An experience from the perspective of Taylor Strickland:
On the sixth day of our time in Phnom Penh, Muriel and I were able to go on a field visit with August and Nareem of World Relief. We rode out into a village to assist with the HIV/AIDS education and prevention program. According to World Relief’s statistics, Cambodia has the highest prevalence of HIV/AIDS in Asia, with an estimated 75,000 people living with AIDS. As the moto traveled deeper into the shanty town, the smell of trash and sewage grew strong in the heat and the terrain looked more and more undeveloped. As we rode alongside rows of delapidated homes, crossing sewer pipes lined with rotting garbage, I realized I was in the most impoverished place I had ever been. Living conditions in the areas surrounding Phnom Penh (the big city) are tolerable at best, from the perspective of a Westerner.
There I was, listening to a blind woman tell her story of being disowned by her family in 2002 when she tested positive for HIV, and all I could think about was how to prevent ants from crawling up my legs. Then they asked me to share my story. Talk about a rude awakening; I was overcome by feelings of guilt and inadequacy. My story does not compare to the story of any of the people in that town in terms of suffering, but what I realized at that moment is that we all experience the same Gospel. Every believer knows what it’s like when the scales fall off his eyes, revealing both his utter filth and the hope of salvation by the blood of Jesus Christ. So that’s what I made my story about.
The reason World Relief is able to go out into shanty towns, educate people about HIV/AIDS and build relationships with those people is that the same God that changed us is redeeming the slums of Cambodia. The work World Relief is doing in Cambodia is only possible because of the Gospel. The purpose of this recounting is not to evoke pity for Cambodians, but rather to aid in portraying the power of the gospel to bring hope and peace. The believers I’ve met in Cambodia know contentment. They are sustained by Christ and experience him in a way that I don’t understand yet. I’ve already learned a lot from my new Cambodian friends, and as my story continues to develop I hope my experience here never ceases to challenge me.