(Top) Bearers of Christmas joy from Singapore; (Below)Christmas treat – a meal of curry with bread for the Khmer children.
SINGAPORE – Thirty-seven Catholics from Singapore, Malaysia, Spain and Australia chose to spend their Christmas in Siem Reap, Cambodia with priests, religious Sisters of the Missionaries of Charity, fellow Khmer Catholics and the people living in the land and floating villages.
We went simply because we wanted to bring and share the Christmas cheer and joy to a people still recovering from the wounds of civil war, the Khmer genocide and the Vietnamese invasion. Many of them live below the poverty line.
So with “willing hearts and listening ears”, the group of 19 men and 18 women – comprising professionals, students, retirees from ages 13 to 96 – set off for Siem Reap on Christmas Day 2009, bearing gifts for the people of Cambodia.
Upon arrival, the group was warmly welcomed at the airport by the parish priests and workers. The spirit of gospel friendship and Christmas kept us all motivated and inspired throughout the travels and visits to all the villages, as the journeys on land and lake were very demanding at times.
The parish church of St. John, under Jesuit Father Heri B., and his team were admirable in their mission. Together with them, the Singapore volunteers visited seven land and floating villages, one public school, an orphanage and a public hospital. At each location, we sang Christmas carols and songs. We prayed and celebrated two Masses. We gave out food, Christmas gifts of toys, new clothes, candies, school books and writing materials. Generous monetary donations were also made to support the parish outreach programmes.
Through and with the help of the hotel where we stayed, we had a beautiful dinner with a Khmer Cultural show performed by the children of an orphanage. The proceeds of the dinner went to the orphanage. Thus even our meal was charitable and missionary.
The joyful Christmas spirit of giving and receiving abounded as each day unfolded. We not only gave the Christmas’ goodies, but also ourselves – time, energy, effort, faith, care and love.
But just as we gave, we also received much from the people. Their poverty, especially among the children, touched our hearts and moved us to tears. Perhaps even the stubborn and proud-hearted among us were melted. They moved us to reflect on ourselves. Genuine poverty has its power and beauty to transform lives! We not only evangelised the poor, but the poor evangelised us, too.
Our Christmas mission trip ended on Dec 30 with a farewell dinner with the parish priest and his mission team of dedicated young men and women.
It is our hope that this journey of faith and love will make us better people of God. The Lord’s love invites us to truly love all people selflessly, joyfully and confidently. There is a big world out there for us to love. There is much to know, learn and grow into our loving God. May each of us do well in our journey of faith and love, especially this 2010.
By Father Peter Wee, CSsR