The first location we visited upon entering Cambodia was Bloom Cafe. Bloom is an NGO that hires girls who have been delivered from sexual exploitation. There, the girls create beautiful cupcakes, cakes, and now, an assortment of birthday cards and birthday invitations.
As we stepped off of the bus my heart started racing. As we approached the front steps of Bloom my mind went into overdrive. Would these girls shy away from looking at us? Would it be difficult to even look at the girls for fear of wanting to cry? Would our short time at Bloom be awkward seeing that none us speak a lick of Khmer? As quick as these thoughts entered my mind, they left as soon as we walked through the entrance door and were greeted with cheerful smiles and giggles from girls behind the cupcake display case.
We stood in the entrance “room” for a few moments, taking in everything around us. Anyway, Bloom’s intern greeted the team and me. She led us upstairs and showed us around the some of the different “production” rooms where the fondant for the cakes is made, where the elaborate and intricately made icing tops are designed, and where the birthday cards are now being put together. [First, these cards are amazing. They are well-made pieces of art that you definitely cannot buy at American stores where you are hoping to spend $2 or less. Martha Stewart, you have competition.] We were then taken into a room where the intern told us how Bloom began, how God really had and continues to have all of the details worked together for this cafe, and how Bloom is changing the lives of the girls it hires. Another great part of the Bloom presentation was seeing that this café is not some cheap place where the skills learned by the girls are somewhat good, no, Bloom is so great in what they do that the girls there baked and designed the birthday cake for the Prime Minister of Cambodia. [I cannot recall the man on TLC who makes awesome cakes but he really needs to check out Bloom, I mean, cake baking for the prime minister? Incredible.]
After touring the kitchen we all bought and happily ate Bloom cupcakes. They were so good. I ate the coconut topping cupcake of course, and we took pictures of the rest of the café, including the display cases.
Bloom is great.
The next day we visited one of the IJM Field Offices in Cambodia. Again, after entering the building and then being greeted by an intern, we walked upstairs and sat in various chairs and couches all surrounding a projector. The intern guided us through a forty-five minute slideshow of the good work IJM is doing in Cambodia.
While much of our team came to Cambodia with a fairly comprehensive understanding of human trafficking and in particular sexual slavery, the information on why Cambodia is the “perfect storm” allowing sexual slavery to flourish still bothered us, and rightly so. It is one of thing to purposefully seek out knowledge on the topic of sexual slavery and be filled with pain knowing that there is a rape-for-profit market thriving across the globe and especially in the Mekong River Region, but it is a whole other story knowing that myths such as men being able to be cured of HIV by having sex with 100 virgins or, that men are seen as gold bars, able to be washed clean, while a women is a white clothe, being soiled once and never made clean again is held by people right outside the gate of the building.
After questions were answered and hearts were once again saddened about the reality of what lies outside the building, a man whom our team leader had met on a prior visit more than exceeded any of our expectations for an exchange of pleasantries and gave-up more time than he had and spoke to us about what IJM is doing, what they hope to accomplish, and how God has had His hand on this field office, orchestrating and delivering freedom to children in bondage. What this man did next was quite remarkable for me. He asked our team if we would like to take part in their daily prayer and devotion time for that day.
We walked downstairs into the office being greeted by Cambodians and other professionals who are taking part in the rescue of the most vulnerable. After stories were exchanged and waves were given to each other, we prayed. We sat in an oddly shaped circle praying for an upcoming case, a sick staff member, and for those the social workers were helping. We prayed together while also having one women lead us in her, I’m assuming, native tongue, Khmer.
After prayer time ended, we realized that we had been at the IJM building for nearly 3 hours… more time then any of us imagined we would have.
We left that morning with not only a more vivid realization of the evil in our world, but also with a sense of hope. While human trafficking will for what I believe, always exist in some capacity until Jesus returns, it was reassuring to see that this world is not hopeless.
God is alive. His people are moving. Lives are being rescued and restored.