Friday, September 30, 2011

Going Native and 7 New Baptisms

Today Pastor Chantha chose a different location for the baptisms than last year. It was a place recommended by the hotel because it offered more seclusion from the crowded beach that we had gone to yesterday. But getting to this new beach was quite a journey as the bus took the entire group there with the exception of Bunthan, Siny (one of the older disciples) and myself. We were given the task of organizing the lunch. Two hours later we found ourselves in a tuk tuk on a red clay road that created a workout for our internal organs because of all the potholes and the bumps.

 It seem to be an endless road but as we approach the new beach location we passed by a few shacks which I thought was a slum area but actually these were the homes of  fishermen. I am always struck at the conditions that people live in here although one of Pastor Chantha's students noted that despite the dilapidated conditions, that one of them had a high end motorcycle. So, I guess one cannot be fooled by the external appearances.
Homes of the fishermen

Lunch time

Day 2 of our time here and we were eating more seafood similar to yesterday---boiled shrimp, crab and squid. Today I decided to try my hand and go native by not using utensils. Its a fun way to eat actually---its like being a kid again, using your fingers to scoop up the rice and your hands to break the crab and peel the shell off the shrimp. The best part is just putting all these pieces on the table. This is how the Khmer eat which actually is very similar to many Asian countries where the bones and shells or garbage is put on the table. This is not something my proper 'British' upbringing is used to but alas, over here, it makes more sense to eat in such a way. After all, its kinda hard to eat crab in a gracious manner under normal circumstances. All this to say, this is all part of the cultural experience learning to adapt to new ways of eating and even being taught how to break the crab so as to eat all its pieces more efficiently.

Pastor Chantha's students praying before the baptisms

After lunch we began the baptisms and it so happened that my colleague Brian Harper who is heading up Ratanak Australia was here in Sihnoukville teaching at a local bible school. Pastor Chanta invited him to participate as well and so it was a great to have him be apart of such a special occasion. It was once again an amazing experience of seeing 7 young people taking a step of faith, acknowledging that Jesus is their Lord and Savior. Each of their journeys is as unique as their personalities yet some of them have experienced persecution by their parents as they have take a stand to follow Christ.

One young man has been disowned by his parents and they are no longer funding his education. Yet, he is determined to live for Jesus. I am once again humbled by such faith that the Lord produces in people that they forsake all, willing to count the cost and take up their cross to follow the One that promises them eternal life. For me, it was incredibly special  to both pray over and baptize 'Theary'---she may not fully understand the depth of the gospel but she has seen, discovered and encountered enough of it through God's people in just one week to realize that it is indeed good news for her. For God who created her is the God who has chosen her to be a part of His family for such a time as this. She indeed has experience glimpses of the depth, breath and height of God's love in this short space of time, and as she has tasted the 'Lord' through the body of Christ, she wants more of this heavenly bread that has been nourishing her broken soul this past week. During this time, it is apparent that her countenance has changed. She is no longer shy and is becoming more confident in her interactions, finally learning what life with hope looks like. Do continue to pray for her health as Bunthan hopes to take her for some medical tests next week.

Indeed as I think of each of these young people, I think of the Cambodian proverb that I learned from Pastor Chantha. It says the 'second wave will push the first wave out of the way.' What it means is that the next generation (the second wave) will have greater opportunities and resources available to them to make a greater difference than the current generation. For this young generation of Cambodian believers, we pray that they will not be measured, marked shaped and defined by the worst of humanity that can easily engulf them in this environment and which has been so much a part of the history of this nation, rather, we pray that they will live a life worthy of the Lord, pleasing Him in every way, bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, being strengthened with all power according to His glorious might so that they may have great endurance and patience as they seek to build His kingdom in Cambodia. (Colossians 1:10-12)

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Deja Vu! Well Somewhat!

Yesterday afternoon when I returned to Phnom Penh from my mini retreat I got a call from Pastor Chantha inviting me to come to Sihanoukville with him, Bunthan and his 30 plus disciples so that I could help in baptizing 6 new disciples.   For those of you who were following my journey last year, you would recall that I had the incredible privilege of baptizing 28 disciples. These were the first young believers in Svay Pak --- the first fruits,as they were an answered to a prayer that I had made in 2009 when I asked the Lord for Svay Pak as my inheritance. So here again, God in His faithfulness was creating an opportunity again for me to reap where I had not sown. It was another gift to receive from Him. How could I refuse such a privilege of baptizing these new believers? So this morning at 3:45am, three of the disciples came to pick me up in their tuk tuk and whisk me off to Svay Pak as we were leaving at 4:30am to spend the next 3 days enjoying the beach in Sihanoukville courtesy of our partners at AIM who seek to bless their staff with a mini vacation each year.

At that hour of the day, it was quite cool...yes I think I am adjusting to the weather here as I am starting to wear long sleeves in the evening. Its interesting being up at such an hour and observing what is going on in the streets at that time. While most places were closed, we passed a few 'open' stores and I asked why would they be open at such a time. The response was they are open 24 hours and as I took a closer look, I realized what I was actually steering at were brothels. Sex for sale here is truly a commodity just like pumping gas at a 24 hour gas station.

Anyway we arrived after our 4 hour trip and I took off with Bunthan and a couple of the other disciples to the local market. We were in the hunt for our lunch which consisted of  crab, shrimp and squid with steam rice. All the seafood is purchased fresh and then taken to another area of the market where the food is cooked on the spot. This is a seafood lover's delight as the crab and shrimp are steamed and the squid/calamari is sauteed.

Following lunch it was back to swimming. Because the temperatures are a bit cooler --- probably around the 24 degree mark and the skies were overcast, many of Chantha's disciples were feeling quite cold. I love watching what the Khmer wear to swim. A couple of the girls had their fleece hoodies on as they were swimming. Its a new type of bathing suit attire although am not sure how that helps in keeping one warm if you are being soaked all over. But its just neat to observe different cultural norms.
Some of Pastor Chantha's disciples

One of the joys of hanging out in this casual setting is just the chance to have some one on one conversations with whoever is around. One of the youngest disciples is Kunthea (not her real name). She is only 14 years old but looks like 9 years old. I first met Kunthea three years ago when a group of us did a VBS in Svay Pak. She is small but has such depth in her relationship with Christ. When I think of Kunthea, I am reminded of Gideon in the bible when the Lord called him 'a mighty warrior.' Kunthea loves the scriptures and she refuses to eat any food that has been given as an offering to idols in the Buddhist temples or in her own home. Moreover,she refuses to go to the temple with her mother. This is quite remarkable considering that she is Vietnamese and lives in an environment in which kids often feel pressured or obligated to their parents. She is one of the few stories of hope that I see in this  community who seems to have been speared from any abuse that is so prevalent in this brothel village. God is clearly setting her apart for His purposes and as small as she is, she is not intimidated by anyone! She is standing firm in what she believes in.

One of the other joys today was watching 'Theary' (see blog posting on Sept. 23) and Rebecca who is the 6 year old adopted daughter of Pastor Chantha and Bunthan. It was a joy watching Theary be a big sister to Rebecca helping her and playing with her in the swimming pool. Here they are, two former outcasts, unwanted and displaced by their families, but here in this family of God, they are not only welcomed but they are part of the redeemed, discovering God's love through His community and displaying His love and affection towards each other. Indeed the Lord is rebuilding and repaying the years the locusts have eaten from their lives one day at a time!

Tomorrow we will do the baptisms in the late morning. So as you think of the 6 young people who are literally entering into the waters of baptism, pray that the Spirit of God will fall upon them in such a way that their lives will bear and manifest the fruit of the Spirit at all times.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Driving Lesson 101

So Today as I was returning back from a brief two day retreat, my friend Catherine suggested that I try my hand at driving her Toyota RAV 4 back to Phnom Penh. Since we were staying at a local resort located on National Highway Road #1, the road itself was fairly straight. So I thought why not? I might as well begin the journey of learning to drive here as one day I hope that the Lord will provide a car for us to get around as it is becoming more of a necessity here than a luxury. For one thing, it conserves our energy levels on those hot days, you are not inhaling the pollution and diesel fuels as you sit in the open air tuk tuks, it provides safety in the evenings and most of all it is a time saver, unless you are using a motobike.

So what is it like driving in Cambodia. Well I happen to pick a good day to drive when the roads are not busy as many Cambodians are still visiting their families in the provinces so it was the perfect day to have my first driving experience on Cambodian soil. It wasn't too difficult as there wasn't too much traffic at all but one does have to be more alert and check your mirrors often given the motorcyclists that weave in and out. I asked my friend what the speed limit was and she laughed at me. This is Cambodia, what are you talking about speed limit! But alas, not too far up the road, my eyes caught a sign that said the speed limit on this highway was least I think it was kilometres and not miles.
Driving along National Highway Road #1

The 'highway'here is not like a highway we are used to in North America. There is some sort of speed bump grid to slow you down...not sure really what the purpose is as you can't even go fast if you wanted to. There is actually a 'motorcycyle' lane so that the motos and tuk tuks can use but like everything else, everyone does not adhere to the lanes. If there is an opening you just go for it. No wonder Asian drivers in Toronto have a bad reputation. :-) If you have only learned to drive in this environment, you learn to be creative and make a way through the crowded streets. Thankfully today, I didn't have to worry about the crowds but I did notice that people use their brakes here a lot so I would imagine one's brake pads will weary here very quickly as there is a lot of stop and go traffic.

My driving lesson lasted about 40 minutes as we meandered our way through the local streets in the city of Phnom Penh. Given the minimal traffic, there was no need to be aggressive but I can see that driving here will definitely cultivate patience. But then again, that is one virtue that God is nurturing among all of us who live in this nation. As I am getting more familiar with my neighborhood it is quite easy to drive around as one cannot really get lost in the city since its not that big. I think the true test will be driving when there is a lot of traffic but it seems to me the same rules apply here as they apply in North America. The bigger the vehicle, the more rights they have on the road. While I would like to say that there is no tail gating in Cambodia, that seems to be the norm if you want to get where you are going otherwise you will be left behind. Of course, wisdom is needed in driving behind certain Toyota Land Cruisers and Lexus's as you do not want to be involved in any minor infractions with those SUVs because they are usually owned by the elite in Cambodia and it can be a costly expense.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Being a Tourist

The Pchum Ben holiday is upon us for the next 3 days so the city of Phnom Penh is very quiet as Cambodians head to their provinces to spend time with their family over the weekend. Yesterday as I was coming back into the city from church, the traffic heading in the opposite direction was backed up with cars forming 2 and almost 3 lanes on National Highway 5. It never ceases to amaze me how many cars can fit on a road that was designed as a one lane highway.

 I took the opportunity to be a bit of a tourist and took Ken and Joan who are potential board members for Ratanak Australia on a 1 hour boat trip on the Tonle Sap river. We rented an entire boat for $30.00 and had our own private boat tour around the surrounding area.

One of the people groups that live along the Tonle Sap river is the Cham People. They are fishermen who live off the sea and we passed by several of their boat homes as we went along the river.

So today I myself have headed out in a two day break with one of my friends. We were planning initially to go and visit another friend in Neak Loeung -- a province that is near the Vietnam border, but with all the rain, there has been flood warnings as the Mekong river is quite high and some areas are flooded. So we opted to stay close to Phnom Penh and are now at a local resort just 30 minutes outside the city. It is a great place to to have some rest given its peaceful surroundings. With breakfast included and a local restaurant on site, it provides the perfect weekend getaway to just chill and relax.

The White Elephant Resort

So for the next couple days, I will refrain from blogging any further and use the time to work on my flash cards for my language memorization and spend time enjoying the pool and ambiance of my quiet surroundings.

Not Forgotten - Part 2

Today I headed to our favorite brothel district with Brian Harper who will be overseeing Ratanak Australia. Two of his church members Ken and Joan also accompanied us to the church service. It was such a joy to see ‘Theary’(see previous post entitled 'Not Forgotten' for Theary's story) worshipping in the ‘choir’ at the front of the sanctuary with some of Pastor Chantha’s students. She seemed a bit out of place in that setting trying to follow the moves of the other students but there she was making the best of what must have seen like an unusual environment for her. It was so encouraging to see her being enveloped and surrounded by Pastor Chantha’s students. It was a picture of God’s love surrounding her despite the fact that she may have been fumbling. He was upholding her with his right hand. It was as if He was graciously teaching her how to dance in joy and hope, emotions and feelings that have alluded her for most of her life. But here,  He was now turning her mourning into dancing!

At one point there was time in the service that we as guests along with Pastor Chantha’s students were asked to walk around the sanctuary’s aisles to say hello to other church members. Its basically greeting each other in Khmer. Along the way, Theary and I saw each other and instead of giving me the traditional khmer greeting of hands folded in a prayer like fashion, she smiled and gave me a big hug as she embraced me. I was touched by her openness and warmth. One would think she would still be cautious and while I don't want to read too much into it, I can't help but think that she is beginning to feel at 'home', she is beginning to finally feel safe, she is beginning to feel a sense of belonging ---Is this surprising? No, not with our Lord who is the source of Hope. He has begun this restoration process in Theary's life. He is the One who offers identity to one who has been devalued, He offers belonging to one whose life has been often marked by estrangement , He offers acceptance to one who has known only rejection but most of all He offers unconditional love to one whose life has tasted betrayal. I am once again reminded, no matter what satan tries to do to steal, kill, and destroy our lives, he cannot succeed for as Psalm 34:18 says 'the Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.

The Lord is beginning to do a new thing in Theary's life. His word says that what He has started, He will complete. What a joy it will be to see how He enfolds Theary's destiny before a watching world.

But while we rejoice with what God has started in Theary's life, we are also reminded to not forget about those who continue to be held in bondage. Many of you have been praying for little 'P' --- the 3 year old who is being sold. Her 13 year old sister also is being trafficked. This past week, little 'P' came to the kids club with a black eye courtesy of her 'mother'.' She and her sisters do not live with their biological parents. It seems the parents gave them to an 'aunt and uncle' but unfortunately in this environment, this raises the probability that kids are highly at risk of being abused or sold. Sadly, in little "P's came that is exactly what we are seeing. Her aunt and uncle use drugs and drink and are using the girls as their 'source of income' to pay for their addictions. This week I learned that there is another family selling their 3 daughters ranging in the age of 6, 9 and 12 years old. Here again, we learn that the parents drink and do drugs. This is a common pattern where kids are simply a commodity to their parents. It is hard to make sense of what we see because in a 'normal' environment it doesn't make sense. But here in Cambodia, we are dealing with layers of trauma from years of brokenness that is so inherent in this country and so for every story of hope, we are faced with a number of stories of hopelessness. Nevertheless, if God can do a miracle in Theary's life, surely He can do a miracle in the lives of these others. We do not give up, we press on in hope, knowing that one day, He will set these captives free as we earnestly pray for them and rest in His faithfulness. And so we wait for Him to act on their behalf and we trust in His truths from Lamentations 3:22-23, Because of the LORD’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. 23 They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. 24 I say to myself, “The LORD is my portion; therefore I will wait for him.” 25 The LORD is good to those whose hope is in him,  to the one who seeks him. 

Friday, September 23, 2011

Not Forgotten

Over the years as the Lord has open doors for me to speak at different churches in Toronto, one of the verses I share from is Isaiah 49:15-16. It says  “Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne? Though she may forget, I will not forget you! See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands;  your walls are ever before me. Today the truth of this verse came to mind as I heard the story of a young woman who is now staying in the infamous brothel district that we consider ground zero for child sex trafficking in Cambodia.

"Theary" (not her real name) is 18 years old but when she was 9 years old her parents died and she was placed in the care of her aunt. Since that age, she has been working in Thailand and speaks fluent Thai. We are not quite sure exactly what kind of 'work' she was involved in in Thailand but her aunt would go to Thailand and collect money from her. On one occasion she witnessed the brutal murder of a Cambodian soldier as his throat was slashed before her eyes and his stomach was cut open. When Theary returned to Cambodia, she ended up working on a construction site earning $25.00 a month. During this time, her aunt attempted many times to sell her but Theary refused and that led to several beatings. There are bruises on her head from the abuse she endured at the hands of her aunt and she was so sick that her employer on the construction site decided to 'dispose' of her since she was not well enough to work. So they gave her money for a bus ticket and Theary was standing in the bus line not sure where she was to go next. It is here that the hand of God intervened for in that very same bus line was a daughter of one of Pastor Chantha's church members. She befriended Theary and invited her to come meet her pastor as he might be able to help her. 

Two days ago, Pastor Chantha and Bunthan welcomed the latest addition to their family. They welcomed her with open arms and now she is staying with the rest of his disciples at Rahab's House. Today as he was sharing from Matthew 25, Theary began to cry. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in,  I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’  “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’ 

Theary has come to live in a village that is notorious for selling girls, but today, God is gathering his daughters and bringing them back to this village. He is reversing the darkness in this village by bringing His lost and forgotten sheep into his fold in this place. He is redeeming one life at a time. Theary's story reminds me that God sees what is happening to the marginalized and the forgotten people of this world. God sees their pain, He sees their suffering, He sees their brokenness, He sees the way they have been oppressed and mistreated and He will not stay silent. He does not ignore them or pass them by. He notices them. He hears their cries. He reaches out to rescue them. Their walls are ever before Him because He has engraved them on the palm of His hands. In God's economy, there is no such thing as 'coincidence.' Only He could have ordained for Theary to be in a specific bus line in which the daughter of Pastor Chantha's church member was in. Only He could orchestrate that the place of her refuge would be a village that in the world's eyes is known as a place for destroying the lives of young women. Only He could rescue her and bring her to a community of believers who truly care for the least of these and who could point her to the God of Hope!

I met Theary today. She is quiet and shy, slowly adjusting to an environment that is filled with God's love. Adjusting to a community of believers who are living out the command to 'love their neighbor' as they share what little they have with her. She came to this community with 3 pieces of clothing. She came with nothing, she came broken and bruised, but one day we believe that she will leave this community with new hopes, new dreams and a new life in Christ. Pray for God to heal Theary's body, for Him to touch the trauma within her and to bring complete healing and restoration. Praise God for Pastor Chantha's church members who chose to demonstrate His compassion in action. Praise God for Pastor Chantha and Bunthan, whose heart reflects the heart of Christ. Inviting the poor and needy into their midst and trusting the Lord to provide for all their needs.

Today as I heard Theary's story,  there were tears in my eyes as I witness again the relentless love of God who will go to all lengths to save a life that was viewed as disposable by the world and bring that person to a place where His love can be poured over their wounds. In His eyes, she is not forgotten, she is not expendable, she is not rejected, no, in His eyes, she is worthy, she has value, she is precious because she has been made in His image.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Cooking Khmer Style

Preparing the meal

So tonight my young friend Srey Neth came over with 3 of her friends and fulfilled her promise to make my favorite Khmer dish Loc Lac.Finally, some decent meat that was so tasty and not tough. There is hope that I may still yet find some meat to eat here!  They arrived at 3:30pm this afternoon and we went to the local market near my house to buy the groceries. If my calculations are correct the entire meal including dessert came up to about $10.00 in total.
Neth cutting up the meat

I have to say, the girls did a great job and I am humbled by their servant hearts. They not only prepared the meal but also washed up all the dishes at the end and cleaned up before they left despite the fact that I told them I would do the cleaning up.  Cooking the Khmer way involves sitting on the floor and peeling and cleaning the vegetables and cutting the meat. Its a far cry from how we would do things in North America using our counter to lay out all the food. Logically it makes sense to do it all on the floor because there is more space, but one of the things that I like about this new style of preparing the food is the community atmosphere. Everyone sitting together preparing the meal although I have to confess, I was just taking the photos and watching on. I figured I would only get in the way if I tried to help and they definitely knew what they were doing so why interfere in the process! :-)
Liya (yellow shirt) and Socheat making a coconut milk dessert

Dinner time with my guests (Liya, Socheat, Kunthea and Neth)

Neth's friends are in their early 20s, one(Kunthea) works as a cleaner, the other (Socheat) a tailor and Liya is a yoga instructor like Neth. She too was trafficked but now willingly shares her story because she says the more she talks about her journey, the more healed she feels. I had a wonderful chat with her and it is evident that she is filled with much hope. She is grateful for her new life after being trafficked for 3 yrs. Although she does have a boyfriend, she has not told him about her past. As she said ''Khmer men would not like it if they know the girl has had sex already.'This gave me an opportunity to tell her about one of the girls at Newsong who is married to a Khmer pastor and how he accepted her because as Christians, Jesus treats all of us equal regardless of what we have done or what has been done to us. In Him we can have a new life where all our sins ---the things we did and also the things that others did against us, can be forgiven  and we can start afresh regardless of our past.  Liya went on to say ''I like sharing my stories with foreigners because they are more understanding, especially Christians because they are so kind and treat us the same. But I don't like sharing with young people in Cambodia because they do not understand. They think I am bad." These words from Liya reflect a common stigma that is part of the Cambodian culture where girls who have been involved in the sex trade are judged so harshly here and are treated as though they are garbage.
Neth and Socheat cleaning up after the meal

None of these girls know the Lord but Liya and Neth have had some exposure to Christianity. And so do pray for them, as I am hoping in the months to come to invite them over again. Depending on how things go, I would love to at least meet with them once a month and if time permits, have some kind of bible study with them. They said to me the next time we come,  you have to cook for us so that ought to be interesting in itself. Anyway, I have a little strategy that I might just order the food in but they are insisting that they want to see me cook. However I suggested to them that they had better be careful about what they ask for. :-) In an Asian context, having a meal together provides an open door for more meaningful conversations not just about our lives but the One who ultimately gives us meaning and purpose.

They are all so sweet and I had such a wonderful time practicing my Khmer with them.  Their English is quite good and so if I would say something incorrect in Khmer they would correct me and teach me the new way. It was a great evening with them practicing their English and me practicing my Khmer. But tonight was more than just practicing the language, it was about cultivating friendships and sharing the things on our hearts. One of the girls Kunthea currently works as a cleaner but has studied English for 7 years. I was sharing with her that perhaps one day she could be an English teacher as her English language is excellent but she said she was scared because she didn't think she could do it. Once again, this created  a perfect opportunity to share with her that God had made a way for me to live here and because I believe in Him, I trust that His plan for me is good so that I am not afraid even if I am doing things that I have never done before. These are early days of seed planting but I thank God that He has created these opportunities.

One of the joys of being around these young women is seeing the potential in them as I listen to their dreams about what they would like to do. As I think of Neth and Liya and the darkness that they have survived, it is encouraging to see them move on into a journey of hope where they are living independently. It is interesting to hear of their desires to help others who have gone through what they have lived through. But it is times like this when I am led to pray and seek the Lord's face on how I can walk with them through this journey called life so that they can discover that their desire to give back, their desire to help others, comes from the goodness that has been placed in their hearts by their Creator who desires to use their pain, to bring healing and hope to others who are struggling through the trauma of sex slavery. And so as I think of my young friends, it is the scriptures I read this morning that come to my mind as a prayer for them from Ephesians 1 in the Message translation:
Long before he laid down earth's foundations, he had us in mind, had settled on us as the focus of his love, to be made whole and holy by his love. I ask—ask the God of our Master, Jesus Christ, the God of glory—to make you intelligent and discerning in knowing him personally, your eyes focused and clear, so that you can see exactly what it is he is calling you to do, grasp the immensity of this glorious way of life he has for his followers, oh, the utter extravagance of his work in us who trust him—endless energy, boundless strength!

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

A Dear Friend

One of the people who inspires me in Cambodia is my dear friend Marie Ens who founded Place of Rescue. It was through Marie that I first heard about Ratanak way back in 2004. Today was our first 'date'on Cambodian soil as both our schedules have been quite chaotic of  late. We met up for a 2 1/2 hour lunch which was just too short as I had another meeting to attend to in the mid afternoon so we're hoping to meet again before she heads to Canada for a brief visit and spend a longer time not just sharing but also praying for each other. I am always blessed and energize when I talk to Marie because she speaks with insight, wisdom and understanding of the Cambodian culture and way of life. I can't believe this year she is celebrating her 50th year in Cambodia. Isn't that incredible.

Today, I was picking her brain on a variety of issues one of which is how to learn the language. Yes I'm a bit obsessed with trying to acquire the language. It was nice to get some tips on how to practice especially when I don't have much time to interact with Cambodians on a daily basis. She suggested I use flashcards --- writing the English on one side and the Khmer on the other side and then of course there is something called sentence substitution where you say the same verb but replace a noun with a new word. Its little techniques like this that I am grateful for.

Whenever I think of Marie, I am reminded of what my pastor one said, ''its one thing to start well, but its another thing to finish well.' When we read the bible stories, we see many who set their heart on pilgrimage with the Lord but some where along the line, they got sidetracked and never finished the race. Yet in Marie, I see one who inspires and challenges me to run the race that Christ has set before me. Now into her late 70s, she continues to run hard with a boundless enthusiasm, passion and energy that she attributes to the Lord. She has so many stories to tell about the challenges and joy of working with AIDs orphans and their families. It is not always easy investing in lives that have come from highly dysfunctional experiences. The learning never stops and much patience is required because it is not easy to understand why people make certain choices. We have to be so careful that we do not become cynical, bitter or resentful when the choices they make do not line up with the values that we believe in. In these situations, we are constantly reminded that it is so crucial to keep your eyes on the Lord and to not give up and not get tired of doing good. As Marie said, Satan would want to keep us constantly disillusioned if we focus on the negative, but we are called to not give up because at just the right time we will reap a harvest of blessing. (Galatians 6:7)

Here in Cambodia, the dismantling of the family structures during the Khmer Rouge era has led to much domestic violence. But there is also a strong spirit of lust that seems prevalent in this culture and these two factors continue to wreak havoc in the lives of the AIDS families and orphans. Some AIDS widows are still looking for a husband despite their physical ailments and are willing to leave the safety of Rescue to live with men who drink, gamble and physically abuse them. They would rather pursue that alternative lifestyle than live by themselves.  People are focused on 'survival'-- the focus is in the short term and immediate gratification,  not the long term. It is totally understandable when one considers the history of this country and the poverty and suffering that permeates the landscape here. People are longing for something to give them pleasure and hope because their lives are filled with so much pain.

Yet despite these situations, one of the stories she was sharing involved a 17 year old orphan whose father murdered his mother and is willing to coming along side and be a big brother to another orphan who is expected to arrive at Rescue soon from a similar experience. God is using the broken to minister to the broken. 2 Corinthians 1: 3-4 says that God is our merciful Father and the source of all comfort.  He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others. When they are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us. So here at Place of Rescue, we see another example of how the Lord does not forget the broken and the abandoned but how He is raising up wounded healers to minister to others who have walked a similar path. 

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

A Typical Day

What does a typical day living and working in Phnom Penh look like? In some ways, there is no 'typical' day as you can 'plan'to do certain things and they may or may not happen. So a typical day here is really living with the unexpected. As I talk to people who have been living here for a long time, they say this is the 'norm'and the secret is not to be too hard on yourself and continue to remain flexible in the midst of ambiguity.

So how does one establish structure in an emerging country which is brimming with potential on so many levels? It is constantly learning to adjust and embrace the unexpected not with frustration but seeing it as a divine interruption. Strangely enough, it is no different in some respects to the job I used to have in Canada. For each day, I would go to work there I had to process all the different overseas market events and economic news to figure out what stocks to recommend to clients to invest or sell in the short term and/or in the long term. Every day there was some thing new to process and analyze. It was never dull and routine. Similarly, living and working in Cambodia requires in a sense. a similar mindset of working in a dynamic environment. Things here are very fluid and organic. If you want routine, this is not the place to live. One is constantly trying to establish structure in an unstructured environment and it is not always easy because things here are not standardized as we have in the West.

Networking and drawing from the resources of others is the key and in this sense, this is where I am relying on God to provide divine appointments. While Ratanak has been involved in Cambodia for 21 years, the easy part is meeting all our partners and talking to them but the question I often find myself asking, is this a meeting I should have now given what our priorities are? There are lots of people to meet in the NGO world who are familiar with our work and are eager to help but even in this kind of environment, it is stepping back constantly and looking at the big picture to discern if this is a meeting to have now or later. There is no easy answer to this but God has brought to mind a devotional on divine guidance that a missionary friend gave me many years ago when I was living in Singapore. It is helping me to navigate the uncharted waters before me.

God and His providences lead in only one direction at a time; therefore, never adopt a new course until you feel equally clear to abandon a former one.  Always recognize that YOU and your plans are HIS property. If so, you can afford to be set aside and unused if He can afford it, since your eye is single. The longer the delay, the larger the pay.Divine impressions are persuasive; God does not drive, but leads His children. Impressions from other sources are loud, clamorous, feverish, and seek to drown the Spirit's voice. You can detect the devil by one or two things. The devil talks loud; Jesus always talks low and tender. An impression can be made in a loud, boisterous, rushing, pell-mell sort of way, or can come quietly, gently tenderly and sweetly. Impressions from above always give sufficient time to the honest seeker to test their genuineness. Those from below are in a hurry and fearing detection, clamor for immediate decisions. The devils wants you to be in a hurry and rush and go pell-mell, and not wait for anything; whereas Jesus is always quiet and always calm, and always takes His time. When you take things to God in prayer, and you wait, if God makes an impression on the mind, it always comes gently, tenderly. The more you wait on God---if the conviction comes from the Holy Spirit--the more you wait and the more you pray, the stronger it becomes. If it comes from the devil, the more you wait the  more you pray, the weaker it grows. You can tell by that. Impressions from above welcome the Light. Those from below shrink back from it. The first are to be catechized, the second are afraid of tests, and don't like to be questioned. Impressions from above, when followed, are attended by a sweet peace and the consciousness that they are right; those from below by perplexity and that something is wrong. The first brings rest. The second robs of it. Those from above make us feel "I ought to do so. "Impressions from above ripen into convictions. Those from below never do. God never asks us to act on uncertainties. The devil comes with a suggestion and it appears to be the truth. He persistently pushes it. If resisted, he claims that those who do so are resisting the Spirit. don't forget that if the Holy Spirit inspires anything, He always gives time to consult upon it with God.

In Cambodia where the needs are many, where the demands are many, where I am juggling many sources of info,  I rest in these truths above that God only leads in one direction at a time and so to avoid confusion and to avoid being overwhelmed by endless meetings, I have chosen to wait and sit quietly allowing Him to give me impressions on what the next step is. This is not always easy. Someone once said that it takes more strength to wait than to do. That is so true but more and more, I appreciate the 'wait' because when something is from God the doors fling open wide and where there were once obstacles, that seems to give way to divine opportunities!

Part of this thinking has come after my first month when I had enlisted 5 different real estate agents to find an apartment for me. I was trying to do this all on my own strength and after I reached a point where I was getting a bit frustrated, I just let go of trying to 'find' a place and then God showed Himself so faithful by simply providing an apartment above the Ratanak office/apartment for me. Through that situation, the Lord began to show me that if I wait on Him, let go of control that He will provide what I/we need in His timing. It was another lesson on that I had thought I had learned but obviously I am still a work in process!

So these days I am learning a whole new way of 'waiting'on Him for the right connections as we seek to set up our first project. A typical day therefore is one that involves deliberately seeing where He is at work in the process and joining Him there. It is not trying to make things happen because we have a deadline to meet but rather taking the time to filter all the info to see if it is consistent not just with our values and goals but are these  the divine connections that God wants us to partner with. Tomorrow I have a meeting with pastors of a church that are already working with vulnerable women with an organization that we are familiar with and it was encouraging to hear from a friend of mind who who works in this ministry that this particular church has an established ministry in this area. So join with me in prayer that if this is one of our future partners, that God would provide clear impressions that we are to work along side them.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Pchum Ben Festival - Feeding the Ancestors

In Cambodia, there are several Buddhist festivals that occur over the year.  One of them is known as Pchum Ben.  The premise of Pchum Ben Festival is to feed the spirits of the dead. Cambodians firmly believe that the act of feeding the souls of their deceased predecessors will make their stay on Earth more enjoyable. During Pchum Ben, it is believed that the spirits of the dead descend from the spirit world and walk the Earth. Most modern Khmers will say that the festival lasts fifteen days, ending on the fifteenth of the month. In actuality, the ancient, traditional festival lasted three months, ending on the fifteenth day, of the tenth month of the year.The last four days of the festival are public holidays in Cambodia. 

So next week September 26-28th , many Khmer who live in Phnom Penh will be exiting the city to visit the province where they were born and to spend time with their family members. The other day I was asking my language instructor what he does during this time since he is a Christian and his family members are not believers. When the family meets, they will all go to the Wat (temple) and he will stay back. His family respects his beliefs and do not give him a hard time for not participating in the offerings to the ancestors.

For those of us who are believers, this is also quite an interesting time. Yesterday as I was having lunch with some friends from the international church, we were all commenting on what a difficult week it has been. We have been feeling more tired than normal and very lethargic. There is a heaviness in our spirits and it has been more challenging to pray and focus. It is hard to fully describe as physically we all feel fine but the consensus seems to be that the time leading up to Pchum Ben there definitely seems to be a lot of spiritual opposition. Yesterday afternoon, I went for a long walk adding a new path to my usual walking route as it is not as noisy and it is quite enjoyable since you are actually walking on a sidewalk and do not have to battle the cars for the road. This new route takes me towards the Royal Palace and surrounding Wats and gives me more time to worship and prayer. It is easy to focus inward but it is times like this that worshiping the Lord becomes the key so that we focus back on who is really is in control. I was reminded of His resurrection power that sustains us despite the spiritual obstacles that we may feel or sense. It is times like this that Jesus has been speaking to me about holding on to His promises despite what is happening around me and despite how I may be feeling physically or mentally. As I was meditating on Isaiah 30:16 (in the Message) it said: Your strength will come from settling down in complete dependence on me. Truly today I experienced the truth of these verses as my 2 hour language lesson zipped by without me noticing that time was up. I could have continued on as it felt so short. That in and of itself is a small miracle as typically, I am so wiped after 2 hours I need a 30 minute break to have my brain functioning again :-) His word indeed has the power to  bring forth new life and vitality so that we do not wither in this sun scorched land but instead, we can thrive and be well watered gardens persevering and pressing on towards that which He has called us to be involved in despite the spiritual challenges we are facing.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Against all Hope, We believe!

As time permits, I'm hoping to use Friday afternoons to visit Svay Pak once a week to practice my Khmer with Pastor Chantha's students. So today while enroute to Svay Pak, I got a phone call from one of the students wanting to know my arrival time as it seems a young boy by the name of 'Ow' was looking for me.

Ow is a young boy...well he's now a teenager that I met 3 years ago when I and 5 other friends had our first short term experience serving in Svay Pak as we facilitated a VBS for the kids in that community over a 2 week period. It was that experience that God used to touch our hearts for the kids in this community despite their background.  Ow used to be part of a crowd of young boys who sold drugs, did drugs and were part of the young pimps selling girls. Today, 'Ow' no longer sells drugs nor girls. He has changed and is now studying in school. So it was neat to able to speak a few words to him in Khmer and find out what he was doing. He is returning back from Vietnam and will be coming back to live in Svay Pak. During the afternoon he was in and out of The Sanctuary and each time he would pass by where I was sitting, he would tell me what he was doing next. Later in the day he had to leave and politely came up to let me know that he would be back in two weeks. I'm looking forward to seeing more of him.

But the joy of seeing Ow was replaced with a concern for another one of my special friends here. Some of you know 'SN' and have prayed for her over the past 2 years when her father was planning to take her to Siem Reap to sell her. For 2 years, God has protected her from further abuse but today I learned that she and her younger sister 'C' were taken by their dad to Vietnam for one week. We are not sure what exactly that means but given the father's history, I can't help but think of the worst for these two young girls. Please pray for these two sister, that God would intervene once again in their lives and frustrate any plans of their father to sell them. They come to the kids club daily and have been speared further abuse until now. We will await their return to Svay Pak next week.

Later in the afternoon, I went with some of Pastor Chantha's disciples to a kid's club outreach in one of the neighboring brick factories. It was quite a trek to this location as it started to rain and so we had to get out of the tuk-tuk in case it got stuck along the muddy clay road. My flip flops were not made for this kind of road and the disciples were encouraging me to stay in the tuk tuk as I would avoid getting dirty and the tuk tuk driver might still be able to drive me in, but I'm a firm believer that 'when in Rome you do as the Romans do', so I ended up having to hold on to one of the disciples as we made our way through the slippery mud filled roadway.
Kids in the brick factory

It was well worth the trek to see 70 plus young kids sitting under a thatched roof area learning about Christ and singing songs about Him. They had an opportunity to play some games, one of which was to choose a piece of paper from a box and then whatever they got, they had to match it to a particular picture and they would win a prize. In this poverty stricken environment, I was once again touched by the selfless and thoughtful act of a young barefooted boy who won a prize of a  new set of flip flops but chose one to give to his brother instead of choosing one for himself. The 'poor' have a way of teaching us powerful lessons on what a generous spirit looks like. It is one of the reasons I love being around this Svay Pak area as so many times, I see Christ at work in the most unexpected and humble surroundings.

Playing Games with Pastor Chantha's disciples

The kids in the brick factory live with parents who are bonded slave labor. They themselves will continue to live a life of servitude because they are born into such an environment and yet once again, here in what seems to be a God forsaken place, I am once again reminded that there is no God forsaken places. God is here, He has sent His people from Svay Pak to minister to these forgotten people and kids. Pastor Chantha's vision is to help these brick factory kids.  Last year he arranged for 167 such kids from the surrounding brick factories to go to a nearby public school. Thanks to the favor God has given him with the local government officials, he was able to have birth certificates made for these kids free of charge versus the $5.00 each parent would have had to pay. Birth certificates are needed for any child to be registered in a public school in Cambodia. His vision this year is to send another 120 kids from the brick factories to a local public school.

So here in what appears to be a hopeless environment, a place of desolation where people are literally held as slave labor, we witness glimmers of hope for a new generation of children. It is this hope in Christ that we keep pointing to despite the visible reality. It is hope in Him that enables us to press on in the midst of ambiguity, uncertainty and unpredictable environments where young girls we know are disappearing for short time frames. It is during these times, that we hold on to the promises from Romans 4:18-21 --Against all hope, Abraham in hope believed,  he did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God, but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God, being fully persuaded that God had power to do what he had promised. 

Thursday, September 15, 2011

A Younger Sister!

Today I had a wonderful time hanging out with a younger sister (Poan srey) called Srey Neth. I have known Neth for 4 years now as I first met her when she was part of a transitional project that we helped fund at its initial start up phase. Each year when I have visited Cambodia, I would spend time with her. Neth is now fully  integrated and quite willingly shares her story out of the world of trafficking she was once ensnared in. It was a perfect opportunity to practice my Khmer and whatever words I couldn't say Neth's English is very good so  I could switch between Khmer and English.

Neth currently teaches yoga but it is not something that she wants to do for the rest of her life or something that she likes but she knows she has to pay the bills. She is seeking to finish her high school studies and wants to pursue university by taking some IT courses. I admire her desire to want to study more.  I invited her over for lunch today to catch up and she made me laugh as she also dislikes cooking and has hired someone to cook her lunch and dinner daily for $25 a month. Wish I could get such a deal. Its nice to know that there are others in my midst for which cooking is not their forte! Anyway, a while back I was teasing her that when I come to Cambodia that she would have to make me my favorite Cambodian dish --- Loc Lac. She readily agreed. So we have set another date to meet up next Thursday when its her day off and we will go shopping to the local market near my home to get the food needed for this home cooked meal. I'm not sure if I should pray for her on this given her none domestic attributes but the fact that she is willing to do it and actually sounded quite confident that it would taste good, I figured its worth the effort.

Last year when I was here, Neth would come with me to go to the Svay Pak church. I hope that now I am living here for a longer time, I will have more time to spend with her and also bring her to church. She has heard the gospel but has never fully understood what it really means for her life. So as you think of Neth, pray for her. She is 22 years old and has a lot of potential despite the challenging upbringing and experiences that she endured. It is my prayer and hope that she will one day truly encounter the One who not only can give her meaning and purpose in her life but who brought her out of the darkness and into His light so that she can display His splendor and reflect His beauty!

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Partnering in Prayer

A devotional I read this morning from Francis Frangipane said: If Satan cannot distract you with worldliness, He will overwhelm you with weariness. Indeed, how easy it is to wear ourselves out; even good works done without recharging ourselves in God can drain us of life and energy. Daniel speaks of a time at the end of the age when the enemy will attempt to “wear down the saints of the Highest One” (Daniel 7:25). God never intended for us to do His will without His presence. The power to accomplish God’s purpose comes from prayer and intimacy with Christ. It is here, closed in with God, where we find an ever-replenishing flow of spiritual virtue. 

These past few days the level of warfare has increased on a variety of levels and I am coming to appreciate the power of prayer. Many people underestimate the darkness here and it is not that we focus on it or dwell on it. The reality is when you are seeking to bring the kingdom of light into places where the darkness has reigned, you are constantly facing opposition and obstacles which envelops you in subtle ways and contributes to weariness in our spirits. If you come here with a naive understanding of spiritual warfare, its like going into battle without proper armor. Today, I went to a prayer meeting that is held 3 times a week at our partners Daughters Cambodia. It is a small group of volunteers at Daughters that gathers from 12:30 till 1:15pm every Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. As my spirit has been craving for corporate prayer,  it was such a refreshing time to spend these 45 minutes praying through a variety of issues related to some of the clients at Daughters. It was encouraging to be around other sisters in Christ who are sensitive to the  warfare in their midst as they work with the clients from Daughters. All I can say is after that prayer time, I came out full of energy and felt a lightness in my spirit compared to the heaviness I was dealing with earlier this morning.

Prayer Room at Daughters

But I am also thankful for my intercessors and mentors for their timely words through emails, skype conversations and text messages that have been a source of encouragement. It is comforting to know that whenever I am in need of prayer at a moment's notice, I simply send a text message and in a few minutes someone is not just praying for me but they are also texting me back with a word of encouragement that provides clarity to a situation I am dealing with. Praise God for technology!

 But the Lord is also raising up people here to join with me in prayer. Earlier this week, one of my Canadian missionary friends emailed and asked if I wanted to spend time once a week in prayer. I welcomed her invitation as I am reminded of the words that Ruth Elliot (founder of Daughters) said to my guests from Wellspring last week. They had asked her what her greatest need was and she simply responded: 'prayer is the greatest need, it is the foundation of all we do.' We too at Ratanak echo these sentiments and more so here on the frontlines when the battles come in a variety of forms.
Lois C. another Canadian working with our partner Daughters

So tomorrow Lois a fellow Canadian who used to be a missionary in Brazil for 18 years in the Amazon and is now serving in Cambodia since 2009 will join me in a time of prayer. She currently serves at our partner Daughters Cambodia, helping to oversee the Daughter's cafe and restaurant by providing support to the Khmer staff through discipleship and training. But Lois is also responsible here for short termers who come with Crossworld Missions helping them get set up and adjusted to living here.

But the Lord continued to reinforce the need for more prayer partners on this end when I had another meeting with Sreyhem this afternoon. She brought up the subject of prayer asking if I was interested in meeting to pray at the Ratanak office given all that I am juggling. Once again, the timeliness of her question along with Lois's invitation are all signs that this is a time for increased prayer. So next week Sreyhem will join me for prayer as well.

All this to say, it is my desire and hope to set up a prayer team that meets at least once a week on this end as we have more Ratanak staff join us. Today, I am thankful again at how the Lord is once again going ahead, showing me that He not only knows exactly what I need but He is also raising up people here who I can partner with in prayer. Indeed the power to accomplish God's purposes is only possible as we get on bended knee and seek His face and ask Him to give us the daily bread, the daily strength and a daily dose of His resurrection power to press on to do His will.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

If At First You Don't Succeed, Try, Try, Try Again!

There's a couple phrases that were ruminating in my mind this afternoon when I was walking back home from one of the office supplies stores near my home. One of the phrases I believe is a quote from William Hickson that says: "íf at first you don't succeed, try, try try again.'' The second quote is one I heard at church this past Sunday taken from 2 Peter 3:8 With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. In the ministry of the mundane that I have alluded to in a previous blog, these two phrases are becoming synonymous with my experiences in setting up the Ratanak office or anything related to administrative issues. Its interesting to see the patterns and one of my intercessors a couple weeks ago emailed pointing out that he had a sense there was a spirit of harassment and a spirit of irritation that was part of the challenges I was experiencing with some of the administrative aspects of what I am doing. His email was quite timely as I had sense that myself and was just praying about it when his email arrived a few hours later in my inbox. 

So what is with these two phrases anyway. Well on Sunday the pastor at ICA was asking us if we ever had a week or day when it felt like a thousand years---there was no progress in anything we did while at the other end of the spectrum, there was so much going on in a day, you could barely keep up. I'd have to say I have experienced both of these in a week and so when she said that I couldn't help but laugh knowing that this is the 'new normal' in Cambodia. You see over here, it takes at least 2 but on average 3 or 4 times before things are working as they should. Patience is a virtue that is guaranteed to be cultivated here---there is no debate in this area.What do I mean by this? Well, in the ministry of the mundane, I discovered that the office filing cabinet was  missing a part which meant that a 'letter size' hanging file folder was too small and a 'legal size'hanging folder was too big. I wouldn't bore you with all the details of why this happen, but let's just say the manufacturer is at fault here. So the question was how to rectify the issue. Someone suggested taking a photo of the inside of the filing cabinet drawer which was a great idea especially when one's language ability is limited. One has to learn creative ways to communicate! So after 3 visits to the furniture store, they sent a workman over to my home and viola in 15 mins it was fixed.

The next thing to rectify was the hanging file folders themselves. That involved 4 visits to the office supplies store and today the final visit was amusing in and of itself. The last time round the store had given me a credit note after I had returned the original legal size file folders and some power plugs that were not the right size. So when they saw me again today, they were not too happy. If I was in their shoes, I wouldn't be too happy either seeing the same person coming in 4 times who keeps exchanging and returning items. It is times like this I am grateful for working with guys in the trading floor as you cannot take peoples reactions personally. In these circumstances being a thinker has its advantages.  In fact, I was told I had to use the complete credit note today as it was no longer valid for another trip. Now you need to know, there is nothing on the credit note that says this. But here in Cambodia, the rules are different. You can't argue or disagree. I am learning the art of smiling.  It's amazing how the spirit of self control and calmness can be manifested in such situations if you ask the Lord for it during such times. I know in North America, my sense of justice would have risen to the surface and I would have asked to see the manager but here, one learns humility when one does not have the language to communicate effectively.

But the silver lining in all of this is, if at first you don't succeed try, try, try and try again and when you do, it works, you finally succeed! So today, my file folders fit perfectly into the filing cabinet and every thing works!!! Progress has been made as I can finally organize the files! Of course, I haven't told you about the wireless router and the new laptop either but let's just say, the experience was similar. But in the end, it all worked out. Thank you Jesus! As I was reminded this morning in my readings this morning in Isaiah 14, what God has planned, so it will be, and what He has purposed, so it will happen.  His plans cannot be thwarted, His purposes will stand. These verses give me great confidence and comfort as I learn and adjust to this new environment. I am not just learning a new language, but a new culture, a new way of life, a new way of thinking. a new way of working but ultimately a new way of walking with the Lord as He navigates me through these different encounters. Indeed one can sense a spirit of irritation and frustration at times but I am thankful to the Lord that He is also giving me a new sense of spiritual awareness and alertness to deal with these challenges. Putting on the full armor of God takes on a whole new meaning here. No wonder the Apostle Paul said in Ephesians 6:10-18 10 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. 11 Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. 12 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. 13 Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. 14 Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, 15 and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. 16 In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. 17 Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. 18 And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people.

There are valuable lessons being learned in the ministry of mundane:  patience, humility, self control, cultivating a sense of humor and most of all learning to stand firm in the power of Christ and to continually put on the full armor of God. In the end of the day the battle is the Lord's.We are called to simply stand firm in Him and He promises to make a way when the way seems impossible or non-existent.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

A Sabbath Rest

Today was a good sabbath day. A day to just rest, a day to refrain from responding to work emails and a day to enjoy a time of fellowship. I heard a good reminder this morning at the ICA church as the speaker today, Rev. Bill Prevette was a former pastor of ICA. He spoke passionately about living in the midst of uncertainty, unpredictability and ambiguity. I enjoyed his stories of when he first arrived in Cambodia in the early 1990s. One apparently could buy AK47s and hand grenades at the Russian Market along with a basket of marijuana. Cambodia back then was the wild wild west where any thing goes.

As he said 'you can't be in this country and not be touched by the pain of Cambodia.' This is such a true statement and anyone you speak to who is serving here long term, has a similar sense of God's call on their life. We have all shed tears for Cambodia and its people. I recall on my first trip here in 2000, how I cried every day that I was here. We are broken by the things that break God's heart for this nation. Cambodia has a way of getting under one's skin. Just the other day after I had visited the Killing fields, my tutor asked what I thought about the Killing Fields and what happened there.  Strangely enough as I responded to him in my limited Khmer, I found tears coming to my eyes. This country can shake you and make you into the person that God intends you to be as you follow His lead. I remain thankful to the Lord for those tears, for it is His heart of compassion for this nation that moves us all to be here.

But in this environment pastor Bill was reminding those of us of 'A' type personalities that Christianity is not about doing but about being in the presence of God. Jesus was never driven but He was at peace in doing the Father's will. We were encouraged to examine our own walk with the Lord and to be mindful that while passion is great, passion is about pursing the depths of God. It is not just about 'doing' for God. Ironically without using the words of 'soul care', pastor Bill was actually encouraging all of us who work here to not forget to care for our souls in this environment which has a habit of tearing us down spiritually, emotionally, mentally and physically because of the visible brokenness that we encounter. But, we were also being challenged to embrace the pain, the shadow of our souls, for every one of us has brokenness and were encouraged to not run from it. God's grace is bigger than the brokenness we see externally and the brokenness we face internally. Out of such brokenness comes new life. I see it in the lives of the girls at the Newsong centre, I see it in the lives of the kids in Svay Pak and I am seeing it in my own life as the Lord rewires my own personality and align it more along His lines.  I appreciate this message as it once again serves to remind me that God does not just see us as we are but sees the potential in each of us, in who we can become in Him.

Pastor Bill quoted an African proverb that said 'you westerners have your clocks, we Africans have the time.' This statement is so true for Cambodia as well. Here it is all about time and not working with a hurried spirit or an impulsive mindset. For those of us who are task oriented, it is a new way of thinking and cultivating the right rhythm with spiritual disciplines and learning to work, rest and play.

So today, after a few busy days of hosting donors, it was a time of sabbath rest, it was nice to not have an agenda and just hang out with friends at lunch and again at dinner. Tonight I was on the hunt again for some Korean Kalbi ---my favorite BBQ rib dish with my friends Anne and Priscilla. The company was great but unfortunately the beef on this side of the pond is not as tasty as I am used to enjoying so its back to the drawing board, waiting for the Lord to show me the right place to find some decent meat! :-)

Saturday, September 10, 2011

A New Creation

Yesterday was another busy day hosting my guests from Wellspring International. We decided to head to our partners store Daughter's Cambodia which is located about 10 mins from my home. Its a great place to shop given all the products are made by Daughter's clients who have all come out of the sex trade.  Given that we had done so much the day before, one of the good ways of unwinding was to have a 1 hour foot spa with pedicure at the Daughter's store which cost $10.00. Its good having female guests to host as I'm not sure what I would do with a male guest! ;-)

Jeanette & Sarah having a foot spa and pedicure at Daughters!

From there we headed to a meeting at the Newsong Centre. I appreciate all the work the staff at Newsong do especially Sisarat who herself wears many hats. She is not only the assistant director at Newsong but she is also overseeing the pillow casing work in Svay Pak and acting as a big sister to the girls in the Agape home. While she took the Wellspring guests on a tour of the facilities, I hung out chatting with some of the young girls. As my Khmer is somewhat improving, I am able to have basic conversations with them. Of course when it came to the question of whether they had boyfriends, they got all giggly and started laughing just like typical teenage girls. They of course couldn't resist asking me the same question since we were bantering back and forth and I told them 'yes, Jesus is both my boyfriend and husband.' They all laughed and a few said 'me, too'!

One of the interesting stories that I got to hear today was that of a young woman who is approximately 21 years old. I'll call her Srey Phal. Srey Phal was in the brothel system in Svay Pak for many years. I remember first seeing her in 2008 when I was in Svay Pak doing a VBS with one of our short term teams. Every day she would bring her daughter to the VBS but she sat outside squatting looking in at all the activities, never feeling comfortable enough to enter into the building. She just stood at a distance. She never said anything and in the midday heat would wear a thick woolen turtle neck.  (Many of the girls who have been abused here typically tend to wear clothing that covers up their body). Yesterday I learned a bit more of how the Lord is healing Srey Phal. Like many of the girls who have been sold in Svay Pak, she had endured multiple rapes and torture, except in her case it was over 10 years of systematic abuse. Srey Phal was transferred to the Newsong centre around 2009. She never spoke to anyone because she couldn't speak. Her voice was totally silenced whether it was a physical disability and/or whether it was from the years of abuse. She was silenced!

Srey Phal also never knew what it was like to live like a human being. She never knew what it was like to use a toilet like a 'normal' person nor did she know what it was like to even take a shower because she never was allowed to have such 'normal' experiences like that in her time in Svay Pak. Over these past couple of years, the staff at Newsong have spent several hours tirelessly ministering to this young woman. Teaching her the basics of life of how to take care of her body, how to go to the bathroom and how to take a shower. As Sisarat said, it was like caring for a 3 month baby in a 21 year old body.

Over this time, Srey Phal began to trust the staff as she began to experience God's love through them, she is learning to care for herself. But more than that, she can now speak a few words. Whenever she sees me, she will come over and greet me politely with a traditional Cambodian greeting and she has a big smile on her face. I always give her a big hug. As I think of this young woman, my heart goes out to her. I can't imagine what its like to live with such deep pain and brokenness within one's spirit and yet, day by day, the Lord is doing His work in her. He is making her a new creation in Him. Srey Phal is a living example of how God is transforming a life that has been so badly destroyed. Scripture says in Philippians that He who started a good work in us will complete it. The Lord has started a good work of restoring Srey Phal's life. She has been helping out making some jewelry in Svay Pak with some of the other girls. She is on a journey of restoration and a journey of hope.  I can't wait to see how her life enfolds in the year's to come and God's plans for her.

But there is another angle to Srey Phal's story. If you have been following this blog you will have heard me mention a few days ago about another little friend of mind in Svay Pak called "S". This is the little girl who is on the Ratanak brochure and whose grandmother had asked me whether I would adopt 'S' if she dies. Srey Phal is the mother of 'S'. I can't help but reflect on the conversation that I had with 'S's grandmother last Sunday when I asked her where is 'S's mother. She said "S" had no mother. Indeed in a strange way, 'S' has had no mother for years. For her mother did not have the capacity to take care of herself much less care for the child that she bore. I am so thankful to the Lord that He does not forget these who in the eyes of the world seem so forgotten, so marginalized and so abandoned. Today, I thank the Lord that He not only seeks after the lost, but when He finds them, He begins His work of redemption to repay the years the locusts have eaten from them. For Srey Phal that journey has began. For her daughter 'S', my prayer is that one day she will discover and meet the mother she never knew. For now, I am thankful to the Lord for the privilege I have of meeting both Srey Phal and also spending time with 'S' in Svay Pak. I look to our Lord who is the God of reconciliation, that one day He will do another miracle of reconciling this family. What a testimony that will be of His mighty hand to save, deliver, heal, restore and reconcile! His love has began the journey of healing their hearts and their wounds and it His love that will have the final say in their lives. His Love indeed covers over a multitude of sins!