It was Wednesday, the 9th of November 2022, at about 2 in the afternoon. The sun was blazing down, a tiny breeze, and you needed sunglasses to keep you from squinting! I was invited to join a group that had just arrived from Vancouver to go to a retreat. The 13 of us squeezed into a 12-seater van, and the journey began. We travelled through some villages and open countryside to the far southwestern Kampot province of Cambodia. As we travelled through Kep, we could see Vietnam just across the waters of the Gulf of Thailand.
We were warmly welcomed in the Arts Cafe, where we had a delicious meal just as the sun set over the waterfront. Another short drive and we reached Shalom Valley Retreat centre and campsite. After the long journey, we soon settled in our rooms. The accommodation was spacious; we were ready for the night after cool showers and chats with my new friends.
An early start for breakfast at 7 am was the norm for the day. Our first session of introductions and sharing gave me an incredible insight into what to expect for the rest of the retreat. It set the scene. This was my first experience in Cambodia. A few days before coming out here, I visited the Tuol Sleng genocide museum in the heart of Phnom Penh. It is the memorial site of the S-21 interrogation and detention centre of the Khmer Rouge regime. It preserves a tragic historical period to encourage visitors to be messengers of peace.
The timing of this retreat was perfect for me because I learnt first-hand from people on the front line of life in the aftermath of this period. I listened to the personal experiences of individuals who had walked difficult paths of hunger, rejection, loss, fear, guilt and shame. People who had then turned their loss to benefit others after learning and accepting the love of a God who cares and forgives. Who had lifted them from tragedy and transformed them into shining lights in the dark corners of suffering. These leaders worked day and night in difficult circumstances making connections and saving people from social challenges. They were focused on improving education in impoverished communities to combat child poverty, human trafficking and poor health, water and sanitation and empowering women.
There was time to learn, share, uplift and pray for each other—a much-needed time for families to spend quality time together. We enjoyed meals together prepared by another dedicated team who served us delicious meals with beautiful smiles. The children took every opportunity to jump into the pool. We heard the splashing and squeals of laughter as they played in the pool while some of the adults watched, talked and enjoyed the coffee made lovingly in the coffee shop.
After a rousing song service, there was time for reflection, led by Pr Ken and Pr Aisling. We learnt about guilt and shame and being our true selves with God’s help. We learnt of the scars and strokes left on us and by us as we travelled along the way. We were able to share in small groups and pray for each other, which helped seal those principles and decide to put them into practice.
Four teams joined in the obstacle games. It was a time to play and work together as a team. To encourage and help each other to join and finish the task. A time to overcome fear and enjoy the results, even if it meant falling into the water and giving a hand to be lifted from the muddy waters!
Being in nature and appreciating God’s creation both at the campsite and our visit to Rabbit island helped us reflect on the blessings of the Sabbath as a time of sweet reflection and gratitude for God’s abundant blessings through the years. A time to appreciate that God carries us in the palm of His hands, although we may not see or feel Him near.
What an enjoyable time to spend with an international group from different walks of life. We were learning, sharing, crying, laughing, and growing together as God's family! Joined hands to support each other and thus making a significant difference in our little dark corner.
By Naomi Watson