The Moral Values workshop that we spent so much time praying and planning for is now over and it is impossible for me to put my feelings into words. We started out the week getting to know a lovely group of very well educated and committed Cambodians. Their hope was that their minds would be opened up to the impact that moral values have on the health of individuals, families and their country.

Throughout the week we used the illustrations of a dying “Tree of Despair” with evil roots and a flourishing “Tree of Hope” with roots of strong moral values. We stressed the need to dig out these sick roots and plant strong roots of right living and good moral values. Initially their concerns were all about the corruption, poverty, loss of family and cultural values, and their inability to address the despair that they and their families live with. With each new lesson, we saw the excitement grow and the vocabulary change. Rapidly they went from describing the family as a rigid structure with room for nothing but meeting physical needs to an understanding that the home needs to be a place where children learn about love, kindness, respect, forgiveness, faithfulness, responsibility and can develop a strong sense of self and the ability to resist temptation.

Another recurring theme was the process of character development: knowing what is good, desiring what is good, and practicing the good until finally it becomes a habit. Each lesson began with a role play or story, which everyone loved, followed by a set of questions designed to draw out the principles of the lesson. Joseph was such a big hit that Bill had to revise a lesson so that he could finish the story the following day. Small group discussions were then used to bring out the desired understanding and the learners really enjoyed this participatory approach and the respect for their own knowledge.

They told us that these words were not new to them. They had heard them all before, but just had no idea what they meant or how to apply them. Some of the concepts really challenged the way the Cambodian society functions. In one session we used the story of the woman caught in adultery and created a real stir when we suggested that the man involved may have in some way been at fault. The concept that children are entitled to be respected by adults was also pretty new. At the end of each session the participants wrote a personal application in a journal- one thing that they intended to change in their own life or family.

During the wrap up session the Executive Director challenged the staff to apply this to their own lives, begin to spread it to others in the workplace and integrate these lessons into the training for Volunteers and Peer Educators. With over 750 staff and 20,000 volunteers that is a huge task, but Dr. Vathiny said “we can do this now because we have a Tree of Hope”. One of her final comments was that Christianity is very rational and makes a lot of sense. Our prayer is that she and many others will continue to search for this hope. Thank you so much for your prayers for us this week. It has been an amazing journey.