This time last year, my husband Robby and I were anxiously awaiting to hear back whether or not we would be selected for the Fall 2016 Cambodia trip with North Point Community Church. The trip was one of the more popular ones with GlobalX so we knew there was a good chance we might not be selected but no matter what happened, God had His steady hand over it all. By late March, we had both gone through mini interview calls with the team leader and, at that point, felt really positive about our chances of getting to be apart of the trip. A week before we left for a big overseas trip we received THE call and were officially on the team and on our way to Cambodia! Fast forward to October 6th, our bags were packed and our hearts were prepared, as best they could be, to meet these kids. What we didn’t know then was how big our world would be rocked, in the best and most enriching way.
I had a good idea of the highs and lows we would encounter on this trip because I had volunteered for 2 other international mission trips over the years. One in college, to the mountains of Jarabacoa, Dominican Republic – aiding with the building of DRs first Young Life camp – and then one through GlobalX to Cebu, Philippines – working with victims of human trafficking. I knew that God would open our eyes to help us understand how blessed we truly were, that we would have a life changing experience and we would shower these kids with love from their Holy Father. But I never could have imagined how much our hearts would flip for this country, these people and these kids.
We first met the kids from New Life Missions at church on Sunday. They surprised us with singing a few songs in front of the church and let me tell you… the moment those sweet angels walked out on that stage, I felt this overwhelming emotional attachment to them and it was literally the first time I’d ever laid eyes on them. I was overcome with joy and love and so many tears. Their voices were angelic, so pure and full of life. It was impossible to not completely fall in love right then. After the service, we were enveloped with hugs from every which way, from little hearts we’d never met but little arms that wanted nothing more than to squeeze our sides and show us how excited they were to meet us. This was the first of many precious moments we’d experience throughout the week.
Our first few days at the orphanage didn’t feel like normal first days… we were greeted each morning with a line of kids with open arms and once we made it across the pond our hands would be grabbed and led around for the rest of the day. These kids were some of the most affectionate I’ve ever experienced and it was both the boys and the girls. Every open lap on the floor was fair game and sometimes you’d end up with two because they are so small! One thing I noticed early on was how attentive the entire group was. Each morning, as we would go through our lesson for the day, their focus was on the person speaking. They didn’t fidget or pester one another like so many American kids would have done. They were aware, engaged and considerate of their neighbors learning experience and you could see them really think through what was being taught. Don’t get me wrong, they were goofy and mischievous at times too but not when they were listening to God’s word and that was just so encouraging.
Another action I noticed was how selfless they all are. One example occurred the second day after lunch. The team ate subs, chips & cookies for lunch everyday and sometimes we’d end up with an extra cookie. On this day, one of the littlest girls came in and some how ended up with the last cookie but it’s what she did next that was so inspiring. She didn’t take the cookie and stash it away for safe keeping, no, she took the cookie, ate 1, maybe 2 bites herself and then started breaking off pieces to every kid she encountered. I was so moved by her act of selflessness. Here I was, making sure I got my own cookie – because some days we didn’t get a full count – and she was sharing this cookie, a treat that these kids do not get often, with everyone else. The second example was during a movie afternoon when we passed out candy to the kids. It was a free-for-all and candy was being tossed everywhere. Each kid had their own stash but once the chaos was over I watched as they all turned to their neighbor to make sure everyone’s loot pile was equal. If one kid had more than another they would share their excess. What a simple concept, yet so impactful and so absent from so many American’s minds – myself included. These kids have so little but what they have they do claim as their own, they give it all away. Think about that for a second. What would that look like for you? I know it’s been ever present in my mind since we returned and I don’t think I’ll ever forget it.
There were so many other moments throughout the week but I really want to share why this trip was so unique and special to me and Robby versus any other trip we’ve been on. It comes down to the fact that Robby and I formed real relationships with a handful of kids and because of that we made the decision to become sponsors. Sochea & Von were two of the boys that we completely fell in love with and ultimately ended up sponsoring through Fallen Sparrow.
I met Sochea on the 2nd day when he ran up to me at the soccer fields, gave me the biggest hug and the rest is history. I honestly don’t know why he chose to hang out with me, but he did and I found him to be the sweetest young man I’ve ever met. He was really shy at first but once he got around the other boys and Robby, the spunky 11 year old came pouring out. The communication was minimal but there were a few girls who helped facilitate a conversation. I learned that Sochea had lost both his parents and had been sent to NLM by his Step-mom who wanted him to have a better life. Robby met, 12 year old, Von early on and I would venture to say it was because he was drawn to Robby’s energetic and childlike personality. Robby is so amazing with kids and I knew he’d take on that big brother role for the boys at NLM. Unlike Sochea, Von’s parents are still alive but separated and his mom left him with his grandmother while she moved to Thailand to make money. His grandmother could not afford to take care of him or send him to school so she sent him to NLM so he would have the opportunity to get an education and thrive in a healthy environment. Both boys’ story lines are not uncommon at NLM and it makes you feel for those care takers who make the difficult decision to let go of their loved ones. They make the ultimate sacrifice so these kids will receive an education that will equip them so that one day they can take up the mantel of leadership and create a better world for their communities and their country.
Robby and I were incredibly blessed to be apart of the Fall trip last year and this year we are honored to be on the first ever Fallen Sparrow Fall trip. We know that through these trips God is working through us to show love to these kids, but we also recognize His presence through the kids as well. Maybe there’s something in the water (bottled water that is) or maybe it’s just extra special to us because the Lord has placed it on our hearts to be involved, but there is something supremely charming about this country and these kids. If you’ve ever had the desire to be apart of something so life changing I encourage you to dive in head first and just do it.
You’ll be glad you did.
If you would like to donate to the Buffingtons’ trip, donate here.