Couple returns from mission trip to Cambodia with desire to help

JOHNS ISLAND — Tom and Lorraine McDermott brought a message back from Cambodia that they shared with Holy Spirit Church on Palm Sunday.

That message, McDermott said was, “the Lord needs you.”

The McDermotts traveled to Cambodia March 3-17 with the mission team Friends Across Borders, which is a program of the Maryknoll Lay Missioners.

Maryknoll brings people to areas such as Cambodia to help them understand and spread the word about the realities of mission countries, according to its Web site.

“The reality is that everybody is impoverished,” Lorraine said. “The government is incredibly corrupt, the living conditions are horrible. I have worked in (poor areas) my entire life and I have never seen such poverty.”
Her husband concurred.

During their 15-day trip, the couple saw sights they could not put into words. They saw life along the Mekong River, hundreds of homeless children, the Tuol Sleng torture center and a killing field where victims’ bones poke through the earth.

“It made me sick to my stomach,” Tom said.

It also compelled him to share his experience and plead with fellow Catholics to do whatever they can to help.

“I’m embarrassed,” he said. “When you see people living in the opulence that I live in and then there are people living on a garbage dump.”

Cambodians scavenge for food and any items they might be able to sell at the Stung Meanchey garbage dump. Tom said his group visited there and tried to help, but it is a daunting task.

“It is a country that was pushed back to the Stone Age by the Khmer Rouge,” Lorraine said.

The Khmer Rouge was the Communist party that ruled Cambodia from 1975 to 1979. The regime arrested and eventually executed almost everyone suspected of connections with the former government or with foreign governments, as well as professionals and intellectuals.

Some of the projects under the direction of Maryknoll include the Deaf Development Program; Wat Than, which is a training center for the disabled; and a multitude of programs geared toward children.

Lorraine said one of the most pervasive ills in Cambodia is AIDS. She attributes this to the fact that prostitution is legal and visiting prostitutes is accepted behavior. Karol & Setha — which is a Khmer acronym for Knowledge and Reflection on Life and Sexuality through a Holistic Approach — is trying to change these ingrained behaviors, she added.

She encouraged people to go to Cambodia to spread Christianity, not through words but through action.

“It is exhausting but exhilarating,” Tom said. “Go there. Teach. Teach English. Be a nurse. Be there to help the children.”

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