Last night we had dinner with our missionary friends Beth and Stephen at Lotus Blanc in Phnom Penh. They have been working in Cambodia with an organization which seeks to rescue women and young girls caught in the cycle of poverty and prostitution that forms the seedy underbelly of Cambodia’s tourist trade. You see these creeps all the time on the streets over here: fat bellied, balding Westerners leading some poor Cambodian waif down the street like a lamb to the slaughter. Every once in while the government secures a conviction against one of these sexual predators, but for every one convicted there are a hundred that get away.

The only real solution is to provide a decent income that doesn’t depend upon such desperate measures. That is what this restaurant and many other street level businesses and ministries do. Beth and Stephen are part of that process of emancipation from sexual slavery, and it was our privilege to share a meal with them and talk about things of mutual interest.

They are from our neck of the woods, Southwestern Ontario, and are of a similar age and experience to ourselves. Like us they find it difficult to find friends at home that share their interests. They are happy to talk about their neighbour’s golf scores and the game on television last night, but when the conversation turns to the needs of the unfortunate in far off places in the world, their friend’s eyes glaze over and their manner becomes distinctly chill. This is something we face every time we go home as well. Our family and close friends are understanding, but there are so many who just don’t get it and treat us like we are some kind of rare and unmentionable disease.

Pam shared with us the story of an acquaintance of hers who confessed a desire to serve the Lord in a foreign land, but felt that it was quite out of the question as she happened to like her children and grandchildren! In her mind the absence of such feelings fully explained Pam’s bizarre behavior in living halfway around the world. I am glad I was not privy to that conversation for I would have not had my wife’s grace in turning the other cheek!

Beneath the humour and the shared camaraderie, the thankfulness for email, Facebook, Skype and other forms of electronic communication, lies the heartache of being so far away from those we love. It is a situation that every missionary faces, no matter how well they are supported by those at home. Pam hides her grief as well as she can, for she knows that her happiness or lack of it weighs on me terribly. For myself? Well, I am a man, and we males compartmentalize pretty well, so I just keep those feelings buried as best I can. If I stopped to think of how much I am missing of my children’s and grandchildren’s lives, I wouldn’t be able to carry on.

In an eternity yet to come, we will share with our children and grandchildren all that we have missed. We will listen to their laughter and share in their joy and adventure. Christ will wipe away every tear, and heal every sorrow. He will affirm His call on our lives and explain patiently to those who condemn our service to Him that it was not callous disinterest in our families that brought us here, but an act of love and devotion to Him, and to a hurting world. And perhaps we will see how our own sorrowing hearts have been made more useful to Him in reaching those He loves in South-East Asia.