During my periodic morning runs this month, I’ve encountered two adorable little Cambodian twin girls. They are the cutest things EVER and they always shout to me kilometers before I even get close. At first, they were quite hesitant to come close to me, but after I taught them how to do “Hi-Fives” (which is ”Hi-Foon” in Cambodian) they quickly overcame their shyness and have become quite accustomed to the early morning visits from their white-skinned sweaty friend. (And let me tell you, Cambodia’s hottest month of the year sure is sweaty!)
One day, I brought my camera to take pictures, and was invited by the mother to sit with their family in their yard. Developing countries are very community-centered, so this was an open invitation for all other neighboring children to come as well. They were fascinated by my digital camera with the fancy red covering and many tiny buttons. I started a conversation with their mother, who spoke decent English, but we kept getting interrupted by the incessant cry from the girls to take more pictures. Really, who can say “no” to these adorable little children of God?
One day, I picked up two small polka-dotted headbands at the market and carried them to the girls on my run. Of course, when I arrived, this meant that we had another big photo shoot with the newest addition to their wardrobes (you can see their mother off to the right)
We then just sat and enjoyed each other’s company, speaking in broken English but having a good time…until the mother popped the question:
“Do you want to buy them?”
Everything in me stopped cold. Surely I didn’t hear right. Did she really ask me if I wanted to buy her children? I said, “Excuse me. What did you say?”
She said, “Do you want to buy my daughters? They eat a lot.”
Yes, my deepest fear was right. The mother was offering to sell me her children.
My mind raced. How do you respond to a question like this? What would have to happen to make selling your child ever an option? Somehow her explanation “They eat a lot” didn’t help.
Part of me wanted to judge her, wondering how much she really loved her children to give them away to a stranger. Part of me was curious, and I wanted to ask her how much she would sell them for. And yet when those emotions fell away, I was filled with compassion for a woman in poverty, living in a culture where selling your children is more than a common occurrence.
Cambodia is a poverty-stricken nation, with one-third of the population below the poverty line. This is due in part to the Cambodian genocide in the 1970’s where one-fifth of the population was wiped out due to starvation, disease or overwork. Decades later, it still has not recovered, and some families feel like selling their children is their only option. According to the documentary Nefarious: Merchant of Souls, by the age of ten, 80 to 90% of all girls are sold, many into sexual slavery. It breaks my heart to hear about the way that young girls are treated not as people but as goods in this part of the world.
I realized that, to this young mother sitting in front of me, giving her children to me would allow them to grow up in America and give them a life that she always dreamed of giving them. In her mind, it was the most loving thing she could do.
So how did I respond? I said something like, “Wow, that’s really generous of you, but I’m not ready to have children” and I began to explain why I’m not married yet for about the hundredth time these past eleven months.
And as I type this, I’m just thankful that the love of Christ is the only sure thing in the world – it’s unchanging and unshakable, no matter the circumstances, financial or otherwise. It breaks my heart to hear about the millions of children that are sold every day…yet the only thing I can rest in is my confidence in the fact that nothing can ever separate me from my Father.
“For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38)