight months after our arrival.
Dreaming with God
In February of 2020, Chhoengka, one of the HPC Khmer staff, was assigned to work with me part time. Chhoengka and I began developing a mentor community designed specifically for Khmer culture. However, with the pandemic, we weren't rushed into anything. We were able to take our time to pray, research, and prepare. THRIVE was able to grow organically out of the time we spent together with God.
We Brought Home OUR Son
Also, in the summer of 2020, in the middle of the pandemic, we brought home Judah when he was nine months old. He was born ten weeks early and abandoned at the hospital within hours of his birth. He had no family. We spent our first three nights with him at the hospital because he had bronchitis and pneumonia. After bringing him home we made him part of the family. We went through the process to become his legal foster parents. We are so thankful to now be able to call him son, and be family together.
In the summer of 2021 Megan started working for World Hope International, a non-profit that offers relief and development projects around the world. The goal was for Megan to come in, develop strategic systems to increase operational functions across all Cambodian projects, then hire and train Khmer staff to replace herself by summer of 2023. However, if you know Megan, you know how amazing she is at getting things done. Megan developed the systems, hired her replacements in May of 2022, and left WHI in august 2022; a year early.
Megan applied for over 180 positions. Although she was the top candidate for many jobs, they all eventually closed for one reason or another. Eventually only one door was open. She was offered a new position at the girls school, where she had worked before, Hope International. It really feels like God wants Megan to be back at Hope for this season.
Time to THRIVE
In March of 2022, through much prayer, Aaron and Chhoengka felt this was the year to start THRIVE; a small group based mentor community that invites Khmer to journey to deep emotional and spiritual places with God and each other. We created curriculum, shared the vision, and accepted eleven HPC staff to join our two small groups.
We launched in September with a three day retreat. Some connected with God in new ways. Some found forgiveness. Some found breakthrough. Many are working through healing emotional wounds. All came away excited for the rest of the year, ready to do the work to go deep and grow. We also started meeting weekly in our small groups, which will continue through May of 2023.
What He is Doing
The last five and a half years have been filled with challenges. The journey often feels a bit murky and it's difficult to see what's in front of us. But God's faithfulness to fulfill His promises has always been clear. God is moving in Cambodia and its a blessing to be part of what He is doing in people's lives.
Around the mid-20th century, Cambodia was considered the jewel of south-east Asia. It had a stable government, growing economy, ancient historical wonders drawing tourists, and a thriving creative arts scene.
That all changed when the Khmer Rouge regime came to power (1975-1979). In just four years all major cities had been evacuated, and over one quarter of the population (over 3 million people) were murdered in genocide. Politicians, businessmen, entertainers, the educated, anyone wearing glasses, and their entire families were targeted. Families were split apart, people were murdered, infrastructure was destroyed, and the country was in chaos.
Today Cambodia is showing signs of recovery. The current regime has been in power since 1985, and foreign investors have developed some infrastructure, industry, and tourism. But at the heart of the people there is still great brokenness. The country is primarily Buddhist, most live in poverty, it has one of the highest trafficking rates per capita in the world, and families are still living with the traumatic affects of the Khmer Rouge.
However, God loves the people of Cambodia and there are many amazing people and organizations doing powerful restorative work in the country.
Hard Places Community
Hard Places Community (HPC) is an NGO who's vision is to bring hope to the hopeless in the darkest corners of the world. We are honored to partner with their vision as a family.
HPC is based in Cambodia with several kids centers, a men's center, art center, restaurant, and more. HPC Hires local staff as social workers in its centers, many whom have gone through the programs themselves. These amazing men and women are making a difference in the lives of children and men who are being trafficked as part of the sex tourism industry.
Aaron and Megan support HPC existing programs with an emphasis on bringing administrative experience, offering pastoral care to the national Khmer staff, and encouraging systems that seek restorative justice. Out of these efforts Aaron has started and co-leads the THRIVE mentor community.