Cambodia, it’s all about Jesus and elephants

In 4 months a group of us will be headed to Phnom Penh, Cambodia on the Steps Of Justice Cambodia outreach. I was talking about Steps Of Justice to a friend a while ago and what makes it something that is worth following and  being a part of. The answer that we came up with is Jesus. Now that seems like a pat answer and it is. What goes with that answer though is what makes all the difference. As followers of Jesus we want to see the world made whole and come into relationship with Him. Everything we do has to be about Jesus, Jesus in us and Jesus in others.

A while back someone commented on this blog about how it is a waste of time, resources and energy to take people on short term trips. Coming from me, someone who has been taking people on trips like the Cambodia one for the past 15 years, I adamantly disagree. Why do I disagree? Well, because doing these trips is one way that we can journey with Jesus. This trip that we are doing to Cambodia is most likely going to cost you $2000 USD for 14 days or so. That is a lot of money, but we are going to spend that same amount of money on something else if we don’t spend it on this.

My father in law just drove 35 people down from Canada to Los Angeles for 2 weeks. They went to Disneyland, Seaworld and the zoo. The price of this trip was $1,650 for adults and $900 for kids, this price did not include food or shopping for the 2 weeks. These people spent a ton of money on themselves (I am not downplaying Disney or spending money on ourselves, just stating a fact). They had no reservation on whether or not it was going to be worth it, or a wise investment of their money (well maybe some did), most likely they got excited about their family doing this trip and they sacrificed and saved and went.

If people are willing to pay $1,650 on a 2 week trip to Disneyland, then how much more should we be willing to pay for a trip to Cambodia in order to learn, grow and share the love of Jesus. For me, this is the investment. For those of us going on this trip, we are going to encounter Jesus in new and fresh ways that we have never encountered Him before. We are going to hear Jesus speaking to us out of those living in extreme poverty and those whose lives are intensely different from ours.

We are also going to bring the love of Jesus to a people that are called and chosen by him. We are going to bring light, love, hope and a fresh joy to the people of Cambodia. To me, this is a wise investment of ours and other’s money. For those of us raising support for this trip, be encouraged, God will be with you. This is something close to God’s heart and mind. For those of you supporting people to go on this trip, be encouraged. You are a part of us, you are a part of what God is going to do in and through us in Cambodia. Oh, and we will also see elephants.

This is what sets us apart, we live, breathe and act out of our love and passion for Jesus and as a result we will see our lives changed and be the change that Jesus wants to see in the world. Thanks to those of you who are coming with us to Cambodia this summer with Steps, and please keep us in your prayers if you are not.

If you would like to apply for the trip go here and if you have any questions email Phil.



Photo by Vanessa Hadford


  1. Marcus Clifton

    Love it bro!

    I have been asked this a few times now as I have been taking our group to Seattle and now going to Costa Rica. Our church has a stretched “tight budget” so to some, the idea of spending $19,800 to go to Costa Rica sounds lutacris. That is 5 times our yearly youth budget.

    One person I talked with, did MA Seattle back in the Late 80’s or early 90’s. They also went to Mexico. Their experience was it was a waste. Others I have talked to talk about how you cannot accomplish much over a week or two. That the trips just become exploitive. They are just a trip to make christians feel better about all their eratic spending and wasting…

    I think in a sense, those are all true. There are short term missions that are not done well. There are some people that attend them and nothing changes. One of the biggest factors to me is how they are done. If they are trips that reveal brokeness that is hidden, that connect with long term workers who are effective, and are all about Jesus and not ourselves.

    To me what makes Steps Of Justice Trips powerful, nessassery and in my opinion better than most is this:It offers a real applicable doable step against injustice. Those opportunities are so rare! You can actually spend 2 weeks doing something about something awful. Your not just making a bunch of kids smile so you feel good, but trying to teach them that God loves them and to not let tourist use them for sex! You learn first hand issues that are not covered on the news, not talked aobut and not prayed about. As each person goes and learns these things it will change how they live their everyday life forever, and they can talk about these undercover issues in a real way with others. The more there is real awareness, the better chance we have of things changing. perhaps these trips will help churches change from spending 0%-2% of their budget on adressing injustice issues and actually spend some of the billion $ the church has on the issue.

    The only way my church will change from 2% mission giving to more is by spending $20,000 to go to Costa Rica. In the end, way much more will be given to the need long-term workers.

    my prayers are with you all who go on this trip. Very jelous to not be with you. Perhaps in 2014… Marcus

  2. philter

    Thanks Marcus, yea I agree that it is hard to find a trip that isn’t about the kids. I mean, maybe we should call some of these trips by a different name other than a mission trip. Maybe it would be a cross cultural Jesus experience. We are trying to do both as we realize that people will meet Jesus when they go, but it is so much more than that, and it is for the local people we are going to spend time with.

  3. Jon

    What a disgusting bunch of people you all are. You are no different from sex tourists who pay $30 to fuck a prostitute. It’s all exploitation for personal gain. In the case of the sex tourist, it’s an orgasm. In your case, its conversion. You are going there for you, not them.

  4. philter

    Morning Jon, Phil here. I write and work with Steps of Justice. I am going to try and respond to your outrageous comment in the most honoring way I can, but to be honest It is ridiculous that you would compare giving life to someone with taking life from someone? To talk about it from a fact perspective, where in the post or anywhere on this site does it talk about conversion? I don’t see it anywhere, and I write 90% of the content. We are not going to convert people, we are going to work with local Cambodians who care about the poor and oppressed We are doing nothing on our own, as we don’t understand the culture or the people as much as a local, so we partner with them in the work/service they are already doing.

    We care that people are free. Free from slavery and extreme poverty. Why do we do it? Simply because we value human life and we are followers of Jesus, who created all equal and so all should have life. We nor any other faith based NGO in Cambodia frees people under any conditions that they respond, no, we free people so that they can be free. If they are a Buddhist, Christian, Satan worshipper, it doesn’t matter.

    Finally, I apologize for anyone in the church who has hurt you to the point of comparing raping a women with showing someone that Jesus loves them,

  5. pippo

    Do you really know how short term volunteers trip affect local communities? Do you really know amauters aid volunteers can do more harm than good? the point from Jon is very simple: you adore thinking you are saving the world, even if the world DID NOT ask you to be saved.

    Be more humble. Use those 2000$ to PROFESSIONAL aid agencies. If i remember correctly, Jesus like more who prays and fasts without letting the other people noticing.

  6. Phnom Penny

    I am by no means an expert on Cambodia, but I have lived here for 1.5 years. In that time I’ve learned that Cambodia is not ‘all about Jesus.’ At all. It’s actually about Buddhism, Islam and Animism, to give you some examples.
    While you’ve not mentioned conversion, I sincerely hope it is not your plan to in any way try and shovel the word of your god down people’s throats here. Also, Jesus doesn’t live here. You won’t hear him talking to you through the mouths of ‘those living in extreme poverty.’
    Instead of spending $2,000 coming here for two weeks (which, in my opinion, is enough time for the people on the trip to feel good about themselves, but will do nothing for Cambodia or its people in the long term or short term, for that matter) how about just donating all that money to one of the organisations that have been doing incredible work here for a long time, like Friends International, (who I see you get in touch with when here) for example?
    I also notice that you ‘hang out’ at an orphanage that cares for children with HIV/AIDS. While this may be well-meaning, if you are aware of Friends, you should be aware of their ThinkChildSafe campaign: which strongly discourages people just dropping in to orphanages. Again, this is just a way of making you feel good. You’re not considering how those children feel when strangers drop in and out of their lives.

    All I can see here is that this trip is all about you. What you will see, what you will do, you you you you you.
    In the time I’ve been here, what I’ve learned more than anything is that this incredible country is not about any of us outsiders who have come here to contribute to its development. It is not about us at all. It’s about the people of this country and how, at a grassroots level, they want to change it themselves. I think you guys are getting it so wrong before you’ve even arrived at the departure lounge.

  7. BJ

    Perhaps you could replace the orphanage tour with a visit to the Cambodian Tourism Authority instead?

    ‘Cambodia: it’s all about Jesus and elephants’ is a rad tourism slogan, much more memorable than ‘Cambodia: Kingdom of Wonder’ I reckon.

  8. philter

    Hey there dudes, thanks for the comments and for stopping by the blog, I really appreciate it. Now to address some of the comments that you 3 have made.

    Pippo, you call it amateur aid, well thanks for judging me man. I have been doing this for 15 years and so I think I have some grasp on it. I have a long way to go, but I am learning. Also, we don’t just roll into town and do our thing. We work with LOCAL CAMBODIANS who understand the culture, the need, the people, the situations, etc. You also say that the world isn’t asking to be saved. Well, neither is the baby who is about to be aborted, or the person with mental issues who is about to take his/her own life, but you can be damn sure that I am going to try to save them, and so are you if you value life. If there is truth out there, the truth that Jesus loves every person and wants them to have life full, including being freed from sex trafficking, extreme poverty and slavey then I feel a responsibility to engage with that truth. It is not about converting people, but giving hope and love.

    Phnom Penny, I think it is great that you have been in Cambodia for 1.5 years. It is a great place, and that is why I keep going back. I have some dear Cambodian friends, all of whom I work with. I am curious, how did you end up in Phnom Penh? My assumption and my understanding is that most organizations, including Friends International came to Cambodia for a short time and decided to stay. We are not going to feel good about ourselves, we are going to learn and to be a part of peoples lives. We are not going to convert people, but to serve and stand along side the people slugging it out day after day. I understand that we are gone in two weeks, and there are people like you who are staying long term, I think that is great and we come to encourage, support, help and serve the long term workers. I would love to hang and get a coffee or beer when we are over there, I can get you my info if that is something you would like to get together and talk more about.

    BJ, thanks for the comment. I didn’t mean that Cambodia is all about Jesus, I know that they are 95% Bhuddist. I meant that we are all about Jesus, those going on the trip. Thanks for the sarcasm though, made me laugh.

    Cheers all, hope we can chat more on this, I am learning and you are helping me think. Oh, if you are looking for a good book on Helping and how it can do more harm than good check out When Helping Hurts. ALso, Friends has great food Phnom Penny, maybe we can meet there as we spend time with them hearing from their staff and students who work there.


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