This is probably the hardest article I’ve ever had to write. My staff knows because I’ve procrastinated on this article for so long.
Today, I want to talk about my personal reflections on what happened this summer in Cambodia. To be honest, I don’t think I have fully processed everything and it will probably take me a lifetime, so please, show me grace as I write this post. Here are some things I wanted to share with you regarding what I have learned and am still learning.
“Shock and Denial”
I was at home, getting ready to start a long overdue project and buy some patio furniture when I received a phone call from one of my staff members that something bad happened to the KCM Cambodia team and that I needed to check my email. The email described the moral failure of a leader that we had to address immediately. The very next day, I was on a plane to Cambodia to confront this leader and to address the situation. During the long plane ride, the dominant emotion I felt was shock and denial. I was praying to God that what I heard was not true. It was probably the loneliest plane ride I have ever taken in my life. Most of it was spent praying, sleeping, and looking out the window.
“The Valley of the Shadows of Death…”
After confirming all the allegations and receiving the leader’s confession, it was my job to inform the team about what had happened. That night was the most painful and powerful night I have ever gone through in my entire life. When we informed the team about what happened, I could see all of the emotions go through them. The team was in denial, shocked, hurt, angry, afraid, disgusted, and betrayed. The collective brokenness in the room was palpable. As we were all in tears, deeply broken over what sin had done, I asked the team for 3 things. First, I asked that we be honest in sharing and expressing their emotions but not being overwhelmed by them. Second, I asked that during this time of great pain and suffering, we become even more united as a team and not isolate ourselves as individuals. Third, I asked that we not let sin and Satan win, rather that we defeat sin and win over Satan by being ourselves, focusing on our mission and fighting for joy with all of our hearts. Our motto became…”Let’s Win.”
After sharing all this, we closed in prayer. Now I’ve been part of many prayer meetings in my life and I’ve seen the Spirit move through many prayer times, but as we were praying, I sensed a powerful movement of the Spirit like I’ve never experienced before. As I looked back and wondered why, my conclusion was that the Spirit loves to come over broken people who have nothing left to cling to except Jesus and that was us that evening. I believe with all my heart that Jesus, our shepherd, stood with us that night and vowed to lead us out of the valleys of the shadows of death and all we had to do was to trust in Him and follow Him. His grace is truly sufficient for the weak and broken.
The Fight: “Let’s Win”
As we went to sleep that night and the next morning dawned, I was apprehensive to see how the team would respond. Most of the team were freshmen with the majority of them being girls. Would they have the strength to fight? Would they be too broken to continue? Was it over?
As I stood in my room ready to come out, I heard my team wake up and I heard the beautiful sound of laughter as my team gently made fun of each other’s puffy eyes. As we did ministry that day, I saw them give the love of Christ to everyone they met and, at night, I saw us honestly, humbly and hopefully talk over our pains and hurts, processing them with each other and with God. And as the day ended, I told the team, “Guys…We won today…Good job.”
And that’s what we did…every day. I was a witness observing this beautiful, resilient, courageous team called the Cambo Team win. The culminating moment for me was when we were at a cafe in Siem Riep. The café had a Karaoke room and my whole team went there and started to sing KPOP and Disney songs and soon after, they were singing, dancing, laughing and having fun. As I sat outside, watching them “party” and seeing their joy and laughter, I heard Jesus say to me, “Don’t worry Richard, I will heal them. I will turn their mourning into dancing and joy will come in the morning.” And as my team sang “Let it Go” by Frozen, I was silently thanking my Savior who is the healer of all the broken hearted and gives them the strength to let go of their hurts and pain.
“Where are we now?”
Now that we’re back, people ask me 3 questions. Let me do my best to answer them.
Q: How’s the Cambodia team?
Currently, some of our girls are seeking professional counselors for help to further heal from this situation. We are meeting monthly as a team for accountability and the pursuit of forgiveness. However, with great thanksgiving, each member of our team is doing their best to continue to live their life with joy, to move on in a healthy way from this very difficult situation, and to help others who might be struggling. One Sunday in Cambodia, as we were having worship, I shared with the team about being lights to the world. And when I see them now, back in the states, I see them shining brightly for Jesus and that makes my soul glad.
So how’s the Cambodia team?
They’re doing well! In my objective or non-objective opinion, they are a strong, resilient, courageous bunch of winners. I am very proud to be their leader and coach. With deep apologies to all the other teams I have ever led, this is probably my favorite team because they taught me what true resilience and courage meant. They taught me how to fight and win, and they taught me what true joy was. They showed me the reality of Jesus our Savior and the power of His gospel.
Q: Where are you at with the fallen leader?
To be honest, in the beginning, I was deeply hurt and angry. I felt like my trust was betrayed. I wonder how a leader, who has been entrusted with such great responsibilities, could do something like that. But by God’s grace, He gave me the strength to use that anger for good and not for evil. Rather than hating him and wanting revenge, I wanted to use my anger as a fuel to restore those who have been hurt. As time has passed, and as I consider the situation more, I can honestly say that I have forgiven him and want him to genuinely repent, do well, be restored, and live for God.
This doesn’t mean that I don’t want justice to happen. KCM has done everything in its power to pursue justice and there is nothing more that we can do. However, I want to forgive and I want to pursue justice. But as I desire both, I’ve realized that the responsibility of forgiveness is up to me and the responsibility of justice is up to God who says I will repay.
Q: What’s KCM’s response to all this?
As the director of KCM, I want to do everything in my power to never let this happen again. Currently, we are meeting regularly with our core leadership and staff to come up with a godly response to what had happened this summer and to implement preventative measures to ensure that something like this will never happen again.
We are working on a three-pronged response of 1) Prevention, 2) Education, and 3) Evaluation of our STSM program and even of our whole ministry so that good safeguards will be in place to protect us from all this. We will start sharing and implementing this at our KCM Winter Conference come January 2017, which is appropriately entitled: Redemption.
Beauty out of Ashes:
As I was on the plane heading to Cambodia, thinking about what to say to the team, Isaiah 61 popped in my head (I’m pretty sure my team is sick and tired of me saying this):
“…to grant to those who mourn in Zion—
to give them a beautiful headdress instead of ashes,
the oil of gladness instead of mourning,
the garment of praise instead of a faint spirit;
that they may be called oaks of righteousness,
the planting of the LORD, that he may be glorified.” (Is. 61:3)
If we had a theme for the trip, I guess this is it. Satan and sin destroyed and burned down our team. But out of the ashes, God did something beautiful. He took 15 broken individuals and created Oaks of Righteousness in them. This is my testimony and I say with great joy: God redeemed something beautiful out of something that was broken. I am proud to say that we worship a God who works good out of evil, who creates beauty out of ashes, and who is sovereign over all. Amen.