Eric Henderson says he’s praying to be emptied. Cissy Prewitt says she hopes to be able to show her daughters how fortunate they are. While they express it in different ways, both have a common goal as they set out for Cambodia tomorrow: to touch the lives of young people through the Hard Places Community organization. Henderson and Prewitt join U.S. Director and Fondrenite Drew Mellon along with eleven others for a 10 day mission trip sponsored by Fondren Church.
Founded in 2008 by Mellon’s sister, Allison Mellon, Hard Places is a restorative and preventive care program that serves children in, among other programs, a boys center in Phenom Phen. The group aims to rescue boys and girls, ages 3-16, who are caught up in exploitation. Hard Places teaches them basic skills, affirming them as human beings worthy of a better life. Mellon says trips like these help to support that mission.
“A big part of who we are and what we do is to have groups come,” he says. “We have people 365 days a year, pouring themselves out, but it’s good to have people from out of country who can take some of the load off and encourage our workers.” Visitors also bring their gifts and talents with them.
Henderson, 24, of Jackson, and Prewitt, 51, of Madison, will conduct Vacation Bible School style programs including skits and plays, something right up Henderson’s alley. “I’m a musical theater major,” he says gleefully, as Cissy explains his glittered costumes made by her two daughters, also going on the trip.
Before that can happen, though, Mellon says a field trip is in order. “We’ll take them to the Killing Fields Museum and a prison camp where over two million people were slaughtered,” he explains. “I think it’s important to see those things first for perspective. It helps you understand what (Cambodians) have dealt with for 30 or 40 years.”
Prewitt says watching documentaries and reading up on the country informed her decision to answer Mellon’s call in church some month’s ago. “Drew stood up, and I knew it,” she remembers. That’s where I want to go.” Her daughters who were sitting elsewhere in the room came straight to her and said the same. “We signed up and we’re excited, but I know it will be hard and eye opening.”
Henderson said his pull toward Cambodia started at a young age. “As a kid, I always sought justice and thought right should be done,” he says. “I saw Angelina Jolie adopt a kid from Cambodia, and, as I got older, Cambodia stayed on my heart.” Henderson says before a meeting with Fondren Church pastor, Robert Green, he didn’t know about Hard Places. “At the church’s Superbowl party, Drew announced this trip and I said ‘This is from God’ and was like ‘Justice and Cambodia. Done.’”
But what can the average person can do? “People ask what we need and right now, it’s full time staff,” Mellon says. What that really means is money. “For a long time, I didn’t want to be the guy asking for money. But the more I met with non-profits, I realized you have to have it.”
Hard Places has twenty Cambodian employees who are paid a good wage but only a few actual social workers. In looking at opening a girls center in the near future, there is a need to double the staff. Mellon encourages you to donate online with a one time or recurring gift. There is even a program to sponsor a staff member, corresponding with them and providing assistance in paying their wage. Mellon says “We can’t do anything without people.”
As they prepare to depart, Henderson says he’s one to believe you can only give what you have in abundance so he’s praying to be full. “I want to give all of myself to this work.”