A desire to serve God in a more intimate way inspired five Wickenburg residents to journey across the world, offering people of Southeast Asia badly needed medical and dental attention.
Traveling with the Christian Life Foundation (CLF) based in the Philippines, Roger Rose, Scott Ames, Ray Brill, Jeane Soumie and Victoria Coffman spent two weeks setting up clinics in villages scattered across Vietnam and Cambodia.
Rose, a local pharmacist, has been a part of the CLF mission trips for many years, traveling extensively to the Philippines, but this was his first Southeast Asian trip, and the first for the others.
“In Vietnam we were based out of Ho Chi Minh City,” said Soumie, “but did also spend several days in Dalat, which was a six hour bus ride into the mountains. In Cambodia we were based in Phnom Penh and drove from our hotel to a different location every day.”
According to Brill, a normal day was long, with the group grabbing an early breakfast then meeting in the lobby of a hotel to load up medical supplies on the transportation of the day and caravanning, sometimes for hours before they arrived in a village to unload the equipment and set up shop.
The group traveled with two doctors – one from Brazil and the other from the Philippines. There were two dentists as well, and by the end of the day, the group would see an average of 60 to 80 men, women and children. One day there were 200 that received attention.
“They’d see a doctor who would evaluate them,” said Rose. “He’d write a prescription – usually antibiotics – then they’d go to the pharmacy. They’d also get Tylenol, vitamins and we’d distribute candy to the kids, and adults.”
Brill and Ames assisted the dentist and provided simple procedures, like pulling teeth.
One village in Cambodia had never had a dental visit, and many of the children throughout the area had never seen a Caucasian. Children and adults were intrigued with their skin and hair. Because Asians don’t have a lot of bodily hair, the villagers were fascinated by the long hair on the men’s arms, and would slowly approach and touch them.
“They were so happy – always smiling,” said Soumie, “even though they were in such poverty.”
According to Ames, 99 percent of Cambodians are Buddhist, and 97 percent of Vietnamese are Atheists. Because Vietnam is still a communist country, the group had to be sensitive about sharing the Gospel.
“There are Christian churches there, but once you’re out of church there is no talking about the gospel outside,” said Rose, who had hoped to share more openly. “But what the trip did was open the door to make contacts so there can be future outreach.”
In addition to medical supplies, the group brought clothing and quilts.
“In one very rural area in Cambodia, we passed out flip flops, loaves of bread and supplies for the children,” noted Soumie. “Many of the people there had walked several miles to come that day.”
During the two-week stay, the five were immersed in the culture, tasting new foods, experiencing congested roads and marveling at motor scooters weaving through the city, with up to four people hanging on; and the children…curious and happy. Brill’s favorite part of the trip was interacting with them.
One site that made a lasting impact was Choeung Ek, outside Phenom Phen, also called Prison S-21, the most famous of the Killing Fields. It was there that the Khmer Rouge regime killed and buried masses of Cambodians during the Cambodian genocide that massacred millions.
According to the group, the Killing Fields Museum was difficult to see, and while walking around the actual field, they could still see pieces of bone, teeth and cloth exposed from recent rains.
“It was sad,” remembered Rose.
All are glad they were a part of the mission trip, and speak of returning in the future.
“One thing we realized,” said Ames. “People are people – there are language and culture barriers, but people are the same.”
As far as going back, Soumie summed it up in six words.
“I’d go again in a heartbeat,” she grinned.