Through a chance encounter, a small group of Palm Beach Atlantic University students on a summer trip to Cambodia likely helped to save a child from a life of slavery, or possibly worse.
The seven students, who were working with a church-based organization in the Southeast Asian country, said they met a man whose family was desperate and impoverished. He indicated he was going to another city and likely would sell his 5-month-old son for the equivalent of $150 cash. Knowing that children in this situation frequently end up as slaves or involved in the sex trade, the students used their personal money to arrange sponsorship for the boy, who has been given the name Joseph and is being legally adopted by a Cambodian pastor and his wife.
The students said they felt that in this situation, they couldn’t stand by and do nothing. In addition to affecting the life of one child during their nearly month-long trip, the students also potentially affected the lives of many other people through their work teaching English to children and praying for people in need.
Gabe Speiller, a sophomore majoring in dance, said that even the translators who worked with the group were eager to talk with them about the Bible. "You could see them growing," Speiller said. "They wanted to know more."
Elementary education major Kaylyn Durrance said she especially enjoyed working with the students in the English camp.
"I want to get other education majors to go," she said.
Cambodia was one of several countries in which teams of PBA students served with host organizations during recent weeks. Students also traveled to China, India, Namibia, Sweden, Spain, Thailand, Trinidad and Uganda.
|PBA student Robbie Andrassy interacts with children in India.|
Like the Cambodia team, the 10-member team that traveled to India encountered firsthand the effects of extreme poverty. The students said it was difficult to witness the treatment of people who are considered outcasts by the country’s traditional caste system.
"We're better off now that we've been there," said Ben Greco, a senior majoring in biblical studies. "We can more fully understand poverty, and therefore understand more fully what God's compassion feels like."
The team was able to visit some neighborhood churches and assist with children’s groups, as well as offering to pray for neighbors they would happen to meet, Lauren Graham, a junior majoring in graphic arts, said shortly after the team’s return to South Florida. Even when there was a language barrier, many of the people who requested prayer would be moved to tears, Graham said.
"It was heart-wrenching and life-changing," Graham said. "You can’t go to a country like that for three weeks and come back unchanged."
In China, 10 PBA students spent part of their trip living and interacting with their counterparts at a university. The students greeted the PBA team with hugs, and the administration gave the visitors the VIP treatment, team members said.
"It was such a big deal to have us come," said cross-cultural studies major Sara Kratz. "I was surprised at how important this was to their university. They took very good care of us."
PBA students spent a week living in residence halls alongside the Chinese university students and teaching conversational English. They said many of the Chinese students seemed open to prayer and discussions of worldview and culture.
"I didn’t expect to be that close to my roommates after just one week," freshman music major Derek Gover said.
In addition to the university visit, the team also spent time in another city volunteering at an orphanage and at a special coffeehouse that gives local students a place to meet others and practice English, the students said.