Written by Tyler Hays
As a filmmaker, one of my goals is to always try to see the world as God does and capture images that reflect that. However, when you visit areas of Vietnam or Cambodia seeing the world through the lens of Jesus is not always easy. Sometimes it’s tough, and you feel a hopelessness in the service you are there to provide.
After we got back from our trip in January, it was hard to answer people when they asked how my trip went. Saying “It was good!” was the answer they expected, but the reality was that seeing kids trapped in systemic poverty was not pleasant. If it weren’t for HOL, many kids wouldn’t have a loving family or a proper education. After processing a little, the best short answer I could give people about my trip was that “it was very rich...hard, but rich. ”
From my past experience in video, it normally takes a while for people to open up or become emotional on camera. I mean, it’s pretty uncomfortable to be on-camera much less be vulnerable, but every HOL child we talked with on camera seemed to get emotional very quickly when sharing their stories. I don’t think it is because they are overly sensitive. It is because they have had such tragedy in their lives and now have the support of a loving family. Their honest gratefulness to God for how He has rescued them exudes when you get the chance to talk to these kids about their stories.
Getting to meet and interview a girl named Lynda* was one of the most impactful moments of our trip for me personally. Lynda is the oldest HOL child in Cambodia. She is 24 and in her second year at university. From the first time we met the families in Cambodia, she stood out to me as a leader and someone who is looking out for the other kids, all of whom are much younger. Little did I know that this strong, protective quality in her began because of serious trauma in her life.
When we arrived to Lynda’s village, we only had about 20 minutes before we had to leave to catch our flights so there wasn’t much time at all, especially not for setting up a video interview. Her HOL family’s home is built over the water. The floors are plywood and wood slabs that are somewhat spaced apart so you have to be careful where you step or your foot might get stuck. What looks like the village dump sits behind their home. Trash is covering the ground like snow. We sit down with Lynda, and she is reserved at first talking about how she has a good sense of humor and likes to cheer people up. Shortly after though, she tells us how her biological mother has a gambling problem. Tears began to stream down her face. She then tells us that her two older sisters were trafficked as prostitutes by her own mother to earn gambling money. It’s the first time I think that I had been face-to-face with someone so directly affected by sex trafficking. Lynda says her biological mother wanted to sell her too, but she was more stubborn than her older sisters and refused to do what she wanted.
Not only did Lynda watch her older sisters being sold into prostitution, but at the age of 9 she had to raise her 3-month-old sister, Marie*. Lynda didn’t have milk to feed her so she fed her rice water and used her thumb to soothe the cries of her sister’s hunger. When Lynda realized she too was at risk for being sold, she ran away from her birth home, with her baby sister, and eventually ended up in a Home of Love.
Lynda shared, “I was born into a family without love but my new family gave me all the love needed. Even when my HOL mother or father was sick, they never neglected me. My biological mother rather enjoyed herself than raising us. As for my HOL mother, no matter how difficult it was or how sick she was, she still tried to earn money so that we could have money for me to go to school and to feed us all. The love that my HOL parents give us is great.”
I am now the father of a one-and-a-half year -old little girl whose personality is already stubborn and strong-willed. I’m sure my wife and I have a long road ahead of us, but I hope her stubbornness will bear fruit when she is older. I pray she’s as committed and driven for her life and values as Lynda. In the same way, I pray she protects and cares for those around her.
I wish all of these HOL kids knew how much their devoted love and trust in God inspires me on a daily basis. It’s so easy for me to get bogged down or overwhelmed by life, but I find myself thinking back to my time sitting with these HOL families. All of a sudden, I’m not living this small story where I get overwhelmed easy, but rather the story I’m living is part of a fabric much larger than I could ever imagine.
*names have been chamged.