SINGAPORE – When Betty Wee decided to do something different last Christmas, her friends suggested a Christmas mission. The 52-year-old St. Vincent de Paul parishioner who has had several mission experiences took up the idea. She decided to organize one to her beloved mission country, Cambodia. The idea captivated Betty’s elderly mother, Maria Wee and the 94-year-old grandma decided to journey with the group.

In the group with Grandma Wee and Betty were 12 youth and another 16 adults. As part of planning for the trip, they collected loads of stuffed toys, mainly teddy bears, old and new clothing, canned food and love offerings from family and friends.

The 30 missionaries, aware of the 20 kilogram limit for their individual luggage allowance, agreed to carry only a few personal belongings in order to have more space for their vast collection of Christmas gifts.

The missionaries spent nine days of their Christmas vacation with the poor of Pek Sriang and Long Sa, in the outskirts of the famous Angkor Wat of Siem Reap, Cambodia. Except for Betty, who had been there on two previous occasions, the rest were all going on their first missionary exposure.

Although there were initial worries that the teens may face great cultural shock, the adults were pleasantly surprised that they could immerse so easily in the "Cambodian lifestyle".

Both adults and children mingled freely, helped with the distribution of food and gifts, bathed the Cambodian kids and helped to cut their hair, and cooked and had meals together.

Father Henri Bratasudarama, an Indonesian missionary priest who runs the outstation orphanages, was impressed with the young people from Singapore who left families and friends during the Christmas season to bring Christmas joy to the poor in a foreign land.

"It is the first time during my seven years as parish priest of this community that I have experienced such a grand Christmas celebration in my parish. I hope that this kind of activities will inspire many people to be creative in celebrating Christmas," he said.

As for young Maxton Huang, a teen member of the group, he was so taken aback by the hunger and poverty of the children that it opened his eyes to the many blessings in Singapore that he had taken for granted.

"I definitely made the right decision. This is a once-in-a lifetime experience," he said. "Never can you get more joy than bringing joy to the people. And to see my 94-year-old grandma there was truly inspirational."

As for Grandma Wee, who cooks daily for her extended family, she has been talking about her experience with her friends, quite eager for another missionary trip.

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