Sunday, March 14, 2010

First Impressions

I just arrived in Phnom Penh, and after being warmly greeted by Brian
McConaghy and Beth Davis-Lauer of Ratanak, am sitting in my hotel

Some thoughts:
- it is HOT! I knew in advance that it was going to be hot and humid,
but... it's hot! ... and humid!
- Southeast Asia loves their motorcycles. We were driven to the hotel
in a van and there were huge flotillas of motorcycles and mopeds and
everything in between, weaving in and out of traffic. I've only seen
three people on one moto so far, but I know from stories and previous
experience that that number can be much larger!
- Traffic rules are guidelines - malleable guidelines.
- Apparently there is not a universal set of rules for crossing the
street. In Vancouver, you wait for a gap and then dash accross. Here
in Phnom Penh, you look for a small gap then calmy meander accross,
traffic whizzing past on either side. The person crossing the street
takes a small island of calm with them, as traffic shifts around them.
I had it put to me this way: "Well, when they see a concrete post,
they won't drive into a concrete post. So when they see you, they
won't drive into you!"... OK.
- The Khmer Rouge genocide has profoundly marked this country, and
everyone in it. I got to talking with a friendly Khmer man in Taipei
airport - he was a Calgarian, but had quite the backstory. He was
returning to Cambodia to visit the few members of his extended family
that had survived Pol Pot; both his parents and many close family
members had been killed and he had only fairly distant relatives left.
He also spoke openly to me about escaping to Vietnam and coming to
Canada as a refugee with the Boat People, and how he came to Canada
and worked in a coal mine. I think it's telling that the first
Cambodian I met had a story like this. While this backstory may seem
remarkable to us, I get the feeling that only the good parts of it are
really extra-ordinary.
- That having been said, I'm excited! I'm excited to see and
experience new things, but I am am mostly excited to serve God and
these people.


Edit and addition:
It's time I bed down for the night (5:30 AM wakeup call!) but I have a
few more thoughts. After I finished typing out that last paragraph, we
visited Toul Slang Prison/Genocide Museum. I don't think I do those
who suffered in either WWII or the Cambodian civil war an injustice in
calling it the Auschwitz of Cambodia. Formerly a highschool, this
complex in the middle of Phnom Penh was converted into a death camp
when the Khmer Rouge took over. People estimate that 12-18000 people
went through Toul Slang. We know of only 7 survivors. This horrible
place was a startling reminder of the harsh truth of Cambodia's recent
history. It was still in suprisingly good (if that is the right word)
shape: there were blood splatters on the ceiling, roughly mortared
brick cell walls, and barbed wire fences. It was absolutely shocking -
a sobering introduction to Cambodia.

And yet. If that was all, it would be depressing. But God works even
though this. The former superindendant of Toul Slang, Duch, currently
in a huge national war crimes trial, is, startlingly, amazingly, a
FORGIVEN brother in Christ. He has plead guilty to all charges and
made abundantly clear that he is willing to face the penalty. Even
greater, in a trial covered by the national media, he has publicly
professed faith in Jesus and his forgiveness. Wow. In a country which
needs forgiveness in a way we cannot even understand, forgiveness is
being preached and debated on national airwaves!

This story is only the most high-profile of many that are around. The
forgiveness shown here by Christ is, to be honest, scary! This
instance in particular brings out the depth of what forgiveness
actually means - talk about "mighty to save!". We'd do well to think
about that.

I think this ends on the same note as it did last time I closed the
laptop: I'm excited!


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