Are You Okay?

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I was crossing the street at our new property when four uniformed border-patrol policemen pulled up beside me and beckoned me over to their car. “Could you help us and buy a generator from us?” they said. In their trunk, still packed in plastic, was a brand-new 13-horsepower Honda generator. “The government gave this to us,” they said, “but we’d rather have the money. Make us an offer if you are interested. Save us the time of trying to sell it in the next town.”

The power here regularly goes out for several hours at a time, and a generator would be useful to keep tools going and our fridge/freezer from thawing. But I like to carefully plan and shop for major purchases, and I didn’t like being put on the spot.

After a few minutes of the officers’ high-pressure salesmanship, I told them that, since it was Sunday, I wouldn’t be able to get any money out of the bank, and the only money I had was at our rental home. I made a polite but low offer, providing they would be willing to drive me to my home 20 minutes away.

They hemmed and hawed. “Our unit has a lot of people. That is not enough for us to spend!” They tried every angle, but I stood firm. I explained that I was accountable for everything I spend, that I was happy for their friendship and willing to help out since it seemed they were in a hurry, and my offer was fair under the circumstances.

They finally agreed, cleared a seat in the car and whisked me away. I shouted a few instructions to my workers who were remodeling the new property, telling them I would be right back.

On the drive to the house, I chatted with the officers about their families. They came into the house and had some water. I got the money, and they tried a little bit more loud bargaining before finally making the transaction. Then we got back in their car, and they took me to an intersection where I flagged down a taxi that took me back to the jobsite. It was a minimal interruption to my day.

Returning home around dark that evening, I pulled into the driveway and shut off the old mission truck (that my parents bought when I was 10 years old). Then, before I could even get out of the truck, I was suddenly surrounded by what seemed like the entire village, everyone with tears streaming down their faces. “Are you okay?” they sobbed. “Are you in trouble? We saw you in the police car! Are you getting deported? We were getting ready for lunch when we saw them take you away. We were so distraught, we couldn’t eat! We were so scared for you! Is Stephanie okay? What would happen to her if she got back from Phnom Penh and you weren’t here?”

I was floored by this unexpected outpouring of emotion. But then I realized how the police visit that afternoon must have looked to them.

Jobs are scarce in Cambodia, so many people sneak into neighboring countries to work. In this country where corruption, imprisonment and exploitation are so common, people train their children to watch out for police. A friend of Stephanie’s went to the hospital in labor. When she couldn’t produce valid documents, she spent her baby’s first 30 days locked up before being deported. We’ve seen our neighbors refuse to seek treatment for infections and diseases, willing to risk losing an eye or a limb rather than expose themselves to government authorities. To be deported is to get off easy. Undocumented and illiterate people are easy targets for organ trafficking, which is widespread.

When my neighbors saw me drive away in the police car, all their repressed fear and pain bubbled over. Distraught, they hadn’t finished their lunches or touched their dinners. Someone had tried many times to call me but had the wrong number. When they were unable to contact me, their deepest fears seemed to be confirmed. Women sat in quiet circles weeping. Even a pastor friend in another part of the country got word and called me to see if I was okay.

It took me an hour that night to assure everyone that I was okay. They crowded into our house, telling me how upset they’d been, and fresh tears flowed and reflowed. The next day, Stephanie arrived back in the village, and they retold the stories to her, and the tears started all over. For the next several weeks, people’s eyes often got moist, and people hugged us over and over and gently held our hands.

We love these people just as much. We plead for you to pray for us as we feel that some of our relationships have developed to the point where they can withstand broaching the differences of our religion. Religious indoctrination here is so broad and deep. We know it will take years of crying with them and holding their hands and pleading with their hearts. No one will go to sleep a Muslim and wake up a Christian. But maybe while they are dreaming they will see Jesus because of your prayers. If you’d like to commit to praying for decisions for Christ among our Great River friends, please email us at joshstephlewis@gmail.com.

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