What have the King of Cambodia, Angelina Jolie and 11 ordinary people from Garstang Free Methodist church got in common?
They were all in Siem Reap, Cambodia recently, although not all for the same reason.
Angelina was there to premier her latest film ‘First They Killed My Father’; the King had come to see it – and her.
The team from Garstang just happened to be there, negotiating their roadblocks and security, on a two-week mission to the country that has suffered so much during and since the 1970s Pol Pot regime the film depicts.
Working alongside some remarkable people in Cambodia for the long term, seeking to rebuild and strengthen this beautiful country, the team met many people who had been directly affected by the era of the ‘killing fields’.
One of the translators shared how his mother’s first 10 children had all been killed during Pol Pot’s brutal regime either directly by Khmer Rouge soldiers or through the starvation their ideology created.
He and his sister, both born in a Thai refugee camp, were her only surviving children.
Another person the team spent time with has written a book, ‘The Tears of My Soul’ about surviving the terrifying madness of those years but losing 13 members of his immediate family, including both his parents and all but one of his siblings.
As a refugee to Canada he studied theology and psychology and is now back in Cambodia helping other traumatised survivors and working to minimise the effects on later generations.
Indeed, despite unimaginable tragedy and loss the country is remarkable with many NGOs and faith groups giving sacrificially to help the ongoing process of rebuilding the once broken society.
Three members of the team took part in a motorcycle medical mission into the depths of the Cambodian jungle where they ministered to the physical needs of those who would otherwise struggle to get any medical help.
Others went to a drug rehabilitation centre where they met people, even as young as 12, struggling with addiction.
Others worked with schools and church groups, teaching, giving English lessons and playing with children cared for by people full of love who are passing that on to little lives who would otherwise know little hope.
Others were able to do practical building projects that helped provide safe spaces for the precious little lives to grow and flourish in.
Team leader, Pastor John Sainsbury, said: “This trip has been one of the very best things I have ever done.
“Meeting the extraordinary people we did and seeing how they live so sacrificially, sharing both their faith in Jesus and everything they own, with those in need was a tremendous challenge to both myself and the whole team.”
The team included David Ronson, 46, from Garstang, who had never left the UK before, and John said: “I was incredibly proud of the way David handled this new experience and how he served so wonderfully in every new situation. The whole team did an absolutely magnificent job and had life-changing experiences every day.”
He concluded: “Now we need to live in the light of it at home. Mind you, I wasn’t so keen on leaving the 33 degree heat of Cambodia and returning to Manchester 24 hours later to a 30 degree drop.”
The Cambodia Team is the third of six the Free Methodist church is sending out this year as part of its ‘Year of International Mission’.
Each group aims to get first-hand experience of life in very different, challenging settings and to share God’s love and help those far less fortunate than themselves.
Teams have already worked with Syrian refugees in Greece, children in Uganda and the church is sending future teams to Ukraine and Senegal.