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Than Baardson, Published November 21 2012

Letter: We must pass along our gifts

How do we give thanks? We all know the importance of taking the time to stop and be thankful, but is that all there is to it? Is the act of simply saying “thank you” the final product?

One man in Cambodia is demonstrating his gratitude in a country that has been marred by evil and ravaged by the effects of AIDS.

From 1975 to 1978, communist-inspired revolutionaries known as the Khmer Rouge exterminated roughly 2.5 million people in Cambodia during their quest for a utopian society. The genocide, through the use of its child soldiers, crippled this Southeast Asian country and left a gaping wound for its surviving citizens to heal.

Two decades later, 12-year-old Sitha held his siblings close as AIDS slowly consumed their parents. Though the genocide was over, medical supplies, food and education were nearly nonexistent in many parts of the country, and disease was still running rampant.

Sitha soon found himself the only provider for his young brother and sister. He scrounged for food anywhere he could, eating bark, insects and garbage. He was getting weaker each day, helplessly watching his siblings dying. When his situation looked like it could get no worse, Sinai Phouek found him.

A former child soldier of the Khmer Rouge, Sinai escaped the regime’s brainwashing and fled to the jungle. After a year on the run dodging machine gun fire, landmines and the constant threat of recapture, the war ended. Sinai was free. He went on to graduate with a master’s degree and devoted his life to rescuing the abandoned children of Cambodia, children just like Sitha.

Sitha’s new life at Sinai’s children’s home changed him forever. Sitha had much to be thankful for, but it was not enough to just say “thank you.” He wanted to give the freedom he received to others, so he is now rescuing abandoned children alongside his liberator, Sinai.

Their organization, called New Hope for Orphans, has opened its 11th orphanage, providing hope, education and futures for hundreds of children. Not only are these children given safety, but they are graduating high school and college as well, breaking the cycle of poverty in Cambodia.

Jesus said, “To those who have been given much, much is required.” Sitha was given a new life and is now doing everything he can to pass that gift along. Rather than giving a simple “thanks” this holiday season, what can you do to pass along the gifts you’ve been given? We’ve all been given much, and much is required.

Baardson is executive director of Unseen Ministries, a global team of artists and visionaries who seek to bridge the gap between “unseen” missions groups and those who would support them.