big news, part 2

(You’ll need to read Part 1 for Part 2 to make sense.)

So I had just asked Alli if there was anything the girls and I could do to help with The Hard Places Community.

“We don’t want to get in the way,” I say.

“Actually…” Alli says, “we’re looking for a family to move to Siem Reap. To start another center there.” 

Um, excuse me, what??

(Can we pause the blog post for a minute and just sit with this? Because I DID NOT SEE IT COMING.)


Okay. Peek inside my head at that exact moment if you will: Move to Siem Reap?? And START A CENTER?? Yeah, that’s not really what I had in mind. I’m thinking a little missions project we could do a couple mornings a week or something. Teach some English? Read to kids? Organize Legos??

“We rented the house and center back in January,” Alli says. “They’re right beside each other on the same property.”

(Can we pause again? Thanks.)


“A family is living there through the end of the year,” Alli says, “but then they’ll head back to Australia. We need to start the center in January because of the application we filled out for the government. If we don’t start now, we have to wait until 2018.”

(Quick time-out. If you’re unfamiliar with The Hard Places Community, they do many, many things to share hope in dark places around the world. Their biggest ministry in Phnom Penh is to boys ages 3-14 who have been trafficked & abused or are in danger of being trafficked & abused because of their vulnerability–poor families, living on the streets, etc. They also have a smaller girls’ center. And a tour company run by young men who used to work in massage parlors. Gabe teaches photography to the guys on Tuesdays and the boys on Thursdays.)

Back inside my head: Yeah, well, I hope they find someone. It’s not us though. Obviously. We live here in Phnom Penh. This is where our people are. This is what we know. We’ve already transplanted our family once. Can’t uproot ’em again. 

And Siem Reap? Nah. Too far away (about a 6-hour bus ride from Phnom Penh). Too many tourists (if it sounds familiar, it’s because it’s home to Angkor Wat, the world-famous temple). Angelina Jolie is filming a movie there next month. Moving on then.

“It wouldn’t be forever,” Alli says. “Just two years or so to get the center off the ground, and then we’d transfer it over to Khmer staff hopefully.”

I keep listening, but there is a big wall in my mind that I put up when I hear ideas/suggestions that I am most definitely not going to entertain with any kind of seriousness. So the information is going in, but not in in.

She says she had a family in mind to start the center. Friends of ours here. A fun young couple with two small boys who moved to Cambodia the same time we did. (We love these people.) They originally came for six months to take over for Alli while she was doing support-raising in the States, but they’ve extended their ministry here for at least another year, maybe more.

But they have a support system here and lots of opportunities for their boys to play and do things with little friends. And they’ve really gotten in a ministry groove with HPC here and are pretty indispensable. So it’s not really a good fit.

I think I kind of half-smiled, maybe grunted, gave little to no encouragement, and Alli took the cue and moved in a different direction.

“Or there’s another way you can help,” she said.

Yes, please. Let’s hear about that.

She said that on Friday mornings, the HPC staff is going to start going out to different places in the city and talk to kids who are begging on the corners (and their families) and try to get an idea of trafficking that is still going on and where there’s a need for a second center in Phnom Penh.

She said it would actually help that we’re foreigners because the kids are trained to approach us (whether they’re begging or selling stuff). “Khmer people aren’t cool to them,” she said.

So that kind of sounded fun, something we could do without getting in the way. Walk around, meet kids, find stuff out, play games with kids, pray. Just one morning a week, but maybe we could ease into doing more.

Sure! We’re in!

We stayed a little longer, talked more ministry stuff, life stuff, Halloween costume plans (Alli’s kids, not ours), and called it an afternoon.

But then… when we got home?

As you can probably imagine…


EVERY SINGLE DAY I pray and ask God, “What is our purpose here? Two of our girls (Ava and Nina) are dying of boredom and begging for a purpose, and WHAT IS OUR PURPOSE? WHY ARE WE HERE?” I ask him to please please please throw us a bone, give us a sign. We KNOW we’re supposed to be here, but FOR WHAT?


(could this be it?)


(Oh. My. GOSH.)

Is this why our lease is up in January and we’ve been looking for a place to move but haven’t found one?

Is this why we considered moving to the province but didn’t feel right just moving somewhere random…?

Were we here in Phnom Penh to get connected and learn the language, but this is why we haven’t found true community or a ministry to get involved in or a purpose??

But OH MY GOSH, what on EARTH do we know about moving to a new place and starting a BRAND NEW DROP-IN CENTER FOR VULNERABLE CHILDREN?


I had some serious words with God but waited awhile before I said anything to the rest of the fam. When I did, I was a leetle bit shocked at how instantly on board they were.

Ava and Nina: yes! Let’s do it!

Livi: Big yes! (sad to leave youth group & friends & not be able to finish the last module at school, but definitely cool with it)


(well, there will also be children to help and A CENTER TO RUN, but yes.)

Me: Hard and scary, but my goodness THE PURPOSE.

(Be careful what you pray for, people.)

(About four years ago, I prayed that God would motivate my husband to 1.) get healthy and 2.) grow spiritually. And look how that turned out.)

Then Ava had a little change of heart. Beautiful girl. She’s been up against some anxiety and depression and spiritual warfare stuff lately. (would you pray for her?)

“This is moving too fast,” she said, in tears.

We prayed a lot and asked God to calm her fearful heart.

He did.

“I want to do it,” she said a couple days later.

I took a deep breath and texted Alli.

“What would you say if I told you we’ve been thinking a lot about what you said about Siem Reap…?”

Instant reply: “Wow wow wow! We need to talk!”

So, six days after she brought up this whole Siem Reap thing for the first time, we met her at a coffee shop to talk more about it.

And. Oh. My. WORD.

19 thoughts on “big news, part 2

  1. Pingback: big news, part 4 | Marla Taviano

  2. Melinda

    Hmmmm…I love that about praying for purpose. Just that. No big mapping it out for God. No giving him the recipe. Just a prayer for purpose. Very cool. I’m gonna pray that leetle prayer for me!!

  3. Grace

    Praying for you and your family in this decision. My job is working full time with foreign nationals who are trafficking survivors, some children, some adults. It is its own kind of heavy. Prayers for all of you in this, especially for your sweet girls.

  4. Amanda Buss

    Is it tomorrow yet? I’m dying to hear the rest. Man. This is amazing. Praying for you all. Especially your sweet ava.

  5. Lori Mercer

    Your faith is amazing to me. I am so happy for you guys finding a potential for more purpose and all that other good stuff your family needs right now. Your patience….wow! Big hugs and prayers for discernment and clear listening and for believing the immeasurable goodness He wants for you and the people you are serving. God clear and protect this path you have ordained for the Tavianos to give you glory!

  6. Hannah Braswell

    You don’t know me from Adam (or Eve), but I’ve been following your blog for several years mostly because you have a heart for Cambodia. I went on a mission trip there in 2007 and ministered in Siem Reap with a YWAM group. I have secretly whispered prayers that the Lord would lead you to Siem Reap somehow because that place is just special to me. So I’m crying because even though we do not know each other, the Lord has connected us through prayer!

  7. Judy Webb

    Wow, Marla! I was choked up reading. I pray for a heart like yours, a faith that truly expects God to show up. You and your family are amazing. I want to hear more and I am praying.

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