My day with a Cambodian pastor

May I take you to another near frontier? I have a Cambodian pastor friend, call him Dara, with whom I had arranged to have a bowl of pho and then visit the nearby detention center together. As is typical, the day did not turn out typically.

As we waited for the steaming hot bowl of delicious soup, Dara explained that he was a little late because he was coming from a counseling session in a Cambodian home nearby; the husband and wife have decided to get a divorce. Being Buddhists (as are most Cambodians I believe) the couple would logically call for one of their priests for help; but they don’t want to spend the $500 or so to have a priest come to their house; so they call a Christian pastor, a much cheaper (free) deal!

So off to the detention center we go, making a stop at a seniors residential center in town where Dara needs to provide a copy of his drivers license; he just got hired part time to drive their 15 passenger van for doctor’s appointments.  Yes, many ethnic pastors are bi-vocational, doing their ministry as they can between work commitments. Which leads to the other surprise of the day… but not just yet.

We arrive at the detention center. Dara tells me there are six young men and one woman who are Cambodian detainees inside. We are there to see two of the men. But alas, we are informed that today there are no visitors allowed in. We can come back on even days to see one of the guys, and odd days to see the other; has to do with their classification. So we left and I snapped this picture outside the wall.

pastor in front of detention center
My pastor friend in front of the detention center, where 2,000 detainees are, well, detained.

So I am disappointed but aware that these things happen. But here is the twist in the plan.  I’m ready to head home when Dara says he just got a call from the Regional Justice Center asking if he can be there in 90 minutes to translate for a Cambodian man who is being arraigned. “Do you want to tag along and see what I do?” he asks.  I say, sure. Adventure on the frontier right? Off we go in his car, arrive in the courtroom on time, and sit for 45 minutes; well, I do; Dara is out in the hallway with the lawyer and the Cambodian man sorting things out. I watch and listen to four people being arraigned on DUI charges. One is a young Chinese lady, also following along with help of a translator. (The lady seems disconnected from proceedings, even as she nods her head to indicate she understands and has no question about her rights; I find myself wondering if she refused the breathalyzer because it was foreign and scary to her.)


The case Dara is translating comes and goes in a few minutes. A follow up date is scheduled. I meet the DUI guy in the hallway, and give him a smile and handshake. On the drive back to my car, Dara and I talk about the role of government in punishing evildoers and protecting those who live within the law, a la Romans 13. He expresses appreciation for the U.S. justice system, citing youth back home who are first encouraged to express their dissatisfaction, then rounded up and thrown in the cell for doing so. We muse that this part time translating gig not only helps pay his bills, but helps the justice system work better for those who are charged with violating the law in this strange new country of theirs. And in that sense, his is a very good work to do.

There are amazing brothers and sisters like Dara nearby you. Consider asking if you can spend a few hours, just tagging along. You will see things in a whole new light.

Help me share this story –> Tweet ThisHere’s what happened when I spent some hours with a bi-vocational ethnic pastor.

in front of courthouse
A quick pic in front of the courthouse


Learn about the Tacoma Detention Center here.

World Relief, and excellent organization that helps resettle refugees, has an ongoing ministry in the detention center. Many volunteers are participating. See here to see how it works.

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