'I have nothing, except Jesus'

written by Ellyn Schellenberg

Five-year-old Sam* and his family of 10 live in a tin and bamboo house that OM Mercy Teams International (MTI) Cambodia helped build for them six months ago. The house is set up on high stilts, a typical way for the Khmer people to create a 'kitchen' on the hard-packed mud below. “Our previous house was so old, that when the wind blew, it fell over,” Sam’s mother Paula* shares. “We could not sleep in it anymore.” Paula’s mother knew about MTI through a community event, so the family approached MTI staff about their dilemma: they had no money to repair their home, or build a new one, and no one from their extended family would help.

Mercy Teams International works among the poor and needy in Phnom Penh, the capital of Cambodia, helping to meet their physical needs by distributing food, school materials, school uniforms, giving money to cover school or medical fees, and for more than 30 families, raising funds to build new homes. These families have few resources available to them. Issues with drugs, alcohol or gang violence often keep at least one of the parents or older children from contributing to the family’s financial needs.

While Sam and his younger brother crawl and scramble across a bamboo structure below their house that serves as both a place to sit and lie down, his mother and grandmother share about their situation. “We feed our whole family on 2.5 USD a day,” Paula states simply. “On the 20th [every month] we must pay 25 USD rent for the land our house is built on. This is difficult to do.” Paula and her husband collect plastic bottles and beer bottles to sell for income. On a good day, they can earn about 4-5 USD, but when it rains the couple can’t work. Their house has no toilet, because the landlord won’t allow them to build one, and no running water, so they buy it from a neighbor for another 5 USD a month.

“I have nothing, except Jesus,” Paula says. “I will believe and follow God until I die because when I am sick, God heals me; and through other people God helped us to build a new house when [ours] fell down.” The dichotomy of this 38-year-old’s life is that she literally has nothing, and thought the sorrow of not being able to feed her children sometimes is in her eyes, there is also a joy that flashes across her face when she smiles.

Mercy Teams International desires to see Paula and her family, and others just like them, not just fed and sheltered, but discipled deeper in their faith, so that no matter how fierce the winds blow, they will have a deep foundation on Christ’s love.

Currently MTI is looking for people who are passionate about serving the physical and spiritual needs of the poor and marginalised in Cambodia. This could be as part of the social work team, in a role that walks along-side these communities to provide counselling and care.

*names changed for security reasons

A young boy and his mother and grandmother sit in the kitchen area below their bamboo and tin home, that MTI Cambodia built for them.

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