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Creation Care Retreat in Ratanakiri

Students share their opinions and reflections during the retreat

On April 4-8, 2024, Mission Dove Cambodia hosted a Leadership Club retreat for 30 teens and young adults on Bophal Yos-Maher’s farm in Ratanakiri, about 300 miles northeast of Phnom Penh. The theme of theme of this retreat was caring for the environment, which is vital to both our emotional and physical health.


This retreat is part of Mission Dove’s larger efforts to support vulnerable youth from the neighborhood as they navigate challenging family situations and seek to become part of the healing of a hurting world. Thank you for being part of this work!


Bophal’s farm and the community forest were places where diversity met biodiversity. Our group of 30 campers represented male and female teens at risk, LGBTQ youth, persons with disabilities, 3 Cambodian young adult leaders, and 3 international advisors/interns. Just over half would identify as Christian in some way.

"I had never set up a tent before, and it was challenging and fun! I experienced a campfire for the first time in my life too," said Srey Roth, an 18-year-old participant.
Students worked together to set up their tents--a first for many of them

Gone were the noises, traffic, smells, pollution, and busyness of the city, all replaced by quiet, stillness, wildlife, wide open spaces, rolling hills and multiple shades of green, mixed with dry-season brown. The 102 F heat was a shock so during the afternoon they cooled off in the farm’s irrigation system.


Later on the first day, the participants learned about recent national disasters caused by abrupt changes in weather patterns. They wrapped up the day with a campfire discussion highlighting the American environmental hero Rachel Carson and Cambodian environmental activist Chut Vuthy.


Students walk in silence and reflect on what they see and hear

The next day, to beat the heat, the gang was on the road by 7 am to the community forest, a designated protected area that was granted through the incessant urging of a foreign missionary in the mid-90s. Upon arrival by motorcycle-carts, the participants were given an assignment to walk in silence and carefully observe the recently burned section of the community forest as they trekked 3.5 kilometers to the ranger station. There the group listened to the 2 ethnic-minority Forest Protectors share about the many challenges they face to protect the forest from illegal logging. One third of the community forest has been lost through encroachment by local plantation-owning tycoons.

"I felt a bit strange walking in the forest and hearing the calls of birds that I never hear in Phnom Penh. I saw many trees and a lot of good scenery, but I was discouraged to see that people set the forest on fire as an excuse to cut down and steal trees that belonged to the community forest," wrote one participant in her reflection on the retreat.


Students gather to listen to the Forest Protectors share about illegal logging in the community forest

Other activities during the retreat included small groups competing in an environmental scavenger hunt on the farm, creating proverbs, and visiting surrounding farms to observe agricultural practices. Also, one early morning on the farm, individuals were sent off--without phones--to an isolated spot to just listen for the voice of nature or God with their 5 senses, to see through the eyes of their soul. This was new to many, but each profited according to the level of their maturity.


The last day at lunch, they broke camp, and headed out to a natural Crater Lake for a swim to cap off their time before catching their night bus back to the big city.


Students share their reflections in small groups

Throughout the reflection times on the retreat, students articulated various emotions they felt as they learned about the environmental situation in Cambodia. These included shock, grief, mourning, anger, regret, and remorse over the environmental losses.


However, the young people felt motivated to change too. Their suggestions for action including being involved in advocacy and education, changing their own lifestyles, creating projects to clean up the environment, and enlisting young people to do Creation Care.

"I learned a lot and saw a lot of real life examples in the forest and from observing poor agricultural practices on nearby farms. When I go home, I am committing myself to cut back heavily on the use of plastic and plan to participate in planting trees and caring for the environment when I can," reflected one teen participant.

Thank you for your support for Mission Dove Cambodia that allows retreats like this to happen! With your support, young people are learning about critical social issues and reflecting on what role they can take in being healing agents in society.


To make a donation to continue to support this work, please give online through our US partner, Mission Dispatch. 


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